It’s a rainy February night. I sit pressed to the window as the Studebaker carries us aimlessly through the twilight. My mother is singing, hoping I will go to sleep, but willing to keep driving and singing if I don’t. The hum of the motor is the instrument she plays for me. “Rave on,” she sings, “and tell me not to be lonely…”
Now she is the one who sleeps. My family frowns as I say goodbye. “Rave on,” I sing as they close the lid, “Rave on with me…” wishing they would drive around the cemetery one more time.
This vision came to me partly through the Big Daddy version of Sergeant Pepper. Do you know their music? They do these incredibly strange and wonderfully subtle 50's do-wop covers of modern songs.
I come at this music with a great love for the 50's side of the coin, and usually I am left helpless with laughter. Cutting Their Own Groove has a version of Nothing Compares 2 U in the style of Little Richard that is mindbending, and there is a cover of Welcome to The Jungle done to The Lion Sleeps Tonight that is beyond brilliant.
Sergeant Pepper reproduces the Beatle's album in order, with amazing musical intrusions. The Great Balls of Fire version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds leaves me gasping for breath. But A Day In The Life opens with Buddy Holly's music. As soon as it starts, I flash to the accident I know is coming in the closing chords. It seems very immediate and real- like it had just happened to me for the first time. My mother's face, the broadcast on the radio - I was very young when Buddy died, and before this was released, I didn't know I remembered it that clearly. But I am pulled almost bodily into the past.
(I do occasionally have a little trouble about being spastic in time anyway, but usually when I get trapped, I end up being drawn back into the 1960's and all the lunacy and joy that goes with that. I try to re-live the 60's sometimes with Jim, who somehow seems to have missed them. Jim and Lee try to gift me with the 70's, knowing I slept through them on purpose, leaving a note that said "Wake me when Disco is Dead. " But so far I have managed to resist nearly everything except Brian Ferry and Roxy Music)
Then suddenly, there I am: single digits old, crying for Buddy Holly as though that pain were new, unable to explain that I am smelling wet lilacs in the dark, wishing you could wear a storm, trying to pull the rain up over my head like a sheet of silver silk, wanting my grandfather to come and take my hand. I have no idea why it happened. I will never stop being amazed at what music can do to you when you're not looking. I guess I'll never really know where all that emotion came from- sometimes the heart just needs to overflow. And, to be fair, I am much more likely to be overcome with a sudden, formless joy; the urge to "follow my bliss," so I suppose I was just marking the wheel as it turns in my heart.
Actually, I've been thinking about my mother all day, wondering how she ever managed to raise me. I must have seemed like a being from another planet to her. God knows I did to the rest of the family.
My mother had a changeling to cope with, some abyssal pelagic seasoul that crawled up and possessed the body of her first born; never at home except in the ocean, never sure what ocean I was seeking. But in the end, all that seemed to matter to her was that we loved each other. It didn't matter whether she understood what I was, she understood that I was. I don't think she would have blinked an eye to find out her baby had been switched in the intergalactic waiting room. She looked at my face and she saw my grandmother, and my great grandmother, and she loved me. I think about that now when I look in the mirror and see her.
How can you ever know what your children need? She couldn't have had a clue about what else to give me, but she knew she didn't know, and she gave me what she could and never held me back. I didn't turn out to be brave, but that wasn't her fault. She took me into the ocean before I could walk. She drove me around the dark streets of the nineteen-fifties night after night, knowing only that the sound of the wheels and the sense of being in motion made me feel safe enough to sleep. She gave me the gift of music, singing to me in all my earliest memories. She taught me to read, and then never tried to stop me, no matter what I read. Then, when the pages of books had become my wings, she held me up to the open window and let me fly. And so, all my life, the written word has been my sacrament, and the word set to music my only recreational drug.