Keep Art Alive :: Art by Audrey Kawasaki
“Blue jean baby,
seamstress for the band.
you’ll marry a music man.”
Every memory I have that means anything to me has a cord of connection that trails an circles itself back to music. Perhaps its in my genes, in my history, a sonic heritage, so to speak.
My mother spent her adolescence as a “Penny Lane” kinda girl, traipsing around with The Doors, and becoming quite close with Jim. There are stories she lets slip now and then that make me realized there is so much more than what I know of her, things that I most likely will never know. Years ago, I listened to her tell a boyfriend of mine, at the time, how Jim told her once that she was beautiful from the inside out, and that no matter what people see that is what they should unravel from her. Or something like that (paraphrasing here).
I think my father, and my birth, held her back from her dreams. She had been learning to play guitar, writing songs in notebooks, there is even an album recorded from her then guitar teacher/lover, and his band, that she sang back-up and played the tambourine on. She spent many nights on Sunset Boulevard, hanging at The Troubadour and this tiny club that she says used to be in the middle of the street. She was at the “Riot House” enough times to know which rooms were reserved for the bands. She has random items hidden away in her garage that she refused to explain, too: a parking meter from Venice Beach, the top of a city bus from Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco, and a hand-scrawled book of poems, not in her handwriting.
Something happened to her, though, something that made her drop it all to take courses to become a dental hygienist, marry a boy who was a virgin, and knew very little about music, marry him (at eighteen) and then have me a year later. There had to be an event that shook her up enough to change her, because there was nothing in that chosen life that seemed natural to her, or even likable enough to evolve herself into.
My mother had been wild. She’d lie to my grandmother about everything, even when she was older and lived a life that would have met her own mother’s approval. Somewhere inside she was still that rebellious youth who once hid Beatles albums in her locker because her mother disapproved of “rock music”, and left her too short mini-skirts in the drive-way bushes so that she could grab them up before leaving for school, and change clothes in the high school bathrooms.
I know there was a part or her that was always disappointed that I seemed to lack a rebellious streak. I was the kid who could be found right where I said I would be, who had good grades and never did anything that required hiding. My mother set no real boundaries, no curfews, gifting me an illusion of trust. Thing is, the second she had any reason to doubt me she would take my things and rummage through them; read my notes and journals, empty my backpacks and purses, searching for clues. Instead of relief at finding nothing of consequence, she would wear a look of disdain and disappointment on her face.
Strangely, when I was older and chased around the same streets of Hollywood she had once traversed, my mother didn’t seem to notice. At that time she’d slipped back into an older version of her younger past, acting the part of an adolescent, partying and following a different kind of rock star type around, calling me from places that she did not know, or remember, to rescue her from.
Those were the days that i was digging my boots deep in my own rebellion, living off cigarettes and speed, and careless encounters with boys. Even though I’d changed from my teenage self, it never did seem that far from who i was, and after I gave that lifestyle up to try on a new one, I still didn’t feel the shift of who I’d been before, who was I was now, or who I wanted to be. It was always just me.
The girl with too many books, who followed all the rules, was still a part of the girl who did lines off the rear-view mirror of her car and pulled boys into stairwells of dark clubs, and both of those girls are still part of the woman I am today, the one who is a mother of three, who obsessively writes in composition books and on computer screens, and who has aspirations of an MFA in creative writing, and a someday teaching job.
I wonder if my mother felt the same as a mother, as she did when she was the “band aid” who dreamed of making music herself? Did she marry a boy named Jim because she couldn’t have the other one? Or was it coincidence, and all part of a complete departure from her reckless youth that attached her to the naive boy from Texas who would go on to break her heart?
Sometimes a whirlwind kind of life can spin you out so much that you lie awake at night feeling the weight of overwhelm and just too much of everything. In those sleepless moments you can feel so much older than the numbers say. That kind of feeling can make a person do all kinds of things; run and jump far, far from any kind of life you’ve known to try and recreate the who, and the what, that you are.
Did she regret the decisions she made? That tiny house we lived in around the corner from my grandfather’s welding show, the one with the pink bedrooms and the huge stereo speakers in the living room – did it feel like a new path for her? Or, was it more like a self-constructed prison? When she came home from another day of cleaning other people’s mouths to find her husband in bed with her best friend, did she question the life she gave up for this one?
Would I have?
When my mother would spin her many albums on the turntable she used to get this look on her face, her eyes half-closing and her lips would turn up into a crooked smile, the one that is so completely unique to her, and she would seem to drift into somewhere far from where her body resided. I would listen to her sing, and watch as she would sometimes dance around our kitchen. I would watch her, too, when she’d just lie back on our couch and seem to disappear into the lyrics, and melody.
All her favorite songs would become stories to me. I would memorize them and sing them back in my head, or out loud when I was alone. At night, when I struggled with sleep they would play in my mind, side A and B of an album of lullabies. The voices of Joni Mitchell, Lennon and McCartney, Seals and Croft, and Elton John were the pied pipers leading me off into dreamland. They were my father figures and my teachers. Their voices paved the way for a life accompanied by a never-ending soundtrack.
And, for me, the music has never stopped.
Tiny Dancer (live) :: Elton John