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"The Pinnacle" and Substantial Post-Surgical Trauma

By Rick Koster

Publication: TheDay.com

Published November 05. 2012 3:00PM   Updated November 05. 2012 4:06PM

I’d appreciate it if you’d sing along with me as you read this blog.


All together now! A-one, a-two, a-three ….

 

I stood where no man goes, and conquered demon foes /


With glory and passion no longer in fashion /


The hero breaks his blade…

 

Hold it! Uhm, I can’t hear you.


What’s that?


Oh. You don’t know what song it is we’re supposed to be singing?


Well, perhaps that’s understandable. It’s a tune called “The Pinnacle” by Kansas and, as it appeared on their relatively obscure third album, Masque, it’s very possible you’ve never heard it. Masque came out before Kansas hit it big with tunes such as “Dust in the Wind” and “Point of Know Return” and “Carry On Wayward Son.”*


Does any of this perhaps jog something in your cobwebbed memory? Wanna try it again? Here we go!

 

In all that I endure, of one thing I am sure /

Knowledge and reason change like the season /

A jester's promenade …

 

Sigh.


Kansas’ Kerry Livgren penned those lyrics, and not only did he refer to “a jester’s promenade” and claimed to have “conquered demon foes,” he later in the tune says, “With talons wrought of steel / I tore the heart of doom /And in one gleaming moment I saw beyond the tomb.”


He saw beyond the tomb!!


It’s as though Curt Schilling hired some junior college poetry major to write a jingle for his video game company! (Hope the juco poet cashed that check quickly!)


I would further suggest that the words to “The Pinnacle” are among the worst rock lyrics in history except that, while painfully overwrought, they’re fairly typical of several albums’ worth of Livgren’s work. And, trust me, there are a LOT worse lyrics. Sort of. Hell, in my own moronic, quasi-career as a songwriter, I routinely spun of gems like, “Let’s boogie, sweet thing!” and “Gonna get me some mo’ wine!” In that spirit, far be it from me to worry about Kerry and his talons wrought of steel.


Back to “The Pinnacle,” though.


Why am I trying to get you to sing along to such a thing?


The simple truth is: it’s not my fault.


I’m damned, is what happened. DAMNED, I TELL YOU!


Let me explain.


Five weeks ago, I underwent a total knee replacement operation. Not the most harrowing or invasive surgical procedure, to be sure, but it’s fairly intense in its own fashion. The march to recovery seems to be toddling along with some rhythm and gusto. I can’t say the post-midnight fireworks shows in my right leg – when the soft tissue decides it’s time to “heal” – are a lot of fun. But on the scale of major inconvenience, I’m not complaining.


What does truly suck is that, since literally coming out of the operating room anesthesia, I’ve had the same song going through my head over and over and over.


And, yes, for reasons that completely escape me, the song on ENDLESS REPEAT in my brain is “The Pinnacle.” (By now, you might actually want to hear "The Pinnacle." Go here. This is a very nice live version. If you just want to hear them actually sing the line about demon foes, fast forward to the 3:28 point.)


No matter what I try to do to distract my prefrontal lobe, it's only temporary. I can listen to other songs or entire albums, watch television or films, memorize speeches or read books or whatever, and it momentarily break the chain of “The Pinnacle” but, like a prog rock Groundhog Day, I awake each morning and “The Pinnacle” is back.


I’ve no idea why – or how to make it stop. While I was a big fan of the first three Kansas albums, I assure you I hadn’t thought of “The Pinnacle” in at least 20 years – until I came out of the anasthesia and PRESTO – there it was in my brain.


And it shows no signs of leaving.


I wonder if a doctor or psychologist could explain this. Was “The Pinnacle” perhaps playing in the operating theater during the surgery? I sorta doubt it but, even if it was, why would the tune have imbedded itself in my ears?


I should point out that, lyrics aside, “The Pinnacle” is a perfectly fine, early ‘’70s American progressive rock tune. Nice chord structure, inventive arrangement and musicianship, great melody …


But I don’t WANT to hear it anymore.


If there’s anything about this keeping me sane, it’s the recollection of an interview I did several years ago with Jesse Valenzuela, the guitarist for the very fine power pop band the Gin Blossoms. They were at the height of their success at the time, and Valenzuela, in coversation, was clearly pretty happy to be experiencing the fruits of his band’s new success.


The only thing, he said, was that, despite having hit songs and a platinum album, he was still plagued by a song that had run continuously through his head since, I believe, childhood.


“Seriously?” I asked. At the time, I couldn’t imagine such a thing. In those days, I was a runner and, eschewing headphones or a Walkman or whatever provided music back then, I’d simply “mentally program” a different tune before each day’s run – and it worked as perfectly as though I was a James Murphy. No probs at all.


But Jesse Valenzuela was telling me that, despite being a songwriter in a million-plus selling rock band, he could NOT get rid of the same song in the core of his skull.


Worse: the song was “Feliz Navidad.”


I kid you stinkin’ not. “Feliz Navidad”! (You are an idiot if you actually click on that link and voluntarily listen.)


Anyhoo, as I remember it all these years later, Valenzuela seemed at the time to have reached a rather weary acceptance of the "Feliz Navidad" situation – as though there were many worse things that could befall a young rock star. And he would have been right. Still, though ... "Feliz Navidad"???


In sum, it’s this recollection of Jesse and “Feliz Navidad” that helps me hold to my precarious sanity in the ceaseless onslaught that is “The Pinnacle.”


As in: Please, God – just don’t change "The Pinnacle" to “Feliz Navidad.”


I must remain steadfast that this is all just some form of Cosmic Joke. A temporary Cosmic Joke. After all, as Kerry Livgren says at the end of a crazy little tune he wrote called “The Pinnacle” --

 

Life is amusing though we are losing /


Drowned in tears of awe.

 

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