Dave Kingman was driving in 19 runs. George Foster was driving in 10. Ellis Valentine was driving in nobody. And me? I was driving myself home.
It was April 1982. As the Mets drove toward a .500 record — 10-10 at month’s end — I sped for New York. My first year in college was over, so for the first time ever, I took off on a long-distance haul: Tampa to Long Beach. Before I discovered the relative shortcut provided by Interstates 75 and 10, I headed east across the middle of Florida on I-4 to the Space Coast and then joined I-95 for the balance of the whole darn northward shooting match. In my six later NY-FL/FL-NY trips, I’d get it down a lot closer to a thousand miles, but I can see the odometer still settled at the end of the line: 1,197 miles.
I can remember even more clearly the songs I picked up along the way as I wound the FM tuner to find the closest thing each market had to a CHR format.
• Couldn’t have been an hour east of school, somewhere near Orlando, when Rick Springfield urged me “Don’t Talk To Strangers”.
• Splashing past Daytona my ears spied Mike Post’s “Theme from Magnum P.I.”
• Jacksonville’s vastness called up “867-5309/Jenny”.
• Georgia filled with “Empty Garden” by Elton John.
• Breakfast at the Florence, S.C. waffle house served up a stack of Hall & Oates’ “Did It In A Minute”.
• Pulling out of the Waffle House parking lot for the second day on the road pulled in “Goin’ Down” by Greg Guidry.
And somewhere in the vicinity of Raleigh, I heard this really neat song whose title and artist escaped me.
I’d find it again. Or it would find me and stay with me long enough to become the No. 8 Song of All-Time. The song was — is — great. But as seems to be the case when one tools up and down a list of one’s favorite songs, it’s the circumstances of where and when and how you meet the record that determine where and when and how you rate the record. For me, it was I-95, Baltimore, the end of April, the end of freshman year, Friday evening, around 6 o’clock, hunched into my burnt orange Corolla, the trunk and back seat jammed with the belongings of nascent adulthood, the Realistic FM converter striking gold.
I’m not much on the phrase “driving music,” but if a tune ever melded itself to a car of which I was behind the wheel, “Rosanna” by Toto was it. That was driving music. On this second hearing, in Baltimore, as the South morphed into the North, as Interstate highway signs at last used N.Y. City as a miles-to benchmark, as one who fought off post-semester fatigue through five states over two days (I think I dozed for a nanosecond in Central Florida; thanks a lot “Run For The Roses” by Dan Fogelberg and “Making Love” by Roberta Flack) was gathering finishing-kick momentum, “Rosanna” was my soundtrack. It was the music bed for the chase scene, the one where I put hundreds of ragged, uncertain miles behind me.
Come to think of it, “Rosanna” wasn’t driving music. It was flying music. Because I swear my Toyota had wings for those five or so minutes Toto played.
Toto? That’s who does this song? The ones who did “Hold The Line” and “99”? Those were OK. But this is special. I knew it from the first subtle hint of a beat. It built. Then it built some more. There’s a quality I love in certain songs. I like to think of it as tension. Something’s coming. I don’t know what it is, but like me and the Orange Flame, I know it’s gonna get where it’s going any time now.
“Rosanna”‘s instrumental introduction started coming at me in waves. I imagine some Baltimore disc jockey was talking over it, telling me where to get two-for-one drink specials by the Inner Harbor now that we’re done working for the weekend. I don’t remember that. I remember the waves. The waves waved me into the first words of the song.
All I wanna do when I wake up in the morning is see your eyes.
The words were just part of the waves, really. Every one of my Top 10 songs is to some degree unbearably catchy, in none do the lyrics matter less than in “Rosanna”. Well, let me clarify that.
The lyrics as lyrics don’t matter. I didn’t waste one hosanna on Rosanna (had no idea who Rosanna Arquette was, that she sort of inspired the title, that she was dating somebody in the band). The words were instruments to carry along those waves.
All I wanna do in the middle of the evening is hold you tight.
WAH-nuh…MID-dle…EVE-ning…HOLD you…see? Those words flow so easily, just like the Maryland traffic that Friday evening.
Not quite a year since she went away.
What’s this? This is more than a break or a bridge. It’s a whole other little song in the middle of the bigger song. Instead of singing to her, Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball are singing to us. I drove an automatic, but “Rosanna” shifted gears repeatedly.
Now she’s gone, and I have to say.
Meet you all the way!
Huh? Meet you all the way? You mean like “I’ll Meet You Halfway” by the Partridge Family, but twice that? Clever. This is yet another direction Toto is taking as I drive north. Things have gotten very rousing in Rosannaland. First there was beseechment of the title character. Then wistful reflection. Then back to beseeching the face still shining through the window on the other side. Anything else for those of us rocking up the highway?
Yes! A kickass guitar break! With horns! And that’s where and how “Rosanna” becomes the No. 8 Song of All-Time. Because that break — with Toto’s waves practically inundating I-95 like high tide from the Chesapeake — coincided with the Interstate moment when the concrete grew pleasingly curvy. Curving right. Curving left. This is where I was flying. This is where I was confident and going, I don’t know, 65, 70, 75. Doesn’t sound like much, but through beautiful Baltimore (after ham ‘n’ egging it up from the south and staring at a million boring trees and South of the Border billboards, urban blight never looked so good) at the tail end of rush hour when I became, for the first time, a fully confident long-haul driver, it was fast. Fast and airy. I glided along on the wings of Toto.
The break ended. The chorus returned. Some impressive jazzy doodling wound matters down. I don’t recall if my Baltimore station let the single go its full five-and-a-half minutes. Didn’t matter. By the time it was over, I was in Delaware.
Not really, but I knew for sure I’d make it home. There were still 200-some miles before it would be official. Night would fall and I’d have to stop at the Maryland House for the bathroom and on the New Jersey Turnpike for gas, but we were getting close, me and my car and my baggage.
This was a trip I feared and dreaded. I was exhausted from all the drama of the last weeks of being a freshman — the finals, the girlfriend, the girlfriend’s roommate’s crisis, my roommate’s last-minute personal revelations, the packing, the selling the textbooks…the whole bit. My mother had urged me to put up an ad in the dorm to share driving chores and expenses. She’d heard college kids did that. I said I did and found no fakers. I didn’t look very hard. It was a Toyota, for crissake. Where was I going to put this other person and this other person’s stuff?
So it was me alone, encountering disgusting lovebugs by the dozen on I-4 (I learned to use a squeegee), the insides of my eyelids if I wasn’t careful, the Florence Holiday Inn and — this was the best part — all those different radio stations. They didn’t necessarily sound terribly different. Even then consultants seemed to be programming everything and the Magic 102 of Philadelphia didn’t vary much from the soft rock hits of Richmond. But I’d always had romantic notions about distant stations. As a youngster, I delighted in twirling the AM dial to 800 so I could hear CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario. Imagine that, a radio station from Canada hearable on Long Island. Driving 1,197 miles had the same effect, even if I was twirling myself up along countless broken yellow lines. And to discover a song like “Rosanna” I hadn’t heard to death on Q-105 in Tampa? This must have been how Columbus felt at the sight of San Salvador.
“Rosanna” has obviously stayed with me. Written by keyboardist David Paich, it got the hell played out of it through the summer of ’82, rising as high as No. 2 on Billboard. It was kept from the top spot by the Human League’s technosmash “Don’t You Want Me,” which I mention not as trivia but as a sign of the times. I didn’t have cable in college. I didn’t know an MTV revolution was taking place without me. New York and L.A. got Music Television in the ensuing months and the pop charts would change. My drive back to school at the end of August was peppered by more stylish Human Leagues and fewer workmanlike Totos. What was dubbed New Music, essentially video for radio, was taking over. Even Tampa’s sad outlets would be dragged along in 1982-83 so that by my next big trip north one year later, the prevailing sounds from start to finish tilted away from the Fogelbergs and Flacks and toward an MTV-inflected Top 40. I had no problem with the content (Men At Work, Scandal, Naked Eyes) but couldn’t help but notice the radio had grown a little less mature as I was becoming eligible for Adult Contemporary.
Toto, thus, was out of its element just as it truly arrived. Though they made a video for “Rosanna,” starring the then little-known actress of the same name, it was a murky affair, the guys pretending to be in a schoolyard rumble or something. It was no match for what Michael Jackson would pull off in “Beat It” just up the road apiece. Duran Duran was an MTV act. Toto was not at all videogenic. Though “Rosanna” and “Africa” were huge hits, one could sense Toto’s time was going about as quickly as it had come. They would be lumped in with the so-called faceless bands, the “corporate rock” acts Journey and Styx and Foreigner, all of them no longer interesting in the face of Adam Ant and the Go-Go’s. That was a shame because Toto really had musicianship going for them. To listen to a Toto collection today is to hear less style than craft, to experience expert masterful blends of rock, pop, R&B and jazz.
Actually, all of those were on “Rosanna” alone. “All of our favorite music put into one,” Lukather has described it. “It was funky, it had a little Spinners thing in the middle section, it had horns, it still had loud guitars, a little New Orleans groove. It was a lot of different influences that made that record, and the we put our stamp on it and made it our own.” I’ve always had a soft spot for kitchen sink recordings, but they usually brush up against novelty hits. Not this one. “Rosanna” is the real McCoy. Or Arquette.
The best sound I heard that whole trip, at least tied with Toto, materialized somewhere in Central Jersey. WMCA, 570-AM. Bob Murphy and Steve Lamar welcoming me to New York Mets baseball from Candlestick Park. Home had to be near now, for there was no truer north than the flagship station of the New York Mets radio network.
Just before our game got underway, I flipped over to WABC. The Yankees were losing late to the Mariners. Tee-hee. I got to the Goethals Bridge toll plaza. Guy in the booth had it on. “What’s the score?” I asked, knowing damn well Seattle was winning. He grumbled about the Yankees. Yeah, I said, not their year. The Yanks were falling to 7-11 for April. Worse than the Mets. Neither one of us would see .500 at season’s end, but entering New York at last, I was in too good a mood to see anything bad about the 1982 Mets. Hell, we were 10-9! (10-10 after Reggie Smith scorched Neil Allen in the bottom of that night’s ninth, but we were still better than the Yankees.)
My final mission — decided as I crossed the Goethals, then the Verazzano, then traversed the Belt until the Sunrise Highway exit when I could turn right onto Long Beach Road — was to pick up a pizza from Gino’s and get it in the front door before midnight, before April could become May. I wasn’t that starved for a pizza, but it seemed like an amusing thing to do. Mom had roast beef sandwiches from the Lido Deli waiting. Mighty thoughtful. Anyway, I made it by twelve, pie and all.
There’s a lyric from a song I didn’t hear on I-95 that Thursday and Friday probably because it had yet to be written. It’s from the No. 114 Song of All-Time, “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers:
Man, I ain’t changed.
But I know I ain’t the same.
I heard it the other day and it resonated anew for me as I started thinking about “Rosanna” and the sojourn that introduced us. It’s 25 years later, an honest-to-god quarter-of-a-century, and I think I’m still the same person, but how could I be? I was 19 years old then. I continue to be fascinated that I was ever 19, more so than any other age before it or beyond it. It’s so young. It wasn’t then but it is now. Nineteen was the age when I decided I was no longer a kid, even if it took me until I was 29 to fully buy it and 44 to understand how long ago being a kid was.
Never say never, but I’ll never take a trip like that again. I’ll never drive 1,197 miles by myself over two days. I don’t even know if I’ll ever drive on a highway again. I’ve been allergic to it for more than a decade, and going much above 40 reduces me to clammy pools of sweat. But when I was 19, it was just one of those things I had to do and I did it. When my song came on, I did it better than I ever thought I could.
There is a definite divide: me to 19, me since 19. I can hear “Rosanna” still playing in the Corolla on the other side.
Next Friday: The night Jackie Robinson became a Met.