At the moment, I am lying in bed, listening to Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time. I am hearing the album fresh again after feeling a deep connection to it as a kid. I cannot ever hear it with unbiased ears though.
When I was 8, our good family friend Danny O'Keefe played a show in town opening for his friend Bonnie Raitt at the Aladdin Theatre. It was summer and a hot day. I was excited at the prospect of staying up late. I went with my family, sat through the performance, and afterwards we went backstage. There was just a small group of us, all standing around back there, and Bonnie came over to me to say hello. She was really nice and had a big smile, a scratchy voice, and beautiful unreal hair. When she came over to me, she was holding a fragrant white flower called a tuberose, and she said, "Here doll, this is for you." As she handed it to me, I could smell the thick tropical aroma of the flower - never before had I seen or smelled such exoticness.
"I'll tell you a secret. I always keep a bouquet of tuba roses next to my bed," she said, "so that when I wake up next to someone in the morning, I can suck in the sweet smell of the flowers before turning around to them to say 'good morning.' That way he will think I have sweet morning breath."
"Wow, thank you," I whispered, smiling, having no real idea what she was talking about.
After telling me this little secret of hers, she left. We went home with her album Nick of Time on cassette. I listened to it the next day, and also every single day after that for the whole rest of the summer and on into the fall. I loved dancing to it because it made me feel tough and special, since it wasn't my parents' or my brother's; Bonnie herself had confided a personal secret to me! I felt connected to the music. At the time I thought I really understood all the lyrics too. I could really relate: "I don't need a man with a monkey on his back, I need a real man." I imagined some dude with a pet monkey that he always carried around on his back trying to date Bonnie. But she wasn't into it. She wanted a guy who didn't have any pets. Or: "Are you ready for a thing called love? Don't come from me or you, it come from up above, I ain't no porcupine, take off your kid gloves." I pictured a music video in my head - Bonnie as a part-porcupine, part-blues singer, and this guy is trying to be with her, but he has these little kid hands with little gloves on them, and she is totally not into it.
I remember these images and interpretations so well. They were etched into my head day after day, listen after listen, for months. I can see them so clearly after all these years. I wonder if my family ever got sick of hearing that tape? I know it was slowly phased out with other obsessions of mine, like Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, The Pogues, Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams.
But I don't think my brother ever forgot my obsession with Nick of Time, because last Christmas he gave me a copy of it on vinyl. There she was, Bonnie Raitt with her magic hair and giant belt buckle, standing there on the cover, just as she was the night of the Tuba Rose (to this day it is my favourite flower), smiling, tempting me to play it and be tossed back to 1989 like a fish into a whirlpool. And that I did - I listened to it like I was starving and it was a big hunk of bread and cheese. I played it for weeks every morning as I got ready for the day. All the lyrics still memorised, eventually realising that I had no idea what she was really talking about all those years ago. I laughed about my crazy interpretations, because her words and feelings all seem so clear now, so universal and relatable, as I get older, I relate to lyrics on a real level, and I am grateful for the ever-changing life of words, and for the way some songs can come back to you like old friends, when you need them.