My father was a musician. Salesman by day, percussion disciple by night, he taught me the love of music. Unfortunately, the price of the education included my father’s sudden musical seizures.
He called from the living room. “Pearl! Come in here. I want you to hear something.”
I shut my book, a Ray Bradbury collection, and heaved myself off the bed, annoyed. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the music, but he could be so sporadic about it. Three, four nights in a row, then nothing. This was Saturday, though; and you could count on my Dad calling you from whatever you were doing to join him at the stereo on a Saturday.
The love of music could be such a burden.
I skulked toward the living room. I could hear the music much clearer in the hall. By the time I reached the living room, it was loud enough to have to shout.
My father was standing in the middle of the room. He grinned at me.
“What.” I said it as flatly as I could. I had just reached a good part in the book and was testing a theory that my use of a monotone would indicate a lack of enthusiasm on my part and sway him from the inevitable, letting me get back to my reading.
My father didn’t notice. “Who is this?” he shouted pointing toward the stereo.
I rolled my eyes but listened anyway.
“The Benny Goodman Orchestra.” I had to shout back in order to be heard. I tried to maintain the monotone in my voice, but it was hard to do over the music. I sounded like I was a little slow, maybe with a cold.
Dad nodded approvingly.
“And who’s playing clarinet?”
“Da-ad!” I shouted, exasperated, giving up the monotone. Why did I need to go through this? Didn’t he know I had a bed in the other room to loll around on?
“OK. OK,” he shouted. “Everyone knows that one. Who’s playing drums?”
He liked to ask questions like that. Who was Woody Herman? What did Stan Getz play?
“Gene Krupa,” I shouted.
He nodded. “Listen to that. Would you listen to that?” His hands beat the outside of his thighs, mirroring the drummer.
The drum solo was coming up for “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Dad motioned for me.
“Stand right here,” he shouted. “Come over here – Pearl, what are you doing? No, no, come right here. Stand here.” He ushered me to an oddly matted point in the shag. “Perfect spot. Right between the speakers. See that? Look. No, Pearl, look right over – oh, listen. Here it comes.”
Ba-DOO-bop-a-diddly-bop, Ba-DOO-bop-a-diddly-bop – the solo swung into the room clean and crisp. My father closed his eyes.
“Ah.” he shouted. “Now that’s playing.”
I closed my eyes, the better to hear.
“You hear that?” he shouted at me. “You hear that snare? Hold on a minute.”
My father, in the middle of conducting the imaginary 40-piece band in our living room, dropped his arms and rushed toward the stereo.
He picked the needle up. The music stopped.
“OK,” he muttered. “Let’s just –“ he trailed off as he lowered the needle. The music was back.
“OK,” he shouted. “Right here. Listen. Listen.”
I closed my eyes. And right there was the part, the snare part he wanted me to hear.
“You hear that? You hear that sonuvagun? Man, that’s something!” My father was beaming all over.
“Yeah. I heard it,” I smiled.
“Yeah!” he shouted. He walked over to the stereo, lifted the needle. He turned it off.
“Yeah,” he repeated, turning back to me. “That’s something, ain’t it? Man, I wanted to play like that.”
“You do play like that, Dad,” I said. And I believed it. He kept a tight, swinging beat when he got to play what he wanted. Not that that would happen in this town. The band he was in at the moment was called The Kountry Kittens, a local three-piece with a long and surprisingly bland song list.
As the band’s name insinuated, the Kountry Kittens was a country band. Both the bass player and the guitar player were female. Big, healthy girls. Kevin referred to them as the Kountry Kitchens. One of them – Joanne or Judy? – I don’t remember which, as they looked the same to me – chewed tobacco. I’d never seen anything like it.
“I love the band you’re in now,” I teased. The whole family agreed on this one: The Kountry Kittens was not the highlight of his musical career.
“You love it, huh? Then you’re gonna love tonight,” he said. There was a disturbing tone to his voice, as if what he was really saying was that he suspected I would also enjoy cleaning out the car or doing the dishes. I stared at him.
“Momma and you kids are coming to the gig tonight!” He winked at me. “Don’t you love it?”
I smiled. Was he kidding? It’s Saturday night and we’re going to the bar!
Special thanks to Lisleman who offers this link to Youtube and the Benny Goodman Orchestra playing Sing, Sing, Sing. :-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9J5Zt2Obko
Come back tomorrow for Part II!
17 hours ago