Warped Memories and Kleptomania: Supertramp, “Breakfast in America”

Supertramp - Breakfast in America

We all have memories of multitudinous firsts in our lives… first day of school, first date, and so forth.  For those of us with a musical inclination, that could also include the first rock album – and so it is for me.

When my sister brought home Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” album in 1979, I was immediately hooked.  This would have been shortly before I started piano lessons, but the fantastic keyboard playing on the album immediately grabbed my attention even so.  Prior to this, my sister’s musical tastes (which guided mine in childhood) had leaned much more towards pop and soft rock – Barry Manilow, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Seals and Crofts.  This was different – the controlled anger of “Gone Hollywood” (the first song on the album), the puzzled cynicism of “Logical Song,” Roger Hodgson’s keening guitar, John Helliwell’s soaring saxophone…

Even as a young child, I’d always turned to music as my chief comforter and source of entertainment.  (I could sing every song on the Carpenters’ “Singles” album by the time I was four or five, for example – probably to my parents’ dismay.)  Around the time I first heard this record, my family was going through some travails, and I would have found this new sound to be a welcome diversion.

Although it would be years before I’d fully comprehend the emotions behind the lyrics of such songs as “Lord Is It Mine” or “Child of Vision,” the whole album clearly spoke to something deep down inside – which, after all, is how any piece of music adheres itself to our souls, right?  And yes, absolutely I learned to sing to this album too!  I remember asking my mother (since I wasn’t allowed to curse) about potential word substitutions for words I wasn’t allowed to say as I learned the songs.  🙂

I’m very much afraid that this was one of several records that I kept when my sister moved out of the house – and I also must confess that it had not fared well in the Kansas summer sunlight.  But I cherished its odd warps and mutations of sound even so; the songs on the album aged as I did, offering new thoughts as I heard it with maturing ears.

When we purchased a record player, this was one of the first records I replaced.  I’d been listening to it regularly in digital format for years but in listening to the vinyl, I’m especially noticing the clarity of Dougie Thomson’s bass lines.  (Or maybe it’s just marriage to an aspiring bass player that’s opened my ears to them.)  The extended end of “Child of Vision,” which closes the album, remains my favorite part of the whole record, though – a keyboard part that builds from simplicity to a rollicking climax.  I’ve never tired of it.  (Which may be why that track is probably fourth or fifth on my phone in order of frequency of play.)

I suspect that most of us have albums like this in our memories – records or tapes that are so wrapped up in childhood recollections that it’s impossible to remember without the music.  This is just one record of many in my mental record cabinet, but it certainly remains one of my favorites and will no doubt continue to be so.

~ L