7 a.m., and I awoke thinking about what I could write about today. Early morning is when I am most in touch with my inner being, and the joy I get from writing is totally a function of the subject springing forth from my spirit. So at this dawn, it dawned on me that the topic that brings me most joy is music. Without music I could not have lived, nor would I want to continue living. No doubt I have kindred spirits throughout the world’s population, in fact I would be on safe turf saying most humans need some form of music in their lives to feel alive. Even in the most strictly conservative societies music proclaims they are alive. Indigenous peoples in ways are most in touch with the instruments that are conduits between their spirit and their vision of the higher power, the creative force in the universe. In fact the whole purpose of music, its very origin, is to connect our sense of living with the greater whole that heart perceives.
When I was a little boy in the country (I wrote about my boyhood in an earlier post), I was very early on a singer. I sang to myself, to nature, for the joy of singing. What I would sing would be some of the old songs I heard on 16 and 78 rpm platters that my father had or his mother, some really old folk songs, some older C & W songs put out by artists like Hank Williams, and then along came rock n roll. There was an old mesquite tree by the gate from our ranch to the highway, where I would wait every morning, climb up on that tree so I could see the bus coming, but feel safe from any javelin hogs or other imaginary predators while I waited in the cold, dark winter mornings for the sight of that yellow bus. Up in that tree I would croon to the world, at the top of my voice, singing whatever I had heard on the radio. At my age then, around 9 or 10, I had gathered a pretty good collection of songs that I could partially remember and at least carry the tune, and singing these would make the time go by quickly, reducing my sense of freezing on those cold mornings. Our neighbor down the road a quarter of a mile would laughingly tell my mother that she always could hear me singing, but I had no idea I had an audience other than the ears of nature.
I don’t know if the love for music enters we humans from the divine ether, or if its karma, or DNA, or the environment. All I know is that music is not an act, it is the essence of living, although very unfortunately some people are just not tuned to the right frequency band to realize it in their own lives. I have this notion that people who love music are better people, but maybe that is just my wishful thinking.
When I was 13, after we had moved to southern California, my love for music continued, as my mother also loved music, and our parents had invested in a nice record player console, and Mama had purchases several albums of great song standards. One of those also had several Latin numbers, and upon hearing the bongo playing, I knew I had to have some bongos. So Mama got me a set of cheap “hecho en Mexico” bongos, which I endeavored to play along with the record, until I broke one of the heads. After that although I continued to love all the rock n roll and then black cross-over sounds beginning to air, I dropped my drumming until college years, when I finally saved up enough money to buy a good conga drum and another bongo set. I would play my heart out, drumming along to albums by the Tempts, and other big name groups of the day.
Later when I was stationed in North Dakota, even as a commissioned officer, I played with a small soul band consisting of all enlisted guys, and we played on and off the air base (looking back I was lucky I wasn’t charged with fraternizing with enlisted personnel, as an officer). I would also just play in my room, all alone, covering the rhythms of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go.” I wore those albums out. It would be minus-30 degrees outside my windows, but I would be all cozy inside, burning calories on my conga head.
As my Air Force days came to an end, my marriage to a lady who would be honored as “Dallas’ Queen of Jazz” at her passing some twenty-five years later, began. For all those years I lived an up close and personal life in her shadows, in the world of jazz. With her entre, I was able to meet some of the greatest names, to sit on a sofa next to her and Dizzy Gillespie, to have Cedar Walton often come to visit her at our home, to meet so many other greats (all this will be in my forthcoming book, Texas Jazz Triangle, A Historic Nexus: My Love Affair With The Music). I was not born to be a musician, however, but rather to be an engineer, which provided a blissfully rewarding career. But when I was home, our domestic vibe was all jazz, with sounds of Coltrane, Ella, and so many other muses flowing throughout our home at all hours.
When my wife transitioned, it was music that kept me alive, that provided the catharsis for dealing with the grief. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Angel”, was one of the levers that got me through my deep sense of loss. And since that time in my life, it has been music that has kept me going, fired my passion, allowed me to share love and joys.
Yes, music is life to me. If it is yours I am sure you understand. If not, I do pray you open up and let it come in.