30 Songs in 30 Days: day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event

For the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I worked at a summer camp run by one of my favorite high school teachers. Camp Walt Whitman (or as we referred to it, Camp Walter Winchell)  was in New Hampshire, not far from the home of Dartmouth College. I wasn’t a counselor; I was sort of an administrative gofer. My main job was to get up before everyone else, go to the camp office, and put on the recording of “Reveille” to wake the camp. There was a speciic time I was supposed to do this, and most of the time, I succeeded in meeting the schedule. I overslept a ciouple of times. Not more than ten, I’d say, though I did not try to keep an accurate count. My other duties included helping set up the dining hall for meals, refilling Heinz bottles from massive cans of industrial-grade ketchup, preparing bug juice and snacks, and making pizza in the little hut the counselors’ used as an after-hours lounge.

That summer was filled with memorable experiences. My first sampling of the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack (which, along with Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and ELO’s A New World Orchestra, was the only music we had in the cabin). My first real fistfight. My first encounter with the broad Midwestern accent that pronounces the word “jog” as “jag.” And my first experience of Talking Heads.

The drinking age in New Hampshire in 1978 was 21. The drinking age in Vermont was 18. The camp is in Piermont, New Hampshire, which just happens to be a very short drive across the Connecticut River from Bradford, Vermont. (I think you can see where this might be going.) Once in a while, a bunch of the over-18 counselors and staff would iple into a couple of cars and head across the river for a night out. One of these times, I accompanied them.

I don’t remember the name of the place we went to. My understanding was that for one reason or another – most likely because some of us (e.g., me) were not even 18 yet – we had to go to a bar that was attached to a restaurant (or a restaurant that had a bar) instead of just a straight-up bar. So we ended up in this restaurant/bar that had been converted from somebody’s house. We sat at a large table, and ordered some food and those who could do so ordered beers. I honestly don’t remember most of the details about the evening – not because I got drunk or anything (I wasn’t drinking), but because it was 850 years ago and those memories have long since been overwritten by Star Trek trivia and porn. But the one thing I do remember is that this song came on the house system.

I had not heard Talking Heads before. I had especially not heard Psycho Killer. And I hadn’t really paid much attention to the clientele of the establishment until they started singing along. There is nothing quite like a roomful of rugged, plaid-shirted, Vermont backwoods-looking types shouting and stomping to the words “Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est? Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa!” There I was, a 17-year-old Jewish kid from the Boston suburbs, somewhere in the remote woods of Vermont*, surrounded by a couple dozen lumberjacks** all enthusiastically singing a song celebrating the glory of psychotic murder. Awesome. I decided right then and there that Psycho Killer was a horrible song and I hated Talking Heads, and I really just wanted to be done with our meal and go back to camp.

Needless to say, I survived the evening and later came to realize that my initial reaction to the song and the band may have been unfairly influenced by the circumstances.

 

* Bradford, Vermont is a reasonably-sized town, not even close to remote woods.

** Probably college students.

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2 thoughts on “30 Songs in 30 Days: day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event

  1. My first experience with this song was more pleasant. I was a 14 (?) year old kid at Duke’s summer nerd program, and this song fueled one of our outdoor dance parties. Replace Jewish Boston boy with Southern Nerd and Vermont lumberjacks with, um, more nerds. It was the last dance of the session, and then next day we would all be leaving for home. The mix of nostalgia and melancholy combined with the frenetic need to throw ourselves into the moment. It was heady stuff. I still remember most of the set list from that dance (which also included an Ultravox song – Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – see the later comment.)

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