mona lisas and mad hatters

When I was little, like, really little, before my brother was born in 1976, my parents were really into Elton John. One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting in the living room of our tiny house in the valley (where it was still all farmland), listening to Captain Fantastic and Goodbye Yellowbrick Road and Madman Across The Water while I sat on the yellow shag carpeting, and my parents sat on the black and white checkered couch.

When I was that little, I didn’t know the words, or what they meant, or anything, really (I was 4, after all), but sometimes, I play those albums, and Caribou and Honky Chateau, and I have this sense memory that feels like a security blanket that I can’t see, or touch, but is there nevertheless.

Tonight’s been one of those nights.

27 thoughts on “mona lisas and mad hatters”

  1. Thanks for that. It brought back memories of when the parents would load us up in the station wagon and take us to the drive in. Saw a lot of Disney movies from the back of that wagon.

  2. I’m so there. This is my first holiday season away from my family, and I’m taking refuge in any music that takes me home.

  3. I was a teenager in the ’70′s. Elton John was my favorite. Madman Across the Water was my first album. Wore that damn thing out I played it so much. Back in the day when music meant something. :)

  4. I have that same sort of encapsulated reaction with So Far by Crosby Stills Nash & Young. As a teenager, I started my own Holiday tradition of finding one night when no one else was home, lighting a fire in the fireplace, turning off all the lights except for the Christmas Tree, putting the record on the turntable and just sitting quietly on the living room floor while listening to the entire album, sometimes repeatedly. Now, 20+ years later, it’s the one tradition I can’t do without.

  5. I must admit to having the (maybe?) same sort of comforting noises in that old Swedish band Roxette. Since I’m not an English speaker though, all I heard was vowels and S’s. To this day my mind resist the English in the songs and plays its own version on top of the original whenever I put the worn vinyl on the player.
    “John The John Write” and “Mush Have Bean Luv”.

    These are probably aweful songs but it takes me to the shelf in my heart that I can’t reach anymore.

  6. Capitan Fantastic was my first album when it came out. I was lucky enough that my parents got me a stereo with an 8track for Christmas that year! CF was included so that I had something to listen to when we set it up. They knew nothing about popular music at the time, so the salesman must have recommended it…

  7. Our shag rug was pink and red and my dad would tape the original star trek at night so we could watch during supper. I’m not much older than you but my dad played music from the 50s. It was like that for me when I was in a restaurant and a Connie Francis song came on. Thanks for sharing.

  8. For me it was lime green shag rug carpeting, and my Dad playing either Boots Randolph or Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Mom sometimes broke out the Tom Jones.

  9. The Beatles is what I grew up listening to a lot. If I hear a song like, “She’s leaving home,” now I get the same feeling as I got as a kid, which is an odd feeling as an adult because i knew it was sad but had no idea what it was really about and get the same feeling now. And Norwegian Wood. Never knew what that one was about either. :) and,. I think i partly learned to play guitar because my cool uncle could play Octopus’ garden and Yellow Submarine while we sang along, and I reckoned that was the best thing ever.

  10. I’m a little older than you, but I’m from a family of piano players and HUGE Elton John fans. My first Elton John album memory is from “Elton John” – it had Your Song, First Episode at Hienton, The Greatest Discovery, Border Song, King Must Die, Take Me to the Pilot, etc…. SO many great songs! I got one of the Elton John Greatest Hits songbooks for Christmas one year, and it had this song (Mona Lisas and Madhatters), which I had never heard before. I learned to play it and just loved it. Thanks for the memories!

  11. I have a similar reaction to the mix tapes I’d make for college. I lived near a great WKRP-like station (WUWU-FM!), and would fill tapes of songs from the radio to bring to school. Whenever I hear one of those songs now, I still hear in my mind the DJs intro, the static of the radio. And when the song doesn’t cut off right in the middle, where the tape originally ran out, it make me feel every one of those years that has passed since school.

  12. I’m the same way with Christmas music, instantly transformed into a little boy putting metal reflectors behind light bulbs in the dining room, so that the tree would sparkle more…

  13. Always amazing how music can evoke such strong memories. My musical memories are totally different from yours, but I have nights that are similar. I put on music that brings me back to other times in my life, and feel all the emotions swell anew.

  14. I get the same way when I hear Neil Diamond and John Denver. I’m pretty sure my parents were not as cool as yours. But Sunshine On My Shoulders still makes me cry.

  15. I lost my mom 3 years ago this month, and since then I have found myself really swaddling myself in the music, all on original vinyl we shared a love of in the 70s…..Elton, Jim Croce, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor….it has been such a comfort and you are right a security blanket. I am blessed to have had the mom I did for many reasons…but one of the most important is the love of music she instilled in me by simply saying to me as a kid “you may not get it now, but someday you will understand why these are important.” I do indeed. Thanks Wil, great post. :)

  16. that late 60′s/early 70′s harvest gold shag carpet with the different height and color yarns? a bit of white, a bit of mustard, mostly gold? we had that!

    for me it’s iron butterfly and styx from my mom. johnny horton and neil diamond from my dad. and lying in a sunbeam on the carpet with my mom and sister before she was old enough to be a pest.

  17. I was born in 1970. I had a dog named Elton growing up. I get the same feelings when I hear those songs.

    Also, I am shamelessly going to use this opportunity to make a pitch to you for a new Star Trek franchise. 20 years after “Journeys End”, Wesley Crusher is traveling the multiverse in what is definitely a more psychedelic journey. Opening theme is The Rollling Stones “2000 Light Years from Home”.

  18. If he comes around LA again, I’d highly recommend going and seeing him in concert. If you think you share childhood memories with us, you won’t believe how it feels to watch *Elton* share those memories with you.

    On of my first dates with my wife was a Billy Joel concert in Philadelphia (1989). This March, we’re taking our 13-year old and 11-year old sons to see him in concert in Madison Square Garden. They both know the music well enough to have their fun, but I’ve already got goosebumps just thinking about what I’m going to be thinking about all through that show…

  19. My family used to drive 2 hours north of Toronto to go skiing every weekend in the winter. I can still remember the homemade mix tapes that played back from the portable (mono) cassette deck. Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, the Beatles, musicals…

    Falling asleep in the folded down back of a big american station wagon.

  20. Yes, but are you listening all proper with your vintage 70s analog stereo and vinyl?

    My sisters played Elton’s Greatest Hits a lot…”Susie wore dresses tight” made no sense to my 9 year-old self.

  21. Wil, your parents sound like people of good sense and taste. Elton John is STILL the best! His latest album–at 66 years of age–is just gorgeous.

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