It’s a Friday night in March, and Phil, Glen, Billy and I, all sophisticated 8th graders, quietly climb a ladder into the cramped space under the rafters in Billy’s garage. We bring with us a 12 pack of beer and a transistor radio.
The little attic is dark and smells of roof tar and sawdust. We are not supposed to be here, but no one will look–Billy’s parents are passed out. At the end of a school week, we have sought out our own company. We have learned from tv and radio commercials that “when it’s time to relax,” beer is just the thing, so here we are. “The boys” are hanging out.
Our eyes adjust to the dark, our hands grasp the cold cans of illicit elixir, and our talk is lively, energized by the malty sugars and the dopaminergic effects of the beer. As if by magic, the beer makes the talk easier and the mood lighter with my fellow intoxicants. We berate school work, classmates, teachers, and family members who have bothered us during the week. Phil even talks guardedly about a particular female who has evoked powerful feelings in him. In each other’s barbs and observations, we hear something of our own, and feel comforted, together in these not-quite adult sensations.
The beer also makes music sound better: richer, somehow more intense, even through a tiny transistor speaker. When the synthesized, otherworldly tones of Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” come over WLS into our dark space, we are silenced. The first thirty seconds–nothing but electronic minor key arpeggio–sound like they are beamed from outer space direct to our hiding place. With the singer’s breathless vocals, “I’ve just closed my eyes again/And climbed aboard the Dream Weaver train,” something thrills in me. A journey to unknown places! An escape from present troubles! By the time the anthemic chorus starts, I share the singer’s yearning declaration of faith: “Dream Weaver/I believe you can get me through the night.”
The theme of the song’s lyrics, seeking help with and finding a path through the daily pain of existence, is very much a theme in my life at this time. I feel unloved and endangered, knowing that by myself, I will perish. The relationships I form around religion, sports, literature, and learning will all provide me refuge, belonging, and hope.
But just as dreams are nightly hallucinations woven from the threads of a day’s sensory input and older memory, the mix of fellowship, music, and beer in Billy’s garage gets fixed in my mental fabric. For many decades to come, I will associate well-being as dependent on these three elements.
Only later, when I have loving relationships, do I learn that fellowship alone, or music alone, or learning alone can give me what I need. I can remove the alcohol and still “reach the morning light.” In fact I’ll get there better rested and headache-free!
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