Saturday, February 7, 2009

One to Many

Some of my friends are starting to think I'm maybe a bit crazy; some of them maybe think I’m a lot crazy. I can’t blame ‘em; I do, too, at least sometimes. One of the symptoms of my unsettled disposition is the kind of music I listen to.

My three favorite male singers are Willie Nelson, Oscar D'Leon, and Frank Sinatra.

My three favorite female singers are

Janis Joplin, Celia Cruz, and Dianne Schur.

The rest of the top ten would have to include Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Waylon Jennings and maybe Luciano Pavarotti I guess. Michael Bublé would be in there. Steve Perry. Diana Krall, Shania Twain. La Grande Dame herself, Ella Fitzgerald. "How Long Has This Been Goin' On?" always sends chills down my spine. I dunno; it's too hard to pick just ten, or even twenty. Wait, Billie Holiday has to be there. Oh, and the Wilson Sisters, Ann and Nancy. I'll bet I'm not the only guy who ever longed to be that mythical Magic Man they sang about. Geez, and Stevie Nix. Sarah Brightman, yes. Maybe Carrie Underwood if she gets another dozen good songs in the bank. Okay, there are way more than ten in both categories, but I'll let it go at that for now.

Then there are the singers and guitar players in the mostly anonymous bar bands of my youth: "Randy, the fat man" who played lead guitar in a group called the "Smith Fork and Spoon Band." (Local joke. The Smith Fork River ran through the valley nearby.) I've never seen or heard anything quite like him since. When he was rocking, Randy pumped out sweat and sweet riffs in equal measure. I used to wonder if he ever made it out of Logan, Utah, to a big stage somewhere. Probably not. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit it, but I sort of hope not. I like to think that if ever I get back to Logan, I might find him still there making the crowds scream and jump on the dance floor, just one extended solo from popping a vessel in his brain and going out with his pick in his hand. I’m too old for that kind of frenzy these days, and so is he, probably, but it’s a nice Saturday afternoon reverie to think of the fat man grinding out straight ahead rock with a beatific smile on his face and half-drunk college students screaming out in front.

A few years later I had the great good luck to meet and befriend a French musician named Francois Arambel. He and his band made a few CD's while they gigged around Seattle as much as they could. Mostly they just starved out of the music business. The last I heard he was back in Paris. But for my money, one of the best Blues songs ever written was Francois' "Fortune Cookie Blues". Just like Francois, I'll never go on another road trip without looking around for a Chinese Restaurant as I pass through every little town along the way, just in case I happen to need one of those little treats.

My redneck friends don't know who Oscar D'Leon IS, exactly, because he has never done a duet with Willie, like Julio Iglesias did; and that makes him somewhat suspicious. But no one has ever raised passions like Oscar. Salsa is a way of life, my friends, if you do it right.

And don't get them started: Frank Sinatra? SINATRA?

My Latino friends used to snicker when I tried to play Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, or Red-Headed Stranger, at a party. If it was my house they waited politely until the one song was over before they switched CD's to something mas bailable. Of course, they respected my choice of Frank Sinatra, well, maybe tolerate is a better description.

My young nephews think I'm being scandalous when I tell them I still had a crush on Janis until just recently, long past the time when it mattered to my marriage even. "Come on, come on, come on, take another little piece of my heart..." No one can touch that for a bare-naked plea for love at any cost. Who could resist her? Certainly not me. Ah, youth and dreams. No cuss words in there to make your mother blush, but you KNOW exactly what she meant when she offered another little piece.

It's an object lesson for the untutored youth of today on how something as simple as "a piece of one's heart" can convey lust and longing and loneliness in a single phrase. They don't write 'em like THAT anymore, more's the pity. Too subtle I suppose. It requires wit and thought, things in short supply anymore, but that’s a tangent I should not go off on here today.

My favorite Latina goddess, Celia Cruz, has been reminding her fans for many, many years that La Vida es un Carneval. Carneval! Yes, absolutely! Life itself is an carnival. I'll be dancing to that one when both of my current knees are distant memories and all I will be able to do is rock back and forth on some stainless steel imitations and grin foolishly at some poor great-grand-daughter dragooned into one last dance with her gringo grampa.

So, when I think about music and what it means to me and my family, I guess it’s okay to be just a little bit crazy. The alternative would be downright boring.

Today started out pretty good. I found a brand-new CD by two of my favorites--Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. It's an album (how many of you still use that term, by the way?) of Texas Swing with Willie fronting the greatest Texas Swing band around, Asleep at the Wheel. I hurried home and popped it into my CD player. Old memories were right there again, fresh as the days when I first heard the scratchy sounds of Bob Wills and his band coming out of the old Motorola radio in our living room, or the radio in a blue ’54 Mercury.

I remember several trips to visit grandma and uncles and aunts and cousins with my mom and dad. My siblings and I were all scrunched up in the back seat of that old Mercury. In those days radio reception was not so good in the mountains and just after we left home the signal would fade out. Dad and mom stepped right in and sang song after song for the next couple of hours, keeping us all entertained and partially quiet until we drew up on the next town where the radio signal started to come in again. I would not be surprised to learn that my dad was disappointed when the radio came back on in the middle of singing one of his favorites tunes, cutting short his performance. I would be surprised, on the other hand, to learn that he ever looked for a chinese restaurant in one of those little towns. Fortune cookies were an acquired habit in my life, acquired long after I left home, I'm afraid.

Anyway, this afternoon, about the third or fourth song into my new CD and the start of a pleasant memory of some sort, I got an Instant Messenger flash from a friend. He pinged me about something related to work, and after we “chatted” for a bit, I was just about to share my joy in having a new CD with him when I remembered he's deaf. It was no surprise, therefore, to learn he'd never heard of Willie Nelson; and even if he had, he will never hear him. Not even if I could talk him into wasting time on a 75-year-old country singer singing about "sharing some of his jelly roll, a delicious slice of that cake". (You DO know what that one's about, don't you, girls and boys? )

Anyway, we talked about hearing, and the lack of it, for a while. He's a very cool young man with a great future in front of him. (I wouldn't be surprised to see him as an Access MVP one of these days.) Plus he's got a good handle on hearing and not hearing, and he even shared a couple of good stories about his experiences.

But talking with him about the things that make life worth living, things like music and laughter and family and friends, it was hard not to agree that life is just about as good as we decide to make it.

Just as I can’t imagine life without music; he can only imagine what it would be like to have it in his.

I’m going to be thinking about this one for a while yet. If I come to any grand conclusions I’ll be sure to let you know.

In the mean time, here's my Access thought for the day. As far as I'm concerned, music is definitely a one-to-many relationship.