LP: The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks
1975 Reprise Records RS 6327, Gatefold
Favorite Track: Do You Remember Walter?
By the time Roger arrived at the green-paneled house on Ponderosa Street, Sean was mixing bourbon and water in the kitchen. He had brought the bourbon in a small flask he kept in the inside pocket of his school blazer. His red rimmed eyes told Roger all he needed to know. They embraced quietly and then sat sipping their drinks in silence. Roger muttered a comment about Sean’s usually impeccably pressed shirt and trousers being in a state of ruin. Sean merely measured himself another finger length pull. When Parker pulled up in her husband’s muscle car, they were lit in somber merriment. Parker did not seem amused by their rosy cheeks and jerky movements. She declined Sean’s offer of his flask.
They knocked on the white door at the end of the hall, their shoes treading softly on the shag carpeting. They heard a muffled shout from inside and opened the door slowly even though there was no reason for it. They knew what they were about to see. He was in the bed with the covers up to his armpits, a family photo album stretched across his invalid legs. His eyes were large orbs in his sunken skull and were absorbed in memorization of the six or seven photos in his lap. No body commented on the stink inside the room, but Parker opened the window with a comment about the autumn breeze being good for his lungs. Their father coughed with an intensity designed at proving what little lungs he had left.
Sean, the oldest, sat right by his side, his hand holding his father’s. Parker and Roger stood at the end of the bed wondering how the giant of their childhood had been reduced to such dwarven proportions. His limbs made little impression under the blue covers as if his limbs were deformed or underdeveloped. One of the pillows propped behind his back was stained.
“Do you want me to turn the page?” Sean asked.
The large eyes swiveled inside the pallid caverns of his sockets, the pubils adjusting to the new light coming in from the open window. A low sound started deep in his chest and Sean pulled out his handkerchief but it was just the beginnings of his gravelly voice.
“Please put on Village Green.”
For a moment, the three siblings hesitated at the strange request. Their whole lives he had shown no musical interest except for the one Thanksgiving dinner sixteen years ago, Parker was only five at the time, when Sean had put Village Green Preservation Society on the phonograph in the living room. Then Gerald, a solid barrel-chested man with thick, hairy forearms from a lifetime of building furniture and fixing roofs, strummed his pudgy fingers on the tabletop, slowly at first as if chasing the rhythm one step behind until finally springing upon it when the B-side came on. Parker swore, although nobody believed her, not even their mother Suzanne who had passed away the next year from cancer, that he hummed along during “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains.”
Roger tugged at his rather overdeveloped earlobes, tucked in his grey flannel shirt and started toward the dresser next to the closet when Parker with brisk steps crossed in front of him and turned on the phonograph. After a few minutes of digging in a milk crate, she procured the requested album. Roger watched a tear swell in the corner of her eye about to overflow and streak down her freckled cheek. The needle scratched noisily against the dusty vinyl grooves.
“Did I ever tell you three this was the soundtrack to the happiest summer of my life?”
Parker whirled her head around to face Gerald. Her hands holding the album cover trembled slightly. Golden lights sparkled from the three triangular earrings dangling above her shoulders. Sean adjusted his grip on Gerald’s hand and said, “No, dad. But please tell us.”
Gerald gummed the air for a bit as if he had to consume the invisible ether to create words out of nothing. When he finally started to speak, the story came out in short bursts of vocalization that grew steadier over time until it seemed like the giant was tall and vigorous again, his voice booming like the whistle of a forgotten train.
“It was the summer I met your mother. The summer she stood on the roof shouting at me to come up and watch the meteorite shower with her. Me, a big boy but dumb. At university because of a football scholarship I should not have been granted. She, well you know your mother, she always was graceful. Even when she died, she maintained her grace. Unlike me who is returning to the mud one bit at a time.
But that was the summer of thunderstorms, car rides to the forest and the camp grounds, of seeing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Suzanne never forgiven me for surprising her in the kitchen with the chainsaw revving. Our friends, Teddy and Olivia, got married. Pinkie got a girl pregnant then went over seas. Your mother and I could not stop dancing. She said my feet were possessed but I tell you I can watch her whisking her hips as clear as daylight now and it was she who moved as if in a trance. We danced in the rain, in the nude, in the dark, dancing with each others hands and hair and breath to all the hit songs, fast, slow, funky or weird. Once she even got me to pose in a black dress with an image of a Japanese garden on it while she wore this red cocktail dress that highlighted those fantastic legs of hers. Teddy took a photo, but it doesn’t seem to be inside this book here. I haven’t seen it in so long I would like to know how exactly I fit in such a small thing, but it would drape me now, wouldn’t it?
That was the summer of ’68. We were young, foolhardy, watching the world unravel around us. Maybe we were just scared. Both of us lived sheltered lives, lives spend doing chores and reading the Bible. The university was like an outer space planet brimming with extraordinary life, but Suzanne and I always felt most comfortable when it was just us. And Village Green. See she bought it for me because it came out on my birthday. Every night that summer, we would sit in the dark or sometimes candlelight after the Texas Chainsaw and listen to that album, looking into each others eyes. When there was a storm, we would listen to it until the power went out or we fell asleep on top of our coats.
I thought I almost lost that album one day. I was drunk. We had been fighting for over a week. I had gathered a bunch of memorabilia from that summer and threw it into the back seat of the car. I drove recklessly in circles unsure of my intentions when, by impulse or some calculated plans, I slammed on the brakes, threw the album out the window, and prepared to back over it. And that was when God used the radio to speak to me.
Ray Davies’s voice came from my speakers. “Na, na, na, na, na na.” Not even words. Just grunting to the tune. But it was enough to sober me. Enough for me to remember.
See, my children, that is all we really have. The one thing that can never be taken away unless we give it away. Memories. Store them. Revisit them. Share them. In the end, maybe they don’t add up to a complete story, or a happy story, or the story you thought you wrote yourself. But they add up and in that sense they are complete. That’s all you really need.”
Parker left the room in haste, album cover still in hand. Roger and Sean listened to the engine fade into the distance. Then looked back at their father expecting some more tales to come from the past he had kept secret for so long. But he was asleep with his finger on a photograph of Suzanne dancing.
Parker waited until after the burial to tell them the news. She had taken the album cover to a record shop in Cincinnati, but the owner couldn’t tell anything about it without the record itself. She had drove back the next day and removed the record while Gerald slept in bliss. At this point in the story, Parker became real quiet.
“The owner took one look at it. He said it wasn’t an original.”
Sean shrugged his shoulders, “What does that matter?”
“It is a second pressing,” Parker spit out.
Again, Sean rolled his great shoulders with each word, “What does that matter?”
“This record wasn’t made until 1975. That means that he didn’t have it in 1968. When he met mom. And danced. And listened to it in the dark. He may not have even had it when he attempted to back over it. His story was a lie.”
Roger said, “Wait. How did he know it was a second pressing? It looks damned old to me–”
“The label is all brown. The original was two-toned. Orange and brown. Sean, he lied. That beautiful memory was false.”
Sean looked down to the ground while his hand reached into his blazer but then paused and returned to his pocket. Roger saw indignation fight another unknown emotion for control of his face. He felt many things himself but he knew his father to never snoop to lies. As steady as he could make his voice, he said, “Maybe he just got the year wrong. He was old. Sick. Memories aren’t perfect.”
“Then why hold on to them?” Parker threw her glance in Roger’s direction and he flinched at the unbridled resentment sparking from every feature.
“What else–no, I mean to say, why not? What if those memories are real? What if he did back over that record than bought a second copy to replace it and forgot he had done so?”
“I would never forgive him,” Parker said.
Sean raised his voice, an odd tic making his left eye blink rapidly, “This happened before you were born. Why are you so upset by this?”
“I meant I would never forgive him if I were Suzanne.”
Roger pulled his sister into a hug. She fought him until the tears started. Sean gave an exasperated sigh and walked off toward the car, hand in blazer. A sparrow flew from the tree, its wings fighting the air for lift. The higher and higher it climbed, the less Roger was sure it was a sparrow. It could have been a finch or an oriole. But he wanted it to be a sparrow. When Parker calmed down, she apologized but Roger shook it off. She handed him the album in case he wanted it. She never wanted to see it again.
Sean couldn’t drive by the time Parker had left, so Roger pushed him into the passenger’s seat and drove the car back to the house. On the radio, Ray Davies voice came on. Roger thought he heard him sing about sparrows. Glancing in the rear view mirror where half of the album cover reflected, Roger began to hum.