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 over ten years ago. It struck me then as 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 has aged into something beyond itself. Our 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 the work-a-day patterns of our lives; of the 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 aging souls expand enough to value what we thought at the time was dross — become 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 9,363,832 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 my own memory of that song heard first in the summer of 1977 somewhere in London, New York, or Burgundy in France. I loved the summer of 1977. It was one of my favorite years. ’77 was one of those luminous years when everything in my life seemed to fall right and come together into something you could assign to happiness. After ’77 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 in my life 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 will be again.”