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Traffic in My Mind

June 3, 2017

I don’t do change well.  I spend months, and sometimes years, pining for it and trying to passively will it into being, only to tense up and pretend that casting it from my thoughts can somehow hold it off when it presents itself.  With less than two weeks remaining here in Egypt, I am irresolutely in denial.  Pushing potato chips and diet sodas down my throat while focusing attention on to-do lists and personnel evaluations has proven only partially effective in keeping the fear-of-change demons at bay.  Maybe little surprise then that I find myself temporarily retreating into the comforting warmth of guns and religion nostalgia and reassuring truths:

Growing up in Ogden, Utah, in the early 1970s there wasn’t much of a sense of connection to the broader country, let alone the rest of the globe.  Television provided some window, as did my parents’ occasional liberal-minded commentary on events of the era, but truth be told, my adolescent friends and I would have been hard-pressed to identify any specific way in which the larger world touched us.  We certainly knew how we touched the world however.  For it was little Ogden that had gifted the celebrated Osmond Family in all its facets and wonders to our fellow planetary inhabitants.

This knowledge of my hometown’s contribution to humanity was especially meaningful to me personally as I had information of which many of my peers were ignorant; I knew the precise location of the house in which the Osmonds had grown up.  Even more exciting, it was within biking distance of my own home and was on a road we routinely traveled on the way to grocery store, haircuts, and spaghetti restaurants.  I understood the family had years before moved on to imagined mansions elsewhere in the state, but I still stared at that relatively small, two-story white house with awe every time we passed, fully expecting to catch a glimpse of something mysterious or extraordinary in or around it.

Young Jimmy

Neither pride in Ogden’s most famous exports nor reverence for their early dwelling translated into patience for their pabulum, of course.  I was way too cool for that at the time.  Sure, I stared agog at young Jimmy Osmond when our pre-teen paths crossed in a ski slope lift line, but that was just curiosity because he

Young VotF

was famous.  Otherwise, my youthful partaking of the Osmond offerings was limited to the occasional late-70s viewings of the Donny and Marie variety TV show, especially after it moved to Sunday nights in its final season and became weekly post-pot roast family viewing at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.  After all, Marie may have been a little bit country, but she was also a little bit hot, so no apologies.

Fast forward to the 2010s and I have developed a newfound appreciation for my illustrious hometown compatriots.  With most – albeit not all – of that silly “cool” baggage long cast off, I can grant the Osmonds’ “Yo-Yo” and “One Bad Apple” their rightful place as terrific, painless pop songs; and, Marie’s countrified take on “Paper Roses” delivers pleasant-enough empty-calorie sweetness.  Even so, I felt no need to add any Osmonds to my own music holdings until I discovered a few years back their 1973 concept album called The Plan, the existence of which I had been previously oblivious to.

Recorded at Los Angeles’ Kolob Studios – which could not be a more apropos branding, as can be confirmed by anyone willing to dive into a quick wiki hole — The Plan was the Osmond brothers’ attempt to narrate the Mormon cosmology via popular song.  Taking its name from the Plan of Salvation, a key tenet of the Mormon faith, the album plays as a series of musical vignettes and extrapolations that, while recognizable by Mormon cognoscenti as emanating from doctrinal wellsprings, burden the non-member listener with little weight of the sacred.  In fact, gleaning metaphysical meaning from the album is likely near impossible for anyone not steeped in Mormonism.  But, for those with the contextual backing, The Plan can thrill like a birthday party scavenger hunt.

The Plan is no lost classic and only a false prophet could suggest it would broadly appeal to most who read this.  That said, the album is no bubblegum throwaway either.  For all the blandness of their goody two-shoes image, the Osmond brothers were versatile, talented musicians whose ambitions stretched way beyond their barbershop and teen idol beginnings.  For me, the draw of this album is its unique insider connection to my peculiar clan, but I can also understand why it hit 58 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold in the UK in 1973.  It was ambitious and heartfelt, and in some places even beautiful.  And I would vociferously bear witness against anyone so sinful as to deny Merill Osmond’s divine way with a vocal.

As for the songs, there are some gems to be found here.  “Traffic in My Mind” will surprise listeners who thought the Osmond’s “Crazy Horses” was a one-off excursion into hard rock.  Starting off with a greasy lead guitar riff that carries through the whole song, “Traffic” exudes toughness, with the raunchy vocal and six-string bends riding over the top of a meaty bass and drum-driven rhythm, before ending in a swirl of light psychedelia.  The carnivalesque “Movie Man” is another highlight with its weird synth and kazoo lines, made even better for me by its reference to a horrifying inducement to obedience impressed upon all Mormon youngsters in Sunday School.

I am fully comfortable making the claim that knee-slapping, harmonica, and mouth harp have never been combined with less of a southern backwoods hoedown feel than they are in “Mirror, Mirror.”  And “Let Me In” and “Darlin’” are the kind of big love ballads that bring the girls to the Osmonds’ yard, with the former leveraging bombastic horns and the latter opting instead for overwrought strings.

Traffic in My Mind:

Movie Man:

Mirror, Mirror:

Other listeners may have a hard time sussing out my most beloved and dearly-held Mormonisms – specifically, the ideas of eternal family and progression – but that doesn’t mean there’s not some wisdom closer to the surface to be had on the album.  For example, what say we end with the following lyrics from The Plan’s other hard rocker “The Last Days.”

Nations take up their battle stations

Patrons of zodiac revelations

Lustations breaking family relations

Litigation allowing shoot-up sensations

People living lives of confusion

Billions caught up in revolution

Cities lost in their own pollution

Question, what is the Constitution?

That’s what they said, someday it would be

Now just look around if that’s what we see

It’s gotta be the last days

From → Church, Music

  1. Wow. I don’t know what to say, or indeed quite how to say it either. I like the idea of the LP being an aural Trojan Horse and if you’d played me ‘Traffic In My Mind’ I would never have realised who it was in a month of Sundays.

    Nice to see you back in town by the way.

  2. Presently spinning Cal Tjader while enjoying a coffee and a return to the blogsphere of VotF. But I promise (italics: promise) I’ll listen to the Osmonds audio soon. I will.

    As always (and as always with slightly intimidated admiration) I note the numerous interlocking themes you’ve worked into this piece. If I picked them all out, the reply would (given my gift of prolixity) be longer than the original. But suffice to say the Ouroborosian (?) change-endofdays theme struck me. When there’s a resonance between our inner world and the outer, it makes for uncomfortable times, I find. I wish you well on your imminent transition; hopefully to calmer climes.

    Just one question. Did you ever get tapped to be a stand-in / double for young Jimmy? Could have been a whole other career. “I’ll be your long-haired lover from Utah School…”

    • Presently streaming Mr. Tjader while typing, but making no promises.

      More dog eternally chasing tail methinks, aspiring forever to unattainable Ouroborosian climax.

      Much to my dismay, my Prince and the Pauper fantasies never played out …

  3. Well that’s a varied musical palette and no mistake. As I was listening I recalled that Max Rose Electronics had ‘The Plan’ in stock when I worked there. Sad to say it sat around in the shelves for a considerable time and even sadder to say, I never played it.

    • Thanks for following through on your promise, VC. Ya know, I am unashamed to admit that I unabashedly enjoyed listening to these tunes yesterday. There was zero Ringo-Starr-No-No-Song cringe.

  4. I don’t mind telling you that I’m very intrigued by this one. A fascinating religion and I’m all for learning more about it via the medium of light psychedelic pop rockery. Sign me up.

    As an aside, I stayed a short walk from the Mormon temple that Donny’s son was involved in a fair number of years ago when he done his Mission time in Glasgow.

    Wooed the patrons of a local charity shop he volunteered in, apparently (that made the news).

    • Thanks J, can’t promise you’ll learn much from this but have listened a few more times through since posting this and liking it more each time. There’s an ingratiating sense of affable innocence running through it.

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