I cannot remember a time in my life when music was not an important part of who and what I am. It all started when I was five or six years old. My parents hired a piano teacher to come to the house to teach me how to play. I took lessons for the next 10 years or so. I actually got pretty good at it. The only problem I had was that I could never really memorize anything. I remember when I was in junior high school, my piano teacher wanted me to learn to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Actually, it was only the first movement that was more than my poor musical memory could handle. She wanted me to play this piece for the annual recital her students presented every May at the Willow Grove Methodist church. I ended up playing it, but I had to have the sheet music in front of me. Sight reading was never a problem. In fact, in my heyday I could pick up pretty much any popular tune and play it respectably the first time I saw the music. In high school I had a book of piano arrangements of Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album. I loved playing that album and singing along. My parents hated it. LOL
Speaking of singing, in both junior high school and high school I sang in the choir. I started out as an alto and by my senior year I was a baritone. I wasn’t great, nowhere near as good as my daughter Heidi was in high school, but I managed to stay in the choir all those years. I still sing when the mood hits me, but now I sound like a frog with a sore throat. LOL! That’s what 50 years of smoking will do to you. I actually started smoking in junior high school and I suspect that had at least a small part in my voice changing so much.
But my real passion regarding music is in listening to music. I listened to everything from opera to rock ‘n roll, from avant-garde jazz to traditional bluegrass, from country music to folk music, and everything in between. I remember as a small child watching the Metropolitan opera on television with my dad, who was a real opera freak. My favorite opera singer back down was Risè Stevens, a very good soprano. I think listening to her got me hooked on listening to great Sopranos. I also love great tenors, everyone from Enrico Caruso to Luciano Pavarotti and the other Three Tenors.
As a former pianist myself, I love piano players of all kinds. I remember watching Van Cliburn perform on television. I have seen Dr. John, Keith Emerson, Prof. Longhair, Otis Spann, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, either live in person or live on television. And, as a singer of sorts, obviously I enjoy great singers from many different genres of music. A couple personal favorites are Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez (who I actually got to meet in person back in the early 70s when I made a trip to San Francisco), Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury, Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals, and Meatloaf. I also love Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Dolly Parton, Carole King, and Linda Ronstadt, who I first saw in 1967 when she was with the Stone Poneys. A pretty eclectic collection, right?
Every woman in my life who has meant anything to me (and there have been quite a few) is associated with at least one song if not more. Usually, the longer the relationship, the more songs remind me of that person. The all-time winner on number of songs is my current wife, Elizabeth, to whom I had been married now for almost 26 years. She is, and will remain, the love of my life.
There are certain songs performed by a certain group or other, that have special meaning in my life because they define for others who I am without me boring them to death with some pedantic explanation. Number one on that list is “Ripple,” written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and performed by my favorite group of all time, The Grateful Dead. I have seen them numerous times life in concert in Chicago and even today, at the age of 69, when most people my age seem to be more interested in buying lottery tickets or playing bingo, I still would love to go to one of their concerts. My two favorite Dead albums are American Beauty and Working Man’s Dead.
In high school (1964 – 1966) I emulated the Beatles as much as possible. Back then, every high school in the country had a dress code much stricter than the one my kids had to deal with when they were in high school. The dress code I was required to follow included restrictions on hair length for guys. I had a Beatle haircut back then that I let grow as long as they would let me. The principal used to send me home with a note that I wish to get a haircut before coming back to school. My father totally approved of that. He was always after me to keep my hair short. I wonder what he would say if he saw the way I wore it in the mid-70s – down to the middle of my back, much like my sons’ hair now. Mine is getting there again after all these years, but it will probably take another year or two working at that. That is, assuming I do not cut it because of the heat and humidity here in Arkansas during the summer LOL! That is why it is not that long and has not been for some years. I don’t think Elizabeth has ever seen me with my hair shoulder-length or longer until just very recently. I will be posting picture on Facebook for my birthday next month. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and I won’t get crazy and cut my hair! LOL!
In closing, let me say that without music my life would have been a lot duller, a lot less enjoyable, and a lot less meaningful than it has. I cannot imagine going a day without music, whether it’s actually listening to a song on my computer, my stereo, or the radio, or playing a song in my head. By the way, playing a song in my head is usually how I start my day. The song I hear in the morning will stay with me throughout the day. In case you are interested, the song for today is “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
As it’s said in the movie V for Vendetta, “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.” And you cannot dance if you do not have music.