Friday, May 31, 2013

Honesty Works

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  I still cannot watch anything to do with the Chicago Democratic convention, even though it is 45 years after the fact.  Nothing I believed in was acceptable.  Someone called me in my college dorm and started the conversation with, "Did you hear?  Martin Luther King was shot."  I said, "No," expecting to hear some stupid punchline, which would not have been unlike her.  She liked to make fun of what I believed in.

1968 was the year I graduated from the only college I could attend via parental scholarship.  I could have gone to any school, but my father made it clear he'd pay only if I went to this one particular college.  I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn't be able to work and study, so I spent 4 miserable self-destructively drunk and stoned years in that small christian college for small christians.  When I graduated, I was unable to find work in my chosen field because my college adviser gave me really rotten advice.

I was able to deal with King's assassination because I was studying and was involved in a community theater production.  Although I favored Clean Gene McCarthy, I was destroyed by the news the Robert Kennedy was killed.  It was news I woke up to.  I was jobless, angry and despondent anyway.  Neither of my parents understood why I was so devastated.  They didn't share my political or moral views, so how important could it be?

I did get a job writing commercial and promotional copy at a local radio station.  (If you were a Mary Tyler Moore Show fan, you remember Ted Baxter's bio:  "It all started at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California."  In my case, it was in Ephrata, PA.)  The place was run by Republican stalwarts, but some of the staff were a blast to work with.  Then President Johnson sent his greetings from the White House.  I was to be drafted.

When I graduated from college, I decided I didn't want to go on to graduate school.  16 years in a student desk was quite enough, thank you.  In 1968, grad school was still good for a deferment, but I didn't want it.  Although I was anti-war and pro-Civil Rights, I was not religious.  The minister at the family church would not recommend me for conscientious objector status.  The Coast Guard said they weren't interested because once you received your draft notice, you belonged to the Army.  Joy.

The draft center in Lancaster seemed to be a cross between a locker room and what I imagined a new recruit reception center would be like.  We had to strip, but we were allowed to keep our undies and socks on.  Personally, I was OK with that.  I was somewhat afraid that Nature might make me sprout a woody; that didn't happen.

On the long list of medical and psychological questions was "Do you have homosexual tendencies?"  Well, yes.  I wasn't having sex, but I knew what I "tended" toward.  In fact, it wasn't even "tending."  It was yet another way I was an outsider.  I knew I shouldn't lie on the draft form, so I checked the Yes box.  I was taken into a doctor's cubicle and was asked if I understood the question.  Was I (pause for repulsed emphasis) a homosexual?  I told him I was.  He got out his medically-approved flashlight and told me to bend over and spread my ass cheeks.  This is humiliating, I thought.  I also figured he wouldn't take my word for my sexuality.  I didn't like being Greek passive, so I'd have nothing to show for it.  I was sent back to the waiting area.

A few days later I received my draft card, which I still carry in my wallet.  4F.  Unfit for service.  The parents knew I didn't have fallen arches or a bad back.  It pretty much ended my relationship with my father.  He was still in the reserves and was convinced the best years of his life were in combat.  That I would not be drafted would signal to his friends and the rest of the world that I was utterly, totally worthless.  My mother, on the other hand, was tacitly relieved.

I was not asked at the radio station anything about the draft physical.  I simply told the Program Director that I was deferred.  We joked that it was because I was such a good copywriter, that the station would suffer if I were drafted...but I was never made to tell specifically why I was 4F.

I took it as proof that, as my mother tried to teach me, it's best not to tell a lie.  Honesty is the best policy.  That sort of thing.  Later, I'd realize that it's best to tell the truth because it's so much work trying to keep track of what you told to whom.  In this case, however, it made me understand that there may be an advantage to being one of society's outsiders.  Granted, I was white and male with a college degree, but I was also a liberal, an agnostic (at the very least), pro-Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, anti-sending my fellows away to be canon fodder, a professional writer (prove to me writing copy isn't writing), a man interested in music and theater, and now a governmentally-approved homosexual.

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  1968, however, is the year I learned about honesty and I learned a great deal about myself.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dream Center

It's raining relentlessly.  I'm driving on very slick highways.  Some idiot crosses my lane when he can clearly see that I'm approaching and there's little time to react.  He expects me to deal with it; I do.  I'm on my way to a performance of a Stephen Sondheim musical I'm in -- I don't know which, except that it's not Sweeney Todd.  The car isn't mine.  Mine is still undergoing surgery by a mechanic who was sent to the area by the dealership, which is in another city.  He did his best to fix it but had to call it quits for the day when his ride showed up.  Now it's raining and I'm in this other car.  I'm stopped at a traffic light.  The headlights from the vehicles all around me are twice as bright, reflecting off the wet surface.  I turn right.  Suddenly I have two riders, both men, both complaining with heavy-duty Australian accents about someone I like.  I choose not to enter their argument.  I drive by the house of a fellow cast member.  I turn around to offer to pick him up.  I make the U-turn successfully and go into the driveway.  It's a long horseshoe driveway on a hill.  I see real but quite small sheep.  These are of interest to the Australians.  (Dealing in stereotypes, Dream Center?)  I no longer care about them.  I park the car and get out.  The house has been used in a sitcom.  It's a beautiful older brick building with large picture windows on the front which would give a super view of the valley on a nice day, a balcony accessed through French doors, a rounded, tiled roof.  The entrance is along the side.  There is a tasteful sign on a tasteful pole announcing some business; because of my on-going dyslexia in my dreams, I can't tell what the business is.  I go in and the house is very similar to the sitcom set.  Everything is carpeted.  The two large staircases on either side of the great hall lead to a landing and several doors and open rooms.  Several of the people are cast members of Reba...Cheyenne and Kyra, Brock and Barbara Jean.  Reba is not there.  However, a friend from a former life, Jason, is there and he has the red hair.  I offer Jason a ride to the show.  He's happy for the offer and gets ready.  While he's gone, Cheyenne gives me huge boots to try on and asks me the name of the show.  I can't remember, except that I know it's not Sweeney Todd.  She also wants to know if I'm interested in her brother.  Kyra interrupts and tells her to shut up, then looks at me, expecting an answer.  Jason appears.  We are about ready to go when Brock announces that it's time for devotions.  I tell him that we don't have the time, but he insists.  I climb the stairs closest to the door and sit on a carpeted bench at the top, against the outside wall on the landing.  I wonder whether we'll be late.  I know that we're supposed to run through something before the house opens.  Jason appears, looking a little embarrassed.  I tell him it's all right.  The family gathers as we leave and are very nice saying goodbye to us.  It's still raining.  We walk to the car.  The trunk opens and Jason puts something in it.  We climb into the car and start downhill on the other part of the horseshoe driveway.  I see another pair of miniature sheep.  I notice the men are not in the car.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Email to another friend

Thanks for asking.  As the young people say, I got over it.

My shrink says that the obsession I'm currently experiencing with the early 20th century music is all right as long as I don't screw it up by having to live up to self-imposed deadlines.  He thinks I've had enough of them the last 66 years and now that I've found something that's fun, if I start making demands on myself, it will cease to be fun and become a chore with no rewards.  He may be on to something.  Besides, it's not like any of my arrangements will see the light of day.  Harrisburg theaters take chances on nothing.  If a show doesn't have a name and a favorable Broadway (or at least off-Broadway) reputation, no one will produce it.  Thus, no need for deadlines, no need for perfection, no need for collaboration...I can be the quiet egomaniac I've always wanted to be.

During that session, he confessed that he didn't have any idea what an arrangement was and, therefore, what an arranger does.  I told him to think of a ring.  If the melody were the jewel, the arrangement is its setting.  He got it.  Not bad, huh?

Do you remember "Wild Cherries," one of the 4-handers I did?  It was written by Ted Snyder.  I've discovered more of his music, some of which I enjoy.  One of them is called "Dancing Fool," and it struck me as a Fred and Ginger number, except that it's early '20s; at best it would be for Fred and Adele, and I'm not sure when he and his sister started dancing on the vaudeville circuit.  However, last night I mapped out a dance break for it.  I'm just about finished with it and I want to make some additions to the existing accompaniment.  I try to honor the ragtime code:  first time through as written, then go to it.  It's just a matter of simple embellishments so the pianist won't get bored.  So far I'm as pleased with it as I was with "Ain't She Sweet."  Both of them amaze me that I did what I did to them.

On the other hand, this self-taught stuff can be time-consuming.  So much is hit-or-miss...or, since I'm doing it on my PrintMusic program, hunt-and-peck.  There's also something wrong with the computer and we can't make PDFs nor record from the score.  When that gets fixed I'll send it to you.

I've also tried playing with Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Buzz" from his groundbreaking "Shuffle Along."  It's a great number and I had fun playing with it.  I won't say "Buzz" is indestructible, but it held up under my leaden fingers pretty well.  I also found George M. Cohan's "Popularity," a march/rag from "Little Johnny Jones."  Unfortunately, the copy from the Ol' Miss collection doesn't have the last page, which I didn't realize until I got to the bottom of the last available page and there was no double bar to be seen.  So, I played with it and came up with an ending I felt dishonored neither Mr. Cohan nor his tune.  Then I discovered another site and they had the complete score.  I was surprised that (George M. forgive me) I preferred my ending to his.

Finally (for now), I'm trying to figure out a set of songs from The Great War.  I have what I need, but the order hasn't gelled.  Where, for example, does one put "Would You Rather Be A Colonel With An Eagle On Your Shoulder Or A Private With A Chicken On Your Knee?" or "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?" or "Oh, Frenchy!"?  What I'd like to do is maybe start with "Over There" (typical, huh?) and end it with "Keep The Home Fires Burning," but I want the set to end the first act, so it'll have to be big.  I was considering asking the audience to join the cast and sing along, but does anyone under 40 even know it?

But I'm not thinking about creating a revue, you understand.

Hope you're well.  Enjoy springtime in the Poconos.  Take good care.


Monday, May 20, 2013

A quickie

I figured I would like the town I decided to move to because a store on the town square was Bowser's Furniture Store & Funeral Home.  This piqued my interest.  That was 33 years ago.  More recently, my off-beat sense of humor found it hysterical that the funeral home has a pickup truck.

I'm fascinated that not only have I had page views from people in Russia and Germany, but I recently had 10 page views from Pakistanis.  I'm very grateful.  I just don't understand why.

Friday, May 10, 2013

OK. Here's the thing...

An email to a different friend.

I mean, if I can't tell you, then whom?  I'm in the most depressed depression I've experienced.  Not forthrightly suicidal, but my therapist did alert the hospital staff that I might be calling for help a few weeks ago.  That seems to be going away, but the depression still likes to remind me it's hanging around.

Maybe I told you about a massive collection of sheet music I discovered in the digital library of Ol' Miss.  It's a gift from a Charles Templeton...I have no idea who he was, except that he clearly collected lots of sheet music.  The earliest date I've noticed is 1825 and it runs into the late 1970s.  Since music published prior to 1923 is unarguably in the public domain, and since music from about 1890 to early flapper fits that description and is music I love, I've been doing a lot of copying music and then putting it into my PrintMusic program.

I think I sent you "Ain't She Sweet" a while back, while I was still under the influence of one Fats Waller.  I've worked with a couple of other tunes to add a piano break or dance break or to add to the accompaniment (sheet music can be uninteresting at times).  If I'm not careful, I repeat myself in style and ideas, and the challenge is to figure out something else to try.  I'm still sane enough to understand all of this is going nowhere, but it's incredibly fun.  And while it's one thing to work with a composer or song I hadn't heard of before, it's something else to try to do justice to Eubie Blake.

Perhaps I'm floating away into Fantasy Land.  I've started to give myself deadlines, as if I were working on a show.  I've always been fascinated by must have been incredible both to see and to be in.  I also think about a revue, kind of like "Ain't Misbehavin'" but working with an era rather than a particular artist.  While my therapist knows about the music, he doesn't know that I spend hours a day on it and that I'm going into a pretend world not unlike I enjoyed when I was young.  I don't think it's hurting anyone, but I'm not sure how out-of-touch-with-reality it's making me.  I'm also not sure I'm all that concerned.  After MITM this summer, there's nothing on my dance card and I intend to keep it like that.

I'm struck by the craft shown in much of the music.  Yes, a lot of it is hack work, a large portion of it is in imitation of something that sold well (the titles that practically sound like others are pretty shameless), and even Irving Berlin came up with a clunker now and then.  But there's also some excellent, pristine music and lyrics.  I'd forgotten a line in a song that always made me smile.  It struck as me pretty before I knew anything about the work that went into writing, and once I understood lyrics, it became an example of a beautifully crafted line.  From "Carolina in the Morning":  "Strolling with my girlie when the dew is pearly early in the morning."  Obviously, "girlie" would be frowned upon now, but I don't know what an acceptable substitution might be.  But what an image, and what a wonderful, seemingly simple bit of internal rhyme.  And "Butterflies all flutter up and kiss each little buttercup at dawning" i t shabby, either.

I continue to volunteer in an office 4 days a week, which is an attempt to keep a foothold on reality.  I'm fat because I eat because I'm depressed because I'm morbidly obese, and if that term doesn't do it to you, I don't know what will.  I've always loved music and it seems to be kind of a safe harbor now.

My apologies if it feels like I'm dumping on you.  That's not my intention.  I think I needed to write it down and have a person I truly respect and enjoy and love read it and tell me whether I've gone off the deep end or what.  I'm on my meds and have no intention of killing myself.  It was that bad; it's not that bad now.  Honest.

Take good care.


Friday, May 3, 2013

An email to a friend

How are you?  Srsly.  I realized this morning that I don't even know if you're teaching this semester.  I miss our daily badinage and realize why it's stopped.  Sorry.  I hope life in the country is good.  Springtime in the boonies is so flipping gorgeous.

Here's the thing:  I have become one truly fucked up senior citizen.  I've been seeing a therapist in the giant shrink factory in your former neighborhood.  It had been going well.  I've been very good about exploring issues and trying to follow directions/suggestions/et ceteras and was seeing a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel; I'm back to thinking it's probably an on-coming train and I just can't hear it because I'm kind of hard-of-hearing.  I truly don't feel like going.  Not that I don't need it...I just wonder what's the use.

One of my means of escape has been reading.  I'm keeping Dauphin County Library System on its toes tracking down just about every gay novel they have.  Happily, surprisingly, they have many.  Mostly at the East Shore branch.  I've become reasonably adept at figuring out that I don't have to read something that's boring.  "Boring" doesn't necessarily mean there's no sex.  Some published authors just can't tell a good story.  And I'm kind of apprehensive that I've come to enjoy young adult gay fiction.  Suicide Notes and My Most Excellent Year:  A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park is my favorite of them so far, but they do make me feel like something of a chicken hawk.

I've found a treasure trove of my music.  I was tracking down a ragtime song and Google directed me to the Charles Templeton Collection at Ol' Miss.  There I found a catalogue of more the 12,000 copies of sheet music, dating from the mid-1800s to about 1980.  Since 1922 is the official cutoff date for copyrighted materials (1923 to the present may still be protected, which you don't know until you do a cumbersome search), I've been in hog heaven finding rags, ragtime songs, show tunes and vaudeville numbers.  I've been putting lots of them into the computer.  I've expanded several of them to include my version of dance breaks, writing them with the idea that if I could play, this is how I'd want to do it.  Know of anyone planning a vaudeville show?  I've also thought about a review in the Ain't Misbehavin' mold.  And I understand that all of this is strictly imaginary, but it doesn't matter.  It keeps me off the streets.  Plus, as I said, I am one truly fucked up senior citizen.

I think of you a great deal and with some frequency.  I do hope you're well and that things are good, that you are happily doing whatever makes you happy.  Go get 'em.  Happy day.  Take good care.