Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Musical Memories

I grew up on music.

My parents had a huge collection of albums and 45’s – everything rock-n-roll from the 60’s and 70’s: The Beatles, The Doors, The Kinks, The Mamas and the Papas, The Guess Who, The Four Tops, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bad Company. You name it, they had it. Even some disco, like KC and the Sunshine Band and Earth Wind and Fire. And a little bit of country too.

We spent a lot of time listening to music, enjoying the latest tunes on the radio or putting an album or a stack of 45’s on the turntable. We had a collection of 8-tracks too.

Funny… choosing which 45’s to play and in which order was kind of like making a mixed tape (which would become a favorite pastime a few years later). The 45’s needed to be set up on the plastic spindle adapter above the turntable (because 45’s had an opening in the middle the size of a half-dollar, whereas albums only had an opening the width of a pencil), and as each single-song record finished playing, the turntable arm would lift and move out to the side, the next record would drop down and then the arm would move back and lower the needle right onto the beginning of this new record. Pure genius.

These 45’s were my favorites as a young kid in the 70’s:
No Sugar – The Guess Who
Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce
December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) – The Four Seasons
Stay – Frankie Valli
Let Your Love Flow – The Bellamy Brothers
Dream Weaver – Gary Wright
Happy Together – The Turtles
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash

If you look closely at the photo of me with my cousins, you will notice that we are not gathered around that big console television to watch TV, but to listen to the 45's on the turntable on top.


I remember dancing in the living room. I made up whole dance routines to Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry) and Get Down Tonight (KC and the Sunshine Band).

Funny how the lyrics go right over your head when you’re young.

And I remember my father teaching me how to do “The Bump,” which was basically just swaying side to side and bumping hips with a partner to the beat. Of course his hip was up too high for mine, so sometimes his bump would hit me in the shoulder and send me to the floor, but that made us both laugh.

My big brother and I had an old record player on the floor in our little bedroom. It was in a big hard case like a suitcase. We used to load an album onto the turntable and close the lid and take turns dancing on top of it, performing for each other on our tiny little stage. And if we jumped around too much the record inside would skip.

Skipping was the worst. When our records got too scratchy we used to tape pennies to the top of the arm, right above the needle, to weigh it down and hopefully keep it from skipping. But sometimes I miss all the clicks and pops of those old records. There was some character in those old scratchy recordings.


Some of my favorite times as a kid were when my father would strum songs on the guitar and sing to us, and if we knew the songs we would sing along. I had a favorite request – a song called “So Tired” by the Kinks. I liked the song and I liked the way my father sang it. But it wasn’t one of his favorite songs to play, because he had to slide his fingers across the strings and they’d get sore after a while. I always requested that one though, and he always played it for me. And My Maria too. And Take Me Home, Country Roads - I used to follow along in the songbook, singing the words to that one as Dad played.

Sometimes he would record us all singing. Once we were trying to record In The Still Of The Night – my dad singing and playing the guitar, and me singing the backup “Shoo-doop shoo be doo”. I was only about 6 years old, so my mother whispered the shoo-doop shoo be doo in my ear so I wouldn’t miss the words or the timing. But all those SH sounds really tickle when someone is whispering them in your ears, so I kept giggling. I don’t think we ever got through the song.


When I was in 6th grade I got my first boombox for Christmas, which meant I could have music in my room. I’d had music in my room before – big console stereos that we found in the garbage and got working for a while, but the speakers on those didn’t sound so great.

The new Sanyo boombox, on the other hand, sounded awesome. And with a three-pack of blank tapes from Caldor I was taping the latest greatest songs from the radio, diligently waiting for the DJ to stop talking so I could hit Record, and then pressing Stop before the talk resumed. I would wait for hours for a specific song to be played. Maybe it was Billy Squier. Maybe it was Madonna. Maybe it was the Go Go’s, or Journey. Maybe it was Huey Lewis and the News.

But I would wait up until midnight if I had to – you know how hard it is to have a song in your head and not be able to hear it. With the instant gratification of internet, kids don’t have that problem anymore (and actually, neither do I). But back then it took a lot of time and patience to make the ultimate mixed tape. There was always taping songs from your record collection, of course, but there’s nothing like having a new favorite song.


My brother and I used to get a weekly allowance, usually $5 each. It’s funny to me, looking back – it seemed we didn’t have enough money to heat the house or even to go food shopping sometimes, but somehow my parents managed to give us money every week. Well, not every week. We didn’t get the allowance if our rooms weren’t clean. Hmm… now that I think about it, they probably didn’t have to give us much money after all.

But if I didn’t spend my allowance during bowling night, I would save it up for new records from Caldor. Caldor had new billboard charts every week, one for each genre of music. The top 20 were kept in a wooden shelving unit near the register with slots numbered 1 through 20. A song’s ranking on the billboard chart corresponded to the numbered slots. I spent a lot of money there.


I remember walking into my mother’s bedroom once when I was younger and fully into good ol’ rock-n-roll, and she was listening to some kind of disco song. “What the heck are you listening to, Mom? Rock Lives, Disco Dies.”

“Well I like all kinds of music. Disco is good to dance to.”

I wonder if she ever regretted keeping me open-minded on the music front? My father may have. My bedroom was right above the living room, and as I got into the dance music of the 80’s my father became convinced that I spent 5 years listening to the same song, over and over, morning noon and night. The incessant sound of it thumping above his head was like water torture as he tried to watch Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, The Dukes of Hazzard or The Love Boat. Occasionally, he would get the broom from the kitchen and knock on the ceiling with the handle. That was the signal for many things - pick up the phone, come down for dinner - but usually it meant “turn down the music”.

I’ve remained very musically open-minded and have even expanded well beyond the genres introduced to me by my parents. Mandy’s taste in music probably covers just as wide of a spectrum, as she can wake up to techno, chill mid-afternoon in her room to some alternative rock and fall asleep at night to new age or classical. We regularly introduce each other to new songs.

Music does something for me. Not that I don’t enjoy silent times alone with my thoughts – I certainly do – but music is passion and emotion and life. Sometimes it mirrors the way I’m feeling; sometimes it heightens my mood and pulls me out of some sadness or stress. It’s soothing at night before bed, it’s invigorating while I’m cooking or cleaning, and it’s company while I’m driving in the car or walking around the lake.

And so many songs spark memories for me. I think that’s what my next few posts will be about…

Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter - to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water. (Albert Schweitzer)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Return Of LeedleDee?

I’ve never really had a nickname, or at least not one generally known by anyone outside my immediate family.

My father is one of the few that uses my middle name, calling me “Tamma-Jean!” or sometimes just Tamma.

My little brother (who was born when I was 14) and I call each other by only our middle names, he calling me Jean and me calling him Joseph. No real reason.

I also used to call him Big Bri Stud, because as a pre-schooler he was constantly eyeing up the pretty girls (of any age, usually blondes) and hitting on them. My high school boyfriend had taught him to say “Hey Babe, what’s happenin’?” at the tender age of 3, so he was always a hit with the ladies. But over the years Big Bri Stud has gotten shortened to Big B. Or sometimes I just call him B.

My big brother was 1-1/2 when I was born, and he loved me. To my mother's dismay, he would sneak into my crib and try to hold me and sing me songs. At least he wasn't smacking me. That came later during The Teasing Years.

And as a toddler he called me “LeedleDee”, because he thought that sounded like a song. That was my first nickname: LeedleDee.

He called me LeedleDee often as we were growing up. He said it with a sneer during The Teasing Years. Those years ushered in new nicknames as well, such as Slammy and Meathead. I liked LeedleDee better. If memory serves, I simply called him Duane the Pain, or sometimes just Jerk or Idiot (said through tears, of course).

When my brother entered high school, he got a nickname of his own. My parents had named him after Duane Eddy, the guitarist my father loved so much. But he had never liked his name, because the show What’s Happening had come out in the 70’s with a main character named Dwayne, and that was perfect ammo for elementary school kids.

I’m not quite sure what my brother did in high school to earn the name “Doctor Love,” but I am quite sure there is more to the story than a simple fondness of the song by Kiss. To this very day, he is known as Doc. Most people don’t even know his real name and they get confused at his job when I call and ask for this “Duane” person.

In the days of my grandparents and even my parents, everyone had a nickname:
Lukey Lou (our crazy neighbor)
The Ground Mole (my uncle)
Beetle Bailey (another uncle)
Dob (my grandmother, and I have no idea why)
The Pheasant (my great-grandmother)
Tank (another guy from the neighborhood)
Mimi (my aunt)
Porky (my father’s friend)
Twinkie (Porky’s son)

One of my grandfathers was called Tiny, because he was so thin. My brother has a friend called Tiny as well, because he’s the size of a Mac Truck.

I’ve got a cousin named Buddha and a friend named Sully.

My father has two drinking mugs that he got when he was in the Navy. Both display the emblem of his submarine. But I remember asking him once when I was little, “Why does one say ‘Peachy’ on the back and the other one say ‘Tiger’?” He pointed to my mother: “Peachy!” And then he pointed to himself: “Tiger!” “No way!” They both nodded their heads. “Ooooooh…”

But for the benefit of us kids, my father gave himself a new nickname. “You know what you kids should call me?” he proclaimed one day. “Super-Fonzie-Austin.”


“Super for Superman. Fonzie, because I’m cool like the Fonz. And Austin for Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. Super-Fonzie-Austin - that’s my new name.”

So we would giggle as we called my father Super-Fonzie-Austin. Soon after, he decided to add Genius to the end of his name. And so besides being known as “The King” (another self-nomer) throughout his castle, he also became known as Super-Fonzie-Austin-Genius.

“What should mommy’s name be?” we asked.

“The Old Bag” he joked.

That one always made us attack him, and a full-blown wrestling match would ensue. I was the more aggressive one though. “Go get him, Tam!” my big brother would say, pushing me toward the infidel who had insulted our dear mother, yet maintaining a safe distance from the melee.
I would run across the living room toward him at full speed, fists flying, and try to land as many punches as I could before he finally wrestled me to the floor, turned me around, and locked my head between his knees so he could continue watching TV. He never even had to get up out of the recliner. I’d still be karate-chopping at his legs, but I’d eventually admit defeat.

That “Old Bag” thing got him in trouble once, though. My little brother had just started pre-school, and he wasn’t feeling well. They needed to call my mother.

“What’s your mommy’s name?” they asked him.


“What does your daddy call your mommy?”

“The Old Bag.”

They got quite a chuckle out of that one over at the pre-school. My mother didn’t know whether to be mortified or hysterical with laughter.

But I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a nickname, a real nickname that everyone knew. Friends have called me different things over the years like Tamma-Lama or Tammie-Tam or Tabitha. Boyfriends have had pet names for me of course, and my husband does as well. My daughter and I have a million different silly names for each other.

But I’ve never had a real nickname. Perhaps I’ll take a cue from my father and name myself. I just have to come up with something good…