Hey Fella

Dad in the middle.

You put yourself through college playing gigs and working odd shifts at the local hospital.

Were you buddies with the other guys in the picture?

Is one of them actually Al Anderson?

In my head I hear you say, “They were all nice fellas.” That was one of your words.

Years later, when I was about eight, you said to six of my boy friends who were playing a bit too rough for your liking, “Hey fellas, take it easy.”

To this day I’m not sure if they stopped because of the inherent authority of your presence, or because they were so startled by the word “fellas.”

You called Steve, my brother, “Ace.”

Even me, once in a while too.

Neither of us knows from where that came.

I imagine you taking a break at that gig in the picture. Outside the back door of this school auditorium? Dance hall? It’s freezing cold, and you’re all hunched over in stiff tuxedos with smoky breaths rising, cigarettes cupped in your hands. You talk about what song to play next, which girl is the prettiest, how much snow will fall.

Isn’t it funny, this life you had? I’ve spent countless years trying to understand the Dad you were. These days I wonder about the younger you…before you were a Dad, a husband, a businessman, a coach. When you were just a horn player. Just a fella.

Songbird

Last week, I went out to see friends and hear a great band play. I saw lots of folks I knew and met some new ones, all of our voices growing louder to hear one another over the amazing music. Before long, it was too loud to talk and that suited me fine. Sometimes you just need to soak in sound, let harmony and melody mix in your brain, feel the drum reverberate through your chest.

I left the bar late and found myself stunned by the sudden silence into which I’d tumbled. My ears rang as I walked to my car. It was an exquisite night: finally, actually cool, dry, the merest sliver of moon, like the edge of a plate perched high above the world. Fall in South Carolina.

As I got close to my car, I said aloud, “Hi, Daddy.”

I’m not sure why.

Maybe I was overcome by the beauty of the night all around me.

Maybe I was happy and wanted him to know it.

Maybe I was calling out because I wished he was there.

Maybe the reason doesn’t matter.

From the darkness, from a tree near my car, a songbird sang out.

Then, just as suddenly, a chorus of birds further away answered back.

Then, the songbird sang out once more.

And then, quiet.

Oh.

Hi, Daddy.

Day 19: College Tunes

If you’ve been following along, this post is part of a (nearly) once-a-day-month-long-blogging-brouhaha with my pals Amanda Hollinger, Monica Wyche, and Ami Worthen.

I’ve been slogging through a chest cold this week, and it’s left me feeling tired, none too talkative and rather uninspired. Aren’t you glad you tuned in?

Never fear, I will let the music do the talking.

Join me, if you will, for a short stroll through some memorable tunes from the college days.

Please note that I first heard all of the songs mentioned below on tape. Yes, tape. Now please, fetch me my cane.

My friend Dawn and I didn’t know the actual title to this Jane’s Addiction number for months, so we naturally dubbed it, “The Dog Song.” We did a lot of rewinding and replaying of this one, most memorably in Dawn’s red convertible while procuring cinder blocks on which to place my bed.

I first heard The Sundays from my friend Carla, and I immediately fell in love with the sound of Harriet Wheeler’s voice. I did not rest until I saw them play live at Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey that summer. I keep waiting for a new album.

My friend and roommate, Kim, nearly got us killed by our fellow dorm dwellers by putting this ’90s classic on heavy rotation. OK, incessantly. But God, it’s good.

I am not what you would call a rocker chick, however, my friend Jane introduced me to a select few heavy metal songs during college I really enjoyed. Even this totally misogynistic one! Yipes. Still, the guitar riff at the end is solid gold.

Also, Jane endeared herself to me forever when she told me that one of her best concerts in her native Chicago was a triple bill: Raven, WASP, and Slayer. Insert horns here.

Day 15: Finally

This post is part of a once-a-day-month-long-blogging-brouhaha with my pals Amanda Hollinger, Monica Wyche, and Ami Worthen.

1994. Recipe for fun:

Gather five or six of your best pals. Take one bottle of champagne. Open at the beginning of song. While singing and dancing in a circle formation, take a healthy sip from the bottle, and pass to the next person. Repeat until bottle is empty or song ends, whichever comes first.*

*If champagne remains when song ends, finish in circle formation as you cue up song for replay. Open new bottle of champagne. Play song. Repeat as needed.

Day 11: Morning Has Broken

This post is part of a once-a-day-month-long-blogging-extravaganza with my pals Amanda Hollinger, Monica Wyche, and Ami Worthen.

Memory: 1981. Fourth grade. Each day before class starts, Mr. Minarck walks over to the record player, pulls the vinyl disc out of its sleeve which looks impossibly small in his large, strong hands. He puts the record on the turntable, turns up the volume, clears his throat and says, “Boys and girls, please listen to this beautiful song.” The record crackles and pops, and sometimes we giggle, but we always listen.

This song is forever his.

 

 

Day 10: right back where we started from

This post is part of a once-a-day-month-long-blogging-extravaganza with my pals Amanda Hollinger, Monica Wyche, and Ami Worthen.

It’s the summer of 1978 and my best friend Michael and I are singing and dancing together to Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From.”

This was nowhere near our idea.

Our sisters, five years older than we, took special delight when we were little in finding new and interesting ways to make us perform, entertain and otherwise serve them. This often involved Michael and me holding hands and trying desperately to remember intricately choreographed dance numbers.

It sounded sort of like this:

My sister: “No, do the turn now! Okay, kick! Higher!

Michael’s sister: “Hahahaha! Okay, now hug each other! Hahahahahaha.”

The better news was that our performances garnered us access to areas usually off limits to us, i.e. Michael’s older sister Laura’s room, which seemed rather like heaven with shag carpet.

Also, Michael made up for my painful shyness with his exuberant energy and constant willingness to be a clown for the joy he received getting me to laugh.

It’s one of the many reasons I love him. Because he still does it.

As you might imagine, I cannot hear Ms. Nightingale’s hit without immediately being transported to that bedroom where Michael and I performed for our sisters, an array of stuffed animals, and hunky posters of 1970s heartthrobs.

In our 20s, Michael and I became roommates, sharing expenses, dinners, and making each other the occasional mix CD. One song is a constant on every mix.