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June 2013

Mom and Music and Me: first of a four-part series

More than anything else I can name, my family gave me music. Well, they gave me absurdly dry wit, intellectual curiosity, and a tendency toward anachronistic pleasures, but more than anything else, I owe to them my love of music in a number of forms. 

What I discovered wholly on my own: Vivaldi, Squeeze, Dean Martin, um, that's about it, really. The Beat. But each family member contributed their own particular joy toward my development and appreciation of music, of my walking soundtrack, of most of what fills my days and informs my dreams. That just cannot be overstated.

Memories of each family member are entangled with the music they enjoyed and shared with me, so I'm going to consider each one in an individual post. First, Mom, of course, because Mom is Mom. She sang to me, taught me little dances, really expressed herself that way. And she had a beautiful voice. As I sound a bit like her when I speak, she assured me that someday I would sing like her, as well. I do not. I am the Gene Kelly to her Frank Sinatra in that I can charmingly pull off a song, but not every song; the range and strength can be developed only so far beyond the average in most of us. Well, Sinatra fit the metaphor for my Gene Kelly voice, but she was really more Bobby Darin. She had the kind of voice that was naturally sweet and strong, but I mean, with some more training, she coulda been a contender. 

We sang together in the kitchen. She taught me the Stroll, the Hokey-Pokey, the Charleston, and to waltz. And how to twist, of course. When I got older, I'd sing the melody of a song, and she'd harmonize. She taught me to harmonize, but it was so easy for her to just take the song in many directions, I enjoyed carrying along with the tune while she did. We sang most of the songs in a lower register, with my contralto and her mezzo-soprano, but she could hit a fairly high note when necessary. 

(I do have that way with a keyboard, also never properly developed; if I know a tune, I can play it and add jazz to it, without sheet music. One of my sons does this, and actually composes music. Frustratingly, he wants no part of the training I wished I'd had. When I was a child, my grandpa brought us this old organ, and there was music in the bench. I taught myself the hand positions and to read the notes, but it was easier to just play music, once I discovered how to find it in the keys. I guess that's how it was for Mom and singing.)

When I got a little older, Mom discovered discos. She and a couple of friends, and at one point, a couple of my older cousins, would go out to them to dance. Just as with any other genre, quite a lot of the music from that period is vapid and repetitive, but there's some good to be found in it, as well. And then she discovered a fervence for Jesus, and there were praise and worship songs. To be honest, most of my interest in church-type matters was probably due to the fact that I enjoyed singing the songs. Anyway. That was that, and for a long time it wasn't easy to look back and remember so much of the time we spent talking, reading, singing, sharing. But those are the times I like to think about, and can now honestly say form most of my memories of her. Laughter, joy, and tenderness, and lots and lots of singing. Very little else matters. I love to sing because Mom loved to sing. 

 
This song, my mom owned this song. We had a 45 of it, interestingly already marked an "oldie," though I think it was probably only 10 years old when it was purchased. It's one of a few oldies I never tire of.

 
Mom loved the sexy sound of a sax, and so do I. I loved strolling with her along the kitchen floor.

 
By now, probably everyone knows this is a sanitized version of the original song. Big deal. If you haven't worked out how often that goes on, I guess you still think your grandparents never had sex with the lights on. Can you listen to music from the late 30s-late 50s and not want to move your shoulders and hips?

Speaking of which...Mom loved this song. I chose not to post the original video version because it was clearly made in order to offset the groove, and it's just unbearable, anyway...

 
And this brings up something I've been meaning to address. My older brothers have a memory of my mother being less than flattering toward our darker-skinned brethren. It's certainly somewhat likely, considering where and when she grew up, her ethnic background, etc. But it isn't my memory of her, so I figure she either mellowed beyond where they saw her, or else she was, like many people, just sort of vaguely hypocritical, possessed of that casual phraseology once taken for granted, like saying you "Jewed down" the price of a piece of furniture. We all know better by now, and are suitably horrified by it all. Unless we suck, However, when my mother listened to this song (rather often, to my teenaged embarrassment,) it was definitely Marvin Gaye she was grooving on, if you can pick up what I'm laying down. A whole book could be written about Mom and sexual repression and the battle against it; losing so much by winning that pointless war, and her horror at the realization I really wasn't planning to fight that fight, but mainly? Marvin Freaking Gaye. She and her friend went to a concert shortly before he died and were just in raptures over having seen, they thought, his limo leaving the back of the hall, and they tailed it for awhile but lost it. Noobs. 

SWITCHING gears dramatically, here's our song, hers and mine. I taught it to my daughters and expect to be singing it with one of them in a couple weeks when I visit her in New Jersey. My daughter sings like my mom, sigh...