Mother’s Day

Yeah this isn’t the most cheery song, but it’s clearly about mothers. I’m lucky because, although I may not always see eye to eye with my own mother, she has been there with unwavering support my entire existence. Lastly, I spent a lot of time listening to this song with my best friend Jay in his Honda accord while in high school when my mom was probably wondering where I was and what I was doing. So, thanks for never calling the police on me Mom!

Mother’s day is upon us again and I figured I’d write a quick post after just cooking breakfast for my mom, doing some gardening at the family compound in Maine and then going to see her sing with an adult community chorus that she has joined after which I will cook her a steak on the grill while enjoying a few Coronas (which are her favorite). I don’t always get along with my mother as well as I could and there have been a wide swath of conflicts over the years covering everything from when exactly I was coming home with her car to throwing up in her azalea bushes to not picking up after myself almost ever. I don’t always show her how much I do care about her but she knows deep down that all three of her kids got her back and we will do anything to help her as she always has done for us.

My mom laid the foundation for my love of music more than any one person and set me on the musically charged path in life that I am now walking. There was music in our house nearly all the time whether it was from CDs, the radio or my mom playing the piano. All of us kids got all of our music skills and appreciation from our mother. More on that in a minute.  Every year for her birthday and sometimes Mother’s Day, I get her some discs at the local music store and there is always at least one soul/r&b record like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, or whatever new one I can find.

It has not been an easy couple of years for my Mom. Beginning with my father’s passing three plus years ago, she had a run of bad luck that included some health issues which put her into the hospital for a few weeks back in 2011, health issues of her parents, various financial issues from  the untimely passing of Dad and the very recent loss of our favorite furry friend Remy. Through it all, she has remained steadfast in dealing with her problems and pushing on, making a joke when she can and still helping others even when she could barely help herself.

This selflessness is another thing all three of us kids got from her, as well as the ability to relate to damn near anyone we meet which makes us one of the most versatile family of conversationalists that I’ve ever come across. It used to embarrass us when my mother would start talking to people she didn’t know on the subway in NYC when the Elder J lived there, but now I see it as a genuine desire to learn more about people and to spread kindness wherever possible.

Another one of the many oldie style tunes that I associate with my Mom and Dad playing at top volume in whatever P.O.S. car we were rocking at the moment. She often tells the story of one of her brothers singing this song at her grandfather’s funeral while everyone was weeping upstairs. This is not a bad funeral song.

I sat in my garage the other night thinking about what else I need to build some Adirondack  chairs out there as I have cleaned out my father’s woodshop for me to use. My Mom came out and was pretty sad about missing our beloved golden retriever and the waterworks started. One of the few grievances I have with my mom is that she has always been a crier. Like, she cried every time I headed back to college after a visit to Maine, which was pretty often.  She cried so much that I barely responded when she did it which made me feel like a bad son.

A lighting bolt of knowledge struck me as I sat in the garage and I started to tell her how she personally is responsible for my love and knowledge of music and no one has done anything for me that means as much as this does. The waterworks really started then, but I think they were more tears of joy than of melancholy.

I took piano lessons as a youth but didn’t stick with them which is one of my biggest regrets. I was trying to transpose the guitar chords of this old folksy song to the piano the other night while singing it and couldn’t figure out why the D chord sounded wrong. My Mom knew the answer but said “Just keep trying, you will figure it out” knowing full well I had to stick a minor note in there to make it work which I eventually figured out through trial and error. It was a lot more helpful to make me figure it out then to tell me and this is just one of the slices of musical genius in my mom.

I’m not sure I could even properly explore all the ways my mom influenced me when it comes to music. This blog is one of the biggest examples that everyone can see as she is clearly the foundation of the Elder J’s, Sister J’s and my love and appreciation for music as well as how it relates to your life. She gave us the opportunity to listen to all types of music, the access to musical instruments/lessons even if we didn’t stick with them and the undying support in whatever musical journeys we chose to take.

Music is an integral part of all of our lives as each one of us plays instruments and sings to our students/children every day. Music is the number one best thing in my life, the one thing that is always there for me and never lets you down. My bass playing isn’t anything to write home about, but it makes me happy and it allows me to make other people happy and even to teach what I know to both my students and any friend who wants to sit down long enough to pick something up. Life would not be fun for me without music so besides the decades of money, time and patience you have given me Mom, I thank you most for the gift of music. All three of us would be completely different people without it and I hope I can continue to try to repay you.

Spoiler Alert: My Mom’s name is Mary. My Dad was  “Hey Jude” guy but I will forever associate “Let it Be” with my mom. Thanks Mom, I couldn’t ask for a better parent.

The Sister Speaks (for Dad)

I am not a writer or a blogger and I really have nothing to do with this aside from reading my brothers’ entries with the hope that every day NKOTB will be mentioned. However, the first anniversary of our father’s unexpected passing is about to fall upon us, so my brothers invited me to join them in discussing some songs for our father. I was not part of the original conversation about “funeral songs”, etc., but there are definitely songs that come to mind whenever I think of my father.

For a man who was almost 100% deaf, our father loved music. He attended countless musicals, high school band and chorus concerts, dance recitals and performances of my older brother’s rock/alternative/not-sure-how-to-describe-it band. Before it was me performing, and we’d go to see my older brother’s shows, my dad would frequently ask me questions about what was going on. One particular incident that comes to mind is a concert we attended where my brother’s woman du jour was playing the flute, and he asked me, “what the hell is that girl doing?” He couldn’t hear the high-pitched sounds of the woodwind instrument and thought she was just dancing around holding a metal stick to her face.

Another memory that reminds me of his love of music is when he asked me to get him some classical music for Christmas. He didn’t specify a composer or concerto, he just said “classical music.” Since he was difficult to buy gifts for, I was happy for the inspiration and bought him a CD of a random compilation of music from a variety of composers.

Even though he couldn’t hear most music, whenever my father would drive into the driveway, no matter where I was standing, whether it was indoors or outdoors, I could almost always hear his car before I could see it—he would turn up the Oldies station incredibly loudly so that he could try to hear or at the very least feel the music while he was driving. When he got an iPod a few years ago, he asked my brothers and me to fill it with music, and we gave him everything from the Beatles to Bob Marley.

One Beatles song that he wanted to ensure was on his iPod was “Hey Jude.” The Younger specified that song as one that he remembers when thinking about my dad, but I will note at this point that the song plays a big role in my thoughts of my father—though these days, I can’t seem to listen to the whole song without crying. But I digress—onto my songs.

“Silent Night”

This is obviously an old and traditional Christmas carol, one that my father sang as a child, with his father singing it before him  and so on and so forth.  At the church where he walked me down the aisle the day I got married, (the same church where we celebrated his life with a packed service of family, friends and distant acquaintances) they saing “Silent Night” as the second-to-last hymn every Christmas Eve. While the song plays, the members of the congregation all hold small candles to light each other’s candles, until everyone in the church is holding a lit candle.

When we attended Christmas Eve service at this church, my father always sang along for at least part of “Silent Night” and it’s the one Christmas carol that really got me this year. My husband and I attended a service at a local Lutheran church in our small western Colorado town this year; and this congregation also shared candlelight during “Silent Night.” It was difficult to handle emotionally, but I felt as if somehow, during that song, on that evening, my father was with me.

“Cotton Fields”

No idea who originally sang it, but it was covered by greats such as Johnny Cash, Creeence Clearwater Revival, the Beach Boys, and Elton John.  The first time I ever heard it was on a cold Christmas morning in the back woods of Maine. That year I had received the African-American American Girl doll named Addy, and upon unwrapping the gift, my father immediately grabbed her away from me and began bouncing her on his knee, singing “When I was a little bitty baby my momma rocked me in the cradle…” (My father didn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body; but he was far from politically correct.) I was confused, mortified and probably launched into one of my famous fits from that era. However, his actions that morning set the stage for a world of giggles for myself, my family and a childhood friend, Brittany, who I still consider to be a family member.

“Summer in the City”—The Lovin’ Spoonful

When I was a young child, my family spent a lot more time together as a family than we did as my brothers and I slowly grew older. We would travel by car to places like Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, or Boston. Sometimes we would not spend the extra night in a hotel and we’d drive home with the Oldies station playing on the car radio. I remember hearing “Summer in the City” several times on the radio on those car trips, especially during the night and I remember a specific instance of it playing while we rolled through a toll booth. Hearing the song reminds me of the “good times”, before my brothers and I really knew that there was stress and negativity in life, before we realized that our family wouldn’t always be together as one unit.

“Spirit in the Sky”—Norman Greenbaum

This is one song I wish had been played during the church service on the day we gathered to remember my father’s life.  Not only does it “fit” a funeral situation, but it reminds me a lot of my father. Particularly, it reminds me of my trips back and forth from Maine to Vermont during my college years, but I also remember him listening to the song when I was young. A college friend made me a mixed CD during the winter of 2003, back when mixed CDs were really something special, and “Spirit in the Sky” was one of the songs on that CD. My father and I listened to that particular CD and the song Spirit in the Sky several times during our travels. Because my father enjoyed church and read daily scriptures, he especially enjoyed the line from the song, “Gotta have a friend in Jesus” and always managed to sing that line with an extra decibel of volume.  Whether he could hear the music or hear himself sing, my father always enjoyed that particular song.