Goin’ back

Last night, I had what I believe my therapist—if I could still afford to see him—would consider a significant breakthrough. It occurred halfway through a phone conversation with a close friend. In the middle of running down a laundry list of ongoing woes, I suddenly blurted out, “I hate all this grown-up shit!”

My lease is about to expire, and my landlord is making noises about “reevaluating” the rent while remaining disturbingly mum about letting me sign a renewal. The painters who began work on my building a week and a half ago have been MIA for days now, but conveniently left burglar-friendly scaffolding by every window of my second story apartment. My accountant still hasn’t given me the final news about my 1999 tax return.

Yesterday, after putting my eel skin wallet through the washing machine, I snapped. I cracked open a bottle of seven-dollar Cabernet, dialed my aforementioned friend, and started babbling about my certainty that if I travel outside the country again, I’ll get pulled aside at customs and wind up starring in the reality-TV version of Midnight Express 2. But mostly, I vented my fear that I’m going to wind up homeless.

I pay my bills early, make donations to charity, and smile at old people on the street. So why is everything around me constantly teetering on the brink of disaster? Clearly, I am a failure at settling comfortably into responsible adulthood. No wonder I frequently find myself romanticizing my teenage years, when my worries were rarely bigger than who my competition for the lead in the school musical was.

I crawled into bed utterly demoralized. But before dozing off, I flipped through a few pages of my new copy of Dancing With Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield, by Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham (Hodder & Stoughton, UK), and came across a brief passage about the recording of the Goffin and King composition “Goin’ Back.”

“Dusty imbued King’s lyrics with a painful sense of hurt, as though, prophetically, living an adult life was just too hard,” writes Valentine. Amen, sister.

Springfield’s follow-up to her international breakthrough “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” “Goin’ Back” has never been among my Dusty favorites. It wasn’t on the battered copy of Dusty Springfield’s Golden Hits that got me through college. When a fellow Springfield buff used the tune to close a mix tape a few years back and I heard it for the first time, I found the singer’s unguarded delivery unsettling.

But this morning, when I woke up wondering if my days in my current bedroom were numbered, “Goin’ Back” was what I wanted to hear. I pulled out my import copy of Dusty—The Silver Collection and flipped through the liner notes. “There are literally hundreds of artists who’ve recorded our songs, but no one ever interpreted them as well as Dusty did,” they quoted Carole King as saying. “Her version of ‘Goin’ Back’ breaks my heart, it’s so beautiful.”

So I sat on my bed and listened. The song opens with only a piano accompanying Dusty. Gradually flute, then strings and percussion, join the fold, until finally, during the bridge, a whole orchestra is surging, only to recede once again to just the singer and the ivories at the end. In quiet, husky tones, she sings of a day when “I can play hide-and-seek with my fears,” and of wishing to “see the world the way it used to be.”

The lyrical sentiment was comforting. But the more I thought about being a child again, the less appealing the prospect seemed. I nearly gave myself an ulcer at age nine, I hated elementary school so much. Dusty knew childhood was no playground either. According to Dancing With Demons, she felt so overshadowed by her older brother she even went so far as burning herself on the stove to gain attention.

Yet as I played the cut over and over, a very familiar, comforting feeling came over me. How many times had I done this in my youth, sitting on my bed feeling sorry for myself, playing the same tune ad infinitum in a moment of emotional distress? I wore out the grooves in Kate Bush’s “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” when my first big crush turned ugly, and later, the Pretenders “2000 Miles” when one of my best friends moved away.

Perhaps I was hasty to consider my outburst a breakthrough. I don’t need to turn back the clock to find solace in pop music. If my nightmares come true and the IRS confiscates my record collection because I was late with quarterly payments, songs like “Goin’ Back” will still be there to serve as my anchor. To quote a lyric from one of those musicals that seemed so all-important in my younger days, “They can’t take that away from me.”