“Don’t it always seem to go,

That you don’t know what you’ve got,

Til its gone …”

Joni Mitchell

Big Yellow Taxi

Not unlike other folks my age, much of my misspent youth was wasted in my bedroom listening to albums. While I liked all kinds of music, I was particularly drawn to the great songwriters of the time.

The first time I spun The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, I was mesmerized by the lyrics and played it until I wore out the album grooves. I’m sure our neighbors on Elm Street in Ludlow soon tired of “Blowing in the Wind” blasting from my bedroom windows. One of the album’s offerings, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” remains one of my top 10 songs of all time.

And thus, with an LP by some guy from Duluth, Minn., named Zimmerman, I began a path following the storytellers. For me, people like Dylan, John Prine and Joni Mitchell were somehow able to take ordinary life experiences and turn them into something extraordinarily meaningful—flowing lyrics often keeping me awake at night while trying to make sense of my own life.

It’s why today I’m still drawn to writers who can weave a good tale into their musical yarn. Pushing 70, John Prine is still touring and I’ve seen him so often in concert I’m surprised he hasn’t confused me with one of his roadies.

And while I enjoy many of today’s modern performers, their songs often leave me flat. Hearing “Big Yellow Taxi” the other day on the radio suddenly made me understand why. So much of great songwriting is about the back-and-forth of individual interpersonal communication. A great song lyric expresses intimacy and comes from the soul.

With social media, intimacy is out the proverbial window. We seem to know everything about those we love the instant it happens. Worse yet, so does everyone else. People stare at their device screens and send out messages often to the entire world.

And in the name of social media, cell phone and apps, song writing has suffered.

Joni Mitchell explained to me that I don’t know what I’ve got ‘till it’s gone—a message likely lost had her Old Man been whisked away by a Big Yellow Uber.

In one of my all-time favorite R&B songs, the Box Tops (and later Joe Cocker) rushed to the side of a former lover when she sent The Letter. The impulsive desire to get “a ticket for an airplane” because there “ain’t no time to take a fast train” would not resonate as strongly with me if “my baby, she sent me an email.”

And it’s not just the lyrics about personal interaction. Today something as simple as using the internet would ruin classic songs. Sgt. Pepper may not be ranked the best album of all time if Paul McCartney and John Lennon had started “A Day in the Life” with, “I read on Drudge today, oh boy …”

And speaking of the Beatles, “Paperback Writer” makes absolutely no sense in the age of Kindle. I played Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” for a recent college graduate. It might as well have been a song about early settlers crossing the plains in Conestoga wagons.

Even the silly pop songs of my world change in today’s device-driven world. The lights would still be on in Georgia, if Andy had just simply announced on Facebook that he was in a relationship with “her.” Since all of us have cameras on our phones we’d all likely know what was being thrown into the muddy waters off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And @therealJenny will never replace 8-6-7-5-3-0-9.

Oh, and by the way. To that girl who broke my heart in our sophomore year at Ludlow High School—you know who you are—take another listen to “Don’t think Twice, It’s Alright.”

I ain’t sayin you tweeted me unkind,

You could have used SnapChat,

But I don’t mind,

You just kind of wasted my Facebook time

Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

Rick Robinson’s latest novel, The Promise of Cedar Key, is available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Crestview Hills.


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