It was one of those middle-of-the-road songs that regularly, suddenly appeared on the radio, usually within a week of appearing on the chart published each Sunday in Newsday’s “Part II.” In other words, on Sunday, a new song title and band name would appear on the chart, without having been heard, announced, premiered, or otherwise touted, and within the week, it would be on the radio—or, more often, all over the radio. As if some power-that-be decided, this week we put it on the chart, and then we pummel it into the ground.
But I’m being unfair here; I didn’t intend for this to be a polemic against the corrupt music business. I was just pointing out how some songs, especially by second- or third-tier artists, would mysteriously pop up (pun intended), first on the chart, then on the radio, and then into the collective psyche of all the listeners in the area. There were quite a few of these. The first one I remember, dating back to the time I first tuned in at the end of sixth grade, was “Baby Come Back” by Player. I mean, who was Player? What have they done before or since? No one really knows, but their one hit was “Baby Come Back.” There were many others like that: “Bluer Than Blue,” “My Angel Baby,” “Just When I Needed You Most,” “You Take My Breath Away,” and so on.
Ambrosia’s “How Much I Feel” was the one that appeared sometime around November 1978. At first, it was just another of those songs … no real weight, no real passion, nothing that seems to reach for your soul or kick you in the gut. Just another midtempo, nonrock song designed to tweak your heartstrings … or otherwise be ignored. Same question asked about Ambrosia that I asked about Player: Who were they, and what have they done before or since? Well, evidently, Ambrosia had several albums to their credit, and they even kept on after their big hit. But they will always be remembered, perhaps annoyingly, for that one song.
I pondered their album title: Life Beyond L.A. I remember thinking, what an egotistical title … do people really think that life beyond LA, if it exists at all, is exotic? Step outside your shell, mister! So … bottom line … ponderous album title, song that edged the fine line from cloying to annoying, often being both.
So how did this epitome of late-1970s MOR go from cloying and annoying to one of those songs that did in fact exert its pull on the vaunted heartstrings? Well … it was on the radio at two pivotal moments during the pivotal weekend of Thanksgiving 1978. The first time it came on the radio as my childhood crush, who I’ll just call C., and I sat on the floor of her sister’s room, fiddling with the radio dial. First Orleans’ “Dance With Me,” with its line “starry eyes and love is all around us,” and then Ambrosia, with their opening line, “I don’t know how this whole business started.” Admittedly, the song’s lyrical subject matter had nothing to do with the scene that was playing out between C. and myself that night. It just happened to be on the radio and by virtue of that alone, it came to be associated with my falling in love for the first time.
The second time it came on was after I arrived home with my family on the Sunday at the end of the weekend. We left early—maybe 9 or 10 in the morning—because my sister was sick. I had just fallen in love—with C., with the Jersey Shore, with the naked truth that I, as THE HESH, belonged in Asbury Park, and that was so much more real and powerful to me than the Hershel Mershel that was chained down in Long Beach. And with the decision to leave in the morning rather than in the afternoon—which would have afforded a chance to go back to the Asbury Park boardwalk, perhaps even with C.—that wild & innocent spirit-in-the-night was dragged away from its newfound habitat, and told to get back in the bottle. With each passing mile, up the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, away from the Shore, I felt that raw passion and power get pulled farther and farther from me. How you gonna keep ‘em down in Long Beach after they’ve seen the Shore?
Well, we arrived home, somewhere around lunchtime. Suddenly I was up in my room again, surrounded by silence. I dropped my suitcase on the floor. Standing in my room in profound pain, the shock, the sting of being back where I did no longer belong. I could not face that silence, or the fact that I was back, and the very next day I’d be back in school with the regular cast of characters again. I turned on my stereo, seeing the cold sunshine through my south-facing jalousie window—the same window that had let in the summer breeze, the sound of the surf, and the sounds and smells of the beach and amusement park only a few months before—it was a harsh glare with no accompanying sound. Instead, coming through the stereo was “How Much I Feel.” Not just its opening lines, but the whole song, with its minor-key bridge, and its refrain, “that’s how much, that’s how much.”
And with that refrain, I could no longer keep the stiff upper lip of one who was stunned into silence. I threw myself face down on my bed and BAWLED. Loudly. Into my pillow, so I could hear it and feel it, but no one else would. Could my family members have the slightest sense of what I had been through? The ecstasy? The soaring to the highest heights? Did my parents have the slightest idea how their decision to come home early affected my life so profoundly? How it precipitated a crash? (Amazing how I still feel it so much later, and it still feels just as powerful … even after the actual people and relationships have passed into history. Perhaps the only remnant of all that is my daughter Ellie … who would not have come into being if not for the events of Nov. 1978. And it is just as interesting how Ellie herself is still drawn to the Jersey Shore, even after spending most of her life in California ... life beyond LA, indeed. After all, it’s where she was born and raised, and her parents had so much of their lives revolve around it.)
So … even if the relationship scenario depicted in the song is not what happened, the chorus still holds true: That’s
How much I feel … feel for you baby.
How much I need … oh I need your touch.
How much I live … I live for your lovin’.
That’s how much—that’s how much
That’s how much … that’s how much.
And that’s all there is.
The Jersey Shore, Asbury Park. Still among my favorite places.
C., my childhood-teenage crush—who has long since moved on, as I have.
C.’s cousin G., who I met that weekend for the first time, now my ex-wife—even though I don’t love her anymore.
And our daughter, Ellie—who I will always love.
That’s how much.
Music: Ambrosia, "How Much I Feel" (just in case you never heard it)