Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you 11/22/63?

On Nov. 22, 1963 I was 6 years old and in the first grade. I went to Ed C. Lewis Elementary School at 13220 Bellflower Blvd. in Downey California. I only have 3 memories of going there. This is one of them. 

It was a typical Southern California school with most of the doors opening onto covered but otherwise open air corridors. The main building did have one indoor corridor going through the middle with a big door at the side leading to the playground and the other corridors. I’m sure that they didn’t usually let us little guys wander around unattended but for some reason I was by myself on my way to the office. The office was located in the indoor corridor.  I had only been there a couple of times before. I remember the way sounds echoed off the polished linoleum floor and walls painted the same green apple color all government installations were painted in those days. I could hear the biggest clock I had ever seen ticking and tocking. The secretary was situated in a kind of niche in the wall behind an island counter that was too high for me to see over. She or some adult had always been there before. Tick tock. It was kind of spooky. I peeked around the counter to see the secretary sitting at her desk crying. Other in the room beyond were crying too. I don't remember if I said anything. 
She saw me and said “The President has been killed.” 

We got the next day, maybe 2, off of school. At first the adults were interested, concerned, upset. Those black and white clips you see of the funeral procession were the only thing on TV for days. After many hours of this mom pronounced that she had had enough of the riderless horse and eternal flame. The others concurred. The next time the adults; mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins all watched the television spectacle in amazement and horror was during the Watts Riots a couple of years later. We had moved to Bakersfield by that time and I was closer to being a sentient being so shared in their emotions to some degree. The things on the TV and the things the adults were saying mixed much more darkly in my child’s imagination than they had when President Kennedy was shot. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Drummer boy

When I was 7 or 8, or however old it is that you can start taking band class, my folks rented a snare drum for me to practice on. My sister sings with an acapella group. I have a cousin that is an incredible jazz singer. Except for these outliers my people are thoroughly white with all the lack of rhythm that implies. So how were the folks to know that you don’t need an actual drum till you have the basics down? In the mid sixties in public school that’s how it worked and for good reason; most kids washed out within a couple of weeks. Fortunately, like I said, they had only rented the drum with a stand that fitted nicely into it’s own suitcase. I washed out too.

I did get to keep the sticks and wedge of rubber they called a practice pad. The thing was and remains today: how the hell do you hit the thing an eighth of a beat? At some point after other attempts to understand how music works and taking classes, I did finally have an understanding of the theory at least. Up on the liney music paper the note’s tones are higher. Left to right is an amount of time. However eight eighth notes in a measure don’t add up to one. Or do they? That was a long time ago. Even when I did know how it was supposed to work, making the transition from paper to instrument just didn’t happen. It always reminds me of the scene in the movie “The Jerk” just before he finds “The music that speaks to him” when he just can’t seem to get the beat.  In my 20s I hung out with musicians. After I tried playing with them a time or two, first harmonica then tambourine, I was always designated “Roadie”. sigh.

I never lost the desire to be in sync, how musicians do, when they are playing ‘in the groove’, or however they say it. In the years I did massage for a living I often played CDs of that dreamy new age music. Sometimes I experimented with tribal rhythms or other exotic forms with remarkable results. I didn’t bore my clients with the spiritual awareness aspect of my work. I always figured that if they were open to it it would happen for them. Lilies of the field and all that. (exchange “cosmic awareness” for clothing) Often, long established clients not otherwise predisposed to it would end the session with a knowing calmness and remark “That was great”. What could be more rewarding? I miss doing that work quite allot. What with overuse injuries to wrists and elbows notwithstanding I do try to keep a hand in but the bulk of it was over 20 years ago.

I had heard about drum circles, read about them, I lived in the middle of “out there” California, but in an island of repression. I never crossed paths with the kind of hippies that did it. Over the last 20 years a strange side effect of atheists coming out of the closet is that many more people are free to chose what/how they believe. You aren’t stuck with what your parents are into. Many are choosing an experiential type of spiritual life over a belief based one. This has fostered the addition of mainstream people into the local spiritual/psychic/trippy stuff community and back out into the mainstream.

My sister, the dear sweet woman that she is, gifted me a doumbek about 15 years ago. She knew. There have been drum circles in the past that I heard about, after the fact. It wasn’t until the last year or two drum circles, or ‘community drumming’ as they call it in marketing speak, have been held several times. I was finally able to go and use the drum she gave me. It has been just what I needed to fill that need to live a communal experience of music. No sheet music is required, you do it by feel.