Sunday, March 1, 2020

Music of Our Lives: Songs That Make Me Think of Various People I've Known

The poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
And then he took and he ate up all of my corn...
Do you ever have a song going through your head that seems to just stay there for part of a day? It happens, and probably happens to most of us.

Sometimes these songs are just "there" in the soundtrack of your life, and other times they are associated with memories, occasionally with moments in time and sometimes in association with other people who have been part of our lives.

I thought it might be interesting to see what music comes to mind when I reflect on various people who have been significant to me or simply crossed my path. First on my list is Dad.

I actually have quite a few memories that coincide with music when I think of my father. I remember taking swimming lessons at the public pool in Maple Heights in 1960 when Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini was a hit. The public pool must have been playing pop hits as a soundtrack because I very much make this association of being at the public pool with my mom and dad.

Music was a big part of my parents' lives when I was growing up. I remember my father wiring speakers into the basement so they could play records upstairs while having friends over to play ping pong downstairs.

It was probably around this time that I began becoming aware of pop music on the radio. I didn't have a radio, but my parents had the radio on whenever we drove to our grandparents in Warren, about an hour away. Top hits of 1960 included Cathy's Clown (Everly Brothers), El Paso (Marty Robbins) and Alley Oop (The Hollywood Angels). Funny how the pop charts have always had room for these silly songs like Alley Oop, Yellow Polkadot Bikini and Monster Mash.

The song I will select to associate with my dad, though (besides all the classical albums he listened to on Sunday mornings when Mom took us to church) is Sloop John B by the Beach Boys.

After the British Invasion (1964 ff.) there was a surge of new music flowing over the airwaves. My father, who was conservative, was sometimes curious about the music we listened to. Occasionally I would notice him standing just below the living room in our split-level house tuning in to what I had on the turntable. I vividly recall him smiling while enjoying the Beach Boys Sloop John B. It's a special memory.

John Bushey
John was the host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited for more than 26 years. Our friendship didn't begin till I'd been a listener for many of those years. Eventually, I became involved with the Duluth Dylan Fest, of which he was a major influence, and over time we got to know one another quite well.

The nine years I knew him he was "on again off again" battling various cancer assaults. There were numerous special moments, but Not Dark Yet seemed to be especially significant. We still miss you, John.

Frank Capelli
My family moved to New Jersey in 1964, the year I turned 12. If you've ever moved to a new town in your youth, you know the challenge of "finding your tribe." That is, making connections with people you resonate with. Unless you are a premature curmudgeon, you usually get to know some of the kids on your block. These "friends by proximity" may or may not be "your type" but you appreciate the friendships that unfold.

Frank was in my German class in 7th grade and some of my other classes. We quickly bonded, with interests that in retrospect may have been unusual. For example, we used to draw mazes, which became increasingly elaborate, some of them dozens of pages with air pockets or holes from one level to another before coming back.

Several albums come to mind when I think of Frank. When I purchased Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles) I went to his house and remember the excitement of removing the cellophane in his room and putting the album on the turntable to listen to it for the first time. For that memory I will cite I Am The Walrus, the meaning of which we discussed in detail, especially the cryptic recitation at the end. Similarly it was at his house that I first listened to Strange Days, the Doors' second album.

"Art is whatever you can
get away with."
Most memorably, Frank was the only person I know who had the 45 for They're Coming To Take Me Away Haha. by Napoleon XIV. Follow the link if you're not familiar with it. A unique feature of the single was the reverse side, which played the song in reverse and which had the label printed in reverse.

I also have song associations with two of my neighbors on Roger Avenue in Bridgewater. The Koons family (on the right side of our home, as you face the road) was quite musical. The father was a professional trumpet player. Kenny, who was my brother's age, or a year older, was also a trumpet player as well as drummer. He was quite alert to those groups that incorporated the trumpet into their recording, like Chicago. I most remember his appreciation for The Beatles' Penny Lane, another track from Magical Mystery Tour which he enjoyed emulating.

Tom Browne
The ranch house to our left housed the Brownes, and I was friends with Tom. Many memories there, but in the context of this blog post, the song that comes to mind is Zager and Evans' In the Year 2525. Don't recall it? I haven't heard it in ages but you will see that it was quite prescient. Do check it out.

* * * *
All these songs are associated with special people who are no longer with us. I lost my father in March 2006, John Bushey in February 2018, my best friend on the first day of school in 1968, and Tom Browne a couple years back as well. There's a sense in which the music keeps warm memories alive, and lost friends and loved ones near.

Do you have special songs for the people in your life?

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