‘Details’

When I wrote Tuesday about Vanity Fare’s 1970 record “(I Remember) Summer Morning,” I said:

It’s possible, however, that even as he liked the record back in 1970, the young whiteray might have noticed even back then that the tale of romance is strong on generalities and very light on details of what the two innocents did during their summer: Did they ride the roller coaster at Beckman Park, or swim to the raft in the sunshine at Lake Anna, or walk along Crescent Street in the rain? The record doesn’t say.

It’s possible I noticed, but today I’d guess that during the summer of 1970, when the Vanity Fare record sat for two weeks at No. 98 in the Billboard Hot 100, I wouldn’t have noticed that absence of details.

Why do I guess that? Because I remember a gentle and kind English teacher from my senior year at St. Cloud Tech High School, a time that was just a week or two away when the Vanity Fare single failed to do much in the charts. It was during that senior year that I began to write my own lyrics, most likely inspired by both my immersion in Top 40 listening and my quest to win the affections of a blonde sophomore girl. Not all of those early lyrics were love songs, but a lot of them were. And one day, probably early in 1971, I summoned up the courage to show a few of my efforts to my English teacher, Mrs. Spanier, and ask her what she thought of them.

I recall particularly well her comments about one of those lyrics, a brief entry titled “If You Need Me.” I’ll spare you most of it, but the final verse was:

I know you never will
But I wish you felt the same.
For you know I won’t forget you.
I’ll always know your name.

“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Spanier, “but is that all you’re going to remember about her? Her name? I don’t think so.”

She circled that verse and wrote in the margin of the paper “Details.”

“I don’t know who this is written for,” she said, “but I’m sure you’ll remember more than that. You’ll remember the way she held her head when she laughed, the way the sun shone on her hair, maybe just the way she ate a candy bar. Those are the details that can make a poem or a song memorable.”

In other words, details like the roller coaster at Beckman Park, the raft at Lake Anna and the rain on Crescent Street – all of them fictional, as far as I know – that showed up in Tuesday’s post. When I thought about it later on Tuesday, I realized that I’d used Mrs. Spanier’s advice as I wrote.

Her critique of my early and awkward work was one of the more important and memorable lessons of my life. It’s helped me tell other people’s stories during my reporting years, and it’s helped me tell my own story in my lyrics, in my fiction, and at this blog.

And here’s a track with a story-related title that was sitting at No. 41 in the Hot 100 on August 28, 1971, forty-three years ago today, when I was likely pondering my upcoming freshman year of college and perhaps even writing a lyric and trying to use Mrs. Spanier’s advice while doing so. Here’s “The Story In Your Eyes” by the Moody Blues.

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