Sing It

I should take delivery of a ukelele today. That’s a fun word to write.  Try it. Ukelele. The instrument is coming in the mail.

It’s been twenty years since I played the guitar. My fingers have grown soft and lost their muscle tone. I have muscle memory of chords and songs and licks, but when the flesh hits the frets, bearing down on those strings, memory will do me no good. I have muscle memory of water-skiing too and have no delusions about ever doing that again. Nylon strings will help. Little ukelele-size nylon strings will really help. I’ve Youtubed ukeleles (I never thought I would enjoy writing a single word so much) and now know what “my dog has fleas” really means. Mainly it means I’m going to be memorizing new ways to play chords on the stringed instrument. The dog on your guitar does not have fleas.

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Play It

I came home from school one day, my mother was sitting at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. 

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m helping you think of a name for your band.” 

Well that’s nice. That’s what I said. Grateful she had stopped saying “combo.” What I also thought was: Is there a band anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, that was named by the mother of one of the guys in the band? 

Bands were popping up everywhere. The British invasion was beginning. On TV at night we watched Shindig! and Hullaballoo. After school was a program called “Where The Action Is.” The theme song was called, oddly, “Where the action is.” Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon sang: “Oh baby come on…” All I remember about that song is the chorus. “It’s so great to take your baby where the action is!” It was a song that needed only a chorus, written for that half-hour show, filmed in California (Malibu, of course), not far from the beach. 

The same acts cycled into the programming a couple times a week. Steve Alaimo. Who was he? Tommy Roe. Ditto? The Knickerbockers. Bobby Goldsboro. Every band in creation started popping up. The Lovin’ Spoonful, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Ventures, Freddy and the Dreamers. My favorite was Paul Revere and the Raiders. They dressed in 18th century costumes, like before writing and recording their songs they had helped draft the US Constitution. “Kicks just keep getting harder to find.” They had long hair. 

“So what have you come up with?” 

My mother showed me her list, five or six possibilities. 

I felt my face go red as I scanned the list. “Neat Notes?” I said. Really? 

Naming the band was a little premature. We weren’t really a band. We were four boys each looking for the ability to play an instrument. Bob Young had a set of drums, a real set, with tomtoms. So he was good. I had used some money I earned delivering the Midland Daily News to buy an electric guitar at Whiteheads Music in Saginaw. It was made by Kent. No one that I knew or saw on Where The Action Is played a Kent guitar. It cost $79. I had also bought a cheap amplifier the size of a very small suitcase. Think airplane, carry-on. Roger Bill George made it known at school that he played the piano, so he was in. And Ronnie Fritz came up with an electric guitar somewhere, announcing his attention to play the bass.

We practiced in a front room of Roger Bill’s house–because there was an upright piano in that room. It soon because clear that Roger Bill could dribble a basketball and shoot layups, but he could not drive to the basket with that piano. If he had taken lessons, they had not covered “chords” in his instruction. Bob was competent, Ronnie played the E and A strings, the two fattest ones on the guitar, for bass effect. He did not have an amplifier.

I knew chords well enough to approximate a few songs. Gloria was in reach. Hang On Sloopy was on our set list. Eventually The Kinks’ Tired of Waiting. A song by the Beach Boys? Forget it. A song by Paul Revere and the Raiders? That wasn’t happening. The Beatles? I wanted to play Day Tripper. In the worst way, I wanted to play that. I could manage the riff, but then what? The bottom fell out of the song. There was no piano in Day Tripper. Also, I knew I couldn’t play that riff and sing the song at the same time. We concentrated on Gloria and Hang On Sloopy, playing those two songs at a couple school assemblies.

Gradually, very gradually, I began to realize that music was going to be my thing. With the exception of four lessons from Phil Woodcock, a guy who lived down the road from us, I was self-taught. I had a good ear. I learned some chords. I learned how to play bar chords. On Hullaballoo one night The Hollies lip synched “I Look Through Every Window,” a song with a catchy guitar intro. I wanted to do that. I wanted to play lead, like the killer treble string opening to Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.” Anyone who asked, I said oh, yeah, I play lead guitar. But I was definitely a work in progress. 

How do you do that? I asked a guy who came to school and played with a band one day. How do you bend a note like that? He showed me. Back home I tried it. It hurt. You needed strong fingers, and calluses.

The name of that first group came from my mother’s list: The Troupe. 

I was going to have to do something about my hair.

Yick

A Yahoo headline greets me this morning: “Study says cheese and red wine could boost brain health.” That’s good news.  Two things I like, and I’m all in favor of brain health.  The ten-year study, published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease, involved 1787 people who participated in a Fluid Intelligence Test, “which provides a snapshot of a person’s ability to think quickly.”

Quickly? Typically I think: Quick, have another glass of wine. But red wine and cheese . . . together? Not in my mouth, thanks. I like red wine too much to risk sullying it with cheese; I like cheese too much to risk ruining it with red wine. 

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Last Word, Good Word

So I’m standing at the sink the other night washing pots and pans. And I think “spatula” is such a strange word.  Who thought of that? In a novel I was reading a while back, I recall the description of a character’s fingers as “spatulate.”  That sounds Latinate, as in “of or pertaining to Latin in origin.”  

Hmmm, English. 

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The 00000 Club

Pulling off on the side of the road, it could be argued, was a little dangerous. I was on a freeway just north of Detroit, in a lot of traffic. When I merged, I would have to merge fast. I didn’t care. The car I was driving was coming up on 100,000 miles. I wanted to see the odometer turn and stop at the exact moment when all the zeros aligned.

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Sing It

Since the beginning of Covid time, four or five days a week we take this walk. And every morning a song visits me, unbidden.  

This morning it’s the theme from “The Odd Couple.” Where did that come from?  Yesterday it was “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head,” which, for sentimental reasons, I was totally okay with. The day before that I was stuck all morning with The Captain and Tenille, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which was almost more than I could take. 

Human beings, the study of evolution tells us, are unique among creatures in a couple ways. We use fire. We make (and take) pictures. And we make music. Susanne Langer suggests that humans may have been musical even before they became verbal. So those songs, I guess, are coming to me from not just the eighth grade, but also from somewhere old, somewhere deep in my primordial memory.

Also, laughter sets us apart from other creatures. Yes, I know, hyenas. And there are chimps that can be crackpots and seem to have a great sense of humor. But man laughs. He chuckles, chortles, giggles and guffaws, snickers, titters, and horse laughs.  “Laughter is the property of man,” writes Rabelais, echoing Aristotle.

These mornings, when these songs fill my head, I’ve learned to keep them to myself, even when they make me laugh. They give me pleasure, pleasure my wife does not long share when I hum, whistle, or sing the same phrases over and over. A song like “Love Will Keep Us Together” is guaranteed to drive us apart. On Pine Tree Trail, when we pass the house with the Real Estate One sign out front, I inexplicably want to sing “Let yourself go to Real Estate One” to the tune of “Let yourself go to Pizza Hut.” I’m subject to ditties. I think that’s funny. Three days in a row I strike up that tune.

Not today. My wife is not amused.

Smoke Signal

We’re facing east on Lone Pine Road when my wife asks, “Are you going to take a picture?”

I could take a picture, yes. At 7:00 a.m. the sun is rising in the east. At the end of the road, just above the horizon, the sun is sandwiched between two stands of trees. The sun looks like a peeled nectarine, psychedelic pink, brilliant, beautiful. Also definitely and tragically the wrong color. On my social media accounts last night and the night before, were astonished reports: “Wow!” “Amazing!” “You gotta see this!” along with smart phone photos of the sun setting, with its odd, ravishing color.

Red sun at night, something’s not right.

Red sun in the morning, mankind is screwed. 

It feels that way these days, because right now the whole west coast is on fire, and here in the Midwest the smoke has arrived in our upper atmosphere, between 15,000 and 30,000 feet, not a cloud in a sky that should be blue this morning. It’s not. Our sky is airborne-disaster gray, the sun an over-ripe fruit. 

Every morning I take pictures–of trees, berries, leaves, flowers, fungi, of the deer if they let me. I want this picture of the sun, I really do, almost as much as I don’t want it.  We’re not supposed to see a sun that looks like this. It’s not natural.