You don’t have to be alone to feel alone
You can have someone and still feel alone

“Better Side Of Life”
Emitt Rhodes

My favorite album of the past two years is Emitt Rhodes’s “Rainbow Ends.”

At this point we’re disappointed by the new work of our heroes. It’s like they’ve lost the formula, what made them great to begin with. They’re afraid of losing touch with who and what they once were and they end up concocting music that sounds too much like what they’ve already done and it leaves us blah. That element of surprise, of limit-testing, is gone. So what are the hopes of an aged barely ever been?

Nearly zero.

But “Rainbow Ends” is a revelation.

Imagine if you were the same person you ever were. Threw off the trappings and were your naked nineteen year old self, but with all the experience of the ages wearing you down. Then you’d have “Rainbow Ends.”

I don’t know how people grow up, become mature, buy a house, have children, wear expensive suits and act like an adult. I certainly haven’t. Not that I exactly ever desired to. But the whole world changed and I didn’t, which is quite confounding. And at this point I’m not sure where to turn because now there’s a dividing line, between winners and losers, those who’ve adjusted and those who have not, those economically sufficient and those complaining that they are not. And the conundrum is that the winners are so much more satisfying to hang with, because they’re not bitching that they’ve been screwed. As for myself, I don’t feel I got the wrong end of the stick, I went on my own journey, I’m willing to sacrifice in a world where no one seems willing to. I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything, I don’t expect anything to work out, which is why I’m so surprised when it does. Like “Rainbow Ends.”

He doesn’t sound like Emitt Rhodes anymore. Not a McCartney clone, but your uncle who watches football and drinks beer and sings in a gruff voice. But it’s as if someone paused the world with the remote control and this puffy man stood up and started to sing and dance, tell his truth. And it’s my truth too.

It’s hard to explain how we were enthralled with melody, good voices, in an era where you couldn’t fake it, where you had to have the talent and the chops, which Emitt Rhodes certainly had, which are still evidenced in his new work. He speaks about the modern condition, on the losing end of a marriage, but he still has his hopes intact, he still dreams it will work out. That’s the essence of “Rainbow Ends”‘s title track.

I wanna be somewhere far away
Somewhere where I won’t be afraid
I wanna be sheltered safe and warm
I wanna be somewhere far from harm

Which is inside a record for me. I put on these tunes and I feel cocooned, I have the belief that things will work out. My mind is set free and…

I wanna be somewhere in the sun
Getting tanned having fun
I wanna be with the ones I love
Hold them close give them hugs

I can picture it in my mind, even if it never comes to pass, I believe it’s possible, the years have caused attrition, but there’s still that spark. And when I want to feel rooted with hope I put on “Rainbow Ends.”

So I put it on last night, and marveled how it’s the same guy yet different.

So I decided to go back to the beginning.

It’s really about that initial ABC/Dunhill album. If it was released today it would be a revelation, a distillation of the essence of Paul McCartney filtered through west coast rock. If Emitt was on TV tomorrow the judges would be stupefied into silence, when they could ultimately speak, after exhortations of perfection they’d say how “With My Face On The Floor” was a number one record.

It wasn’t.

Emitt Rhodes was caught in the schism between AM and FM. He was not a pop wimpster and all his contemporaries had moved to the FM dial but he was too poppy for that band. Still, when you dropped the needle…

And “Fresh As A Daisy” belonged on one of those McCartney LPs as much as the bard from Liverpool’s did.

But the song from that first album that resonated with me most last night was “Somebody Made For Me,” because we all dream there’s someone made for us, but really it’s the construction of the song.

And when you buy an LP as special as this, you buy the follow-up, at least you did when we paid money and didn’t care if they hit only that they fulfilled us. 1971’s “Mirror” isn’t quite as special as its predecessor, but it’s less slick and has peaks just as high, like “Love Will Stone You,” it will, but you’ll come down, that’s what the song says. We used to debate these lyrics endlessly back when that’s what you did in college, before the era of diversions. But the song that transfixed me at two in the morning was “Better Side Of Life.”

Everything that ever was will never be again
We’re only lonely people now wondering where we’ve been

It’s the human condition. You’re alone. I don’t care how many people are around you, brothers/sisters, lovers/friends. They cannot get into your brain, never know what you really feel, your only hope is you can resonate and catch a connection every once again. But the strange thing is we identify most, feel least alone, when we connect with art.

Rarely does it take you more than once or twice to learn
That love is so much deeper when you let the fever burn

There’s a fever. Deep in your heart, your chest, when a record resonates. You feel like you belong on the planet, that all your choices were good and you know what you’re doing.

Proving, once again, that art is best when it’s personal, inward-looking, not worrying about external perception, but trying to hew to its own inner tuning fork.

The funny thing about Emitt Rhodes is he’s still the same guy. Doing his best but ending up with the short end of the stick. But none of us win all the time, usually the opposite is true, no matter how much success you’ve had. You lose your job, your fame, you never have another hit, your spouse leaves you, dies, your children won’t talk to you, then what?

Loneliness will capture you in moments of despair

Ain’t that true, it’s the scourge of life. We spend our entire lives trying to avoid, eradicate it. And despite our best efforts, this is sometimes impossible to do. We go to a party, we go to a club, and we can only wish we were at home, we feel even more alienated, in a bubble, everybody’s having fun, why can’t we?

And the older you get the more downtrodden you become, you don’t even make the effort. Abodes are full of baby boomers who’ve given up, watching their television sets, not risking connection because they’ve been hurt too much. Opiates gain deserved attention, but loneliness is the real plague of modern life, when you no longer have to leave home to live, many people don’t.

And there’s a strong possibility
That we might often fail to see the better side of life

I know this sounds contradictory, but that’s Emitt Rhodes in a nutshell, just when he’s screaming towards the cliff he pulls up and decides not to drive off, he still has hope.

I hope you still do too.

The holidays are tough.

So put on your favorite record, pull up your favorite TV show, know that the creators are just like you, with more questions than answers, soldiering on until they feel safe and comfortable.

Like I do listening to Emitt Rhodes.

The Better Side of Life – Spotify

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