Browsed by
Month: January 2017

“Hey, Big Bopper just died!”

“Hey, Big Bopper just died!”

“Hey, Big Bopper just died!” my sister, Mary Sue cried as she burst into our bedroom that February morning. We younger kids were well aware of Big Bopper and his Chantilly Lace song and sang it routinely while running about the house. My sister had introduced us to many ’50’s musicians. My earliest favorite was the wonderful wonderful voice of Johnny Mathis – I stared at his album cover that confirmed he was an angel. Mary also danced at the televised Des Moines version of American Bandstand and won a dance contest where she was given an autograph dog already signed by countless teenagers she’d met. Her boyfriend was a local DJ named Stan the Man that we would call in our requests for newest favorites.
I grew up with 50’s and 60’s music always in the background. The KIOA good guys were my sound track. My family had stacks of ’45’s and albums. My best friend Joan and I choreographed dance routines to Wilson Pickett, Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels, James Brown, Martha Reeves and the Vandelllas, The Beatles… My big brother used to tease me with ” Hey punk, name this tune and I’ll let you out of the dishes tomorrow.” Inevitably I could name most every tune and artist he could come up with. Only to have him laugh and say “Too bad punk, I have football practice tomorrow!”
But top 40 pop phased into the musical heyday of the 70’s. I was introduced to Santana, Laura Nyro, The Allman Brothers, and my favorite album of all time, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” I always loved Motown. When I went away to college an African American friend asked me, “You sure you don’t have ghetto in Boone, Iowa?”
So… now in my 60’s, I find I am oblivious and unaware of the popular music of today. I turn to NPR -I listen to the news. I think now I need music more than ever…

O, Danny Boy

O, Danny Boy

My mother had a beautiful singing voice, and she had passion. Her songs expressed a depth emotion that could always silence her gaggle of children. An image I can still conjure is watching her head lifted, her eyes fixed on the sky, the wind blowing through her hair as she burst into “Oh, Danny Boy”.
Her Irish Catholic heritage demanded a Catholic education for us kids. Many times my sisters and I sang with the school choir in the balcony under the direction of our intrepid director, Sister Mary Natalie. Along with the commanding presence of the church’s pipe organ, we sang the resounding Latin hymns that filled the church.
Music can inspire, unify, raise the hair on your arms, bring tears to your eyes, raise you up and humble you at the same time.

Don’t wear a jumpsuit if you’re going roller-skating

Don’t wear a jumpsuit if you’re going roller-skating

You reminded me of those roller skating rinks on Sundays. All of my cousins and I would load up from all these different towns and go there and they’d be playing music and we’d roller skate around the circle. And all those big dance halls. Those big barns where everyone went and danced every Saturday. It was so fun. That was Cedar Rapids. Then there were barns that had huge dance floors where people would go on Saturdays and dance.

•Well if you dance country, I discovered once I went to the Eagles Club in the small town where I lived for 30 years, there’s a certain way you kind of go around in a circle. You don’t just move around, you’ve got to get in the groove as far as the group.

•And old time dancing.

•I have a funny story about roller skating. You have to be mindful about what you wear when you roller skate. When I was young, I made the mistake of—this was back in the ‘70s—wearing a bodysuit, like jumpsuit-type thing with a bodysuit underneath and tights. If you have to go to the bathroom, forget it. You have to start from scratch.

•I remember doing that Rock Around the Clock on roller skates because you’re doing swing dancing while you’re roller skating, and you go backwards and all of that crazy stuff.

Life lessons

Life lessons

The other thing I’ve learned, or that surprised me, is that I’ve enjoyed my last few years more than any other years in my life. And that I’m actually in love—when I got married when I was younger, we weren’t really in love. We liked each other a lot, and we wanted to move out to California together, and she wanted to get away from her parents and we ended up being married. We had children, but we still weren’t really in love. Anyway, so the message I would bring is don’t just settle for something because you’re lonely or alone or something and you want to be with somebody. Find somebody you really connect with and want to be with and want to devote your love to. I found that in the last three years. So that’s like starting over.

•Don’t put limits on yourself. You may be surprised at what you can do. I have been.

•I have been. I’d say go for it. Don’t wait. I mean, don’t be stupid, but go for it. I wish that I felt when I was 25 the way I feel now. When you’re 25 you think, “Oh, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me,” so you wait. Go for it.

•If only you had the wisdom you have as an older person but then the body you had when you were 25.

•Soren Kierkegaard says you need to live life forward, but the only way you can figure it out is by looking backward.

•I would say follow your gut more and what society wants you to do less. More of what you feel is right for you, follow that instead of doing what you’re supposed to do like get married, have kids, make a living. All of those things are really good, but that’s all going to come into place if you follow your dreams. So finding joy in following that instead of making the whole thing a job because life isn’t a job, it’s living.

•What I thought I wanted at 25 was different than what I found I enjoyed at 65.

•I guess you don’t know yourself when you’re younger.

•You know yourself through the eyes of the people around you.

•You haven’t had enough experience to realize who you really are.

•I grew up really fast, and I think being grown up is overrated.

•Being a child again, when you have grandchildren, is wonderful.

The wonders of getting older

The wonders of getting older

For me, I think it’s absolutely wonderful that I’ve let go of trying to be who other people think I should be and learned I can do incredible things that I never dreamed I could do. I dance three days a week, I do yoga, I do tai chi, and sing in a couple choirs. People always said I was going to be an artist, you know, that’s what I should be, that’s what I was good at. I spent a long time doing that, never made money on it hardly, but I spent a lot of time doing that and getting published and getting good at it. I’ve learned to do healing work, spiritual healing work. It’s just been really incredible realizing my own potential.

[I wonder what it is about growing a little older that lets you close those doors.]

You get to a point sometimes that you don’t give a damn what people think, and it’s wonderful, it’s so freeing. You don’t have to please everybody to get a paycheck or whatever. You’ve got savings and you realize it’s not cutting it anymore; you might as well really live your life. You only have so much time left, you might as well enjoy it.

•Janis Joplin – “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” And it’s true. ‘Cause all of a sudden when you get to a certain age, why not? Why not go ahead with this or that?

•If you’re not going to do it now, you’re not going to get it done at all. You might as well live your life while you’re still here.

•People come around to me and say, “I’m sorry”–it’s kind of a throw-away line, you know. Sometimes they really mean it, sometimes it’s just…you know. It’s sort of social grace. I tell them, “When you get to be my age, you will discover that guilt and anxiety are really worthless emotions.” Get rid of it. It’ll make you stronger, it’ll free you.

•Free to have a good time.

•Yeah, and that there’s only so much time. I’ve had serious health issues throughout my life and really big things have happened. After that, this is all just extra. When I turned 50, I decided I’m going to do things that I love to do.

•When you’re 75, you can do even more.

•I will, I will! I’m 56. So I took dance lessons, and while I was there, I just had this image of me singing on stage, and I asked if I could go early, and I sang. And she said, “You know, you can sing, why don’t you take some voice lessons?” So I did, and now I sing on stage, and I’m still terrified, but I still do it, and I sing in three different groups. I live in two places, so in my other home I do that there, and here I just sing in choirs, and that’s how I started writing. I have a really good love song I wrote in this past year—very honest. It’s called “In the Eyes of a Dream.” So that’s been kind of a joy for me to write because I could write for most of my life, but I never wrote songs. I just wake up and there’s a melody in my head, and I realize that isn’t a song I know, that’s new. So then the words start coming as I’m humming into my little recorder and that’s how I write. This summer for the first time I got to perform them in front of about 300 people. My own music! I just couldn’t believe it; it was so cool. Someone recorded it and I actually have the recording at home because I still wouldn’t believe I did that. So I think that’s what about getting older is—-is that you get to do things that even surprise yourself, that I didn’t know I could do that. But letting go of those limits or anxiety or people-pleasing or all those things that we do that’s about other people because then we’re focused on doing what we want to do with our own lives. At this point in life I can do that. I’ve given myself permission to do that. I don’t attain that all the time, but I sometimes give myself permission to do that. And what a waste if you didn’t do that with your life!

•”Hello in There” that John Prine song. He wrote a song about going and visiting elderly people. “Is your brain still working? Is your heart still ticking?” “And if someday you spot some ancient, hollow eyes, don’t just pass them by and stare. Say hello in there.”

•I joined a choir the first time just last January. I’ve liked to sing for a long time, but mainly sung by myself, or some open mikes once in a while, so I learned to sing in a choir, the Oakdale Prison Choir, and I’m hosting this thing at my house twice a month, and that’s nice. We just sing a cappella. I just wrote a little song last night about walking in the woods, walking in the sunshine, golden leaves all around. “Here, my mind is quiet. Here, my heart is sound.” Stuff like that.

•I think that’s called poetry.

Mine the Day (Philosophy of Life)

Mine the Day (Philosophy of Life)

Approach each day prepared to experience an orchestra of sound, a painting of colors, and a bank of emotions. All contribute to the beauty and the mistakes of the human experience. Each day offers us a chance to mine the treasures of this earth, to sink into the dark caves of the soul, and the time to wash off the soot and to create a better day. The rocks of today can then become the gold nuggets of tomorrow.

Searching for Stability

Searching for Stability

Every era of war brings about peace songs. My favorite was “One Tin Soldier” and “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream”. Other songs came about like “Ohio” as some students were killed while protesting the war. When our world is rocked by fear we seek stability by searching for harmony.

Music brings memories

Music brings memories

As the years move along, the memory bank is amazing to me. You can remember things that happened 60 years ago, and they seem just as clear. Old friends, especially close friends, who were part of your life at a certain age—they remain in your mind. Many years later, you encounter them again, and it’s a curious rush of many feelings—recollection of the way we were. Looking at the lines on her face—I’m sure she took note of the lines on my face as well. Music, particularly those love songs, they were acute at the time there was a relationship, and that’s part of the recollection of that person, what love songs were playing on the radio. The layering of experience and memories becomes more acute. Songs associated with people from different life stages. I remember my first true love in high school: she moved on, and the song was “It’s all in the game.” Tommy Edwards? Every time I heard that, it was just not feeling very good.

Great American Songbook

Great American Songbook

I celebrated my 75th birthday at Uptown Bill’s by playing music for two hours with friends. I had been playing a lot of blues and ragtime with one guy, and he was ill that night and couldn’t make it, so he sent his only begotten son, who had graduated from the conservatory at UM Kansas City. A couple weeks later he called me up and said, “Can I play music with you?” I said, you can play music with your dad—what’s wrong with that? He said, “All he does is play the blues. He never plays more than four chords at a time. You play songs with all kinds of chords in them.” So since then he’s been coming over, and we play for a couple hours until my fingers are sore. But boy, have I been learning chords. We’re just stuck in the Great American Songbook. We’re looking for the most honest love song that we can come up with. So far our choice is “Talk to me, baby” by Johnny Mercer: “Talk to me, baby; tell me lies; tell me lies sweet as apple pies. Swear that you’ll be mine forever; otherwise talk to me and tell me lies.”

FM vs. AM

FM vs. AM

When I was a teenager we weren’t allowed to listen to “our” music unless it was back in the bedroom on my sister’s old transistor, because my parents wanted FM, not AM, where the teenager music was. AM was the teenager music, like the Beatles and rock-n-roll. FM was what the parents listened to, stuff from the 40s and musicals and jazz and elevator music. My mother learned to like “One Toke Over the Line”—she didn’t know what it was about, but she liked the music. Now, my dad liked anything rock-n-roll if the Boston Pops played it. My parents played “New Girl in Town,” and it was about incest and all this stuff and it was banned from Broadway, but it had good music. I didn’t know it was about incest until I was in my 50s, and I used to belt out the songs at the Catholic school on the playground. I guess the nuns were really scandalized.