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I’m Sorry I Stole Your Tapes But It Was Worth It.

Musings On My Parents Part 2

It’s hard to go through the holidays without thinking of my parents. The absence of one or both of them has been a defining part of Christmas for me since I was twelve (when my mom died).

Tonight, it’s music. I love music because of my parents–because they loved music. My mom was a hippie/rock n’ roll gal; my dad was a blues guy.

As I sit here listening to “Peace Frog” for the seventh time in two days, I’m reminded of the times I stole cassette tapes of The Crusaders and B.B. King & Bobby Blue Bland out of my dad’s glove compartment to play in the Walkman my mother had given me (metal, with two headphone jacks). I’m reminded of my mother, taping blues and jazz programs off of WGBH, the public radio station out of Boston. I can picture her cassette rack (which I also raided), full of Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson.

I remember sitting in front of the stereo in my mother’s living room when I was seven or eight, asking her to rewind the tape so I could hear The Black Freighter again (Nina Simone’s version of “Pirate Jenny”).

I remember sitting with my dad when I was a teenager and we didn’t really get along, listening to Big Joe Turner on my boombox, which I’d dragged out to the living room so we could both listen. I remember going on missions to big record stores for my dad when I was in my twenties, because he didn’t want to deal with the crowds but he needed the music. And the concerts… B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, John Lee Hooker, Jonny Lang, Bobby Blue Bland– Dad, I’m grateful. I can’t thank you enough.

My parents gave me, along with so many other things, music.

Recently I was talking with a friend who at 28 said that she’s only recently getting into music. We were listening to Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues album, and she said, “Who is this?” I nearly fell out of my chair. I’m going to raid my music library, put my CD burner to use, and give her a musical education for Christmas. Somebody has to, right?

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me a musical education early. Not every five-year-old thinks B.B. King is cool, or even knows who he is.

I’m sorry I stole your tapes, but it was worth it.

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Musings On My Parents: Part One

The more I begin to know my parents–through memories and the things they left behind–the more I begin to understand their relationship. Why it happened. What went wrong. Why there was never another woman for my dad. Why my mother moved on to men who were in many ways a lot like my father, and one who even looked just like my father only older.

My mother had a type, I’ve discovered. First of all, her men had to be brilliant craftsmen of one sort or another.

One boyfriend from her college days was a talented painter who now owns a successful gallery in Provincetown (yes, he’s gay, but according to him they made wild love in the sixties). Her first husband is a photographer, an eloquent and frequent letter-writer, and a surprisingly good Christmas present-wrapper. My father was an expert welder and metal fabricator, a good carpenter, a good mechanic, a great teacher, a human road atlas, and he had an impeccable driving record in both cars and 18-wheelers. The man after him was a metal worker as well, a passionate chef who made his own pasta, a motorcycle-rider, and a green thumb, particularly when growing hot peppers. The next (and I think last) one was a finish carpenter who made and collected boomerangs, played the saxophone, cooked with a wok like he was Asian, and introduced me to the concept of sarcasm (and a lot of weird jazz music).

My mother’s lovers were very different men, with many very different interests and a few common ones. The thread that connected them all, from her college days until she became too sick to really have relationships anymore, was talent. Not just the ability to do something, but the innate gift of doing it well. Doing it better. Doing it with an identifiable style. She liked men who were already so good at what they did that they couldn’t help but teach other people.

She, too, was that talented.

My mother was a silversmith, a goldsmith and a blacksmith. She worked with leather, wrote poetry, drew compulsively, and cooked without recipes. She played the guitar, the oboe, the flute, and the piano. She sewed her own clothes, and clothes for me. She grew exotic tulips and tomatillos in the garden, taped music off of public radio, and loved to sail. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty; in fact she loved getting her hands dirty. It was what she lived for.

She was my father’s type, to a tee.

My father had no patience for incompetence, and by his standards nearly everyone was incompetent. He respected people who worked hard to be the best at what they did. He was so tough himself, he probably would have laughed at a woman who was too squeamish to gut a fish. He loved to have long conversations, and would have quickly become bored with a woman who couldn’t challenge him and occasionally win. He detested what he called “cookie cutter” women, and always encouraged me to have my own personal style.

My mother had style. Hers was part carpenter, part hippie, part Jackie O., and part Isadora Duncan. She wore gorgeous silk scarves with jeans, handmade leather sandals and giant movie-star sunglasses. She drove a black MG with red leather interior, smoked marijuana, and drank Kahlua and cream out of the same thumbprint glass goblet every night. She had diamond-paned windows in her house, and named her cat in French.

I know she had no problem matching my father in conversation or argument. She’d never let a man bait her hook, or complain that her nice clothes might get dirty.

Of course they were so much alike, it’s no wonder they didn’t get along…

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I Always Miss Somebody

Perhaps I need to become a flight attendant. Or hook up with someone who works for an airline.

‘Cause I’ve tried to teleport, and failed. Over and over again.

But I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied in one place if my friends are elsewhere–and many of them always will be. So I need to find a way to fly all the time for very little money (or become rich).

Otherwise I might never stop moving.