So Close Words & Music by Steve Gillette
This song was written for my twentieth high school reunion. I brought my brother Jeff to the banquet and we played for my classmates. I had printed up copies of the lyrics and had them on each table so people could read along. This seemed to help in the way the song was accepted and, if I can say so, appreciated. The response was very gratifying.
Because it was written with that occasion in mind, I chose the language to suggest that we had a bond which could be confirmed even after a long absence. And along with that idea, I wanted to hint at the disparate paths that each of us might have walked to bring us back together again at that moment.
Carl Jung wrote that, “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” He also said that, "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." and "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
As far as the inferno of passions, my sense of that was more a timid longing for an authentic and exciting life than what we had at Whittier High School. Looking back, it seemed that it was really a rehearsal, an emulation of the adult life ahead of us. But of course, at the time it seemed like everything.
We were subject to our longings, our fears, hopes, frustrations and anxieties. We wished to be more than we were, and with the encouragement of our teachers we strove to be. Some of that striving had to wait until we were on our own, and some still occupies us. Mostly I remember being callow, uncertain, wishing I was stronger, faster, more masterful of my own faculties.
As I remember my classmates, there is a sweetness, an almost unqualified affection for all of us in our shared plight. There were only a troublesome few who exhibited even a hint of menace, nothing like the gangs of today. Nothing about guns, even a knife would have been an idiot thing to bring to school. I can only remember one incident when someone threatened me with a knife, but we both understood it was more of a show and tell than a real danger.
There were so many wonderful young women in my life then, but no real romantic connection, other than innocent praise for a silk screen project, or a song in the talent show. It was all so virginal, so platonic, at least in my experience of the time. And it’s become a cliché that the high school football hero rarely goes on to exceed that moment of glory. Some consolation in that.
Confidence was something that most of us lacked. We hadn't had the experience of the world or of our own adventures to build any kind of self-reliance or core of identity. They say that the teen-age brain is still not fully formed. We were really still children with all the pageantry of the grown-up world. But we did experience that world pretty soon, and it came upon us with a fury.
As I’ve said in the song, these relationships are always with us. I’ve wondered if Mr. Nakamura would have wanted to know my impressions of the Louvre or the Prado or the Rijksmuseum. Would Mr. DeNoon have approved of my own study of history, my venture into East Berlin, or how I’ve reflected on the plaque in his classroom with Thoreau’s different drummer all these years?
Whittier was a good place to grow up. The town had been founded in connection with a Quaker community and teacher’s college. Named for the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, it was settled on the site of the old Spanish land grant given to Manuel Nieto. The Quakers who arrived in the late eighteen-hundreds planted walnuts and citrus and both crops were very successful.
Our first house was built on a former orange grove and still had six orange trees in the back yard. Sometimes my friends and I would engage in wars in the groves, throwing the rotting oranges at each other and coming home sticky with pulp. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to help light smudge pots — stovepipe chimneys fitted over a pan of oil — to try to save the orange crop from the frost.
Several famous people come from our town. Nomar Garciaparra, shortstop for the Red Sox, and the man with the most amazing ritual of fastening and re-fastening the Velcro on his batting gloves before stepping up to the plate. Lou Henry became the wife of President Herbert Hoover, and lent her name to the school I attended for the sixth grade. Pat Ryan taught English at Whittier High before she married Richard Nixon. And, of course Nixon himself who attended Whittier High School and Whittier College.
For the video I’ve tried to fit images from my own high school yearbook, and generic photos from the fifties and sixties. It would require a feature length documentary to even touch on those days and all that has happened to us since, but the message of the song is the simple thought that those friends and that time will always occupy a special place in our lives. And we build on that as we go forward.
Many of the buildings that housed our classrooms were constructed in the depression days of the late thirties. There is a distinct Art Deco style to them and this attracted the producers of the Back to the Future films. There is a photo in the video of Michael J. Fox standing in front of the administration building with the school name changed to ‘Hill Valley High School.’
The track is from my CD, The Ways of the World. Roy Husky Jr. plays bass, Mark Harmon plays guitar and mandolin, Kenny Malone plays drums and Cindy Mangsen sings harmony. We hope you enjoy it. The music is also in the Steve Gillette Songbook. Please pass along the link to anyone you think would find it interesting.
"So Close" - Audio from The Ways of the World.
Video by Steve
Here are the lyrics and chords:
Lost to each
As far as we can
But we were
That are a
And we were
'Cause I've been
And I've been
When I turned it a
'Cause we were
© 1985, Foreshadow Songs, BMI