I became enamored of music at a young age. Mom was a music teacher. We had a piano and a record player and many LPs and 78s. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bach and Beethoven. Around the time I turned 10, I had a transistor radio that I listened to, full blast, while I wandered the neighborhood. “The Battle of New Orleans,” “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”! I still know the lyrics to every song!
In 1962, when I was in seventh grade, I began going to Stark’s Record Store in Bellingham each Saturday. My mother gave me a check, each week, for $1.02 — $.98 for a 45 plus $.04 for the tax! One day a guy was looking at the same 45s as me. There was only one listening booth open. I said, “Wanna join me?” He said, “Sure.” We listened to The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA.” and Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips,” and he became a good friend. We met each Saturday, sat in the booth listening to new tunes, then strolled on down to Woolworth’s for a Coke and to check out the chicks.
Around 1964, I switched to LPs. The Beatles! The Stones! In 1966, I was standing in a line at Bellingham High School and started chatting with the guy next to me. His favorite band? Buffalo Springfield, same as me! And our favorite song? “For What It’s Worth.” “There’s somethin’ happening here!” Mark was the best man in my wedding. We still hang out, chat and laugh about music, 50 years later.
In August 1970, I returned home from the war in Vietnam. My first night back, I went out with friends, but it was just too weird. I’d been in a war; they’d been going to college, football games, parties. So I sat in my room for a couple of weeks, night and day, reflecting, smoking pot, trying to figure out how to find my place in the world. My mom and dad were growing anxious as I became more of a recluse.
Then one afternoon a lengthy, bluesy jam came over the radio. I’d never heard anything like it before. The DJ said it was “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” by the Allman Brothers Band. I went downtown to pick up a copy of the album, came home and listened to the entire thing. I had to share it with my friends! So, The Allman Brothers and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” helped me return to reality after a year of insanity. And, my daughter’s name — Elizabeth.
In the spring of 1974, I moved to Vancouver and went to graduate school at Portland State University. One day “Take It Easy” came on radio station KVAN, but not The Eagles’ version. It was Jackson Browne’s album “For Everyman.” I hopped on my bike, rode up to Budget Record & Tapes, scored a copy, stuck it in the back of my pants, hopped back on and rode back home. Many of the songs grabbed me but “These Days” stuck out. One verse touched my heart immediately:
“These days I seem to think about, all the things that I forgot to do for you, and all the time I had the chance to.”
Now, I’d made many mistakes in my life, but I don’t think I had reflected much on them at that time. But that song helped me. I wish that I had been more conscious, and responsive, earlier in my life. Today, I have those lyrics printed and taped into the drawer of my desk. I look at them each day. And each morning, I take a few minutes to reflect on what I had done, and not done, the previous day, and what I might do today. I’m not sure if everyone would agree, but I think this has made me a bit better person.
One day my bud Mark put on a new LP: “Dixie Chicken” by a band called Little Feat. I was immediately knocked out by Lowell George’s slide guitar and the “N’awlins” sound! I scurried downtown and picked up Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” which includes the song “Willin’.”
“I’ve been warped by the rain, driven by the snow, I’m drunk and dirty, don’t ya know, but I’m still willin’. I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet, had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet, and I’m still … willin’.”
“Willin’ ” is a song of hope and inspiration. During my 33 years in public education, as a teacher and principal, I was consistently willin’ to advocate for kids and families, support teachers and stand up to unethical behavior. I was seldom the most popular principal with the powers that be but, when someone had a problem, they’d come to me. Why? Because I was willin’ to help. And today, at 68, I remain willin’ to support migrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and anyone else who may be targeted for whatever reason.
Many other songs are embedded in my head and heart. Thanks, Mom, for the gift you gave me — music!
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