Driving home from Kansas City late last night, a blast from the past transported me back to being a kid, jumping on my bed in music-induced ecstasy because my favorite song, “MacArthur’s Park,” was being played on Cousin Brucie’s Top 40 station. What can I say? I had really bad taste, leaping from chair to bed in time with lines I pondered for years, such as “The sweet green icing flowing down/ Someone left out the cake out in the rain.” There was even a time when I was about 12 that I finally solved the mystery of the song’s illusive and just plain awful lyrics although the meaning was so abstract and fleeting that I quickly forgot it.
Yes, I sang diva-style on my bed, using my hair brush as a mic, “I don’t think that I can make it” and “I will take my life into my hands/ and I will uuuuuuse it,” feeling so strongly every nuance — I was sure at the time — of those words. I changed dance moves and speed for the three different tempos of that very long song, and I even cried on more than more occasion when Richard Harris sang, with such feeling too, “After all the loves of my life/ you will be the one/ and I’ll be wondering why.” This song convinced me that love was intractably tragic, and one could never recover from the one who got away.
I’m happy to report that the song’s message was false although kind of delightfully, in an over the top kind of way, lushly romantic like nobody’s business. Also, just as I went from Rod McKuen (oy!) as the first poet I loved only to redeem myself by graduating quickly to T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings (a lovely married, British couple, I told myself), I went from Richard Harris, lyricist supreme in my young brain, to Joni Mitchell, a goddess of songwriting I could easily stick with and learn from my whole life.
Still, when I hear Harris sing, “There will be another dream for me” for that strange line about “Never catch me looking at the sun,” my heart points toward the song and melts just a little.