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Single Serving
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT

Garden Party
Words and music by Ricky Nelson
Hear and download Dr. BLT’s free mp3 cover of Garden Party by Ricky Nelson via this link:

Back in 1972, there was no better Independence Day expression of personal independence for a rejected, dejected teenage boy than Garden Party by Ricky Nelson.   After all, Smokin’ in the Boys Room by Brownsville Station hadn’t come out yet.  For the young ladies, of course the year offered Helen Reddy’s I am Woman.  It was every bit as definitive an expression of independence for young ladies and Garden Party was for young men.  You could tell in the vocal nuances and lyrical subtext of each song that both artists were still struggling to leave behind the overeagerness to please others that served as welcome mats for abuse in the eyes of bitter critics and bullies in the first place.

I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends 
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again 
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name 
No one recognized me, I didn't look the same 

But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well. 
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself 

So, “ya got to please yourself” eh?  That was a new concept in my pre-teen mind, but it sounded pretty pleasurable to me.  I was not yet allowed to listen to rock or pop music, but periodically disobeying this little interdictment was my first expression of independence from my parents, otherwise loving, wise Christian parents, but undoubtedly a little on the overprotective side.  My mom and dad were not home, so, notwithstanding a few pangs of guilt, the radio became my greatest source of fascination.  As I secretly turned the dial on my dad’s Magnavox stereo (the living room variety with the big wooden cabinet and the wicker speaker covers), away from Back to the Bible Broadcast, to CKOM, my ears lit up.  From Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue to America’s Horse With No Name and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, every song was a newly discovered treasure.  Garden Party by Ricky Nelson was no exception.   The song, peaking at #6 on Billboard’s top 100, was inspired by Ricky Nelson’s experience at a Madison Garden concert he delivered.  Rejection was something I could certainly identify with.  I was the skinniest and shyest boy on the schoolyard and those two ingredients added up to Rejection with a capital “R.” 
People came from miles around, everyone was there 
Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air 
'n' over in the corner, much to my surprise 
Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise 


The role that the expectations of an overly optimistic, idealistic artist plays in the rejection process cannot be overstated.  The anticipation for a great reception was obviously burning within the heart and soul of Ricky Nelson when he arrived at the Garden Party starring himself---the Garden Party that would morph, first into a pity party, and then, into a personal celebration of sorts, and a declaration of independence. 
lott-in-dah-dah-dah, lot-in-dah-dah-dah 

Played them all the old songs, thought that's why they came 
No one heard the music, we didn't look the same 
I said hello to "Mary Lou", she belongs to me 
When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave 

“Thought that’s why they came?”  There go those expectations and perilous assumptions again.   I’ve never been truly famous like Ricky.  In fact, there are moments when I could say without exaggeration:

I Can Count My Fans (On One Hand)
Words and music by Dr. BLT ©2006

But I’ve always shared his apparent dewy-eyed optimism, and that’s why I didn’t expect my parents to come home so soon, and bust me listening to Ricky Nelson while in the midst of my own personal Garden Party.  Like Ricky’s Garden Party, mine transformed into a pity party and then, (a year later, shortly after my parents gave me a brand new Yamaha guitar for Christmas) I would begin to write and record my own declarations of independence. 

Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode 
Playing guitar like a-ringin' a bell and lookin' like he should 
If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck...
Sometimes I wonder how these “declarations of independence” will get me.  Rather than enduring declarations of independence, most of my songs have become distant memories in the mind of the fans I could once count on one hand (now it takes nearly two). 

Perhaps I should have become a truck driver. 


 Copyright © 1996 - 2006 The Phantom Tollbooth