Today is the first day of a new blog series called MUSIC TUESDAY. If you’re familiar with my books LIVING BY EAR and LEAVING THE BEACH, you know they both have strong music themes, although they’re very different stories.
I’m excited to have the wonderful author JT Twissel begin the series with her post, THE WORLD’S WORST FOLKSINGERS. So, without further ado, he-e-e-e-rs Jan!
This post is going to age me somewhat but here goes. My father refused to buy what he called a “boob tube” until I was almost fourteen. Instead, our entertainment on cold snowy days consisted of listening to classical music, or show tunes, or the irreverent monologues of comedian Bob Newhart,* who we’d seen many times performing in either Reno or Lake Tahoe. (I was raised in Reno, Nevada).
My father had extensive knowledge of the Classics as well as Greek and Norse mythology, thus he had a story to go along with many pieces of classical music. My favorites were Scherazade and Peer Gynt (In the Hall of the Mountain King) – both very dramatic pieces with compelling back stories. We would sit by the fire for hours and let the music take us on perilous journeys, or we’d dance and sing along with South Pacific (“Bloody Mary is the girl I love!”) or West Side Story (“I feel pretty, oh so pretty!”).
So you can imagine my surprise when under the Christmas tree in 1963 was the album Meet the Beatles. It was from my father. Of course, I’d heard about the Beatles from friends with more progressive parents but I didn’t think rock and roll music would ever be allowed in our house! I can’t say he liked their music but he tolerated my many playings of that album without the negativity a lot of friends were getting from their parents. To him, anything was better than the boob tube.
One day my mother decided to go back to work and so hired a struggling college student by the name of JoEllen to help maintain the house and babysit my younger siblings. She promptly moved in with us to save rent money. By that time I was going through all the usual high school crap, rotting grades, in a bad crowd, unpopular, and of course, feeling fat. JoEllen introduced me to the folk songs of Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Odetta and countless others, as well as the Indian ragas of Ravi Shankar. Gradually I quit worrying about what the kids at school thought of me. I grew my hair long, dressed in granny dresses, and bought a guitar. Eventually I ran into a couple of like-minded girls and we became the world’s worst folk singers.
We called ourselves the Gamgees (from the Lord of the Rings) and we knew how to play precisely three chords on our guitars. Our lack of range didn’t matter much to us because the only songs we sang were the ones we’d written ourselves. They were songs filled with all the pent-up anger we felt towards our unenlightened fellow students, most of whom still did not see the necessity to protest the Vietnam War or open up their minds to the universe through meditation!
Then came the school talent show. Decades later I cannot put the embarrassment of that night out of my mind! Nor can I show my face in Reno!
Here is the refrain to the one song we managed to get through before being laughed off the stage:
You say nothing means too much,
You don’t see,
You don’t care,
You don’t even dare,
Even the statues in the park,
have more heart.
And you sit like a toad,
And you don’t see the world at all!
The organizer of the event, a drama teacher by the name of Hardy McNew (I kid you not), greeted us as we left the stage.
“You look like refugees from Wagon Train,” he snickered. “Ever consider a career in comedy?”
* The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, The Most Celebrated Comedian Since Attila was a best selling album in the 1960s. He has since been copied by numerous comedians over the years, most notably Lily Tomlin.