Discover more from Matthew Moran: Music & Musings
I was looking at an old picture and saw some things
Photographs and memories Christmas cards you sent to me All that I have are these To remember you -Jim Croce
Observations, Then Music
In the blurry photo below, I’m wearing my Cardinals t-ball hat backwards (pretty hip, right?) and swinging myself up to the piano to pound out some righteous honky-tonk. Or, perhaps a rough and inconsistent version of chop-sticks and maybe, a cliched and, probably, racist/trope-y Indian (Native American) sounding riff in the key of C-minor.
I still remember parts of that piece to this day.
This was our dining room in the Hiawatha house in Chatsworth. It is where my sister, the youngest (and qualitatively best - sorry brothers, it’s true) of our family was born. It is where I found my oldest brother dead a few years ago. He had bought the house of our youth years before.
And it is where I first recall being obsessed with music. We will get to that part of the story in a bit.. First, some observations.
Observations of photographic time-travel
Besides the coolness evident in my backward baseball cap - especially the red button on the top - there are a few things that I see in this photo. There are feelings too.
Puff the Magic Dragon
The left-most sheet-music on the piano is the iconic folk song, Puff the Magic Dragon. I recorded a version of that song a year or so ago for the grandkids. The song is a melancholy treatment of aging out of childhood fantasy and play, so I modified the ending to give Puff a reprieve from that special type of sadness that is ever-present as we age.
Thank you, Mom & Dad, for having great music around the house.
You can hear my version below.
A mirror through time
Through the mirror at the top of the piano, I can see a section of a Leroy Neiman print series my parents had. One of the remaining kids still have this. It is four lithographs, each depicting the same four boys in some state of sporting competition. I believe my parents picked it up before my sister was born. Four brothers… four boys in the photo. It’s sickeningly nostalgic - almost Norman Rockwell.. but Neiman.
Here is a bad photo of the piece:
Thank you, mom & dad, for having great artwork around the house.
Imperfection in daily life
Look back at the picture again. Above me, slightly to the right, past the bannister.
The wildly askew, unidentified, piece of art mirrors a slightly askew home. I’m not calling our house out as special in this regard. All homes are slightly askew. Often, the neatest homes are more askew than others. In fact, rather than askew, let’s call it “lived in.” The house was lived in and moving. That is even reflected in the unfocused photo.
We have many unfocused photos from our childhood. It’s a standing joke. But, I like them.
Thank you, mom & dad, for a lived in home.
Bookshelves & Books… & Books… & Books
To the right of me, past the bannister and hallway, is the entry-way to our home. There is a bookshelf there. That bookshelf also still exist.
There are books stuffed in the shelves.
We had several bookshelves just like this, all over the house. None of them would meet any standard of interior design. There was no balance. There wasn’t a lot of topical organization. Taxonomy be damned!
Some shelves had books standing upright. Other shelves had books laying flat. And even, gasps, a combination of upright books with books stacked flat on top of them.
Medical books, novels, art books, history books, comic books, magazines. It was a mess!
I loved it!
At any moment, if you were so inclined, you could disappear in some pages.
My friend George wrote a piece recently about books. “The Gift of Books”. It elicited a verbose response from me. Many things elicit verbose responses from me. Blame in on the books! Blame it on my parents!
I still love books! You should too.
Thank you, mom & dad, for books… and books… and books.
Musical Obsession: An Introduction
Memories are malleable. We believe we have them locked in. Yet, science proves we create our memories as we recall them. There is no way to recall moment by moment effectively. The passage of time further removes us from those memories.
With that said, this memory seems to have remained consistent.
Behind me, in the picture above, is our dining room table.
I recall being on the landing, above the piano, looking down at my father. He was at the dining room table with a tape recorder and his banjo. He was recording Bob Dylan’s, Blowing In The Wind.
My father had a low, booming voice. He sang nicely. Unadorned and simple but with a willing confidence.
After he recorded the song, I got a hold of the cassette. I would play it often. In fact, for a few years my father’s version was far more present to me than Dylan’s. That was my introduction to Dylan and to Blowing in the Wind. I was obsessed; both with my father’s recording and with the song.
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
Apparently, book banning is righteous. Bomb banning… far less so. Go figure!
I do wonder about the correlation between outrage over books and a lack of outrage over bombs! It’s a strange ignorance - often among the pseudo-moralistic, pathologically religious… but I digress.
Prior to my father’s recording, I had taken a few piano lessons from Mr. Gandy. Mr Gandy was an older man who lived a couple houses down from us. He had a piano and an organ in his music room. I remember him fondly, though, only vaguely. But I do recall him playing Bach’s, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring for me.
I consider it one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever! In fact, years later, I would request the same from my Aunt Cheryl. She deserves an honorary mention in my obsession with music. There was always music in their home (or their lake cottage) - either played by her or my cousin, Jennifer and later her brothers.
And coming from speakers. The Beatles were ever-present.
After hearing my father’s recording I told him I wanted to play the guitar. My father pointed me to a guitar case and said, “That’s your mom’s guitar. She doesn’t play it so you can use it.” He showed me a Mel Bay book of chords, Pete Seeger’s book, “How to Play the 5 String Banjo”, and a pitch pipe.
He instructed me to learn the chords and songs from the beginning of Seeger’s book.
The chords were: C F G7
The songs were: The Crawdad Song, This Land is Your Land, Skip to My Lou, & Paw Paw Patch.
I learnedchords and the songs. Later, I added an Am chord so I could play, Blowing In The Wind.
That Mel Bay book of chords did its job.
Close to 50 years have passed since that photo was taken.
I’ve written close to 200 songs that I believe have enough merit to put in front of people. The bulk of my songs were written after 2006.
I’ve performed hundreds of times - including last weekend. I’ve had the opportunity to perform in front of a few hundred people and, more often, in front of fewer than a dozen.
Music is honest…. even when it’s lying. Music is limitless.
When I was very young, I would run around singing, Sunshine Go Away Today and Bad Bad Leroy Brown. I sang the songs because I loved them but also, full transparency, because they allowed me to loudly proclaim the word “damn” without getting in trouble. I was simply conveying the song we heard on the radio. I was being honest.
And that is, in part, what music is… I can write and sing a song about a topic or a person, who is not me, and still be fully authentic in that moment.
I can write a song about a man who has lost everything that mattered to him, due to his drinking, and live and feel that emotion, even though, I’ve never been much of a drinker.
In music and in my songs, I can live other lives. I can be transmitted in time and place to anywhere I wish to go and to many places I’d never want to go. I can be hero or villain; experience the height of joy or abject misery.
And, when the stars align…
I can share that journey with a listener or two.
Last Saturday I shared stage time with Emiko. We performed for a small audience at a coffee shop in Northridge.
The performance meant something to me.
It has been a few years since I felt performance ready. As I indicated in a prior article, there is a significant difference between playing and performing.
Saturday’s show felt like a performance. I was comfortable. The songs felt fluid and natural.
And it was apparent that was being transmitted to those in attendance. They were along for the ride.
And that is what music is for me.
Videos from the show
A few videos from the livestream we did on Facebook. The video quality is rough. I ran the audio through my Rode NT-1 condenser mic and it came out pretty good.
I hope you enjoy!
CALL ON IT NOW
We had a clinical book on syphilis, complete with photographs of male and female genitalia in various stages of the disease. I’m certain I was no older than I was in this photo when I looked through it. When I asked my father how you caught it, he responded, “By fucking the wrong person.” That was my dad’s version of a “heart-to-heart.” That probably explains a lot.
Why do I mention THAT book? Because you remember shit like that!
I LEARNED: My father never showed me a chord or how to tune the guitar. He left that up to me to figure out. He provided an opportunity and the allowance to do what you wanted. And, more important, he provided an example. Want to learn to play… okay… learn to play. Want to record yourself… okay, record yourself.
It’s a good lesson for anyone and anything.