Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Childhood cacophony

By Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts
I was 4, and visiting The Dalles, Oregon, during the first Christmas I can consciously remember. It was the first time anyone in my family had owned a VCR as a present. Those Ford Granada-size, top loading behemoths were a sign that one had made it in this world. My uncle, who had a satellite dish and a 21 inch TV, had bought this VCR for his family. And along with the VCR, he had obtained a bootleg copy of a movie I hadn't yet heard about. A movie called Star Wars.

I was 4. I didn't understand half of what was flying off the 21 inch screen. I was 3 feet in front of it, close enough to be lost in the scan lines. I don't remember much, but I remember that I was remembering everything. I was committing it all to memory. It was weird, even then, realizing I was recording these memories as they happened, half toddler, half computer, clad in corduroy and orange, staring at walking carpets and drowning in the wonderful combination of strings and drums and wrenches on guy-wires and gargoyle scuba tanks, the beautiful cacophony spilling from 3 inch speakers on either side of that 21 inch TV.

I remembered the hamburger ship. I remember the one-eyed garbage monster. I remembered the X ships blowing up the O base and the football player teasing the hell out of the blond dude in the bathrobe. I remember the giant dog with the diagonal belt yelling in time with the drums and the trumpets as they all won Olympic medals for blowing up big gray basketballs. I remember that, and the view out the window.

I was 4, and I couldn't pay attention to anything after 5 minutes. There was this strange, beautiful mish-mash of visuals on my uncle's TV. And there was the window, with a klieg light just outside of the door. And it illuminated every single fat snowflake descending from the clouds. And to my 4 year old mind, watching this movie with a hamburger ship speeding through Mylar tunnels in something called "hyperspace," the light glinting off those crystalline, utterly unique flakes flitting from the darkened clouds denoted speed. The snow wasn't falling. The house was flying. And as the Falcon blasted toward Yavin, I fully believed my uncle's house was ascending towards the cosmos. The Christmas lights bouncing off the white walls, softened by the shaggy brown carpet I was laying on, blending with the light diffusing through the window and melting into the sounds and images vibrating off the TV...

I was 7. It was my birthday. It was December and I had spent the last month and a half circling Star Wars toys in the Sears catalogue. Return of the Jedi had been out for about a year and a half, and I still hadn't seen it. We couldn't afford the family outing into the big city where it was playing. I had checked out the read-along book from the Marion County bookmobile whenever it was available. I deprived so many kids in that county from any visits to that galaxy far, far way. I read along, and listened along, at least once every day. I colored over the read-along book. I fell asleep with the cassette playing on my Fisher-Price tape-deck. The film had just moved to the Star Cinema in Stayton, Ore., December 1984. It was a surprise birthday present from my parents, after constant nagging to tape making-of specials and buy me action figures they couldn't afford. December 16th rolled around, and my dad showed me the newspaper listings for movies. My eyes zeroed in on the Star Wars logo. I looked up at him, unblinking, unbelieving. He smiled back. I was in the car. I was in the theater. I was cracking up my parents because months and months of falling asleep to the read-along meant I was humming themes as they spilled out of the speakers. Tiny hands were conducting the London Symphony from thousands of miles, years in the future. I was saying the lines a second before the actors could recite them. I was a 7 year old affecting a shit British accent and stepping on Ian McDiarmid's dialogue. "So be it...Jedi."

It was awesome.

We heard the Star Wars theme, as the snow blew across the windshield on the way home, like hyperspace, on the AM radio in the car. I fell asleep in the backseat. John Williams in my ears. It's why whenever it snows outside, I put in the soundtrack. The one that comes in the plain black cover with the plain white letters that say Star Wars on it. I let Williams play full blast. And I imagine my car is chasing after my Uncle's house, and if I catch that house, there's a 4 year old in corduroy and orange, resting his head on his hands, elbows dug into a shaggy carpet, with wide-eyes, awakening to the concept of imagination, and realizing the majesty in it.

The visuals of my childhood may look like Jim Henson. But the audio? It's all John Williams.

Roberts is co-host of "Cort and Fatboy" at Portland, creator of the Geek: Remixed series of mashups, and part-time pop-culture critic for both and The Portland Mercury

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