Calvin once said to Hobbes, “I thought my life would seem more interesting with a musical score and a laugh track.” In many ways, our lives do have soundtracks. From my youngest days dramatic music has moved me and Jim Steinman always seemed to know just which buttons to push and strings to pull to bring it off. Growing up in humble circumstances, however, I missed the whole video craze that accompanied MTV, back when MTV still showed music. Friends would tell me about the great videos I was missing, and I let my imagination run wild. Recently, however, a friend pointed out the video of Bonnie Tyler singing the Steinman hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on YouTube. This particular video brings together so much of my adult life that it seems like Steinman spent a few years inside my head. Well, maybe not that much. The song came out just as my first love was breaking up with me, back in college. I attended Grove City College, a campus that, despite its pristine Christian image, can be very gothic at night. The first chords of that song are always like a stake through my heart. Few experiences in life are as dramatic as unrequited love. Just queue up that song and I’m a college junior again.
The video, however, is set in an old-style boy’s boarding school. The setting is not far off from the antiquated campus of Nashotah House seminary, gothic both by day and by night. The imagery of the video employs English trappings of cassocks and surplices and candles along with clandestine romps in the night. Seminaries, in my experience, leave many secrets in their shadows. My heartbreak as an undergraduate cannot compare with some of the drama I witnessed both as a student and a professor in seminary. The pious are often among the most passionate of people, but they must learn to be actors before their congregations. Such inherent conflict is fertile ground for intense drama. The video plays this out with the headmistress (Tyler) fantasizing about her young male charges in a highly ritualized, yet anarchic setting. Too close to the truth.
The sacred and the profane lie close together and may be teased apart only with difficulty. The experience of buying an LP when I was a teenager was an investment for not just the sound, but also the album art, the aroma of the vinyl and ink when the plastic wrap first came off, the feel of the heavy paper sleeve housing the disc. It could transport me to another place. Today the iPod reduces the sounds down to background noise, not a soundtrack. The drama we create for our lives is efficient and convenient, but in the end, plastic. Perhaps it is Calvin’s laugh track. No matter. Even if it is on YouTube, with its electronic sound, that video will take me back decades in time, and will be one of the repeated songs on the soundtrack of my life.