An Unwelcome Visitor

gloomy

Just like good music, death makes a strong impression on a seven-year-old. The young mind, still forming emotions and reactions that will last a lifetime, takes in every scrap of information around him to try to make sense of the world he’s in. His world is one of grown-ups — parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, even cousins.

I was the last child born into the family — a surprise. I wasn’t supposed to be here. As a child, my world constantly tried to reconcile itself with the one around me, the one everyone I knew lived in. It was the world of any number of grown-up decisions about life, money, work, friends, love, or just what to eat or watch on TV. Because of my tender age, I had little or no say in any of these things in my own life. My young, but sharp mind latched onto any anything it could to learn, to survive and thrive. In this regard death is a masterful teacher.

After a lengthy battle with cancer my best friend’s father died when we were both seven. I had spent a lot of time at his house, and had even been to his father’s office a couple of times. Once when I complained to my mom that I didn’t want to go kindergarten, she relented and let me stay home that day. Later that morning I went with her to run errands and we found ourselves at my friend’s father’s office (he was an attorney in our small town).

To my surprise, my friend and his mom were there — she had allowed him to play hooky also. As our parents took care of whatever business they had, we played on the floor of his father’s office, perfectly oblivious to the world around us. His death a year or two later taught me that life is often cold and cruel, and able to remove people from our lives without hesitation.

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For me, a short time after my friend lost his father, death became associated forever with one particular song — “Let ‘Em In”. This track is found on the same Wings album as “Silly Love Songs” and “Cook of the House”. I must have had this song on a 45 record also because I know I didn’t have the entire album on an LP.

I will never forget listening to “Let ‘Em In” shortly before the phone rang that late summer afternoon. A local church youth group had left out early that morning for a canoeing trip. One of my oldest brother’s friends somehow drowned in the river they were on. I knew of this boy, because he had visited our house and had spent some time with my brother.

When I learned of the reason for the call, my young mind nearly went over the edge. Emotion overwhelmed me. I cried. I didn’t understand death and didn’t know why people I knew had to keep dying. It seems that there had been another death around the same time, making this teenager’s drowning the third recent death of someone I knew. I was scared and confused. I felt powerless to stop the onslaught of this horrible, dark thing called death, with which I had had no experience until recently.

I grabbed the phone and, even though my mother was home, dialed the only person I thought would understand — my best friend’s mother. Death had just laid claim to her husband, so surely she would understand the crushing wall of fear and darkness I felt at that moment. When she answered, I wailed into the phone, “It’s happened again…Somebody’s died.” She tried to calm me down as best she could. At that point my mom came into the room.

After that afternoon and until recently, I never intentionally listened to “Let “Em In” again. There were a handful of times afterward that I unwittingly heard the song. Each time I relived the pain, darkness, and powerlessness of that afternoon. The song was and is one of the most profound emotional catalysts of my life.

Not long ago I decided to pull the song up on my computer. I made myself listen to a few lines of it to see if it still had as profound an impact on me as when I was a kid. The emotions weren’t as strong, but they were still unpleasant. Just letting the flute line run through my head sends me crashing back to my childhood with full force.

I think I’ll just leave the song back in my childhood where it belongs.

 

freckled boy

Goodbye Kermit

music notes

As I remember it, my lifelong love of pop music began in the formal living room of my house sometime around my seventh birthday.

I am the youngest of four siblings. The youngest of my siblings is 8 1/2 years older than I am, so when we were young the age gap often created tension and arguing in our household. I couldn’t stand being the youngest and always felt left out of everything my brothers and sister were doing. They were all near the same age and, in my eyes, had unlimited freedom and access to the world that I could only dream of.

As it happened, one day the family was in the front living room of the house. One of my siblings – my sister I believe — had come into several 45’s of current popular songs. I felt left out because I didn’t have any new records, so I begged to have one of those. My father finally told her to give me one, probably so that he wouldn’t have to listen to me anymore. Reluctantly, she handed me Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” to have as my own. I didn’t know anything about Paul McCartney or Wings, of course. The only records I had at that time for my little plastic yellow record player were Sesame Street and Kermit the Frog (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”). I played these two records all the time.

I began listening to “Silly Love Songs” on a regular basis. I believe I wondered what a “silly love song” was, and why it was silly. As I remember it, I thought the song was OK, but nothing special. I liked the B side, “Cook of the House” a little better.  It was a more upbeat tune that I rather enjoyed.

As a side note, it was only just now, as I went back and listened to the song on YouTube, that I realized it was Linda McCartney singing the lead vocals on “Cook of the House” and not Paul. All these years I had believed it was him.

Young children are particularly impressionable, and I was no exception. My venture into pop music began a lifelong love for music in general, but pop and rock in particular.

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Besides Paul McCartney and Wings, my sister had many other 45’s. I don’t remember most of them, but The Sylvers’ “High School Dance” was one tune I remember she played quite a bit. The face of the 45 RPM disc had a peculiar look to it. The grooves containing the music had been cut in such a way that when the record spun, a swirl pattern moved outward from the center where the hole was. disco-clipart

My youngest brother was a fan of all things disco, as well as just about any female vocalist, disco or not. From him I developed my lifelong love of disco. I have always loved Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, and Diana Ross. The Bee Gees and Chic were among his short list of favorite artists featuring male vocalists. I looked up to him and consequently adopted his love of these artists.

To this day, any music that was popular and ruled the airwaves during those early years of my life seems so much more “grown up” and mature than anything that followed it. As a 6-10-year- old who idolized his older siblings and listened to their music, no matter how old I have become that same music always transforms me into someone wiser, older, bigger, more mature. Donna Summer and KC & the Sunshine Band knew and understood the essence of life. Their songs and their lyrics cut to the bone, they taught me, schooled me on how I was supposed to face life. I learned how to act and react, how love was supposed to feel and not feel, showed me what a grown-up does, what a grown-up believes.

These artists were so much older than I was — they had the life experience that I didn’t yet have. Life was tough, they said, but life can be good. Live — live for love, live for fun, live for freedom and autonomy. Throw in healthy portions of love and sex, along with a dash (or more) of alcohol. Life will hurt, but you’ll be just fine in the end. They did it, they wrote about it, they sang it. I can do the same, albeit without the fame and fortune. Saturday Night Fever was the life. Those in the know danced like John Travolta, sang like Donna Summer, and looked like Barry Gibb and Amii Stewart.

Even though I’m much older now, the music I was exposed to in my childhood has a powerful impact on me. I’m sure it will always be a part of me, no matter how old I am. I’ll probably be 75 years old and if I happen to hear “Hot Stuff” I’ll start to groove a little, even if just on the inside.