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 calls from the living room. “Pearl! Come in here. I want you to hear something.”
I shut my book, a Ray Bradbury collection, and heave myself off the bed, annoyed. It isn’t that I don’t like the music, but he can be so sporadic about it. Three, four nights in a row, then nothing. This is Saturday, though; and you can count on my Dad calling you from whatever you are doing to join him at the stereo on a Saturday.
The love of music can be such a burden.
I skulk toward the living room. I can hear the music much clearer in the hall. By the time I reach the living room, it is loud enough to have to shout.
My father is standing in the middle of the room. He grin at me.
“What.” I say it as flatly as I could. I had just reached a good part in the book and am testing a theory that my use of a monotone will indicate a lack of enthusiasm on my part and sway him from the inevitable, letting me get back to my reading.
My father doesn't notice. “Who is this?” he shouts pointing toward the stereo.
I roll my eyes but listen anyway.
“The Benny Goodman Orchestra.” I have to shout back in order to be heard. I try to maintain the monotone in my voice, but it is hard to do over the music. I sound like I am a little slow, maybe with a cold.
Dad nods approvingly.
“And who’s playing clarinet?”
“Da-ad!” I shout, exasperated, giving up the monotone. Why do I need to go through this? Doesn’t he know I have a bed in the other room to loll around on?
“OK. OK,” he shouts. “Everyone knows that one. Who’s playing drums?”
He likes to ask questions like that. Who is Woody Herman? What did Stan Getz play?
“Gene Krupa,” I shout.
He nods. “Listen to that. Would you listen to that?” His hands beat the outside of his thighs, mirroring the drummer.
The drum solo is coming up for “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Dad motions for me.
“Stand right here,” he shouts. “Come over here – Pearl, what are you doing? No, no, come right here. Stand here.” He ushers 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 swings into the room fresh and crisp, a summer's day. My father closes his eyes.
“Ah,” he shouts. “Now that’s playing.”
I close my eyes.
“You hear that?” he shouts 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, drops his arms and rushes toward the stereo.
He picks the needle up. The music stops.
“OK,” he mutters. “Let’s just –“ he trails off as he lowers the needle. The music is back.
“OK,” he shouts. “Right here. Listen. Listen.”
I close my eyes. And right there is the part, the snare part he wants me to hear.
“You hear that? You hear that sonuvagun? Man, that’s something!” My father is beaming all over.
“Yeah. I heard it,” I smile.
“Yeah!” he shouts. He walks over to the stereo, lifts the needle. He turns it off.
“Yeah,” he repeats, turning back to me. “That’s something, ain’t it? Man, I wanted to play like that.”
“You do play like that, Dad,” I say. 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 is in at the moment is called The Kountry Kittens, a local three-piece with a long and surprisingly bland song list.
As the band’s name insinuates, the Kountry Kittens is a country band. Both the bass player and the guitar player are female, an unusual thing for 1972. Big, healthy girls. Kevin refers to them as the Kountry Kitchens. One of them – Joanne or Judy? – I can never remember which, as they look the same to me – chews tobacco. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I love the band you’re in now,” I tease. The whole family agrees on this one: The Kountry Kittens are not the highlight of his musical career.
“You love it, huh? Then you’re gonna love tonight,” he says. There is a disturbing tone to his voice, as if what he is really saying is that he suspects I would also enjoy cleaning out the car or doing the dishes. I stare at him.
“Mumma and you kids are coming to the gig tonight!” He winks at me. “Don’t you love it?”
I smile. Do I love it?
It’s Saturday night and we’re going to the bar!
Come back tomorrow for Part II!
17 hours ago