I was a sensitive kid — and one who listened to the radio constantly.
Music was probably my first Stargazing experience. A sound (like the sad coo of a mourning dove) or a symphony (plunked down in front of the family hi-fi for classical music) or a pop song (Grandpa Adams buying me a 45 rpm of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “SS-396”), music has galvanized me into the person I am today.
When I heard songs I liked on the radio, I didn’t necessarily run out to buy the records. Music was available everywhere: on the bus to school, on our bedroom clock-radios or turntables, at the mall. After we moved to Minnesota in the winter of 1970–71, I heard a radio song I very much liked: “It Don’t Matter to Me,” by David Gates of the band Bread. Back then I listened (as now) to songs for their stories.
What exactly was it that “didn’t matter” to this Gates guy?
I had to find out.
Well, I was just entering my teens and figuring out girls and stuff. What teenager doesn’t try to act diffident about things that really matter to them? This song struck a mysterious tone: Hey girl, you find a better guy than me? Good for you! I truly want you to be happy. But if you come back, I have an empty room and open heart — don’t care who came before, as long as you’re the last.
I recognized the old saw: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it was meant to be.”
Whoa — heavy ethos, man. I had to check out whatever this Bread group was putting out next!
It was probably in the summer of 1972 when “Diary” reached the Midwest, exactly around the time I’d started keeping my own diary that January. What a coincidence! But wait, the songwriter wasn’t singing about his diary, it was his beloved’s.
And never mind the obvious question: Why does she leave her diary under a tree for him to find? Could it have been on purpose? She did, after all, have a “total disconcerting air,” and wait, what? — she’s also his wife? What gives?
The genius of David Gates as a lyricist (whatever you may think of his musical abilities) is he could put this preteen into such a state of confusion/anticipation that, since this songwriter guy obviously loved his wife, yet found her a bit coy and then discovered her diary, hey maybe everything would work out in the end.
But I was nailed to the base of that tree, just like Gates’ character — reading her diary and becoming tearful. Is he happy? Sad? C’mon already — what the hell is going on?!
“The love she’d waited for was someone else, not me.”
But hold on, Guru Gates still had a lesson to teach this hyper-romantic and overly sensitive young acolyte: “And as I go through my life/I will wish for her his wife/All the sweet things she can find/All the sweet things they can find.”
Awww, man. Is this what it means to be in an adult relationship?
Ouch. Growin’ up is sure gonna hurt.
Then came Aubrey. That was her name. And a not so very ordinary girl or name.
What journey would Gates take me on this time?
So, songwriter guy trips the light fantastic with Aubrey. But somehow she’s MIA. “God I miss the girl, and I’d go a thousand times around the world just to be closer to her than to me.”
Okay, wait. Whut? How can you be closer to…? Oh, never mind.
Now, he admits he really didn’t know her but “loved her just the same.” This is stalkerish-creepy, I’ll admit. Moreover, if the song were a big, sopping-wet rag, you could wring it and buckets of syrupy sentiment would gush out.
But remember impressionable teenagers don’t win awards for emotional maturity. They want love, and they want it now! “If I can’t have the one I want I’ll do without the best!” You tell ’em, junior!
In the end Gates reads us back some Tennyson, “’Tis better to have loved and lost: than never to have loved at all.”
I admit this is the weakest link in my argument that Bread wrote great story songs. But it’s still a strong pop song — catchy as hell. What I can wrest from it 40 years later is the pro-feminist angle: how many men would admit they weren’t the ones in charge of the relationship, that they were willing to “surrender”? Not many, Buster.
However I probably liked “Everything I Own” from earlier that year best. It spoke to that romantic teenage yearning I felt while nervously walking the school halls and eyeing girls. It’s my Number One favorite Bread song.
And it became even more amazing when I recently learned Gates actually wrote it for his father, who had just died. I can’t hear it now and not think of my late father.
“At his father’s funeral, a friend took David Gates aside and said, ‘Your dad was so proud of what you were doing.’ David agreed by replying, ‘My success would have been so special to him as he was my greatest influence. So I decided to write and record ‘Everything I Own’ about him. If you listen to the words, ‘You sheltered me from harm, kept me warm, you gave my life to me, set me free,’ it says it all.’”
It sure does.
Thank you for all your great songs and stories, David Gates (and apologies for the disses below but hey, you cannot win ’em all, as with us all).
My Top 4 Fav Bread Songs 1. “It Don’t Matter to Me” (Gates) — 2:51 (released Sept. 1969); 2. “Diary” (Gates) — 3:09 (released Jan. 1972); 3. “Aubrey” (Gates) — 3:39 (released Oct. 1972); 4. “Sweet Surrender” (Gates) — 2:38 (released Oct. 1972)
Extra Super Awesome: “Everything I Own” (Gates) — 3:07 (released Jan. 1972)
Really Fucking Awful Bread Songs 1. “Make It With You” (Gates) — 3:18 (released July 1970); 2. “Baby I’m A-Want You” (Gates) — 2:39 (released Jan. 1972); 3. “Mother Freedom” (Gates) — 2:35 (released Jan. 1972); 4. “Lost Without Your Love” (Gates) — 2:56 (released Jan. 1977)
Extra Super Fucking Awful (But every wedding reception featured it): “If” (Gates) — 2:36 (released 1971)