I always forget that the radio station in my home town is no longer classical, a serious fault when you consider that the changeover is at least five years old. One of the colleges here was home to a great classical music and NPR station, and now it's one of those corporate "college" channels, The Man embarrassing in a Che Guevara T-shirt. I flipped it on reflexively in my rented Chevy Aveo and heard something about a young man seriously lacking in vocal energy having a dyslexic heart. It's because he can't read his girl's signals, see? Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh. This from the same place on the dial where I first found music that bonded to every molecule in my body. I cursed quietly but with inappropriate passion and pressed "scan" twice, seeking public radio, but this was a few days before the election and the lyrics there were even sadder. No more Beethoven, no more Democratic Farmer Labor party, my hopeful early Minnesota life lost forever and the airwaves full of twaddle.
Scan, scan. If it had to be lame, let it be the lame I remember, the tinny lame from the transistor radio out in the yard on the hot summer days that Annie and I laid out together covered in pre-Live Strong baby oil. Let it be the lame I heard my uncle striving for in the garage with his shirtless friends. Summer of the late seventies, I summoned you to my car, calling up days whose enormous frustration held enormous promise.
somewhere along the lonley road I had tried ta find ya
The old house is one of the few old bungalows from the twenties, shakily standing in a neighborhood full of lot-straining new construction. I climb in bed with her, spooning as the TV preacher bellows. She likes him because he is so intelligent. I have learned so much about the old testament! she tells me. My uncle brings soup. He's set up high-speed so he can work from the house, and when she decides she wants to get dressed, I go set up Skype. Her green sweater is a beautiful color for her. She tells me stories from her trip to Sweden and she dozes off on my shoulder. I look at a picture of her just after the war on the steps of the house, strong and tan in a halter top, smiling at whatever lover holds the camera.
we gotta get outta this place
if it's the last thing we evah do yeah yeah
He watches me put up pictures in the new room. This OK? Nails in my mouth as I re-center the framed photograph. Sure, honey, whatever you think. But I ask with each picture, still expecting exactitude, criticism, disappointment. They never come. He watches the Vikings and thinks Favre should have retired. Since August he's lost half of his hair and his teeth hurt him, so he falls asleep without them. His mouth is tiny between steroid-swollen cheeks.
I'll just sit tight through the shadows of the night
Let it ring forever more
The difference between the fifth grade band and the sixth grade band is huge! Half the town is in the bleachers of the high school auditorium to hear all the middle and high school bands play. Fifth grade is all a Dudamel-inspired version of Twinkle Twinkle, no music, with different sections standing and sitting to take their turn in the spotlight. By sixth they're all white-shirted behind their stands, the conductor has a baton, the pitch has begun its long process of detente. My nephew is cool in the enormous sax section, true to his Scandinavian roots, no swaying in response to the percussion of Fiesta Time! or counting unconsciously with his head.
they say the sea turns so dark
you know it's time, you read the signs
My retired choir director sits behind me. I remember the night in 1979, right before we moved to Arizona, when we did the best choir concert ever in that auditorium, when I cried at the thought of leaving that choir because I couldn't imagine one finer, couldn't imagine music outside of the college on the hill with its amazing radio station, couldn't imagine a better piano teacher than mine. My heart was full of sorrow as we headed away from town. How I wanted to stay, how I wanted to flee. How music lifted me, carried me away, keeps bringing me back.
My sister-in-law (also standing in a fateful place, having blown out her knee in Lady Raiders basketball a few feet from where the band now sits) holds her youngest up to the rail to see his brother. My niece slips her hand into mine.
'scuse me while I kiss the sky.