Procol Harum – Whiter Shade of Pale

I don’t follow conventions. You’ll get to know that about me. Who came up with Throwback Thursday anyway. Such a convention now. Boo.

I was listening to this song tonight. Looking at the bad video/audio sync like so many other song video recordings I’ve been listening to this week. They just didn’t have their shit together. I mean, I remember when we were all wowed by Michael Jackson because he had dancers who actually moved in sync with one another. But again, I digress.

This song reminds me of my eldest sister’s wedding. It was a rainy day. She married an Armenian-American guy from Providence, RI. It was a tight-knit group from a proud community. I was in college in Tallahassee at the time. I flew there and suddenly felt like, with the first communal dinner party, that I was in a different country. Grape wrapped rice things. Dolmades. The women in the house talked in a language I had never heard before and the men called sandwiches, sangwidges.

Everything was foreign. I was displaced. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but who exactly was this newfound family of my sister? How was I going to fit in now.

The wedding day came and I started taking pictures. My sister’s posse had gotten a few rooms in a posh hotel in the downtown district. The women were in a frenzy getting everyone’s hair and nails done when I noticed it started to rain outside.

My sister, the bride, in her hair curlers, took a moment to go down the hall. The view was beautiful and she opened the window the small crack that it would allow. She pulled a cigarette out of her pocket and exhaled her breath into the foggy Providence air. And I took a picture. I was standing down the hall from her and thought, “What a profound moment this is.” Needless to say, she found out and promptly scolded me, admonishing me that her new mother-in-law would now know that she smoked sometimes. And, even though I never got that picture developed, it’s still with me.

But, to the song. It was a great wedding. Arguments and rain and French relatives and all. It was a huge wedding. Catholic. Big. 500+. People flown from Lyon and stuff. Did I say big? I felt like my sister was no longer mine that day. She was lost in the swirl of guests and relatives. That’s how big it was.

But, at the reception, we got to dance. And I really like to dance. I don’t do it well at all, but I kind of like that about it, too. And all the Armenians did their thing. Dancing around in a big circle and shooting alternate feet out like something I saw once in a Russian movie.

So, we watched them. My brothers and sisters and me. My older brother and I were a mainstay at the open bar, doing shots. And we finally got tired of their whole show.

And we got up there and danced some really bad American style stuff by ourselves. It was embarrassing to say the least. It was. It was bad, drunken, non-cohesive dancing and calling people’s names from the dance floor, imploring them to join in. I mean, we don’t really have a culture. But we do know how to get drunk and sentimental. And my brother wanted to hear Procol Harum. Yes, here’s where the longest story in the world wraps around.

Procol Harum was our song. My brother and my sisters and me. It was a song that got us through the hard times when my mother died. And I think we just wanted one last dance together. But the DJ wouldn’t play it. He said it was too depressing to play at a wedding. And he said the song doesn’t even make sense. But it doesn’t always have to make sense. It doesn’t always have to wrap around to a feel-good pop vibe. I guess that’s my point. And I would’ve loved to have had that dance with them. Just the four of us, together one last time.

But, somewhere amidst the haze of alcohol, I do remember my brother and myself dancing to You Look Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton. And singing it loudly and probably oh so badly. We’ll always have that. So, there’s something.

For my brothers and sisters.


We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale
She said, ‘There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see.’
But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed
And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale
And so it was that later
Songwriters: Gary Brooker / Keith Reid / Matthew Fisher
A Whiter Shade of Pale lyrics © T.R.O. Inc.