Crackerbox Palace: the adult world that never was

George Harrison (l.) and part-time Pythoner Neil Innes (in drag).

If you’ve read this blog very often, you probably know I grew up in a tiny Tennessee town with little in the way of cultural opportunities. That meant I learned about music from two sources: WHBQ, an AM station in Memphis where you could hear just about anything (alas, now an all-talk sports station), and the more narrowly-formatted Rock 104 from Jackson, one of the FM hard-rock stations that have also vanished.

While reading Julian Dawson’s biography of all-star session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, I was reminded of the music I listened to then, and how distant, urbane and sophisticated it seemed to me at the time. In particular, I found George Harrison’s “Crackerbox Palace” going around in my head.

(To hear the song and see the Eric Idle-directed video, you’ll have to click on this link. Embedding “disabled by request.”)

Because it was by an ex-Beatle, the song went into ongoing rotation at Rock 104, where it shared airtime with “Free Bird,” “Kashmir” and “Beth.” At the time, I assumed it was rife with hidden drug references, obscure bits of English trivia and sophisticated Anglophile wordplay. Moreover, I imagined that the people who “got” all these hidden meanings were themselves urbane adults who wore black turtlenecks, smoked smoothly rolled joints (I hadn’t heard about cocaine yet) and chatted about the latest literary events. I was certain these people actually knew George Harrison personally, and dined at his mansion while listening to his tales of what the song was really about (keep in mind I was a 13-year-old when this song came out). I wanted to be part of this clique someday, and assumed (because as a kid, it all seemed possible) that once my first book was published, it would just happen.

I’m not sure when this particular image of “adulthood” finally faded. Now I recognize the song as ridiculously insubstantial, almost as thin as the solo stuff McCartney was excoriated for back then. I understand the nature of the money-and-drug culture that fueled creative people at that level (though not from personal experience; I’m nowhere near that interesting). And if I were forced to hang out with a bunch of dope-smoking, lit-quoting, turtleneck-wearing Brits today, I’d probably jump out the window.

But at some level, I’m disappointed that adulthood turned out to be what it is. I seldom get a chance to listen to music uninterrupted, certainly very little new music, and nothing on the level of the Beatles, together or apart. I don’t do drugs, or drink anything stronger than coffee anymore. I don’t hang out with celebrities; occasionally I meet one, but it’s never as an equal. I spend most of my time worrying, writing and parenting.

So now that I think about it, maybe my original idea of “adulthood” wasn’t so bad after all. Is it too late to go to Crackerbox Palace?

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