“Before there was a Captain and Tennille, my mom and dad were Corrine and the Professor. It seemed that Captain and Tennille were their evil twins, spirited up specifically to either harangue or (even worse) inspire them.”
This week I noticed that archetypal 70’s husband-wife pop-duo Captain and Tennille are calling it quits and filing for divorce.
This came as a surprise. Not because they are breaking up after 39 (thirty nine???) years of marriage, but because nothing had been heard from them for about the last 33 of those 39. After a meteoric rise to fame in 1975, they ruled the airwaves for about 3 years or so, until wiped out by the disco tsunami. Many of their former fans are now dead or in the sad state of health that keeps them from remembering much of anything. And yet suddenly the airwaves are aflutter with excited news of their parting as a couple. What gives?
Rather than to dismiss this as evidence that there is some particularly dorkish CIA analyst assigned this week to “goose” stories to prevent US citizens from paying attention to more important things regarding elements of the NDAA or ecological disaster or political rebellion in other parts of the world, for once I’ll assume that this is just evidence of nostalgia combined with a rueful reminder that nothing lasts forever–not even marriages in the ideal, saccharine 70’s pop-land.
But for me in particular, there’s some greater significance to this story.
And it has to do with dopplegangers, delusion, and heartbreak.
Before there was a Captain and Tennille, my mom and dad were Corrine and the Professor. It seemed that Captain and Tennille were their evil twins, spirited up specifically to either harangue or (even worse) inspire them.
Here’s mom and dad in a totally candid, unforced publicity shot:
And here’s a picture I took of them in action with my Polaroid 210 when I was about 7 years old. My dad was “Professor” on Hammond B3 organ and wearing a beret. My mom was “Corrine” on vocals but also bass and hi-hat anything else my dad could hang off of her:
So since 1975, the Captain and Tennille have occupied a certain place in my personal saga. They were the the successful version of my mother and father. But ironically, their success spelled doom for my family, and here’s why:
My dad at one time had almost everything he needed to start producing demo recordings of his actually pretty good pop songs and using his connections to get them heard by established stars. He didn’t plan on achieving stardom for himself or my mother.
But after one fateful day in 1975, that plan changed.
I’ll quote from my as-yet-unpublished memoir that I started writing about 15 years ago. I’ll beg that you please excuse the style. It comes from a time when I still was still convinced lurid purple prose was the appropriate style for just about everything:
“I remember hearing them for the first time in the spring of ’75. Our family was returning home from San Luis Obispo in the car. My mom and dad listened attentively, tensely reserving judgement until the end of the song. They had heard tell of this duo that had hit the charts out of nowhere. I sensed a kind of apprehension, the sort of recalculation of reality one can see on the faces of those who witness extreme catastrophe or are present at a religious awakening. This had somehow changed everything in life, this little song. They stopped at Woolco and bought the album before heading home. On the cover was a photo of the artists themselves, cloyingly cuddling a pair of English bulldog pups and smiling vacantly into the camera’s eye. My dad played the record several times that night. Here is what I imagine he was thinking:
That’s not a bad little song, and the production sounds good for radio. I can hear what he’s doing on the keyboard–Not that difficult. Her voice is just OK—Carol’s is much better. Carol looks better than she does, too. And he’s not that young and attractive, either. He wears a hat. Looks like one of those Greek fisherman hats. I’ll be damned if they didn’t see me in my beret somewhere. They’re doing that thing with the overdubbed voices at the end. I could do that with a four-track and a good reverb unit. Sounds like he has a synthesizer. I’d have to get a real drummer. Maybe little Billy could play the drums: he’s not too far away from being able to perform. Jesus Christ! I was playing the violin in public when I was ten–and I had newspaper stands, too! I think we could do this, Carol and I. I really think we could have something there.
Blind hope was Prometheus’ gift to man—one that ultimately brings destruction. My dad used that gift more than most others. His observation of the success of Captain and Tennille marked a change in the way he would chase his dream in the future. Instead of recording simple demo tapes with the intention of selling songs to performers, the focus of the recording effort would change to the production of radio-ready records featuring . . . Corrine and the Professor. My dad’s career had suffered for fifteen years while longhairs, hoodlums, and sexual deviants ruled the airwaves. Now, Captain and Tennille were making it big–if not for themselves then for Neil Sedaka—against all the odds, and their resemblance in concept, content, and even in name to Corrine and the Professor was striking. Alice Cooper? Was he still around? The Who? The What? The Where? The Who, indeed! KISS? My ass! Captain and Tennille were enjoying their fifteen minutes in the spotlight and somewhere in the tattered fabric of my father’s capitalistic-artistic mind there was a notion that Corrine and the Professor could be next. “