My lovely Anne took the afternoon off work to spend part of my birthday with me, and after driving up to Salt Lake for an early dinner followed by some shopping and dessert at a French bakery we like, we came home along State Street, the broad thoroughfare that runs the length of the Salt Lake Valley. Generations of young people used to “cruise State” on Friday and Saturday nights, looking for company or trouble, back before the authorities decided there was too much of the latter going on and put a stop to it all. My parents actually met while cruising State, just like something out of American Graffiti, and Anne and I cruised it too when we were young. We still enjoy driving this route when we have the time and don’t want to deal with the white-knuckle pedal-to-the-medal madness of the freeway.
It was a beautiful evening tonight, the skies having been scoured clean by the rain earlier in the day, the golden-hour light as lovely and burnished as I’ve ever seen it. My favorite time of day during my favorite time of year (birthday blues notwithstanding). I didn’t know what could’ve made the moment better. But then suddenly, the satellite radio channel we were listening to dredged up a song I’ve not heard… well, probably since Anne and I used to cruise State: “Athena” by the Who.
The song was the lead single from a 1982 album called It’s Hard, but it didn’t go over very well. It reached only as far as 28 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and it did slightly worse in the U.K. Sadly, it was the last hit record for the venerable band, whose history stretches all the way back to the British Invasion. Curiously, the band itself has never seemed to be terribly fond of it; it’s an interesting bit of trivia that they only played it ten times during their ’82 tour, and they haven’t played it live since. Personally, I’ve always liked it. It’s one of those songs whose energy simply and magically makes me happy when I hear it. And listening to it tonight as we rolled down State in the golden-hour light, it sparked off a very specific happy memory:
My old Galaxie came equipped with only an AM radio, so when I was in the mood to listen to something other than static-filled oldies, I’d plant a boombox on the driveline hump right behind the front seats. It wasn’t the most ass-kicking sound, but it worked. I used to hear “Athena” on the radio from time to time in those days, and when there wasn’t any other traffic around and Pete Townsend’s rhythmic guitar was getting to me, I’d start to swerve the big old beast of a car back and forth in time with the song. The power steering was responsive enough I could steer with a single finger on the wheel, and I’d throw back my head and sing along, and it was as if my car was dancing with me. Back when I was young and carefree and happy just to be behind the wheel of my beloved Cruising Vessel on a late-summer evening.
For the record, my birthday this year did not suck.
FYI, there was never an official video made for “Athena.” The visual part of this clip comes from a 1982 concert at Shea Stadium, but somebody has switched out the original sound for the album recording of the song. If you’re curious about the live version, it’s here.