Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No. 50 – Crime of the Century

Performer: Supertramp
Songwriters: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson
Original Release: Crime of the Century
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Paris, 1980.

Well, I suppose now that we’re in the top 50, I should talk more about the songs themselves, and why they’re where they are. I mean, why in the Hell is a Supertramp song anywhere near my top 100 let alone in a position where only 49 songs are ahead of it on my list?

Just give this one a listen, if you can find the Paris version. I’ve never heard the studio version, but I suspect it’s mostly the same. (I’ve found older versions that are much slower, which softens the impact.) Crime of the Century starts out as this moody ode and turns into something much bigger. Its symphonic finale picks you off the ground and lifts you into the sky. That’s what good music should do: Make you feel it. I feel this song.

Speaking of feeling something, when I left the Fiji House my freshman year in college, I didn’t feel remorse. I missed my pledge brothers, who kept their distance from me for the most part, because I abandoned them. The exception was walk-out in January 1983.

Walk-out was an annual Fiji tradition whereby the pledge class disappears for a weekend, telling no one and leaving the actives to somehow fend for themselves. Naturally, they don’t and—because they lack self-respect—just mess up the house further, so the pledges have to work all night making the place look respectable again, not unlike after Hell night.

Anyway, an invitation was extended to include me on walk-out. I knew it was because I had a car and most of them didn’t, so I’d be able to haul a fair number of bodies, but I didn’t care. I just enjoyed being included.

The plan, determined by the pledge class president, was University of Wisconsin in Madison. We’d leave in the middle of the night and drive to one of the pledge’s homes in Da Region, spend the night there and then head to Wisconsin the next day. This was all laid out in the bell tower of Center Hall, all very hush hush, you see, so better to spring it on the actives.

I pulled up next to the Fiji house about 3 a.m. and waited as one by one the guys in my car snuck down the fire escape with their pillows and shower kits and not much more else than the clothes on their back before we zoomed off into the night.

We all crashed on the basement floor of our halfway house and didn’t do much that day. The family bought us all pizza, and the evening consisted mostly of watching MTV. Then it was off to Madison.

When we got to UW, we quickly learned that the college still was on holiday break. Wait. You came up with the idea of going to Wisconsin, during a time when, for the most part, there would be no students—i.e., no females—around? Why did we come HERE?

The why was easy. Back then, Wisconsin still was an 18 state, which means that you could get into bars and drink if you were 18, which we all were. That’s great, but did it have to be THIS weekend? It did, because that’s when the Fiji house in Wisconsin could accommodate us.

Well, I wasn’t into drinking back then, so the weekend was more or less lost on me. The most memorable part was the UW Fiji house. It was an incredible building on the shores of Lake Mendota. It sat perpendicular to the road, so it didn’t look like much when we arrived, but as you walked through it, it just kept leading to a bigger room than before. It was like a castle in that the walkways were somewhat secret.

Finally, everything just opened up into this incredible two-story open ballroom that had a second-floor balcony and massive wood ceiling, gigantic fireplaces and windows that looked out on a huge patio overlooking the lake. It was very impressive.

One day, a couple guys and I toured it, and we stumbled upon the actual Phi Gamma Delta room, which had been unlocked and left open. This is where they had the robes and where, one would presume, the official ceremonial activities of the fraternity took place. As soon as we saw what it was, we all knew we were seeing something we weren’t supposed to: We were seeing the secrets of the fraternity—secrets my pledge brothers would one day learn but I never would. We got the heck out of there.

Other than that, the weekend was a lot of watching MTV in the TV room, where most of us crashed—those of us, who didn’t bring sleeping bags, that is. About 20 of us were piled in the carpeted viewing levels of the TV room, huddled for warmth.

Because few people were at UW, few Fijis were in the house, so the furnace was turned down to the bare minimum in most of the house. In January, in Wisconsin, that meant it was frosty in the TV room. I found a loose blanket that three of us slept under.

Aside from that, the weekend was a collection of odd visions: One pledge brother getting drunk for the first time and squealing over the video for Scandal’s Goodbye to You, the UW actives waking us up at 3 in the morning blaring Fiji songs over the house p.a., comic-book porn in a Madison drugstore.

Finally it was time to walk back in and end our reunion tour. I wished everyone well as I dropped them off at the Fiji house and they slunk into the side door with their tails between their legs. When I arrived back in my dorm room, by myself, I felt badly for my former fellow pledges but very relieved that I no longer had to go through what they were going through, probably at that moment. I still felt no regret about leaving.

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