In Sidney Pollack’s splendid 1975 film adaptation of James Grady’s first novel, the re-titled Three Days of the Condor, Kathy Hale — Faye Dunaway portraying the reluctant “draftee” to Robert Redford’s Joe Turner — says something that decades later continues to strike a chord with me:
“Sometimes I take a picture that isn’t like me. But I took it so it is like me. It has to be. I put those pictures away.”
Composer Dave Grusin scored the wonderful and distinctive soundtrack for this film, especially with his Goodbye for Cathy love theme from the movie.
The printed photos of desolate city scenes (“…lonely pictures”, Turner describes) in her apartment catch the protagonist’s attention. And for which he finds telling. That they are personal in a way that’s difficult for the woman already placed in a difficult position to share was obvious in those scenes. Such is the case with the song of this forgotten post.
Don McLean is the folk singer-songwriter that broke through in the early 70s with his now legendary ballad, American Pie. In it, he told the story of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959 through the scope of his own experience. The National Endowment selected it as one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century in a poll for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America.
‘Nuff said. The man’s talent for song and lyric — he’s a veritable poet, in my opinion — was clearly on display with that first hit, and the albums and singles that followed. But for whatever reason, it is the Castles in the Air song which resonates with me over time. Especially through the darkest of moods and times. If I was down in the dumps, this song would be up and playing endlessly on whatever CD player I had at the time.
The lament-filled tune tells of a disillusioned urban dweller coming to grips with the reality that his needs no longer jibe with his girlfriend or her lifestyle. The seemingly contradictory, “I’m city born, but I love the country life”, response shouldn’t work as a verse for me at all (being the jaded Angeleno that I am), but somehow it does. As well, the tune is unique in that it has more than one form by the same artist.
The first manifestation of the song came from his debut album Tapestry, which Songfacts reported as the…
“… original song, which was recorded in 1969, featured a strings section. This was released the following year on Mediarts Records. In 1971, United Artists Records re-released the song, but overdubbed a Moog Synthesizer part. The UA version is more common as the Mediarts version is now out of print.”
That initial tune can be found here and is worth listening to. The song was originally released as the ‘B’ side of the 7″ vinyl 45 single for his next best seller, Vincent, back in 1972. Then and now, many prefer that early form. The song was played enough as a radio “flip” to reach the Hot 100 back in its day.
However, I still prefer McLean’s later 1981 re-recording of the track — that’s the one which is marked as his last true hit (making it to the pop Top 40 that same year). For me, its slower tempo combined with the vocal low notes McLean deployed transformed the track into something more sorrowful compared to the previous rendition. It’s more in tune to that of a requiem, I think, and is likely the reason it transfixed me then…still.
When I was in the car with my children in a younger age, randomly slinging tunes through the stereo care of my iPod, and came across Castles in the Air, I’d purposely skip over it to the next track. Like Kathy, it’s not something that I think is typical of my musical tastes. I own very few tracks like it. But the fact that I have them must mean they are me. And that it still touches “…me deep inside,” paraphrasing Don McLean.
Perhaps that is another reason I put it away, and only bring it out when I’m at depth.
And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you That I’m tired of castles in the air. I’ve got a dream I want the world to share And castle walls just lead me to despair. Hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky, A dream come true, I’ll live there till I die. I’m asking you to say my last goodbye. The love we knew ain’t worth another try. Save me from all the trouble and the pain. I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again. Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain, Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain. But how can words express the feel of sunlight in the morning, In the hills, away from city strife. I need a country woman for my wife; I’m city born, but I love the country life. For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation: Partners waltz, devoid of all romance. The music plays and everyone must dance. I’m bowing out. I need a second chance. Save me from all the trouble and the pain. I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again. Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain, Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain. And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you That I’m tired of castles in the air. I’ve got a dream I want the world to share And castle walls just lead me to despair