Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No. 15 – The Rain Song

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: House of the Holy
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: The Song Remains the Same, 1976.

It might be overly simplistic, but in all honesty, I believe that this particular song—and the version from The Song Remains the Same—made me a Led Zeppelin fan. I talked about the first time I heard The Rain Song (good ol’ No. 545), and the effect couldn’t have been more profound. Wow, really? THIS is Led Zeppelin? All I knew is what I’d heard on radio, which is to say, like a lot of people, I didn’t know much.

As you read this, I just came from my first trip back to Dear Old Wabash in 12 years. I still can’t get over that I was there 30 years ago. That was so long ago that it doesn’t feel like it’s attached to my life. But what was most amazing to me wasn’t how much had changed but how much was the same.

Particularly, I couldn’t believe that, for example, the Chapel SMELLED exactly the same as it did 30 years ago. I walked in there, and in the bookstore, and it was like I WAS back in school, thinking about what papers I had coming up and what class was next. (Oh, and I found my brick.)

Obviously, based on the sheer number of entries that I’ve posted in this here blog that pertain to my college days, it had a huge effect on me, not unlike hearing The Rain Song for the first time. Well, I have one more Wabash story to relate.

Like most students, I looked forward to the end of each semester, because that meant in addition to being done with classwork, I would be reunited with Beth and all that that entailed (particularly starting with my sophomore year). But before I could enjoy my well-deserved break, I had to run the paper/finals gantlet.

The end of every semester at Wabash consisted of two weeks of pure scholastic hell. Most students looked at Finals Week with about as much foreboding as someone facing a root canal. Not me. Finals Week was a respite.

Because I was an English major, studying for finals was a breeze for the most part: There wasn’t a lot of memorization involved, like, say, Chemistry, because it was all essay tests. You either already knew the material and could interpret it, or you didn’t. If you tried to, say, read and decipher The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock for the first time just before the English 19 final, you might as well not bother to show up, because you’re going to flunk the test anyway.

Now, papers week was another beast altogether. The week before finals, I’d have 5- or 10-page papers due in almost every class—sometimes as many as four due the same day, depending on the courses.

When it came to papers, my routine typically was like that of other students—put it off as long as possible. My first papers were done in my dorm room on a Smith Corona electric typewriter that I got as an 18th birthday present, usually with either The Song Remains the Same or Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends on my record player.

That changed my sophomore year. That year, I discovered the computer lab beneath Baxter Hall. I mentioned this before, but Wabash had a gigantic VAX computer that took up an entire room. In the lab, about a half-dozen monitors were set up that students could use. (The VAX and Baster computer lab are long gone.)

I had rudimentary acquaintance with computers at this point, thanks to Mike and his IBM PC. The monitors in the lab weren’t much different than using a PC, and the action was not unlike my Smith Corona. You didn’t have to boot anything up, just trun on the monitor, log in and start working. Any work you wanted to save had to be stored on a floppy that you gave to the lab monitor to load up.

I found, quickly, that it was better to do my papers on campus, where I didn’t have any distractions. I could just fire up tapes on my Walkman and get to work.

My routine for doing papers in general became a two-day process: I’d compose the rough draft one night in the computer lab and make a printout. The next day, I’d go to the library after dinner. In the back, where the reference books were on the first floor, I’d lay the paper out end to end on a long table, so I could see the whole thing at once. Then I’d make edits and revisions, moving things around as I saw fit.

After that, it would be back to the computer lab to type up my final revision and another printout, which I’d hand in. Having a paper typically meant I wouldn’t get home either night until well after Late Night with David Letterman was over, which was a small price to pay for academic glory.

During papers week, however, as I mentioned (good ol’ No. 15), I might have two due on a Thursday and two on a Friday, so I had to do the thing that was difficult for me back then—I had to work ahead. My natural inclination was to procrastinate until the last second, but I couldn’t get away with that during papers week.

So the weekend before paper week started, I’d be in the computer lab writing the first of four papers, even though it wasn’t due for a week, then I’d turn around and write the rest Monday through Thursday and turn them all in on time. In a sign that I chose the right profession, I never missed a deadline. After that, Finals week was a huge breather.

Papers week was a huge stress that manifested itself in my dreams. After my sophomore year, I had a dream at the end of every semester in which I had four papers (along with all other schoolwork remaining) due … in the next two days. I hadn’t done any work ahead; I had blown it all off! How the Hell was I going to get everything done on time? I wasn’t. Why did I do this?!

Then I woke up … and saw I was in my bed at home. I was home. That meant I DID get all the work done. I never was so relieved to go back to sleep. That dream was so frightening that I continued to have it for a few years AFTER I graduated.

I’ve had a few work-related deadline nightmares in the 28 years since then but nothing like those from my Wabash days. I guess it just goes to show you, Wabash really has a way of getting inside you. It was quite a ride.

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