Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kansas: Point of Know Return

TV Thursdays always are a particular challenge for me as I must find a song (usually from a commercial) that is available online and fits my rigid criteria. Not that I have any rigid criteria for inclusion on this site; it just is fitting that I have some rhetoric to trick, er, present to my viewing public that indicates a great deal of scrutiny occurs with my daily choices. Therefore, there is scientific reasoning that explains why a particular song is chosen on any given day. Now with that out of the way, may I interest you in some ocean front property in Arizona?

Today's inspiration came directly from my 13 year old who, when seeing the latest commercial for State Farm Insurance, exclaimed that the guy in the car singing (badly at that) and playing air drums could have been me. The featured song was the title cut from Kansas’ “Point of Know Return” album.

While I am flattered that she would notice the similarities, I am a little put-off that she thinks I sing that badly. I don’t think so, but be that as it may, I can see myself doing this very same thing. Therefore, she has her dear old dad pegged fairly well. I might even be tempted to do this in an effort to embarrass both of my kids in the first place.

Today’s Commercial Inspiration

Fathers (and middle-aged men in general) get a bad rap, especially from their teenage daughters. Somehow, we are stuck in some sort of vortex or another dimension. Our teenagers cannot understand when we might like some of the same things (including music) that they do. This alone has the power to render any particular item as being ceremonially un-cool. While today’s selection is not one either of my girls would listen to on any given day, it does indicate that dear old dad is not quite ready for the geriatric walker circuit either.

Page Two

Kansas is one of those groups that fits into the prog rock sub-genre of rock and roll. From the first time I heard them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974, I admired their sound. They had dual keyboards – reminiscent of Procul Harum, yet the added dimension of Robbie Steinhardt’s violin created a very unique signature for this band that comes from, uh, you guessed it – Kansas.

It took four albums for Kansas to hit the mainstream and “Leftoverture,” their number one selling album, produced the classic single “Carry on Wayward Son,” which is often misidentified by the hoi polloi because the lyrics state “Carry on MY Wayward Son.” This song just missed the top ten by placing eleventh on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The follow-up LP to “Leftoverture” was “Point of Know Return” which featured two singles that charted in the Top 40: the title cut and their biggest single to date, “Dust in the Wind.” If you are going to own only two Kansas LPs – "Leftoverture" and "Point of Know Return" are the two to have. Unfortunately with bands like Kansas, equally good older material sometimes is lost in the shuffle because of the lack of discernible hits.

To the public, it is almost as though an artist did not exist prior to positive chart activity. It reminds me of a scene I witnessed in a record store in the mid to late seventies. As I was perusing the bins for something of worth, I heard a young boy exclaim to his parent, “Mom, did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” Ah yes, youth is often wasted on the young.

When “Point of Know Return” was released and the title track was making it to radio, my own naiveté questioned the word choice of “Know,” when “No” appeared to be the logical one. The play on words and the deeper meaning of song was entirely lost on me – a 22 year-old college student.

Yes, youth may be wasted on the young; however, I finally began to appreciate the subtlety of the less obvious homophonic choice that is used in this selection. When I did, I felt like Caine on the TV series “Kung Fu,” as I finally snatched the pebble from Master Po’s hand and was able to continue on with my life’s journey. Grasshopper, indeed.

The cover of the LP leads to one’s understanding of how “know return” relates to “no return.” In a sense they are one in the same. When reading reviews of this song some 31 years later, I realize that people are still confused about its meaning. Before we go any further, we need to read the lyrics.

Lyrical Content Reprinted Here for Educational Purposes Only

I heard the men saying something,
The captains’ tell they pay you well.
And they say they need sailing men to
Show the way, and leave today.
Was it you that said, "How long? How long?"

They say the sea turns so dark that
You know it's time you see the sign.
They say the point demons guard is
An ocean grave for all the brave.
Was it you that say, "How long? How long?
How long to the point of know return?"

Your father, he said he needs you.
Your mother, she says she loves you.
Your brothers, they echo your words:
"How far, to the point of know return ?
To the point of know return?"
"Well, how long? How long?"

Today, I found a message floating
In the sea – from you to me.
Who knows that when you could see it
You cried with fear, the point was near.
Was it you that said, "How long, how long
How long to the point of know return?
How long, how long to the point of know return?
Know return – how long? How long?”

Here’s where the album cover brings the meaning into focus. For generations, there was the false notion that once someone sailed past the horizon they sailed over the edge of the earth. Most Europeans incorrectly perceived that anyone who ventured to the vast unknown of the west never returned. Perhaps they didn’t want to return. The fact remains that the knowledge of what really was out there was never verified because of fear. Or in analogous terms, "How do you know that you do not like Brussels sprouts, unless you taste one?"

When one ventures forward and gains knowledge through experience, there is no turning back. The point of “know return” is a point of “no return” to past ideas and experiences. It becomes similar to Kurt Lewin’s change theory. In the process of changing, we are constantly being challenged by our previously held perspectives and beliefs. Sometimes these challenges come from our friends and family who attempt to influence our path. These obstacles create great discomfort, as cognitive dissonance often accompanies change. Eventually, our mental anguish subsides as we cross that threshold of acceptance and sail over the imaginary edge of the earth.

Kansas places this perspective in form of an ocean voyage. Think of what the men aboard the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria during Columbus’ first journey to the Americas must have thought. These crew members had lived with the understanding that the world was flat, that there were great sea monsters roaming the Atlantic, and that by sailing too far west would constitute certain death. It is highly probable that family attempted to persuade these mariners to remain safe at home.

It really required a paradigm shift for these men to make this initial voyage. Until they were able to set foot upon dry land, the fears continued. That distant land was the point of know return. Old myths were shattered and new perspectives created. They could not return to their previous viewpoint as they crossed the point of know/no return.

So deep a commentary inspired by a commercial message that wasn’t. Have a pleasant Thursday as you venture towards new horizons to the “Point of Know Return.” One word of advice though, watch out for the ever present sea monsters.


  1. Interesting observations - was searching for info on the album since I've had it on vinyl for years but am renewing my interest as I load tunes onto my iPhone. Cool commentary, thanks for the insight.

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  2. Thanks MetalFRO. I had to go back and read what I had posted. I'm glad it was helpful.


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  4. Hi Jim, very well written posting - I very much enjoyed reading it. You are the kind of guy I would not hesitate to join going fishing on week end ;).

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  6. Basically good and helpful explanation. But one factual error. It is a myth that folks in Columbus's day believed the world was flat (this album's cover art may share that misunderstanding). Though some common folk may have held such notions, all those with any education (and, I think, sailors in general) understood - and had for many centuries (thanks to the Greeks) -that the world was round. They ALSO understood that this globe was quite large. In fact, Columbus's critics estimates of its size were rather good - while he seriously UNDER-estimated - which explains their opposition to his plan. Had the Americas not stood in the way - something NO ONE expected - the technological limitations of the day (though vastly improving throughout the 15th century, increasing the distance vessels could sail), would have forced Columbus to return or be lost at sea.

  7. Wow thanks for that insight...i saw the lyrics and title and lead me here. Again thanks