Thursday, April 24, 2014

No. 42 – Love Is Alive

Performer: Gary Wright
Songwriter: Gary Wright
Original Release: The Dream Weaver
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: The studio version.

I always liked this song better than the much more well-known Dream Weaver, at first simply because it WASN’T Dream Weaver, kind of like I always liked Mike Tomczak at Ohio State, because he WASN’T Art Schlichter, who I hated (and long before we learned what a loser he really was).

Then, I started to like Love Is Alive on its own merits (same with Tomczak when he went to the Chicago Bears). It has the same dreamy quality as Dream Weaver but a much groovier beat. It also has a prominent place in the Will Soundtrack.

As I mentioned, when I schemed to create an opening to ask out a brunette at Northwestern named Robin (good ol’ No. 541), our first date wasn’t Armadillo Day in June 1987, it was on my 23rd birthday a few days before. That ended up being a quite a day.

The Thursday started with hiking across campus from my soon-to-be-vacated Engelhart Hall to the old intramural gym for a workout, something I started doing the previous fall. Then it was across the street to the intramural diamonds.

Medill set up a day of slowpitch softball among all the reporting classes. Each class was a team, and four classes participated. There was some debate about whether we should play regular softball or Chicago 16-inch softball. The former required a glove, the latter did not. Well, I wasn’t having any of that godless communist non-glove nonsense. I brought my mitt after all.

Most of sports agreed, so we played 12-inch against Business or Arts. I can’t remember. Anyway, we had a distinct advantage in that our team was almost all guys who could play a little. (Go figure in a sportswriting class.)

The game was over after the first batter—me. Just as everyone was getting settled in, I bombed the first pitch way over the left-fielder’s head and raced around the bases with my sunglasses and keys falling out of my shorts pockets along the way. It was 1-0, and sports never trailed.

But lightning struck twice that day. My next at bat, I did the same thing. Even with the outfielders playing a little deeper, I hammered a pitch into the left-center gap for my second straight home run—the only time I got two homers in a single non-kickball game.

Well, the next time up, the left fielder stood practically in the infield of the next diamond. I didn’t homer, and the pitcher celebrated a moral victory.

We won 15-4, and aside from the slugging honors, I also picked up the victory on the mound, the first time I’d pitched since I was 11. I started in the infield, but our pitcher was having so much trouble finding the strike zone that he asked if anyone else wanted to pitch. I said I was willing to give it a try and did OK.

After that, we played against the winner of the 16-inch game—this one also with 12-inch rules—for the unofficial Medill reporting championship. This time Sports won 4-1, and I pitched the entire game. The only run I gave up was a titanic home run hit by one of the profs who had the fastest person on either team guest run for him as a ringer. (That game convinced me that I could pitch softball, so when I next played—in Grand Blanc in 1991—I volunteered to take the mound.)

Anyway, it had been a great afternoon, and now I had a date, so I was hopeful for a great night. Softball had been a nice distraction, but now that that was over, and I was back in my room getting ready, I started getting nervous. Robin was the first person I’d be going out with since I’d broken up with Beth in March. Aside from Beth, my dating experience had been scant.

My nervousness continued to increase, and by the time I got to Robin’s apartment, I was a basket case. I can’t remember what the plan was for that night, but all I know is that by the time we sat down at the bar for dinner, I was so worked up over my nerves that I couldn’t eat. I felt queasy and thought I was going to get sick.

I couldn’t take it any more, and I had to beg out of our date—at the table, after we’d already been served drinks. I had told Robin that I wasn’t feeling well, so she wasn’t entirely surprised when I begged off, but I felt humiliated nonetheless.  I knew it was nothing more than nerves, but I couldn’t make it stop.

But before we split for the night, I decided to come clean—to her and perhaps myself. In a square in downtown Evanston, I told Robin that I really liked her but I felt very nervous and shy, particularly around women. I wasn’t really sick; I’d made myself sick. I apologized and went home, feeling like the biggest loser in the world. Happy birthday …

Around that time, a new guy, Kevin Matthews, started doing late nights on a fill-in basis on the Loop. For quite a long time, it seemed, the first song out of the box—sometimes the song that introduced his show—was Love Is Alive. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, and I remember how much I liked it.

Well, the night of my birthday, I went home, got out of my clothes and just climbed into bed with the lights off, even though it was only about 8. When you have a good funk going, what’s the sense of doing anything to try and cheer yourself up?

My queasiness was gone, because, of course, my date was over. I flipped on the radio, and Kevin Matthews was getting started. He was playing Love Is Alive. As I lay on my bed feeling sorry for myself, the phone rang. It was Robin. She said she’d found my address in the directory, walked over and called to know how I was doing. She was downstairs. I couldn’t believe it.

I quickly threw on some clothes, and when I got downstairs, she asked if I wanted to talk some more. I did, so we hiked over to the lake and talked for hours. I wasn’t nervous any more, and at the end of the night, she said she wanted to try again. So did I.

I lost touch with Robin soon after classes ended in another week. She graduated and moved back to Kentucky, and I never saw her again. We only went out twice, but she was very important to me, because she made me fess up that most of my issues with women were my own. My experience with Robin set me up for experiences later that summer with Sasha and Jessica … for the rest of my life, really.

After Robin, I wasn’t nervous when I went out with women … at least until I returned to the scene of the crime 17 years later, but, then, you already knew that.

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