Saturday, August 15, 2015

You Never Know

Two men who were very important to me during my growing up years died on Monday, July 20, 2015.

During my growing up years, though, I didn’t know that either of them even existed. I first learned the name of one of them a couple of years ago. I never heard of the other one until his death was announced.

Despite their anonymity to me, they helped to form and shape my life.

Allow me to explain.

The first episode of American Bandstand that I remember watching was either at the end of 1967 or the beginning of 1968. Whichever it was, I was nine years old. The Top Ten countdown was a regular feature of the show. On this particular Saturday, Dick Clark was counting down the Top Ten songs of 1967. When he pulled that piece of cardboard away to reveal the #1 song of 1967, the one he uncovered was “The Letter” by the Box Tops. They played it, and the kids danced.

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane; ain’t got time to catch a fast train. Lonely days are gone; I’m a-goin’ home. My baby just-a wrote me a letter.”

I was mesmerized. One day many, many years later I heard somewhere that the lead singer for the Box Tops was only sixteen when they recorded the song. Curious, I Googled the band and found out that the singer’s name was Alex Chilton, who later was a founding member of Big Star, one of the most influential rock bands of which you’ve probably never heard.

Chilton died a few years ago. It was the man who wrote the song who died on July 20 of this year. His name was Wayne Carson. Carson not only wrote “The Letter,” which was one of the first rock and roll songs to grab my attention; he also wrote two other hits for the Box Tops, “Neon Rainbow” and “Soul Deep,” the latter of which has in my later years become my favorite Box Tops song.

Country music fans will know one of his other songs, a little number called “Always on My Mind” that’s been recorded by singers ranging from Brenda Lee to Elvis to Pet Shop Boys. The best known version, though, is Willie Nelson’s 1982 rendition, a beautiful record that won Carson Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Country Song.

I discovered comic books before I found rock music. My favorite was Spider-Man, but when I wanted to fantasize about what it would be like to be a teenager, I read the Archie comics. Archie Andrews was a cool teenager who hung out with his cool teenage friends Jughead, Veronica, Betty, and Reggie. As I followed the adventures of Archie and his pals, I imagined myself having the same kind of fun that they had. “Who knows,” I thought, “I might even be in a band as good as The Archies.”

Well, it didn’t work out exactly that way, but Archie and his friends gave me hope, which is something a boy entering puberty really needs.
One of the main artists responsible for the Archie comics was Tom Moore, who also died on July 20 of this year. Moore worked on them off and on from the 1950s until he retired in the 1980s. I didn’t know who he was until I heard a news report about him after he died.

Wayne Carson and Tom Moore didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. They never knew I existed and I barely knew they did. And yet they were instrumental in helping me navigate my late childhood and early adolescence. I knew the Box Tops and Archie spoke to me. I didn’t know that Wayne Carson and Tom Moore were speaking through them.

I’m glad I know their names now so I can give thanks to God for them, because I believe that God worked through them to help me and lots of other kids survive the trials of growing up.

You never know how someone you don’t even know is helping you.

You never know how you might be helping someone you don’t even know.

People of faith should assume that God is working through us to help others, whether we are aware of it or not. It stands to reason, then, that we should do the best we can do at what we do. Something we do or say or make just might stay with someone for the rest of her or his life.
As for me, after all these years, my love is still a river running soul deep.

And everything’s still Archie …

(This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Thomaston (GA) Times on August 14, 2015)

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