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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Breath of Life

A surprise package arrived in the mail from my brother David. He had told me of his discovery but I hadn't know he'd actually make prints for me and I sat there with a series of photographs splayed across the table in front of me, enrapt. To say I was delighted is an understatement. I was looking at prints of sepia tone photos of my paternal grandparents' neighborhood family band, she playing violin, he playing mandolin and they, surrounded by unnamed unknown cousins holding various instruments and wide grins, replete with period clothes which at that time were short pants, long-sleeved thick cotton dress shirts and ridiculous short wide ties; Sunday best for picture taking. That they are all cousins is abundantly clear; distinct eye-set, jawline, and at least four aquiline (we call them 'Roman') noses, which fittingly, David himself a musician, inherited. No one received formal training. Not one, and two generations after, no one still. We played and we sang for the love of melody, harmony and lyrics and the way the poetry of it all woos, dances with and seduces our emotions.
David taught himself how to play guitar first, then bass, then inherited the aforementioned mandolin. Donny played violin very briefly then took up drums for which his talent matched his passion. Lisa and I sang and my parents also sang. I think my father played the sax and also bass when he was younger. He used to regale us with tales of singing do-wop around a burning trashcan on street corners with his buddies. He proudly said someone told him he should do it for a living. He just loved to sing. Everyone dreamt of being 'discovered'. 

Dad had one of those giant stereo consoles so large it also could serve as an impromptu buffet server should my parents have surprise guests. That fact didn't impress us children as much as that two of us could crouch inside the bottom compartment and slide the doors closed making it the perfect secret place for hide and seek. When we weren't using it for nefarious purposes, we'd go through the record albums and play whatever album cover was most colorful or interesting or just the name of the band itself; Strawberry Alarm Clock? Iron Butterfly? Hot Tuna? Swan Lake. Yes. Swan Lake. 

My father didn't forbid us to touch his stuff. He let us have free rein. He and Mom were also discovering the joys of 8-track tapes so we were also listening to Shirley Bassey, Elton John, The Carpenters, The Beatles and Crosby Stills Nash and Young's Deja Vu album (still one of my top ten albums) Although they never actually voiced it, it was implied that we be open and appreciative of all kinds of music by their own example and indeed we were. The first 45 I ever bought was War's 'Why Can't We Be Friends'. I think I was 6 or 7 and was ridiculously proud of MY independent choice apart from my own parents' influence. 

We had a little enclosed garden behind the house, mostly adorned by my maternal grandmother's prizewinning roses, tomatoes and assorted herbs.  In one corner, however, as an afterthough or perhaps bribe to keep us from trouncing Grandma's peppers, was our swing-set, replete with metal sliding pond (who WERE the sadists who devised them burning our tender little tushes?) and the teeter-totter, a pipe-metal three-seater where poor Donny, the youngest at the time, always got the center seat which never really went anywhere. Never mind that. Every morning before dawn when the weather was agreeable, we'd sneak out the back pantry down the rickety wood steps and very verrrrrrry quietly teeter, verrrrrry quietly totter, until we'd break into song which was more often than not a Beatles' hit. I recall a lot of Yellow Submarine. I wanted a hole in me pocket and to befriend the Nowhere Man. We only knew 'Michelle Ma Belle' and no French at all so we faked it at the top of our lungs until the neighbors would start screaming or calling and my mother would come running out in her nightgown with my dad's belt in her hand. We would run past her screaming and giggling and jumping her mostly ineffectual swings and climb back into bed together and dream up dirty  song lyrics to our favorite TV shows instead, laughing under the covers.

Music inspires. It has brought me to my knees. It has made me want to fight, to love, to leave, to stay, to do, to rest, to laugh, to cry, to forgive and ask forgiveness. To live.

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.


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