Love Potion Number 9

My SkyFi wasn’t activated.

Turns out the free sub on it only lasted a year.  And despite frantic e-mail with XM, I couldn’t make it live before our trip to Mammoth.  So, we went terrestrial.

The Owens Valley is almost devoid of people.  And it turns out the days of ubiquitous AM signals must be over.  Because we couldn’t find a fucking thing.  Until we switched over to FM and found a AAA in Bishop.  Which is like finding a great wine and cheese shop in Bakersfield.  Where we found our next station, KRAJ.

Actually, it wasn’t exactly Bakersfield.  They were broadcasting from JOHANNESBURG?  After making a joke about not realizing we’d driven THIS far, I settled in and sang along to the oldies.  Because that’s what you do.  You know every track.

Used to be one of the thrills of long distance drives was flipping the stations on the in-dash radio.  You’d be cruising through Buttfuck, with one hand on the wheel and the other on the dial.  Just looking for something to entertain you.

It was like a Rorschach test of America.  You’d find the most amazing things.  Country.  Talk.  Religion.  And Top Forty.

Top Forty is not what it used to be.  It’s not a compendium of the best tracks in the land.  Now it’s ten or fifteen tracks of a specific genre, presently urban.  And I’ve got nothing against that, but I miss the Top Forty of old.  When we endured stuff like Louis Armstrong singing "Hello Dolly" fearful if we switched the station we’d miss the next British Invasion single.

And let me tell you…  Louis Armstrong sounded SPECTACULAR on KRAJ Saturday night.  But what really moved me was the Searchers’ "Love Potion Number 9".

"Love Potion Number 9" peaked at the end of the beginning of the revolution.  In December ’64, after we’d had a roller coaster ride with the Merseybeat.  It was not made for sun, "Love Potion Number 9" was a winter song, a song for darkness, a song for contemplation.

And as the song emanated from the Lexus’ speakers, I flashed on my father.  That Christmas.  Actually, the day after, driving back from Vermont after the skiing had been washed out in a torrential rainstorm.  We were somewhere in Massachusetts and he opened the door of the VistaCruiser and searched for the line in the middle of the road.  It was just that foggy.

We’d spent the evening at Skylight Ski Lodge in Manchester.  The only other teenager in residence told me how he’d finally caved.  Purchased his first Beatle album, "Beatles ’65".  I can’t listen to that record without thinking of him, even though I never saw him again.

This was back when the world was bigger.  When music could exist in a territory separate from television, from the evening news, from straight media.  Music was for us.

We lived for Cousin Brucie.  And Scott Muni, "Number One In The Nation!" before he left WABC for FM years later.  And, of course, Murray the K and the BMR.  Instead of iPods we got transistors.  We loaded them up with 9 volt batteries and put them on our desks to hear the countdown Tuesday nights as we did our homework.  We placed them under our pillows.  We were ADDICTED!

And our parents had no idea of our disease.  The Beatles were just those longhairs the older generation made fun of.

There was this army.  Actually, not dissimilar to the one on MySpace (or now  This land was for US!  Parents were out of it.  Just like my clueless peers think that MySpace is the land of sexual predators, and a place to break major label acts.

It was a secret language.  Based in music.

And that’s what we’ve lost.

Oh, there was a further explosion on the aforementioned FM.  And then on MTV.  And almost twenty years later, on Napster.  But now there’s no pulse, music is just another sold-out corporate affair, purveyed by mercenary fucks who’ve drained all the soul from the songs in order to profit.

Ironically, these same profiteers know every word, every lick of those Top Forty records of yore.  They remember when you had to rush home to play your favorite record.  When you lined up for tickets to the show.  When they were followers of a RELIGION!

Felice and I grew up a country away.  But this we shared.  These tunes.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure whether it was the radio, or her, singing along.

On the right the Sierras were getting shorter.  They were losing the scoop of ice cream crowning them.  The dried lake beds of the Owens Valley on the left were shrinking to nothing.  And then, during a commercial, scanning the dial I found that we now had reception from L.A.  KRTH was coming in loud and clear.

But K-EARTH was having a SEVENTIES weekend.  And everybody alive back then knew by that decade Top Forty was already dead.  That it was all happening on albums on FM.

So we switched back to 100.9.  For more of those Bakersfield oldies.  From the decade when Top Forty ruled, the sixties.

And that’s when I heard "Love Potion Number 9".  As the sun had finally descended behind the mountains.  As we were cruising on the two-lane just shy of Mojave.

I took my troubles down to Madam Ruth
You know, that gypsy with the gold capped tooth

I thought it was Madame RIOUX!  I thought she was Creole, from down Louisiana way.  The sound was so bad we could NEVER make out the words, and there was no Internet to straighten us out.

She’s got a pad down at Thirty Fourth and Vine
Sellin’ little bottles of Love Potion Number Nine

Wow, is this L.A?

I told her that I was a flop with chicks
I’ve been this way since Nineteen Fifty Six

Shit, I NEVER caught that line.  I use to "fmpff" it, as my dad used to say.  Oh, I’d sing along with "Nineteen Fifty Six", but I had no idea this was a song about some guy who needed help with the ladies.  I just thought he was waxing poetic about the effects of Love Potion Number 9!

She looked at my palm and she made a magic sign
She said, ‘What you need is Love Potion Number Nine’

Now I heard THIS!  But what truly makes the record, is what comes thereafter.

She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink
She said, ‘I’m gonna make it up right here in the sink.’
It smelled like turpentine and looked like India ink
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink

Oh, the conspiratorial eye contact!  And then the colloquial sink.  It was just between him and her.  But the concoction, it was illicit, it was scary, should he PARTAKE?

I knew what turpentine smelled like.  And I’d used India ink in art class.  (Wonder if they still do?)  But it was all just set-up.  For the LSD trip before most of us even knew what that drug WAS!

I didn’t know if it was day or night
I started kissin’ every thing in sight
But when I kissed a cop down at Thirty Fourth and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine

Oh, we were all in on it.  We were all addicted to the radio.  Although we might have garbled the lyrics, we knew these tracks better than multiplication tables.  They played at school sock hops, Bar Mitzvah parties, hell that’s how I GOT my copy of this record.  No, that’s wrong.  That’s how I got the Animals’ "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place".  By winning the dance contest at that Bat Mitzvah at the Rodeph Sholom, with Nancy, who would never dance with me again.

Coming out of the speakers, broadcasting from the California dust bowl, was an elixir just as powerful as the one the protagonist was downing in the song.  These records…they took us away, they were the center of our lives.  Music just isn’t that important anymore.

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