There are some musicians that seem to follow you through certain periods of your life. At least for me, many Jim Croce songs spur up memories of my past.
The more ancient memory that it brings to the surface is of my late Uncle Ralph. I never really knew him all that much, an in fact after my aunt divorced him when I was about 9 or 10 (if memory serves), I only saw him once when I was about 12 or 13 and then never again. My oldest memory of him is that he and my Aunt lived on the family farm up in Georgia for a period (in the early to mid-seventies it would seem) and I recall visiting them there (I would have been about 5 or 6). I remember it because it was one of the only vacations we ever really took as a family. Anyway, I recall him smoking (was it weed or a cigarette?) on the screen porch. I also remember him laughing his ass off while trying to scold me when I threw a rotten egg at my sister and stank up the porch or whatever (memories fade again at this point). I have no photographs of that period, but the song “Photographs and Memories” always seems to bring me back to somewhere near that place.
A few years later, he and my Aunt moved back down to Coconut Grove (and briefly somewhere out in Cutler Ridge I believe). My second series of dim memories of him – and the association with Jim Croce – are from the Grove period when he apparently attempt to (or did he know how to play? I have never been sure) learn guitar and there was a Croce songbook on the couch all the time. I am not even sure I even heard him play or not…I was impatient to get out and play all the time. I think he may have played “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” jokingly refering to my father at this point. Both that song and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” always remind me of his guitar there on the couch.
It must have been around this time also when he was elected (against his will??) to accompany me, his rambunctious nephew) to Disney for a magazine ad photo shoot. Yes, I missed out on a wonderfully successful career as a model and movie star somehow along the line but I was featured in some (was it Delta?) airline magazine ad for Disney and even (I’m serious here) a Burger King commercial. Anyway, for the Disney trip, I was apparently a total nightmare. Reports about me running amok and locking him out of the hotel room all night in Orlando circulate in my family but I have only one scant memory of that entire trip – seeing a guy smoking a fag before donning the Goofy hat. I was flabbergasted and crest-fallen. You mean Goofy isn’t real? What does that say for Santa? (Is this why I was acting out after that? We’ll never know). I am not really sure which song reminds me of this period. Perhaps “One Less Set Of Footsteps” for the locking out episode…
My last memory of him is that one time I saw him again when I was about 12 or 13 and I drove his pickup on his knees. Now, I am almost positive that Croce’s “Operator” was playing on a cassette in the cab but I can’t be absolutely certain. Sometimes memory is more what you WANT to have happened rather than what REALLY happened but let’s say for the sake of argument that it did.
About four or five years ago, my mother called me to say she saw an obituary for Ralph in the paper. Apparently, he had passed away. I’ll really never know what he was really like so I have only my cold memories of him. And the Croce songs that remind me of him when they come up as “Time in a Bottle” did today.
Another Croce song had particularly meaning for me. During the winter and spring of 1992, I had an internship with IBM up in frosty Kingston, New York. I totaled my car on the ice within two weeks of moving there (I’m a Florida boy, remember?), so I was stuck in two to three feet of snow, knowing almost no one and stuck in a relationship with a girl I had met just one or two months before moving to Kingston for the semester. It was an interesting time work-wise – it was very determinant as a matter of fact up to and including my current job – and I met some amazing people – but personally it was really, really hard. A difficult long distance relationship and living (for the first time in my life coming from Miami) in a snowy, cold place (and without a car to get away!) gave me the blues. Once again, Jim Croce was there for me with “New York’s Not My Home”. I would listen to that song over and over again in my lowest moments. Then, I’d listen to Achtung Baby to lift my spirits again.
As mentioned in the article on allmusic.com, it is a pity that Jim left us so early but I am particularly thankful to him for the songs he left behind.