The kilted laddie above is Pat the Piper, who bills himself as the "Official Piper for the London 2012 Olympics." I left a pound in his bagpipe case in Trafalgar Square a couple of weeks ago...and ever since have been wondering what the old bromide, "He who pays the piper calls the tune," really means. Would Pat have changed his tune from whatever highland ballad he was playing had I suggested he switch to "Rolling in the Deep" instead? Somehow I doubt it. But he gave me a wink and a wave.
Pipes have been on mind today...but not necessarily bagpipes. I've been remembering marrying Ken Wilson a dozen years ago today, where we played a tune from my organist grandfather Jesse Crawford's cassette at the wedding, "Mendelssohn Wedding March." Grandpa during the '20s and '30s recorded for Decca, and played The Mighty Wurlitzer at Radio City Music Hall, the Rainbow Room and even at Wanamaker's in Philadelphia.
Here's a photo of Grandpa Jesse in his heydey...dapper, hey? There's lots more about Grandpa Jesse here, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Crawford
I've always thought my son, Steve, definitely inherited the brooding Crawford good looks. What do you think? Here's Steve with the Stanley Cup when it made the rounds to the Los Angeles Times last week where Steve is chief copy editor for the Sunday Calendar.
Steve wrote, "Here is the latest batch of birthday tapes: 1965, 1966, 1983, 1984 and 1985. I had thought this would be the end of the series, but it turns out I have most of the records from your 1986 and 1987 birthdays. So I will plug the holes of the half-dozen or so that I lack, and you'll get those next year. That will take you through to when you left for Belize in l987."
The birthday tapes go back to 1955, shortly after Steve's dad and I got married, include my 21st birthday in 1958, when Steve was still a babe in arms, and continue throughout the next several decades. The Christmas tapes highlight certain periods of my life...the years I taught at Jordan, when I first started to work for DPSS, and other memorable experiences.
Fortunately, my son makes these tapes for me out of love...I never could have paid anybody to do it, even if I'd wanted to call the tunes. As it is, Steve consults the Los Angeles radio show charts to pick the songs he then records...and there's always lots of surprises.
Here's a story I wrote a few days before an earlier birthday when I was thinking about Steve and the tapes. This tale originally appeared in Patchwork Path: Treasure Box.
All Those Years Ago
“I’m talking all about how to give.” --George Harrison
As my birthday neared this year, I wondered what my son would choose this time. What events would he recreate…which of my life’s milestones would he bring into sharp focus through the medium of music? Heaven knows, and Steve, too, how much I need some cheering.
In l964, when I Wanna Hold Your Hand hit American pop charts, Steve was only six, but he listened raptly when I chattered about my high school journalism students dancing the Frug and the Watusi on the Lloyd Thaxton Show, airing from nearby Los Angeles.
Because his dad worked nights, Steve and I had evenings to ourselves. While I corrected homework papers, we listened on the radio to legendary sportscaster Vin Scully call the play-by-play for our beloved Dodgers. Or we strolled to the library to stock up on his favorite Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak storybooks.
Now we began to follow rock and roll. We tuned in the dance shows of the day, Shindig, Hullabaloo, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Steve spent his allowance joining Beatles fan clubs. I heard empathy in his voice as he read to me from the newsletters about children in Kenya and the Philippines that the clubs sponsored for tuition and books.
Sometimes we brought our BLTs and lemonade into the living room, dining while we caught up on the latest scoop. “Listen to what George Harrison’s sister says!” Steve would exclaim, excited at having a personal connection with one of the Fab Four.
In the meantime my students too transitioned from the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean to the British Invasion. “Which side would you take?” I asked Steve, discussing debates on the merits of The Dave Clark Five versus Herman’s Hermits. Steve remained loyal to the mop top Beatles, his “fave raves.” We lamented not securing tickets to the Hollywood Bowl appearances, and in l966 envied our neighbor who took her sons to the concert at Dodger Stadium.
By 1968, Steve hunkered down at the kitchen counter every Wednesday night as KHJ’s Sam Riddle counted down the Boss 30. He meticulously recorded the hits one by one in his blue notebook. He already had been collecting singles for well over a year. In the meantime, I had changed jobs, so now raced down the 405 towards the Cudahy Department of Public Social Services office, also tuned to KHJ, grooving on the Beatles, the Box Tops, Linda Ronstadt, and even all 7 minutes and 11 seconds of Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park.
“I hear music in my head,” Steve once confided. I asked if he wanted to take piano or guitar lessons. “No,” he confessed, “I just love to listen.” Over the years his collection stockpiled. He turned from singles to LPs, and then to 8-tracks, cassettes, and finally to CDs. In recent decades he has shared some obscure cuts with Southland Golden Oldies radio stations.
When I joined the Peace Corps in l987, Steve provided me with the first of his special gifts. He transferred to cassette all of the Beatles numbers from his albums. On balmy Saturday mornings in Belize City, I hand-laundered my towels and sheets, listening to Your Mother Should Know and Magical Mystery Tour.
Three years ago on my birthday, the first time capsule arrived. Steve went through his collection and made me a tape of the top songs from fall l967 to spring l968, my first year with DPSS. Now retired in the country, I played the tapes every time I made the seventy mile drive to Spokane. As I listened to The Cowsills, Lulu, and other chart toppers of that era, I felt the years rolling back. Once again I become 30 years old, driving around Los Angeles, waiting for my future to unfold with each song, each mile, each day.
At Christmas, another tape arrived. This time Steve chose my 21st birthday, just months after he had been born. Until I played my gift tape, I had forgotten carrying infant Steve around the house, boogying to Bobby Darin’s Splish Splash, and two-stepping to Laurie London’s He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.
Shortly thereafter, my son’s dad died. When Steve visited me here, I dragged out a duffle bag of old photos to show him pictures of his father and me in l955, the year we got engaged and married. “You looked so happy,” he said. We had been.
When I opened my package on my 70th birthday, memories of 1955 flooded back. Steve had labeled the tape, “Terri’s 18th Birthday—Plus,” and had recorded “a nice mix of the old music fighting for time with the new rock ‘n roll,” with highlights from that summer and fall.
And sure enough, there it all was, the songs that his dad and I courted to, Roger Williams’ romantic ballad, Autumn Leaves, following Chuck Berry’s Maybelline. As if it were only yesterday, I remember getting seasick on the Catalina ferry as we sailed back from our Avalon honeymoon, decorating our first apartment with the wedding gifts, snagging my first full-time job at Pacific Tel and Tel.
My second husband died this past spring. Steve’s collection does not extend up to the late ‘90’s when Ken and I first met. Nonetheless, my son has promised some treats. “I’m going to take you through four decades this time, Mom,” he e-mailed. And when my birthday came, just weeks after my husband’s death, I found solace in listening to the tunes of happier days. Here were the June 28s of 1957, 1961, l971, l975, and l981, plus a note that promises more happy moments to come.
I play l981 first, what I should remember as a sad birthday, the first after Steve’s dad and I divorced. At first I sigh as I hear All Those Years Ago, George Harrison’s tribute to John Lennon, killed just six months earlier, but soon my heart lifts as the Oak Ridge Boys rock Elvira. I suddenly recall how songs that year eased me through a difficult transition. I believe that they will do it again through this year, as well.
The recollections of Marcel Proust’s hero in Remembrance of Things Past were triggered by the taste of a madeline cookie. Other people claim to remember best through scents. For me, though, nothing tugs the elusive shadows of my past into the shimmering sunlight of this current moment like the songs on my time capsules. Steve’s tapes are candid snapshots of my life, framed in melody.