Reach Out of the Darkness (R.I.P. Jim Post)

Folksinger Jim Post died on September 14 at the age 82, but there is something highly appropriate about the fact that I learned about it yesterday, which was National One Hit Wonder Day. (Thanks Anthony DiFlorio!) For Post had but one hit, with his wife and professional partner Cathy Conn Post (1945-2018) — they performed as the duo “Friend and Lover”. Their song, the only one likely to be known by many people, is “Reach Out of the Darkness”, released in October, 1968, which went all the way to #10.

I surely had heard the song on a.m. radio many times as a kid, but it came back onto my radar a few years ago when it was prominently featured on an episode of Mad Men. I immediately put it on my phone, and I listen to it all the time, have done so for years. I have fantasized about singing it as a duet with one of my many funny female friends who are good singers. It lends itself to that. It’s a wonderful song with an important message, but it is so earnest and vulnerable in its sincerity that it also lends itself to good-natured camp. It is also so unmistakably of its time that one wants to kid it a little, not just because of its positive spirit but because of its slang. “I think it’s so groovy now, people are finally getting together!” It has much in common with songs like Barry Maguire’s “Eve of Destruction” and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” (penned by John Phillips), and Zagar and Evans’ “In the Year 2525”, and Oliver’s cover of “Good Morning, Starshine”. There was no other time, no other moment in which these songs could have, or would have soared so high, and for the singers it must have been like winning some wonderful lottery — a lottery from which everyone benefitted.

The other aspect of the song I love, is that frankly, Post’s vocals are so weak that even I notice it. I am above all an advocate of folkishness in music (informed in part no doubt by the fact that I myself am a weak singer), but I honestly truly believe in the universal potential of music not just FOR but BY the people. In no aesthetic area am I as democratic-spirited and moon-eyed as this, but I really love folk music, from all people from all lands and also the various DIY variations on the concept that sprang up in the 20th century from blues to punk to rap. To take this view is to swim against the tide in this day and age of gladiatorial national song competitions and the general intolerance (especially in the theatrical world in which I move) for performance imperfection. There is natural charm in the quality of voices over and above skill and technique which in and of themselves only amount to athleticism, not art. Song should not be a Darwinian death match.

And then there is the lyrical message, so worthy of contemplating RIGHT NOW and for the last several years. Especially this verse:

I knew a man that I did not care for
And then one day, this man gave me a call
We sat and talked about things on our mind
And now this man, he is a friend of mine

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln, and in fact the one thing that seems to unite us all now is that we are divided. Some are grappling with it, others aren’t even bothering. Given that the only alternative to soul searching is violence, I believe it is worth doing. And it is not easy. Though it has been distressing watching Bill Maher turn into an angry old white man on the apparent payroll of some conservative string-puller, I do continue to watch him, for his is one of the only forums that sticks people of very different perspectives on the same panel. And because there is an audience there and because it is ostensibly a humor show, the guests tend to be on their best behavior, so the dialogue is civil. When he speaks about reaching out to the other third I find myself convinced for half a sec before remembering that there is a term for being sympathetic towards Nazis, and that’s Nazi Sympathizer. They want to hurt me, don’t they, and basically punish the other two thirds of us and make us comply with some bizarre five thousand year old belief system of flaming chariots and rule by the whims of murderous men.

But then I caught Andy Borowitz on TV the other day, and I thought his insight was a little more useful. He advocated attending your local town meetings. There, “both sides” (though I don’t concede there are two legitimate ones) will be compelled to deal with each other face to face and remember that they are dealing with human beings, who laugh and cry, and are more like than unlike us. They (and we) are not the sum of of our ideologies, nor defined by them. And presumably it would be an opportunity to show our adversaries the same about us. It’s only the internet that has permitted us to behave this way. It behaves like a shield, and a cloak, and a mask, and essentially allows everyone to play real life as a shooter game. Now, again, as I type this, there is a real-world rebuttal to what Borowitz says — I’m picturing all those Covid era town meetings with local maniacs threatening to kill their school principals and doctors who were trying to save their lives. But then remember that the anger that had brought them to that violent place had been ginned up by social media and cable news. There may be something to this idea of more real world interaction.

I’ll have more to say on this topic in an upcoming post, but don’t worry, it relates very much to vaudeville. Everything does, you know.

R.I.P. Jim Post.