“Hooray, Hooray, the first of May. Outdoor fucking begins today.” – Issac Taylor (James Taylor’s father)
Quite the unusual quote, which then became one of my favorite JT songs from one of my JT albums. The reason had nothing to do with the lyrics….
I used to drive a 1991 Mercury Tracer hatchback. I remember that in the summer of 1992, I needed the cassette player replaced (under warranty!), because one of my cassettes was stuck in the player – JT’s “Never Die Young” album. I found myself listening to this album over and over, but not minding having to listen to it over and over.
I specifically remember driving home from a gig in Poughkeepsie at 1:30 am on a crystal-clear full-moon night, and the song “First of May” was the first song that played. It just struck me differently that night, and I spent the 45-minute drive listening to just this song repeatedly. I don’t remember anything else about that night, but I remember listening to that track vividly, as it became a song of comfort on a night I’ll never forget almost five years later.
May 1st, 1997 – I’ll always remember this Thursday evening for two reasons….that was the night that Ellen DeGeneres officially “came out” on her sitcom, as my ex-fiancée Bonnie called off our engagement simultaneously. As courageous as I thought Ellen was for taking such a risk (and for enduring the incredibly ignorant backlash), I found myself at a low point, because I had allowed myself to feel defeated by someone who had done nothing but degrade me, I had neither the courage or self-esteem to disagree. She once said that “it’s obvious that I’m the smarter one in the relationship” and I had no response – not because I agreed, but because I didn’t even know how to respond to that. When she broke things off, it hurt deeply, because I was not yet realizing that she had done me a huge favor. My mom’s initial reaction later that night spoke volumes – “Hey, she just saved you from a divorce….go for a ride, listen to some music, and know that you’re gonna be alright.” I got in my Pontiac Grand Am, drove up I-81 from Scranton to Binghamton, and listened to JT’s Never Die Young CD….and yes, there was also a full moon that night, and although I didn’t listen to “First of May” over and over, I do remember listening to the track a few times.
The song has just become a song of hope and optimism to me – not because of the lyrics, but because of how it has inspired me from its arrangement, to the instrumentation, to the background vocals, and of course, James Taylor’s incredibly warm “like a smooth cup of hot cocoa” voice. There’s one lyric that says “it’s a rite of spring” – although this lyric is meant to be sexual in nature, I feel like listening to this song in the springtime, when the smell of flowers is in the air, the warmer temperatures and incredibly beautiful nights with moonlight are my “rite of spring”. This has become very much a traditional song to me. It reminds me that the optimism of summer will soon be here, and that no matter how dark things may seem, things will get better, and that I have to have the courage to keep moving forward.
And it’s also a great day to be outdoors!