Every October the carnival came to town. It would set up in Fireman’s Field, a wide open empty space of thick green grass, which was right across the street from the firehouse in the center of town. The carnival was typical of its kind back then: there were thrill rides, booths with games of chance and carnival food. One year, a friend of mine, Kenny Bowen, got the gig of sitting in one of the booths. It was to sell apples and apple cider, if I’m not mistaken. I think Kenny was sitting in for his brother that night. His older brother may or may not have had a date, I don’t remember. What I do remember is sitting in that booth, being on the other side of things for once. Feeling special. It was 1972. We were thirteen years old and thinking we were pretty cool. Another thing I remember from that night was the music.
Now, carnivals have their own music. Either playing on overhead speakers (usually country music), coming from the rides (the shrieks and screams), or coming from the hundreds of people talking and laughing. It was loud. But inside the booth things were a little quieter. Quiet enough to play our own music.
Kenny’s brother had setup a tuner and turntable and a couple bookshelf speakers in among the baskets of apples and gallons of cider. A crate stuffed with record albums sat on the ground under the back shelf. The music I was used to hearing was my sister’s 45s: Sly and the Family Stone, Jackson 5, James Brown, The O’Jays. I didn’t have my own music yet. At thirteen, I was just discovering life. What did I know? Then Kenny pulled out this album that had these three guys on the cover, hand drawn like a portrait. It was by a group I’d never heard of: Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The album was Trilogy. And it changed the way I listened to music.
It must have been that strange coincidence of age and atmosphere and my mind being open to new things that made the experience so profound. But the minute Kenny put that record on, and those first few notes–like whistles from someone or something unknown calling you down a dark alley–I was entranced. There was heavy piano (I played piano), bass and drums. There was an urgency to the playing, a dark desperation like trying to tame something malevolent. It was the essence of my life at that moment captured in song. “The Endless Enigma” (yes), “From the Beginning” (yes), “Trilogy” (oh, yes), and “Abaddon’s Bolero,” a brooding, building, climactic instrumental that ends the album with the same uncertainly as it began. It was all my questions (and some new ones) condensed and contained in vinyl.
I think that was the only album we played that night. I don’t remember us selling anything. I don’t remember any other music Kenny might have played. I kept going back to the beginning of that album, back to the beginning, round and round like a circular argument that had no answers, only questions.
And to this day, some forty-plus years later, I revisit that album that expanded my mind, my world. And though dated by the technological inadequacies of the time, it still has the power to transport me, to take me to a more innocent moment in my life when each new question was a new world to explore.
I miss those times, but I also know I’m a more enlightened person because of them.
My mind is still open, still searching, still seeking that perfect melody to my own endless enigma.
For more great writing by Kurt Newton, check out his terrifying horror works, Something Profound and The Wood Box.