The Sounds of the Old Ways Falling

By the time I got to college in 1964, I had heard hundreds of songs, but I am not sure I really had an identifiable taste.  I awakened to popular music in grade school and lived by the charts through high school. I loved R&B, Doo-Wop, a lot of country crossovers, folk-based music and some of the new British music, particularly the Animals.

At my little Methodist college in West Tennessee, I was paired with a boy from Centerville, who played organ and piano in a rock and roll band and, like me, had visions of being a minister someday.  His name was Doug but everyone called him Meador, his last name, and one among us, sought poetry by calling him “Meadow.”  Meador had one album, Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits, and he had one album I discovered, because it was the one he liked to hear. And so every night, we went to sleep to “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Crying,” “Running Scared” and “In Dreams.”

I was an innocent, the child of a Methodist minister, who had lived in a lot of towns but none larger than 2,500 and none outside West Tennessee and Western Kentucky. As for cities, I had been to Memphis and Nashville. I had never been in a pool hall, much less a honky-tonk, never taken a drink, never smoked a cigarette, and believed that copulation was for love and procreation. Future preacher or not, Meador knew far more about the darker side of life and was quite sure I was missing out on most of life’s greatest pleasures.  His band took him to honky-tonks within a 200 mile radius and he often staggered into the room near dawn with too much of a crooked grin to profess sorrow for his sins. The ministry was a boyhood dream for both of us, but by the end of the year we would have both put it behind us. We had gotten into a fraternity because we didn’t know what else to do, but, like the ministry, it didn’t seem to be either of our callings, though Meador found out a little sooner than I did.

There was nothing stylish about Meador. He was a little heavy and some part of his shirt tail was always outside his pants.  His dress style was slightly wrinkled way before wrinkled was cool. And yet, Meador had great charm and a wicked smile that along with his curly hair seemed to carry him further with attractive women than I ever would have imagined. Meador had confidence. He was a natural born con man, and even when his deceptions were obvious, he would flash a wicked smile that said, “I know you see through all this, but think about how boring life would be if I weren’t putting you on.” I couldn’t help but like him.

Meador thought I needed a mentor, and he was just the man for the job. With Roy Orbison playing in the background, he taught me how to inhale a cigarette, drink beer and scotch without gagging, how to dance well enough to get by, and most of all, how to think I looked tough even if underneath it all, I was running scared.  Meador was the growl in “Oh, Pretty Woman.”  Though I had good cover with my Ivy League clothes and small town friendliness, I was far more the dream-filled frightened adolescent Orbison’s songs brought to life. Still I never let the songs get too close. My cover was about the only protection I had against the grief and insecurity I carried.

Meador and I were both miscast as frat boys, but neither of us knew it. There seemed so few options in September  when our college life had begun. But at the end of November, I got a vision of a different life. I visited New York City over Thanksgiving. The streets of the city showed me how limited my view of life truly was.  And at the Gaslight Café, I saw the protest singer Phil Ochs, who made the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the injustice of many of my country’s policies real for me in a way they had never been.  Implicit in his songs was the notion that citizens—even students–should think more expansively and try to make a difference in the larger world.  These were issues that would dominate my college years and beyond, but I first heard them in Ochs’s songs:

What’s that I hear now ringing in my ear?

I’ve heard that sound before.

What’s that I hear now ringing in my ear?

I hear it more and more.

It’s the sound of the old ways falling.

You can hear it if you try.

You can hear it if you try.

(“What’s That I Hear?” 1964)

At the end of the semester, Meador and I parted ways. He didn’t make his grades and left the fraternity. I skimmed by. It might have been better had I not, but changing your life is more than a one-semester project.  I found a new roommate, a dedicated student whom I thought would help me bear down. As it turned out, I was not quite ready, even then, for the studious path. Meador had taught me well, and I was just starting to develop my talents for drinking and carousing. I had a new soundtrack though, and this one pointed forward. On the day after I heard Phil Ochs, I bought his album “All the News That’s Fit to Sing” and later that month an album by a guy Ochs could not quit talking about in his show, Bob Dylan. I would come to love Dylan’s songs in all his many incarnations, but Ochs’ music pushed me on to explore what it meant to be a citizen in ways I had not even considered.

For me the old ways started falling in the Gaslight Café on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1964.  By the time I graduated from college, I would discover a love of learning, a thirst for social justice and a more global way of thinking, but I carried a little bit of Meador along too, a personal rebelliousness that put less emphasis on fitting in, a love of hard living, and a belief in following the song.

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall

To brown and to yellow, they fade

And then they have to die

Trapped within the circle time parade of changes.

(Phil Ochs, “Changes,” 1966)

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “The Sounds of the Old Ways Falling

  1. Well written, as always. Do you know what became of Meador? By the way, since my retirement from Dyer County Schools, I work on the second floor of Varnell-Jones on the now Univ. of Memphis Lambuth Campus. Paula Brownyard is my boss!
    Carolyn McLean Stark

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    • Meador lives in Panama City, Florida. I had dinner with him once to show him another piece I had written about him. He lived in Murfreesboro then That one was about Roy Orbison dying. I tried to find his phone number tonight with no luck, but I have an address. That’s been 25 years though.

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  2. David, well, another engaging piece on your most recent blog. The interesting factor is the recall knowledge of your own growth and development. I tried to do some of that after reading the blog (i have done it before at some length), but I can’t put into words the influences on my life the way you do. Maybe I will just starting typing and see what happens. Anyway, this is a beautiful piece of writing and I don’t fib when I say, it has caused me to do some of my own.

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  3. Who would have thought that the sheltered confines of Lambuth College would be the place where your transformation would begin and that Doug Meador would be the agent? I was there only 4 months before leaving for dental school. I wish I had been there longer to witness and perhaps help in the transformation. I bet you don’t remember that I had a date doubled with you and Jeanie the night before I left on that trip to New York.

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  4. Johnny Ray I could handle better than Ted Nugent. I think of him only as a conservative with a lot of guns. Did he have a musical career :)? There may be a couple of sentences here from that earlier piece I did about his death when you came over to my apartment and we listened to a tape you had made. By that time “Blue Velvet” had taught me to hear those songs in truly new ways.

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  5. I remember that Phil Ochs album of yours. I’m still waiting for the movie of his life. Loved your story about you and Meador. You reminded me of the Kyle MacLachlan character in Blue Velvet. It’s too bad David Lynch didn’t go to Lambuth. He could have made the place darker and more dangerous and more exciting. But it was exciting having you there, David Eason. And it’s exciting reading your memories. Thank you.

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  6. Well, I knew you and I shared some important culture during our coming-of-age life phases, but it’s fascinating that I also bought and over-listened to that Roy Orbison lp, Phil Ochs’ music (although I didn’t see him in the Village) and of course, all of Dylan’s music I could find. This piece was most enjoyable and telling, given you provided foundings of your attention to modern social ills.

    As before, engagingly written.

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  7. David, This is Doug Meador. It was great talking with you on the phone. As you now know, I am a beach bum living in a beachfront condo in Panama City Beach, Florida with my wonderful wife of 47 years, Mary. I don’t smoke anymore, but I still like drinking beer and Jack Daniels and listening to music on YouTube, particularly my favorite, Roy Orbison. I spend my days walking beaches with Mary, playing golf, eating shrimp, and playing my Yamaha keyboard and my guitar. Life is Good! I look forward to having lunch with you some time when we are in Tennessee. I have thoroughly enjoyed the articles you have written about me. You are a talented writer and have brought back many memories from that “galaxy far far away, a long long time ago”. Keep in Touch…..

    Doug Meador

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    • Remembering our semester together always makes me smile. Good to hear from you. Look forward to getting together when you are in town. I saw John Gurley in the last year and I still stay in touch with Tom Colburn and Johnny Joplin. Thanks for writing.

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  8. David, another memorable piece. Your writing seems to be a springboard for your readers’ memories, and I’m no exception. I had my own “Meador” when I was stationed in the foggy, wind-swept Aleutian Island of Shemya. HIs name was J. D. Smith, and from the first moment I walked into the room I shared with him and “Benny” Bennett, he was my tormentor and my friend. He “teased” me into taking up smoking and drinking again, two habits I’d given up, and I don’t recall a moment when his face wasn’t lit up with an impish smile (though surely he rested those smile muscles from time to time). He even saved my life, or saved me from a life as a para- or quadri-plegic.

    On Shemya, time was the enemy, and we fended off its corroding effects any way we could, but most often by drinking. As it happened, some enterprising characters straight out of Catch 22 had started up a bar in an abandoned water tank near the Composite Building, our home away from home. You had to enter the tank through a door in the bottom. Inside, these junior Milo Minderbinders had constructed a fireplace at the center of the tank, and a stovepipe that went up through a hole in the top didn’t quite keep the fumes contained, so you could be forgiven for thinking that smoke was just part of the flavor of the drink you were imbibing.

    In the end, though, this was a cruel place. Opposite the bar, our Milo’s had built a stairway that wound around the side of the circular tank and ended in a platform, from which you could watch a bunch of disconsolate guys wandering around with no place to sit and no girls to talk to. Punctuating the latter point was the tear-out from a Playboy centerfold pasted at the top of the platform.

    But I was going to tell you about J. D. saving my life. So here it is, short and sweet.

    Bored of mixing with a bunch of lonely, inebriated guys, J. D. and I decided to climb the other abandoned water tank, adjacent to the bar (which actually had a name that I no longer remember). After climbing up the tank’s rungs to the top, I decided I needed to relieve myself. “Where’re you going?” J. D. asked. “Over to the edge. I gotta pee,” I told him. “Uh, I think that is the edge,” he said. Sure enough. When I looked down through my drunken haze, I could make out the spongy surface of the tundra below, a few sharp rocks thrown in for good measure. One more step and I’d have been toast.

    Not a very dramatic story, now that I see it on the page. But I’m not confined to a wheelchair, so that’s fine with me.

    You see what you started, David? Thanks for another fine piece of writing.

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  9. Thanks Dean. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. I didn’t remember the details, but I did remember, from one our own barroom outings when we were at the Times I’m sure, you telling me about almost falling off a tower in the Aleutians. You are a natural writer so the written version is much more vivid. I hope you will keep writing responses. I like to see the stories that my own stir up. The part you do so well here that I did remember was just how barren and forlorn that assignment was. Little to do but drink. Somewhat like Watertown. Well, that’s a stretch, I guess, but it certainly was a way we got through the winters up there

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    • Just so I don’t leave the impression of a Jack London scenario on Shemya (aka The Rock, “where there’s a girl behind every tree”), there was also music. Like everything else on the island, it had to be shipped in, in the form of vinyl discs we called “records” or “LPs”. Like everything else, too, our music was always a little behind the curve of popularity. The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” were among my favorites, but my favorite LP of all was Vince Guaraldi’s Black Orpheus, titled after the film, and my favorite cut was “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” We belittled my favorite roommate, J.D., for liking surfer music (yeah, he was a California guy via Bremerton, WA), little knowing that we, too, would be singing along to our car radios blasting out Beach Boy tunes a few years later. The day I flew off the island on an Aleutian Airlines (or maybe Reeves) DC-3 and landed at Ft. Richardson, just outside Anchorage, they were playing Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ “Sherry, Baby,” a tune I hated on principle but couldn’t get out of my head. Coincidentally (perhaps), a few hours later, the big Good Friday earthquake hit, which also still plays in my head.

      Thanks for listening.

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  10. “Baby, It’s You.” How a propos! Because you were the perfect, in fact the only, one of us Times staffers who could have done justice to the Shirelles revew. Sadly, I have no memory of it . . . or of many of my own pieces.

    When I finally took my master’s degree, I sent a (sort of) humorous piece to the Times about their old former writer catching up in the degree race with his wife. They gave it to Larry to edit, and he introduced the appropriate number of mispellings and grammatical errors to add authenticity to the piece, this being from a North Country boy. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Larry, especially after he introduced me to scotch one bitter-cold day when it was the only drink on hand. And I was sorry to learn of his premature death. I think, of all of us on The Times staff, you and I were the only true outliers. You from Tennessee, with a funny accent, me so long gone from NNY that I might as well have just arrived from Mars.

    I think I’ll email Marsha. If anyone can jog my memory about your Shirelles review, it’ll be her. I finally mastered the spelling and pronunciation of her last name: Spirodigliozzi, I think (remember, I’m doing this from memory).

    If you saved a clip file with that review in it, I”d really love to read it, if only an excerpt.

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