Mom’s favorite song
October 14, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
Mom was a music prodigy. She gave her first public piano recital at the age of four. She quit playing when she was sent to boarding school at five due to family problems. Someday I’ll write about that. Mom’s time in the boarding school led directly to her death eighty years later. Since there was no malice involved, I’m not exactly angry. But Mom’s childhood was an object lesson in unintended consequences.
I wonder how Mom’s life would’ve been different if she’d kept playing music? Last night I asked myself this question: Would I rather Mom have continued playing music, not gone to Venezuela and met my father, and not had me, if it meant she would’ve been happy her whole life? The answer was easy.
Absolutely. For one thing if I’d never been born, I wouldn’t have known it. But personally, I believe that I would’ve been born anyway. Just not to Ed and CeeCee. But that was apparently preordained. I’ll write about that soon.
Before I talk about Mom’s love of music, here’s a photo of her at the age of one, with my hot Great-Aunt Elvira, one of the first women in the U.S. to go jogging daily as a form of exercise. Like a greyhound, Elvira loved to run. The photo was taken in 1929.
Mom was always interested in the music her children liked. She’d ask us who the artist was and who played which instrument in the band. When we moved to the Netherlands in 1975, the guidance counselor at the American School of the Hague had a Frank Zappa poster on his wall. I told her who Zappa was. It was embarrassing, because I thought she’d see this poster or hear some of his songs. Mom wasn’t a shrinking violet; she just abhorred coarseness.
She read everything I wrote when I was a music journalist, and she read In Cold Sweat at least twenty times. The person in the world she wanted most to meet?
Oh, she liked Gene Simmons a lot too, but she agreed with me that he eroded his mystique with his reality TV show.
“I didn’t need to know all the gory details,” she said about his (apparent) relationship dramas.
She liked Scott for his intelligence, artistry, and the way he uses the English language. Mom was a teacher, a journal keeper, and a writer of letters. I made her laugh so hard I thought she was going to have a heart attack when I read to her from a book describing history’s most epic failures. The passage was about a Brazilian man who decided to write a travel book in English even though he didn’t speak English. He used a dictionary. One of the chapters was titled “To Craunch a Marmoset”; that made Mom literally scream. It’s one of my best memories of her.
Mom said Scott uses words the way he plays his bass: He improvises. She loved his neologisms and spent hours analyzing the transcripts of my interviews with him. When he said his playing was “un-sit-in-able,” she thought that was pure genius. Although she read In Cold Sweat twenty times, fifteen of them were only the Scott Thunes chapters. Mom was enthralled when I played her Hazle Thune’s’s video.
It pained Mom a little, but mostly she felt joy at seeing a fellow prodigy allowed and encouraged to fulfill her promise.
After I reconnected with Scott in 2012, I thought about flying him down to meet Mom. What stopped me was that I didn’t want to put either Scott or Mom in the position of thinking they had to perform for each other. I didn’t want Scott to think he’d have to be on his best behavior, and I didn’t want Mom to think she’d have to be interesting.
That’s another reason Mom died. Deep down she felt that she wasn’t really worth all that much. Again, nobody did it to her deliberately, but we go back to the law of unintended consequences. Tomorrow I’ll write a piece on my violent opposition to pedagogy. Every one-size-fits-all approach is garbage. They kill people. The great unknown in any situation is individual temperament. Mom was a very, very sensitive person. She was not meant to have the childhood she had. Eighty years later it killed her.
I worried that introducing Mom to her hero Scott Thunes—and he was really her only hero—would put her under too much pressure. She admired Scott because he refused to compromise his principles, regardless of what it cost him. Mom and I had nightly conversations for almost ten years, since I lived next door. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, she spoke to me as a friend instead of a son. There were things she needed to get off her chest. I have no doubt whatsoever that Mom regretted not having a career in music.
Mom admired Scott for his unique vision, his musicianship, and the fact that he preferred to be a hotel doorman than to live a life he’d decided was not right for him. She thought he was the bravest person she’d ever heard about.
I turned Mom on to Stephen Crane, reading all his poems aloud to her. At her request! Really! Mom liked the spoken word. She considered poetry readings a form of music. Here’s her favorite Crane poem.
There were many who went in huddled procession,
They knew not whither;
But, at any rate, success or calamity
Would attend all in equality.
There was one who sought a new road.
He went into direful thickets,
And ultimately he died thus, alone;
But they said he had courage.
Scott Thunes represented the life Mom wished she could’ve had. It’s not hard or painful for me to say that. She was an individual, not just my mother. If the Ghost of Christmas Past took me back to 1932 and showed me four-year-old CeeCee playing the piano, I would insist that she be given the life she wanted. We could worry about me later. And I think that Mom will get that life someday. The Planner is benign. All of us are precious and loved.
Who knows? Maybe she’ll end up married to Scott Thunes several lifetimes from now. Scott can take a break from his wife Georgia and go into direful thickets with Mom. As long as they both have music and their depraved senses of humor, it’ll all be good. One of the last things Mom said before she died was, “This is for the birds.”
So be generous, Georgia. Just for a little while. By the way, if Scott is off with Mom, and you’re not doing anything, um…
And now, Mom’s favorite song, which I’m proud to say I introduced to her.
She actually headbanged when listening to it. In her eighties.
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