A to Z April Challenge
During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The Beatles "Norwegian Wood" (1965)
During the time when I was in 8th and 9th grade I became passionate about building model kits. I started out with the Aurora monster series--the classic monsters such as Godzilla, the Mummy, Dracula, and a number of others. Later I built some of the Big Daddy Roth "Rat Fink" series, eventually continuing on to airplanes, ships, and car models. I began buying magazines about monsters and model building. I was consumed by this hobby.
My best friend Dan also joined me in this interest. Previously we had both been avid stamp collectors, but the model building seemed like the more teen-like past time to which to graduate. Dan was a grade ahead of me, but since he lived nearby and we shared similar interests he took up whatever interests I had. He liked hanging around my house like my friends always seemed to do when I was growing up. I guess my house was always cooler than anybody elses and my mother always welcomed any of my friends.
Another interest Dan and I shared was a love of the pop music of the day. We'd sit on the floor of my bedroom working with our model kits listening to the likes of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles. While we worked on our model-building we'd listen to my albums on a portable record player I had in my room and we talk about whatever came to mind--mostly girls.
Neither of us had ever had an actual girlfriend relationship yet, but we were curious and had great longing. Dan would tell me about things that he'd heard some of the older boys talking about or things that he had read. This was the mid-60's and the topic of sex was still mostly a mystery to us. We wanted to know more, there was so much that we didn't understand.
After I acquired the Beatles Rubber Soul album we played that record over and over. My favorite songs were "Michelle" and "I've Just Seen a Face". Dan's favorite song was "Norwegian Wood". In a classic example of misheard lyrics, Dan insisted that one of lines said "She showed me her womb". He was taken by that line. We both were aware that this had a sexual connotation, but we were misunderstanding what exactly womb meant. What Dan was convinced of was that the lady of the song showed the singer her womb.
I didn't hear that lyric in that way myself--I was hearing "room" not "womb". But Dan stayed with his hearing of the line. In later years I read or heard something about the phrase "Norwegian Wood" was really code for "knowing she would". That sounds logical if you think back on the line "she showed me her room isn't it good knowing she would". But then again "womb" was a code for young teenagers such as we were.
That was a word made fodder for imagination. The best visual for two young guys dreaming about the mysteries of women was the cover of Whipped Cream and other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. This was the album worth staring at and letting fantasies run amok. The words of "Norwegian Wood" had nothing on that album cover. And from all appearances the woman on that album cover had nothing on except a lot of whipped cream.
Ah, the fantasies of youth!
At what age did you begin thinking of the mysteries of the opposite sex? Is there a favorite lyric that you've misheard? Did you have a hobby that kept you busy when you were a child or teenager?
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Chicago "Make Me Smile" (1970)
Make Me Smile
During the early seventies I spent a few summers working at the equipment yard for the industrial contractor where my father was the bookkeeper. There were a few other fellows my age who also worked in the same place. Their fathers were bigwigs at the aluminum plant where the industrial contracting company always had a big job going on. I guess all of our fathers felt like we needed to be doing something during the summer besides just goofing off. Back then in Tennessee young men out of high school were expected to work during the summer to pay for college the rest of the year. That is, if they went to college.
The work was often tedious hot summer labor. We'd clean equipment, help cut rebar rods for the building jobs, or spend hours out in a large expanse of land cutting weeds that threatened to take over on an almost weekly basis. The weed hacking was probably the worst job since we swinging scythes under a blazing sun. It was a time for letting my mind wander or listening to the inane blathering of the guys I was working alongside.
One summer it was Tim, a lanky blond fellow with a cheery face. He was a talker. Mostly he'd talk about women and his sexual exploits, most which I doubted ever happened. But he'd tell his stories in an amusing way that would give me a chuckle. I don't think I ever saw him when he was being serious. He did a spot on imitation of Terry Kath of the group Chicago singing "Make Me Smile", a song which was played widely on the radio that summer. Especially the vocal part that had the "WhoooHooo!" sung after the lines of the chorus. Now I can't hear that song without thinking of Tim out in that field cutting weeds and singing "Whoooohooo!" in a loud voice.
Then there was Jackie whose father was a pipefitter for the contracting company. Jackie was a braggart like no other guy I've known. His stories weren't about women or the women he'd had as much as they were about him and how great he was or his older best friend and how great that friend was. I always kept pretty quiet around Jackie because I knew I could not top any of his stories with any honesty involved.
Like the time when Jackie was still a senior in high and went over to sit in class with his friend who was going to the nearby university. Jackie told about all of the good looking college girls in the class and how they kept sneaking looks toward him. Then his buddy started poking him in the back and in a reflexive reaction Jackie scrunched his arms together leaning forward which in turn caused his shirt to totally rip down the back. He attributed the tearing of the shirt to his fine muscular physique and his powerful strength. All of the girls now gazed at him with mouth gaping wonderment with him beaming back at his new admirers.
Whether his stories were true or not, they made for entertainment to pass the drudgery of the physical labor. Especially when we were working in the pipe shop with Jackie's father cleaning the rusty pipe fittings from job sites. This was some of the dirtiest work I've ever done. It was not hard work, just dirty work. Jackie, his father, and I would sit on overturned cans around a big bucket of diesel oil scrubbing the fittings with a wire brush and then dipping them in oil to be put back into storage His father was a soft spoken man who didn't say much. He and I would be cleaning pipe fittings as Jackie rattled on about this or that.
Jackie was always talking big boastful talk. Then there was the time he was talking about some guy who had pissed him off something powerful. Jackie said how he was going to "whip his ass". That's when his father quietly stated, "Son, you're not going to whup anyone's ass." I'd never seen Jackie get so quiet. I wanted to laugh but I didn't even crack a smile. I knew Jackie had a hot temper and I didn't want to be on his bad side. Jackie was quiet for a while after that, but then a while later was back to his old braggadocio self.
Those fellows that I worked with on that construction yard were not the kind of guys I would have hung around with during off work hours. I didn't keep track of them after those summers were gone. Tim probably finished college and got a job in a similar line of work as his father. I easily picture him settling down into marriage and family.
Jackie on the other hand probably had a wilder time of it. I did get wind several years later that he'd been in a fight at the local American Legion and had been stabbed. He'd probably opened his mouth shooting it off to the wrong person. So far as I know Jackie survived the stabbing, but I never heard anything after that. His father died from a heart attack several years after Jackie's fracas. The old man had probably held a lot inside throughout the years and had a lot of stress built up.
The construction yard is still there but it was bought out by another company. The aluminum plant cut way back on production and there's probably not much contracting work to be done there anymore. At least not like there was thirty years ago or more.
That summer job paid for my college for a couple years and then I found a different job that was more to my liking. The construction yard work was an experience that in retrospect was good for me, but not something I would have wanted to do for much longer than I did.. But when I think back on it, looking from my current vantage point, those summers make me smile.
What was the hardest job you've ever had? Were you friends with your co-workers during off hours? Do you have good work stories to tell?
Monday, April 14, 2014
Dan Fogelberg "Last to Know" (1980)
Last To Know
My first wife loved the music of Dan Fogelberg. He wrote some romantic songs as well as insightful songs about relationships. I recall times of us sitting in our electric blue VW Rabbit listening to Fogelberg's "Home Free" cassette tape full blast. We were both moving toward our individual realms of misunderstanding. Hurtling uncontrollably toward a break-up that neither of us could do anything about.
And yet we tried. We negotiated. We cried. If tears would have been gold we would have been wealthy beyond imagination. But materially we were poor. Not uncomfortable or without resources, but neither of us had the advantage over the other.
This was about the time when Dan Fogelberg released the album "Phoenix" Some of those songs could have been written for us. I listened to them as though they had been.
We tried I suppose. It's hard to remember after all of these years. I had my idea of what marriage and a man/woman relationship was supposed to be about. So did she. Maybe they were the same and we just couldn't see where we merged. I believe there was love. I know there was. Our love just didn't understand what the love was all about.
The funny thing about it all is that we probably could have made it all work. As it turned out though there were different plans in place.
Damn love and all the crazy mixed up emotions involved with it. If love was always practical then we wouldn't have love songs.
Did love ever mess with your mind? Why is it so difficult for people in love to come to agreement about silly life issues so much of the time? Do you like Dan Fogelberg's music?
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Tee and Cara "Keeping Track" (1968)
--a note about the music: Tee and Cara's As They Are is one of my favorite albums. Sadly it did not gain the recognition it deserved although I guess it now has a minor cult status. I hope you will give it a listen. I was tempted to use every song on it in my A to Z series.
Keeping Track of Time
I've always thought about keeping a diary. Those historical records like the diary of Samuel Pepys who famously chronicled London life in the 1600's fired my imagination when I read excerpts in high school. Anne Frank's diary has inspired many with her harrowing story of living in hiding from the Nazis. Many movies and literary works have used the diary as a device for telling a story. Keeping track of the events in my life in written form has often been something that I felt that I should do.
Yet, I never seemed to be able to keep up a momentum to maintain an ongoing record of my life. I would sometimes start. I'd get a journal or composition book having all the best of intent to faithfully start a diary. Then after an entry or two I'd forget to write in it, eventually stopping altogether and stuffing the diary in a drawer.
During my senior year of high school and into my first year of college I faithfully kept a dream diary. I recorded my dreams in great detail and still have those notebooks to this day. But that was not exactly my real life. What happened during my waking hours is now mostly hazy memories if remembered at all.
Life journal entries are something I tend to start writing when I'm depressed or when some negative event is hanging over me. During my separations from my first and second wives I wrote a lot. Sometimes I'd write about my days or I'd write about my feelings. There were many songs and poems inspired by my hurt and sadness. I suppose my creative writing qualifies as a form of journaling since I was digging from the depth of my emotions.
In the summer of 1971 I embarked on what was to be a grand hitchhiking tour across the United States. Each day I recorded in detail the aspects of my adventure and my impressions of the places that I had been. There were many pages of writing for this journey that was cut short to a mere month of travel as opposed to several months. A decade later a briefcase that contained this journal and many other writings was stolen when someone broke into my van in the Holiday Inn parking lot in Greeley, Colorado. My grandest attempt at journaling probably ended up in a dumpster somewhere with many details of my memory gone with it.
Like prayer, journaling is something I tend to do more of in times when I'm downcast. I'm better with prayer since it's easier to say a quick "thank-you" now and then. Writing takes more effort and time. When I'm having happy times or good times there is little time for writing about it all. Time just flies by pleasantly and usually the things I have to show for those experiences are of the nature of photographs or souvenir mementoes related to whatever I was doing at those times.
Hurt and sadness gnaws long and agonizingly on the heart, mind, and soul. Those are the times when you have to tell somebody what you're feeling and often that someone is yourself. I've often turned to writing to sort out my feelings. Somehow maybe I can find answers by writing. Or at very least express my frustration or even rage. Happy times often don't permit writing and pondering. These are the times to live in the moment and hope to remember the experience.
Keeping track of time can be tedious, meticulous, and self-indulging. Or at other times keeping track of time can be quickly scribbled notes that are lost or unintelligible if not expounded upon quickly. Time goes faster than any of us can adequately ever keep track of. I suppose if I kept track of all the time in my life I wouldn't be doing that much actual living.
Do you keep a journal of your life events? Did you ever faithfully keep a diary in your past? How do you think journaling life events can help you or others?
Friday, April 11, 2014
Leo Reisman Orchestra "Jalousie" (1925)
When I was in elementary school in San Diego, California all students in the third grade classes were offered an opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument and join the school orchestra. This appealed to me and I told my parents that I wanted to learn to play the violin. My father encouraged the idea since I did not take dance lessons like my younger sister did and he was anxious for me to learn an entertainment art.
My parents sent in the permission slip and then took me to the music store to purchase a brand new 3/4 size violin and the music book that was required by the school. I proudly carried that violin to school on days when we would have orchestra practice. I liked to open the case and breathe in the smells of the varnished wood of the new instrument and the rosin for the bow. To be part of an orchestra gave me a special feeling.
With a half hour allotted to violin practice each evening I caught on fairly quickly to playing the simple tunes we would play in orchestra. A concert was scheduled in Spring to show off what we had learned during the course of the year. Our little tunes were a hit with the parents of the orchestra members in that first concert. I felt like a real musician.
Throughout elementary school I continued to play in the orchestra. Mr. Simpson, the orchestra teacher, recommended that we take private lessons during off school hours in order to gain greater mastery of our instruments. My parents found an elderly lady who gave violin lessons in her house, a stately older home not far from the Old Town district. Mrs. Harris was a kindly lady, but strict in her teaching.
Practice became less fun for me as the music grew more serious. Summers were especially difficult for me because I would rather be outside having fun than inside practicing my violin. However I would dutifully fulfill my half hour obligation to practice my violin each day, watching the clock carefully that my time was exactly one half hour--no more, no less.
The practice, the lessons, and my diligence paid off for orchestra class. I became first chair violin. Occasionally other violinists would challenge me to take the first chair from me, but always I would outplay them and Mr. Simpson would let me keep my seat. I remained as first violinist throughout elementary school.
One of the songs my father always wanted me to learn how to play was "Jalousie". He never bought me the sheet music for the song, but he would often say that he wanted me to learn to play it. Since I had a pretty good ear for picking up songs without having music in front of me I did learn to play a simplified version of "Jalousie". He was pleased when I played it for him. Every once in a while my father would say, "Play 'Jalousie' for me" and I would oblige and he'd be content.
After I had left elementary school my family moved to Crown Point, Indiana. There was no orchestra at the new school I started attending. For a while I took violin lessons from a dwarf who played gypsy style violin in a popular smorgasbord restaurant near where we lived. He was a stern teacher. Violin didn't seem like the in thing for guys my age so I decided to quit playing.
A number of years went by before I picked up my violin again when I was in college. Many of my friends were musicians and they would get together to have musical jams. During one of those jams when we were gathered in the basement at my parents' house, I broke out my violin to join in the music. I could still play, though not particularly well, and thereafter I would jam with my friends on many occasions.
When I got the offer to travel with the Ken Griffin Magic Show in the summer of 1975 I had to put together some sort of juggling routine to perform as my specialty in the production. Since I was no highly skilled juggler I borrowed part of the comedy juggling act that my father did and billed myself as "The Juggling Violinist". My shtick was that I would be introduced as a classical violinist. I would start playing seriously and then go off into a comic musical bit after which I would go into my comedy juggling routine. It was not great, but it was a passable act that I performed for a few years.
My pinnacle achievement as a violinist was in the latter part of 1977 in Richmond, Virginia when I took a hiatus from the road life for the birth of my son. My wife's sister was an actress who was involved in many productions in the Richmond area. She'd gotten wind that a production of the Broadway musical The Robber Bridegroom was going to be staged at the nearby Swift Creek Mill Theater and they needed a fiddle player. She'd told them about me and they were interested.
I didn't feel very confident in my abilities as a musician, but I needed more money than I'd been making in my day job so I went to play for them. They hired me on the spot. I don't know why they weren't able to find a more accomplished violinist, but maybe it was the nature of the role. The fiddle player was to appear onstage throughout the show as part of a bluegrass style back-up band for the actors. So in essence I was not only a member of the band, but I was also a character in the musical. That didn't bother me since I was used to being on stage.
The best part of the deal is that I had to join the musician's union which meant I got union pay not only for the performances but also for rehearsal time, something which the actors did not receive. The money helped with the household expenses and I had a good time doing something that I liked.
After that I never had much occasion to play my violin other than a few jam sessions with friends. I went back to touring with stage shows for the next decade. I always had my fiddle with me, but I rarely broke it out of its case. My violin sits in my closet even now. Maybe I'd take it out to play if my father were still around to say, "Play 'Jalousie' for me." I'd try at least.
Did you play an instrument when you were a child? Do you still play? Are you familiar with the musical "The Robber Bridegroom"?
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Beach Boys "In the Back of My Mind" (1965)
In the Back of My Mind
With as many blessings as I've had in my life and so much support from family and friends, you'd think I'd be bursting with confidence. But I've often had my fears. There were many times I've felt alone. Times when I didn't think I'd do good at the things I was supposed to do. Things usually turned out well for the most part. I would fear failure, but I'd almost always succeed if I pursued something. It's just that sometimes I just didn't try to do things because I was afraid.
Good grades came relatively easy for me and my teachers liked me. I was a good kid and never made much trouble. In college I took a bit of a turn for the worse, but it was a rebellious time in the early seventies and I was not particularly thrilled with college anyway. Not that I was trouble, but scholastically speaking I was a bit lackadaisical. And I lacked focus.
Once I entered the world of work I was back to my milieu of succeeding. In the first job I actually got on my own (without my father's influence) I was immediately hired as assistant manager. I was placed in positions of trust and well-liked by the other employees. I masked my lack of confidence in my abilities and gained the confidence of those who had hired me.
That was basically my job history from then on. I almost always ended up in a management position and in the cases were I didn't it was because I had turned down management offers. I guess I should have been super confident in everything I did, but still I was scared. What if I failed? What if I got fired?
Too bad marriage and relationships aren't more like jobs. You never really know absolutely what the other person is thinking. Of course my wives didn't know everything I was thinking either I suppose. I'm a big believer in openness and good communication. But showing fear often displays weakness when it's the fear of what can happen in a relationship.
When it's over for good you can replay everything and question your actions. I reexamined every conversation I could remember, every look, every action. I don't know that many good answers can be found when it comes to thinking about things that happened in moments in the past.
What has already happened has happened. What's going to happen is going to happen. I'm only human. Certain fears will always be in the back of my mind. Let them bug me, but I can't let them rule me.
Do you often have insecurities? Have you lived a blessed life? Do you ever see yourself as somewhat neurotic?
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Traffic "Heaven Is In Your Mind" (1967)
Heaven Is In Your Mind
When I was seven years of age my family moved to a duplex in the Penn Hills area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Practically in our backyard was a tiny Free Methodist Church which became the church we not only began to attend on Sundays, but it became the focal point of my social life. The pastor gave me my very first personal copy of a Bible which I still have in my possession. This began my lifetime spiritual journey.
My father was deeply interested in the Bible and all things related to Jesus and seemed very pleased about the interest which I took in the church. We had never been involved in any church up to that time although my father frequently read from and quoted passages from the Bible. In our first Christmas at that house--this would have been the Christmas of 1958--my father gave me a two volume book set concerning Bible commentary and history and an art book with paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. I spent many hours with these books and the Bible given to me by the church pastor.
These studies stayed with me throughout my life, having a great influence on my thinking and my actions. We moved from Pennsylvania the following year and relocated first in San Diego, California; then Crown Point, Indiana; and finally Maryville, Tennessee. Often our family attended church, but sometimes there would be lapses. Through the years matters concerning God, the Bible, and Heaven were always in my mind.
Even in my wilder days of college and some years after I was never far from my spiritual side. I always maintained some limits. I still dreamed of some future place where absolute goodness reigned. I suppose once Heaven is in your mind it's difficult to get it out.
Were you involved in any sort of religious activity as a child? Did spiritual matters ever enter your mind when you were young? How has your outlook towards spirituality changed since becoming an adult?