Kansas was one of those bands that really confused me as a kid. First of all, how could a band have the same name as a state? That didn’t make any sense to me. Was the entire state of Kansas involved in the band? You could have also made the same argument for Boston or America or Chicago, but for some reason I could explain that to myself. Not Kansas. I even gave Toto a pass. [although I would have loved to have seen Dorothy Moore singing Tin Man opening for a twinbill of Toto & Kansas)
Then there was the fact that my mom wouldn’t let me listen to them. “They’re too loud”, she said. “It’s just noise. It makes no sense.” Well she was on to something, especially when it came to Progressive rock. That combined with their dramatic old century album covers and the pictures of the band with their giants long hair made me think they could be a little scary. Then I heard Dust In The Wind on the radio and thought, how could that be Kansas? I could rock myself to sleep to that song. I’m not scared at all and my ears are fine.But I still had just enough insecurity to give them and the song a bit of intrigue to me.
Can you imagine anyone writing such a serious song devoid of irony nowadays? You would be completely torn apart. In fact people do that to this song using it for punchlines in movies, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure & Old School. And, like most hits are, it was written as an afterthought and recorded as the last song on Kansas’ Point of Know Return LP. Writer Kerry Livgren was picking a little tune out on his guitar as a finger exercise when his wife heard it and casually mentioned that he should write words to it. So he wrote some quick lyrics based on A Native American poem whose premise was ‘all that we are is dust in the wind’. Kerry used that thought and built the idea about how success and money don’t really mean anything when you’re dead. And then, ironically, this became the song which made him even more rich & famous than he was. Even in the digital age, he’s made at least a million dollars in download royalties.
Actually it’s not a very cheery song, but it broke up, quite nicely, the Saturday Night Fever I’m-gonna-live-forever disco singles that were monopolizing the charts in early 1978, even taking the band onto the Country & Adult Contemporary charts. Maybe it was crazy haired Phil Steinhardt’s violin/viola interplay. Maybe it was Steve Walsh’s straight ahead impassioned delivery on lyrics like ‘and all your money won’t another minute buy‘, obviously written by a Jedi. Regardless, if any song should ever have been written about dust & wind, it should be by a group called Kansas.