Friday, January 24, 2020
My Fleeting Music "Career"
I've sung a lot of songs in my life. Granted, most of them were to my reflection in the mirror, but it still counts. When I was a kid, around seven or eight years old, my heart's desire was to be a famous singer. I had no particular talent, but I sounded pretty good to myself in the backyard, performing atop the picnic table. I loved music with my whole heart and if I could only play piano, my career ambitions would be realized. Alas, my dad thought the accordion would be nifty, so off I toddled to lessons downtown. I don't recall having a voice in the ruling, nor any objections. Dad didn't make a lot of the decisions in our household, so when he did, he meant business. Admittedly I was curious about how to make music and if I could actually do it, but oom-pah-pah wasn't my first choice.
Dad's younger brother, always readying to copy whatever Dad did, swiftly enrolled both his kids in lessons, too. Thus I got to be admonished by my teacher, "Karen doesn't drag her basses like that." Accordion solos are supposed to be crisp. I preferred a longer, drawn-out, sound, so I chose not to snap those buttons like they were meant to be snapped. Or maybe I was simply lazy, lethargic; bored.
Our instructor, however, hit upon a great scheme ~ form a trio, Paul, Karen, and poor pathetic me. She broadened her horizons from simply accordion and assigned each of us our own instrument. Paul got to stick with the squeeze box, but Karen (the favorite) was taught some chords on acoustic guitar, and I was given a couple of brushes and tasked with swishing them across a snare drum. We commenced practice in the basement studio, then set off to entertain elderly residents in nursing homes. We were nine, ten, and eleven; so the shut-ins found us cute and strained from their wheelchairs to pinch our cheeks. Our confidence grew. We started to believe our own publicity.
We advanced to street fairs and downtown Crazy Days. Paul and Karen's mom sewed costumes for us ~ fringed black billowing skirts for Karen and me; matching western shirts for the three of us; dime store plastic cowboy hats. I think we may have even had faux-cowboy boots. I sadly can't recall what we called ourselves; maybe something like The Westernaires. Karen could tell me, but she's most likely not reading this.
It wasn't until we moved in 1964 to my bachelor uncle's establishment that we realized some return on our efforts. There, we made serious coin ~ playing just outside the bar for tips. Even then it was sort of a drag, having to change into our costumes after school and dragging out the caved-in snare drum; screwing it into its stand. But money was a motivator. If you're ten years old and can't get anything new without begging your mother for money, being an independent contractor was heaven. And tipsy patrons are exceedingly generous. Each of us toddled down to the local Woolworths and bought amber-tinted glass piggy banks and proceeded to fill them. We were rich!
I learned that performing the same song over and over, though, wasn't all performing was cracked up to be. Even then I could grow bored in a hurry. I wished we could change our repertoire, but without our accordion teacher in close proximity, the three of us were adrift.
My singular claim to fame was that I got to sing the opening verse of "Bye Bye Love". Seeing as how I was the weak link in the chain, I considered it a high honor. I still don't know how I obtained it.
Today whenever I hear The Everly Brothers and that guitar riff, I'm whisked off to those days; and I sing along with pride:
There goes my baby
With someone new
He sure looks happy
I sure am blue
Once upon a time, I was a world-renowned singer.