They say “You can’t go home again,” and there’s some truth to that. Things change, and that certainly applies to State College.
I arrived in 1965 as a freshman, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was rather shy, but in high school I’d found expression playing in a rock band and writing songs. At Penn State, it seemed as if I studied everything but music, yet it was still the music that mattered most to me. There I met and befriended other musicians, played solo and with a few popular campus bands.
After graduating, I left town but returned two years later to attend grad school. I stayed for 12 more years, supporting myself playing gigs, both solo and with other local musicians. In 1979 I joined three of them—Ken Mathieu ’68 Lib, Jamie Rounds, and Rocco Fortunato—to form the band that became Backseat Van Gogh. It was a glorious time and the best band I’d ever played with.
When BVG broke up in 1981, I stayed in town for a few more years before leaving to begin a career in video production. But I kept on writing and recording songs, one of which won grand prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. That award encouraged me to keep writing, but the days of performing my songs live were far behind me.
In May, I received a phone call from my lifelong friend Jerry Zolten ’69, ’74 MA, ’82 PhD Lib, asking if I would consider doing a performance of my own songs at Pine Grove Hall during Arts Festival week. I was half excited and half terrified at the prospect. It had been nearly 50 years since I’d performed a solo concert of original songs, but with Jerry’s encouragement, I agreed.
During the drive from New Jersey, countless thoughts echoed through my brain. The final stretch from Harrisburg brought a brief downpour, after which weightless puffs of mist rose from the mountains along the Juniata River. Each one seemed to evoke another memory of my days in State College, most of them joyful, some bittersweet.
The reaction to my performance that night was beyond anything I’d imagined or hoped for. I never felt alone on that stage, for the palpable support of everyone there was ever-present. I had forgotten how much performing and sharing my music was a part of my soul. I felt grateful, renewed, and happier than I’d felt in years. Some who were there told me afterward how much it had meant to them. I can hardly express how much it meant to me.
So, in a very real way, I did go home again. For home is not so much a building, or even a town. It’s more about relationships, friends, and acquaintances who appreciate you and care about what you have to say, who support you and express their love, and for whom you feel love in return.
David Fox is a singer-songwriter and video producer and director. He lives in Medford Lakes, N.J.