Song: “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon
Impressions: snow, ice, snow, ice, bitter cold, bitter, dashed dreams
Elbow Nudge: Gliding down the highway, when in fact…
Winter has been a difficult season for me emotionally for decades; bad winters are especially harrowing. This is a bad winter, but I’m not doing too badly. I think that’s largely because I live with Mom, so I’m not in total isolation. And I’m on medication now. However, back in the those bad winters in the late ’70s, I had no chemical help; and even though I was living at home with family, I still felt the isolation and the cold darkness seeping in.
Usually I love just about everything Paul Simon does, but I have a sore spot about the song “Slip Slidin’ Away,” strictly because of associations with a severe winter. The song was released in October 1977 while I was still at the Ringling Clown College in Venice, Florida. I wasn’t aware of the song until around Christmas. Because of the spirit and light of the holidays, the Simon’s hit didn’t work its talons into me until January.
Winter 1977-1978 wasn’t as cold as winter 1976-1977, but it was snowier and included the “great blizzard” near the end of January. “Cabin fever” wasn’t just a buzz phrase, it was a real condition. The snow made everything more difficult. We lived on Maple Drive in Oakley, toward the end of the dead-end street which dipped and created trouble for drivers whenever it got slick out. The snow was so deep in 1978, though, we couldn’t even drive down Maple Drive to get stuck in the circle. I forget now how we handled it–maybe simply parked the car up the street wherever we were able, or perhaps Grandma let us share her covered two-car space behind her house on the corner. Mom had to walk in the dangerous cold to her job on Madison Road about 1/4 mile away, and we had to lug grocery bags along the un-shoveled sidewalks of Maple.
Through it all, Simon moaned “slip slidin’ away” like a wintry dirge. At first, radio disc jockeys thought they were being very witty when they’d come on at the end of the song and state, “And it looks like slip slidin’ is what we’ll all be doing in Greater Cincinnati in the morning.” That got old in a hurry, for the DJ’s as well as the listeners.
For me, it wasn’t only that Simon seemed to be singing about our miserable winter. I was haunted by the refrain “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.” My “destination”–my dream–had been a job with the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus. It had taken me two years to get accepted to Clown College. I had gotten that near. Then, the morning after our graduation show the previous November, I learned I wasn’t one of the three women to be offered jobs by RBBB. (I believe there were only six women in our class; one each was hired for the Red and Blue Units, one was sent to the Circus World theme park near Disney World that offered daily circus performances. Never heard of Circus World? Read about it here.)
After the excitement and constant stimulation of my weeks at Clown College, the decompression of being home hit me hard. The irony was I’d been homesick while in Florida and constantly wondered if I could handle going off on the road and not seeing my family any more. As happy as I was to be among loved ones again, I was back in my “lonely room” and now lacked even the big dream I’d been pursuing.
I didn’t endure terrible winters quite as bad as those until the late ’80s and the ’90s; since I was being sucked into a crippling depression in the ’90s that forced me to seek help, the isolation of the cold and snow hit me the worst since 1978. I’d emerge from my apartment in the evening to start my car after a snow day spent inside alone and look down on the frozen hills of our parking lot and the frozen hills of Grandin Road above. Not a soul stirred and there wasn’t a sound, not even from Columbia Parkway below the other side of my building.
So, tonight as we await the arrival of an ice storm accompanied by inches of snow, I’m unhappy, but no more than anyone else. I’m not suffering Plath-like despair, although the weather is starting to close in a bit. However, when I hear “Slip Slidin’ Away,” even in August in the middle of a heat wave, too many dark memories blow up like a polar cold front out of the northwest.
Note: Somehow, after all these years, this is the first I realized the Oak Ridge Boys did the background vocals on this song.