Most of the people reading these words can say that Procol Harum changed their lives. Many will pin the change on their first hearing the opening notes of A Whiter Shade of Pale, or Quite Rightly So or A Salty Dog. Their stories are personal and each one meaningful. A few extremely lucky people, however, have been led even further by the music to a place where their lives got changed first hand by the catalyst called Procol Harum. Let me illustrate with my experience.
What was the dumbest thing you ever did in your whole life? You don't have to answer out loud or put it in writing. But, get ready, because for the first time in my life I'm ready to come clean with not only the dumbest thing I ever did, but also the second dumbest.
While in London for a few days on spring break in early 1974, I rang up AIR studios to see if Chris Thomas was there so I could gather some Procol news. Not only was he there, but the eminently generous Mr Thomas (I hope he becomes Sir Chris one day) suggested I come on down.
The door to the dungeon didn't squeak one bit. And having heard about closet-sized affairs, the studio seemed large to me. The console looked like something out of JPL ("Hello, Houston."). The control knobs and slides were gray, white and black. I remember this vividly, because when I was little I had a herd of small plastic horses in the same colors and about the same size as the slides. I was surprised that the control room had windows overlooking busy London streets, but noted that the windows were small and set with at least two panes of thick glass.
Chris Thomas and Gary Brooker were in the studio tweaking Beyond the Pale [lots about this song here]. I was seated in the catbird seat right behind Chris. Suddenly, the indicator needle on the control panel came to life and began to swing ecstatically to the song's blithe belly-dancing riff. The music was crisp, clean and big.
At first impression, Beyond the Pale conjured up a deep storybook forest filled with mad monks with their ruby-eyed Alsatians, ice palaces, curse-muttering gypsies and steaming trains disappearing into the dark mountains of Eastern Europe. And I knew it wouldn't set the charts afire. It was too mysterious and disquieting for general consumption. Music in England at the time was between the last call of pub rock and the empty space prior to the arrival of the Sex Pistols. Does anyone remember Loon Pants?
"Did anyone time that?" asked Chris.
"I did," I proudly squeaked. "It was three minutes. Exactly."
Chris was not quite satisfied with the absolutely tail-tip ending of the song. He wanted a voice included in the final notes, but these were too high for Gary to sing.
"What we need is a female voice," Chris said. With that both he and Gary looked at me. So what did I do? In one one-thousandth of a second I imagined myself singing "Bomp, bomp, croak!" in front of none other than Gary Brooker. With that I opened my mouth just barely enough to whisper "No".
There. I'd made my first dumb mistake. I made my second one two seconds later. See, in the next tick my common sense had returned and was coaching me to say "No, wait. I mean yes. Of course I'll give it a try." So what did I say? Nothing. In a heartbeat I had let the opportunity of a lifetime pass me by not once but twice.
I'm sure that had the Spice Girls and grrrrl power existed 26 years ago, I would have been at that microphone in a flash. I was but a product of my time, a college girl too terrified of losing her cool to rise to a wonderful opportunity, just in case she croaked.
Back on London's inflation economy-darkened streets it was gloomy in my heart also. I felt terrible at having let Chris, Gary and myself down. Standing in the whirlwind of Oxford Circus I vowed from that moment on I would be brave. I would no longer fear taking a chance, because I might fail or someone might laugh at my efforts.
I owe Procol Harum for this lesson in how dumb it is to be chicken. They helped shock me into seeing that my character was in danger of folding and, so, pushed me beyond my self-imposed pale. In other words, Procol Harum truly changed my life. So, thank you, Chris and Gary. If you ever need a female voice to sing you a few notes, or a whole score, I'll be there and I'll have one thing to say to you:
Back to 'Mini Shine On-line' July 2000