To: Mountain; From: A Mississippi Queen (Sort of.)

Dear Mountain,

When I was eleven years old, Santa brought me a transistor radio for Christmas.  The greatest thing about this radio was not that it was blue and shaped like a doughnut, but that it had FM on the dial.  Up to that point in my career, I had only listened to AM, but I knew that FM existed and that there was supposed to be something cool about it.

Panasonic radio

I loved my new radio and every night, I buried my head under my pillows and blankets to listen to it after lights out, hoping my parents wouldn’t catch me.  Fiddling with the dial on FM, I discovered one radio station that had a strong signal and I eagerly settled down to listen.  The song that I heard, ringing forth in tinny tones from a tiny speaker, spoke of ships and whales and true love. I had never heard anything like it.  I thought it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.  It didn’t hurt that the words “Robin-Marie” were in there, what with “Marie” being my name and all.

The thing about FM stations at the time was that there wasn’t much talking.  They would play a long list of songs before they would pause and tell you who and what you had been listening to, and often they never told you at all.  That was a wonderful thing, but for a rank novice like me, it was a problem. I had no idea what the title of the song was or who the band was.  I kept listening every night, hoping to hear that incredible song again, but I kept missing it.  I drew pictures of ships and whales in my notebook at school, and waited – all in vain.

Time passed and spring was at our doorstep, bringing the neighborhood kids out of doors – me to practice my hula hoop in the driveway, and the cool teenage boys who lived next door out to wash their Chevelle.  Being the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, they were the Holmes boys – that’s what everyone in the neighborhood called them – not to be confused with the modern expression “home boys”.  Standing in the driveway, concentrating hard to keep the hula hoop going, I hear a sound…a lovely sound…coming from the vicinity of the Chevelle in the driveway next door.  Ships…whales…and what to my wondering ears should appear….my SONG!

Too over-awed by their teenage boy status to cross the great gulf (of lawn – a few yards) fixed betwixt me and their driveway, I wait until the song ends and I shout out…

HEY, Y’ALL!  WHAT SONG WAS THAT?

One of the Holmes boys shouts back, “THAT WAS ‘NANTUCKET SLEIGHRIDE’ BY MOUNTAIN”.

I shout back something like, “OH”.

Then I hear, “YOU LIKE THAT, MARIE?” (I nod.)  ‘WELL, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!”

At this point, one of the Holmes boys fiddles with the 8 track player in the car and suddenly,

MISSISSIPPI QUEEN, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, fiercely erupts in a cloud of metal and testosterone, causing my jaw to drop as I freeze in mid-hula.

The song ends and Holmes Boy A shouts, “HEY MARIE, MAYBE THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT YOU!!”

Holmes Boy B responds with “DOWN AROUND VICKSBURG, AROUND LOUISIANA WAY, LIVES A CAJUN LADY” (All of which was quite true and applicable. Well, the location part was reasonably close, and there’s a little Cajun in my bloodline, so I’ll claim that part as true too. But don’t hold me to the details, Mountain.)

Both Holmes boys fall about with derisive laughter as only teenage boys can do, while I stand, staring, mouth agape, clinging pitifully to my hula hoop in my culottes and flip-flops.  I muster my remaining shreds of pre-pubescent dignity, turn on my heel, and walk inside, going straight to my room, muttering Mountain, Mountain, Mountain to myself so I won’t forget.  I write Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride and Mississippi Queen on the inside of my notebook, then I walk to the kitchen, where my mom is making lunch, and I say,

“Mom, will you take me to the record store?”

The point is, Mountain, I love you deeply.  “Nantucket Sleighride” was my first crush, I think.  I know it sounds weird that my first crush was a song, but there it is.  And I’ve shaken a tail feather or two to “Mississippi Queen” in my time, reveling in its sizzlin’ magnificence, as have so many other would-be-Mississippi-queens.

Thanks for everything, Mountain.  You started me on a musical journey that has lasted a lifetime.  Also, thank you, Holmes boys, wherever you are.

And to my first crush, Nantucket Sleighride, I’d just like to say, back at you….

There are years behind us reaching

To the place where hearts are beating

And I know, you’re the last true love I’ll ever meet

And I know, you’re the last true love I’ll ever meet

Yours Always,

A Mississippi Queen (Sort of.)

And here it is, “Nantucket Sleighride”.  What a masterpiece!  The font on the first few slides is a little hard to read at times , but it’s worth trying because it’ll tell you all about the meaning behind the song.

Still sizzlin’…

Thoughts?  Comments?  Mountain-lover?  Please share!

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “To: Mountain; From: A Mississippi Queen (Sort of.)

  1. Appreciated the historical background to the song: am going to suggest that any Japanese whaling in the Southern oceans be conducted only by six people in a row-boat. That’d sort the buggers out.
    Anyway, environmental rants aside, enjoyed hearing the solid blues-rock of Messrs Pappalardi, West et al. The only Mountain song I’d really clocked was ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’ via the Jack Bruce connection.

  2. Yeah, whaling makes me sad and I hate it. It’s horrible. Of course, none of that occurred to me as a kid. All I was aware of was the intense drama and romance of the song. Both of these songs were huge hits in the states. I’m glad you enjoyed them. 🙂

    • “You Know You Have Too Many Records When…”
      … a couple of weeks after thanking someone for (re-)acquainting you with a song (see above), you stumble across the album on your own shelves.
      ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ is on the turntable as I type. Sigh.

      • Haha! That’s so cool! I’m glad you found it. This just goes to prove your quote from our friend Mr. Fry about music being social. 🙂

  3. Jamie

    Interesting post. That’s a cute transistor. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Mountain before, not sure their music made it across to the UK, or maybe I just missed it. But I liked the two songs you put up. It’s always fascinating to see how incidents from our childhood stay with us and alter our lives in small or big ways. I can remember having a crush on a girl when I was about 10 and when I discovered her name was Michelle and I happened to hear my sister’s Beatles’ 45 Michelle I walked around for weeks singing the song to myself. Ah, puppy love…. (and that’s another story/song isn’t it….)

  4. Hi Jamie, thanks for commenting and I’m glad you liked the songs. You inspired this post with your comment about how you were introduced to Yes through a transistor radio. It’s funny how most songs seem to hop back and forth between the US and the UK so easily, yet occasionally you will come across one that couldn’t swim (ha ha). One that comes to mind for me would be the beautiful, Hendrix-esque “I See the Rain” by Marmalade. They hit big over here with “Reflections of my Life”, but I don’t recall ever hearing “I See the Rain” until just a few years ago on Youtube. I think it’s all about how they are promoted and marketed.

    By the way, I studied in England while in college and I really wanted to stay forever, but reality called and told me I had to come home and get a job. Darn reality, always taking the fun out of everything. Anyway, for all these years since, I’ve been a member of the vast throng of American UK-idolizers who watch BBC-America, anxiously await news on the royals, and secretly wish we’d never dumped the tea in the harbor. 🙂

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  9. I love your writing style, and this was great. Thanks for sharing. I had a girlfriend introduce me to “Theme for an Imaginary Western” which I loved. But then I heard her best friend’s fave, “Nantucket Sleighride”, and musically it was all over. I eventually heard all their recorded music, and nothing could touch the version of Sleighride on _The Road Goes Ever On_. My love for that album has gone unrequited for nearly 40 years, but today I finally found a copy– immaculate vinyl at a discount used CD price. I’m a happy man.

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