In 1965 Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded ‘Tracks of my Tears’. A song widely regarded by some to be the finest song the group ever recorded, ‘Tracks of my Tears’ sold over 1,000,000 records and ranks number 50 on the top 500 songs of all time.
‘Tracks of my Tears’, beyond all of it’s musical accomplishments, holds a special place in my life. Bumper to bumper on Route 76 making my way into Philadelphia, my radio picked up ‘Tracks of my Tears’ and I was taken back to the mid-nineties, sitting around a bar in Millersville, Pennsylvania.
The centerpiece of the living room at 212 West Frederick Street was our bar. Like the Dude’s rug, the ‘L’ shaped wooden bar somehow tied our room together. The wooden alcohol crate created the perfect collegiate Feng Shu (which also included Greek Week tablecloth banners, Christmas light strung around the perimeter of the ceiling and the obligatory 3-stage Halogen lamp everyone seemed to have at the time).
Like the Carsons passing down the Phantom (the Ghost Who Walks) lineage, so too the bar was passed down from Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity brother to fraternity brother. Made from solid wood, the bar had to be at least 7,000 pounds of dead weight (how it didn’t collapse the sagging floor joists in the living room remains more of a mystery than the Shroud of Turin). The main reason it was stationed on the right side of our living room near the window was because we didn’t have the money to rent a forklift to move it freely around the room. It was so solid it could have been used by the IIHS to crash test cars in to.
It had been covered and overlapped in Greek letters, drunken testaments of love, truck-stop vulgarity and random graffiti scribbled by inebriated coeds over the years. We had a jar filled with the pens (originally to be used for homework…that we never did) used by our drunken poets so they could capture their moment at the bar with whatever happened to be in their beer soaked brains at the time. On the sides and close to the floor, where there wasn’t writing, some of the original green paint could still be seen on the bar.
The ¾ inch plywood top remained remarkably durable despite having enough beer spilled and soaked in to it to be considered protected wetlands. The raised trim around the top made for a nice beer pond effect.
There was a middle shelf that was the staging area for everything from CD’s to Sociology textbooks. The shelf was a cemetery for hats, keys, pens, and keychain bottle openers. On the short side of the ‘L’ was our mini-refrigerator which was really just an electric powered cooler for our Natural Light. And of course, hidden in the bowels of the 3 ½ ton wooden monolith was Jon’s Panasonic multi-disc stereo.
If the bar tied the room together, the 3-disc stereo tied the bar together. All of the times we perched ourselves on the stools and gathered at the bar, we did so to the sounds of music. We played Danzig and Dave Matthews. Prodigy and Pink Floyd. Nameless bands singing their one hit wonders. Rusted Root, Journey, Foreigner, and U2. And of course, the Miracles.
The Soundtrack of my Life plays ‘Tracks of my Tears’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles because perhaps no other song, to me, epitomizes our bar, or more specifically, what the bar meant, than ‘Tracks of my Tears’.
It was the song we all had our own singing parts to. It was the song that no matter how many people were drinking, talking, or putting down their intoxicated thoughts with a Sharpe, we all would stop whatever we were doing to sing along.
The song is my memory of that bar.
Congregating for Power Hours.
Meeting to raise our blood alcohol levels to an acceptable level before going out.
Coming home after being out, to maintain those elevated blood alcohol levels.
Just sitting with my roommates enjoying cold cans of Natural Light (try to keep in mind we drank the Beast, Natural Light might as well been made by the gods themselves).
It was a song that always seemed to be spun in Jon’s 3-disc stereo.
While college has an entire album’s worth of music I could add to this list, for me, only the ‘Tracks of my Tears’ traces friends, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, co-workers, and random people off the street to the wooden bar at 212 and into my memories.
People say I’m the life of the party ’cause I tell a joke or two…
Although I may be laughin’ loud and hard yeah, deep inside I’m blue…
So take a good look at my face.
You’ll see my smile looks out of place.
If you look closer it’s easy to trace, the Tracks of my Tears…