The Rocky-ness of Being Alone

Contenders and pretenders

Terry Barr

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Where I worked was to the mid-upper right (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash)

Somewhere in the presidential year of 1976, Jackson Browne’s The Pretender was released. I was twenty years old, a college junior. I had already seen Browne live twice and thought his earlier album, Late for the Sky, a modern masterpiece. One of my best friends and I gave each other a copy for Christmas, 1974. A strange invitation. And then we broke up with our girlfriends, or vice-versa.

Somehow, The Pretender didn’t hit me as hard. Maybe it was too depressing; maybe I was too depressing. Anyway, my college friends were into dancing, and nothing says “I don’t want to dance” like a Jackson Browne song. Yeah, he has some upbeat tunes like “The Boulevard,” but even the faster ones are depressing, unless you feel like doing The Hustle to “Redneck Friend.”

But when I listened to the title tune of that ’76 album last night, I began thinking of other things. I love the song, and even more, I love how one song leads to specific images and memories — ones you’d never imagine remembering.

In the early winter of 1977, I found myself invited to accept an internship in Washington, DC, working for my congressman. One week I was in college; a week later, DC, with friends who drove me and helped me find a K-Mart in Maryland, somewhere north of Pennsylvania Ave., so I could get some plastic dishes with the $1000 start-up money my mother gave me.

This would not turn out to be glamorous work. I picked up mail from congressional offices in the Longworth building. Three floors, and me with my rolling mail cart. Sure, my parents could tell all their friends about my special job, which entailed hauling “franked” mail from one end of a building to another, and then down into the basement for mass distribution.

Also in that basement, some people bought and sold cocaine. Just so you’ll know.

Yep, “say a prayer for the pretender” indeed.

But what that song caused me to remember last night was before I left for DC, the night before, actually.

Sometimes, strange configurations don’t particularly strike you when they happen. So on this night, my younger brother, who was still in high school, and another friend who used to monopolize the Monopoly board at…

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Terry Barr

I write about music, culture, equality, and my Alabama past in The Riff, The Memoirist, Prism and Pen, Counter Arts, and am an editor for Plethora of Pop.