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Dust in the Wind and the Summer of 77

We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.

— Eliot, The Dry Salvages

Following a memory of my own, I “found” this video shortly after it was posted to YouTube around three years ago. It struck me then as enormously powerful in that offhand, out-of-left-field way that found objects can be. The power of this short window into 1977 is that it captures, without intent, the elements of memory. It melds the plaintive almost psalmic acoustic hit by Kansas with an imagery whose sheer faded quality adds to an overall impression of other times once lived and now gone beyond recall. It is the essence of “time in a bottle.”

Ordinary when made the film aged into something beyond itself. The better memories do that. They seem, if we think of them at all at the time we have the experience we will later remember, to be just barely beyond the cusp of ordinary. Often we don’t even discover them as memories until years later when they emerge, not as they were, but as they have become as our souls expand enough to value what we thought at the time was dross as the real gold of our lives.

The fact that it was viewable by me at all was one of those strange conjunctions of love and fate that the Web has made possible. The video is under the YouTube account of “uselessdirector” who has in the years since he posted this posted only two other personal bits in his account. The response to those is what it should be. Negligible. But the response to this video is now above 3,640,000 6,277,000 9,391,787 views with fresh comments still coming in almost hourly.

What is the provenance of this video? Uselessdirector states only, “Filmed in 1977 by my dad, this music video nearly became “dust in the wind” until it was restored from its failing 8mm format.” His role was to see the film as it was made, 8MM or 16MM, and to save it as a video before time faded the film to invisibility. He caught it just in time and in doing so caught time itself. Then because he knew it had a value beyond itself and because he could, he placed it on YouTube where, in time, it was discovered.

From the video itself, we learn the names of the “Cast” in the credits and also see a list of “The Tribe.” Aside from that there are other hints to the spring or summer in which this was made. We discover it was made in Findley Lake, New York, a small rural community up near the shore of Lake Erie. Was “The Tribe” a group of friends or a small commune of the kind that were still common in those years? Did the young man and young woman paired as “Adam” and “Eve” have a relationship outside the film or was it only for the purposes of the film? Somehow I doubt it was the latter.

Looking a little deeper into the Net I found a few things worth noting. For one thing it is possible, through the odd but wonderful Google Street View to compare “Then” with “Now” and confirm, as if we did not know it with every cell of our being, that “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.”

 An interesting exercise in contrasting the present to a memory. But “interesting” is pretty much the finish of the exercise. In mere aesthetic terms it is obvious that the “Then” as evoked by the film image is far superior to the glimpse of “Now” gleaned by a Google Street View car sweeping by and capturing a slice of that particular road during the particular minute it passed that otherwise nondescript place on the edge of Findley Lake. The former is gold, the latter dross.

What was the memory I was following when I first found this film? It was the memory of that song heard first in the summer of 1977 somewhere in London, New York, or Burgundy. I loved the summer of 1977. It was one of my favorite years. It was one of those luminous years when everything seemed to fall right and come together into something you could assign to happiness. I’d wait 26 years for the next one.

I heard the song once again in memory. It was in a suburban mall parking lot in Connecticut on a chill winter evening during one of those years when it all went smash.

If I have to choose between memories I’ll take the one contained in this ineffable bit of short film saved from the fade and the fog of time. It’s one of those strange artifacts that evokes among those alive in the time it was made the cliched thought, “Dear God, were we ever that young?” Made on a whim during an afternoon, the film answers, “Yes, you were. Yes, we all were. And in time, with the grace of God, we all will be again.”

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • pbird December 29, 2017, 9:29 AM

    I do love that video.

  • Sam L. December 29, 2017, 9:30 AM

    Another classic, Gerard. Do it again, same time (or maybe on the 31st), next year.

  • GoneWithTheWind December 29, 2017, 1:29 PM

    Speaking of found objects and old memories. When my parents passed away some 20+ years ago I got their albums, old pictures not in the albums and a bunch of large format black and white negatives. When I retired 10 years later I had time to copy all the pictures to the computer and catagorize and label them. Then one day trying to decipher some of those old negatives by holding them up to the light (which is damned near impossible) I had a revelation. My parents, aunts and uncles were poor people and they printed each picture only once. But some/many of them they gave away. In other words I didn’t have a print of many of those negatives. So I began printing them and copying them to the computer. I found a few that I simply didn’t know the who, what, when or where of them. So on a visit back East I looked up an old cousin (I mean old as in 87) and she unlocked the mysteries. One sweet little 3 year old girl sitting next to me (the 4 year old boy) on the couch was a long lost second cousin who I didn’t remember. As luck would have it she lived 40 miles or so from my cousins house. So my wife and I drove over and she was standing in her driveway watching us pull in. When I saw her she looked very much like in that old picture except 68 years older. When I stepped out and told her who I was the look on her face was worth all that effort to track her down.

  • Guaman December 29, 2017, 1:39 PM

    I do think this needs an annual re-running. Some things like the movie Casablanca are good and just don’t age. Literature has its diamonds too. Not enough time for that, but keep this one in front of us now and again for as long as you can. Thank you for reposting it.

  • ghostsniper December 29, 2017, 2:47 PM

    So we try to be something in the brief time we’re here.

  • Tom Hyland December 29, 2017, 9:11 PM

    I like very much that it was black & white and crunchy on the edges. Did someone attempt to colorize the flowers or did the film simply fade to this level? The editing was bit abrupt… if those ghosts of days past could have faded slowly to nothing this film would be world renown. But whoever was throwing the dust did a great job. Summer of ’77 I was 21 years old and that guy sitting in the circle with the black hair… without a shirt… scared me a second. Looked just like me.

  • Ok December 30, 2017, 9:01 AM

    Perfect nostalgia. I was this age in ’77. We listened to this song (album actually) on heavy rotation with Boston and Rush. But the words never meant what they mean now, after 40 years of growing older, loss of friends and family, pain, and the relentless decay and spinning of the earth. Even back then we thought we understood the meaning, but now we feel it in every cell of our aching bones. We truly are dust in the wind, and there is a lump in my dusty throat.

  • Joyful December 30, 2017, 2:29 PM

    Still haunts me. I was 11 and in my suburban detroit kitchen, im the youngest of a yugh family and was not alone at the time for sure, and the melody that i recognized from hearing it on the radio was replaying on the kitchen tv and was accompanied by video showing tumbleweeds. It held me, a Catholic girl growing up across from the church where each ash wednesday we would stop in the church and receive ashes and a reminder that we came from dust. I remember my dad catching my eye, he had been watching me watch the song. He was gentle, not much older then than i am now, and i would guess he was determining if he should assure me or not. He didnt so i guessed there was some truth in that song.

    Now that im closer to returning to the dust i practice much more… and i pray for mercy.

  • Jim January 4, 2018, 6:13 AM

    Thanks for sharing that. Ah, summer of 77, I was 17 and just graduated from HS. The best of times, cool cars, cool hair, cool clothes…..40 amazing years later those cars are still cool, even more so. The hair and clothes, not so much. Charlie’s Angels, Kojak, and Wonder Woman, Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit, Dust in the Wind, Carry on my Wayward Son, and Night Moves. Gosh those were good times. No I take that back, women had burned their bras a few years earlier, so it was the best of times for a young red blooded American male!