Imagined…un hommage to John Lennon

I can tell you just when I first heard of the Beatles — it was when I was in school in Edinburgh, Scotland. A buddy dragged me over to his flat at lunchtime, saying, “You’ve got to hear these guys!” I forfeited my usual Scotch egg, which at 1 shilling and 8 pence was just about all I could afford and traipsed over to his flat with a handful of other students.

It was February 4, 1963 — the last luncheon show at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was being televised. I think they played a couple of cover songs first, one of them being a blistering Twist and Shout. Other contenders are “My Bonnie,” “Money” and “And Then there was You.” Then they launched into a couple of newly released songs –Love Me Do and PS I Love You. When I heard their original music, I stood in complete shock for a few moments. I could hardly believe my ears. “Where did they get those chords?” I asked. Just about all rock and roll music at that time only used I, IV and V chords. These songs were more complex. “Nothing will ever be the same,” I muttered to myself.

And so it all began.

It wasn’t long before I was hearing their music everywhere I turned. At Charities Week, that April, where students go on ‘border raids’ during the day and party at night, just about the only songs played by the cover bands were theirs. I quickly learned their names — Paul, John, George and Ringo. It wasn’t long before I decided John was my favorite. Incredibly cute with a great voice. I began to see the others as wonderful backup for him.

And so, I let their music speak into my life. I watched them evolve and make some questionable choices and stepped back somewhat when there seemed to be focus on drugs, which I did not do. When John claimed the Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus’ I cringed. You just don’t do that, I thought.

I happened to be back in Edinburgh, walking up the back of Arthur’s Seat with a buddy when I heard “Hey Jude” for the first time. I had a sinking feeling that their days as a group might be numbered. It felt like the bottom was falling out. And Yoko — who knew what to make of her? I did my best to be accommodating…

I was saddened to hear of John’s excessive drug use, and startled by the changes in his appearance. He seemed to be a walking dead person. When he and Yoko came to New York I kind of rolled my eyes. They seemed to think they were doing something of value, but I couldn’t tell if it was all just for publicity or not.

Then came the night when I heard he had been killed. A senseless act. By an unhinged disappointed fan. I found myself in a state of shock that lasted almost a week. I could not understand why. Gradually, I came to accept it. Then I made a trip to New York. I went to the Dakota. I talked with a garage attendant who had been there during the afternoon, when John signed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman, and in the evening, when John was shot. He pointed out the private Dakota courtyard pointed to Yoko’s boxy orangish car. “If the limo had pulled into the courtyard, John would have been safe that day,” he said. The words haunted me. Such a simple thing.

So I carried the sorrow with me. I found a ‘Complete Beatles’ piano songbook. Well, it was not complete. It left out Piggies. But that is not the point. I began playing their songs just about every day, on flute and keyboard, and that has helped a lot — to experience their chord progressions, and the simple yet elegant beauty of their melody lines. Paul and John, for the most part — the sweetness and the edginess made for amazing music.

And then there was Imagine. Simple yet breathtaking. Other performers may come and go, but New Years at Times Square in New York City belongs to John and Imagine. It was then I decided to do a reimagining of Imagine as un hommage to John. For his greatness, his flaws, his search for truth, his becoming a target both in the UK and the US.

This track was originally intended as a working track for a course I am taking in Music Production. But the minute I recorded it, it seemed the Mozart vortex went electric. Waves of energy flowed through, along with a lot of music — songs I had heard, music I had never heard before, rained down on me. If only I could capture it all, I thought…

So here it is, on this night when Imagine is played in his honor…


Is this possible Bob Dylan connection taking us to Warp Speed?

In the early years when I had moved to Minnesota from Boston — via San Francisco and New York City — I had never heard of Gustav Mahler. His music had been the rave of New York for some time — Leonard Bernstein being one of Mahler’s greatest champions. But I attended a luncheon concert of the Minnesota Orchestra quite by chance, and my life changed forever…

This was back in the days when the Minnesota Orchestra was not great. The players were bored. They were more interested in their poker games in the downstairs lounge at Orchestra Hall than they were in the music they were performing. They knew all the old war horses by heart. They did not even need a conductor. Even worse, the one they had most of the time was reportedly becoming senile. He had had to stop mid-stream in a performance of the Stravinsky Sacre du Printemps because he had become hopelessly confused.

–I should say that I was studying flute with Sid Zeitlin, the Principal Flute, at that time, sometimes at Orchestra Hall, so my recollections are either from things I saw first-hand or heard via him–

So there I was, sitting calmly in my seat on the isle, mid-section of the main floor, that morning, expecting to fall asleep as during a bad sermon, but still mildly hopeful of hearing something truly musical. I don’t recall the rest of the program. Whatever it was had completely lulled me into complacency.

The guest conductor that day was Klaus Tennstedt. I had not heard of him either, and was not terribly impressed with his first half of the concert.

I was prepared to accept yet another grim reminder of how not to perform orchestral music.

But then, the Mahler First Symphony began.

The ‘Titan’, it was called.

My ears perked up. Before long I was listening with my entire being. His world came alive to me. I was no longer just sitting in a cushioned seat — I was transported to another time and place.

The Third Movement, with its mocking motif of “Frere Jacques” caused me to sit up in shock. It was as though Mahler was describing the fallen angel in the Mozart vortex who attacks my family and me. Who had caused my Father to nearly succeed in ending his own life. How could he possibly know this? I wondered. Nobody else had ever done this.

The opening passage of the last movement shrieked inside my head. Mahler was speaking to me from the vortex. I shook my head in disbelief. I thought I was going to faint.

How did Mahler get inside my head? I asked myself…

And so he had…

And my quest began in earnest…

I became a frantic and fanatic Mahlerian. I have been so ever since.

And, according to his wife, Alma, Mahler’s final words were “Mozart! Mozart! Mozart!’

Mahler was the first inter-continental conductor, transiting by ship from Europe to New York. He was one of the first conductors of the orchestra that became the New York Phil. Carnegie Hall was his venue.

I realized that it was Mahler who had brought the Mozart vortex from Vienna to New York.

At a great price — he died at an early date and in a tragic way…

His widow, Alma, remarried and lived a long life. She maintained a home in NYC until her death in 1964.

But what happened after that? The fallen angel kept trying to attack and entrap my children and me in Minnesota. We seemed to be free-falling into the vortex ourselves, with no direction known.

That is, until this unique and completely unexpected possible connection to Minnesota-born Bob Dylan surfaced.

And now, it just may be that this is what is catapulting us into our destiny after all…

A Rose from the Great Beyond…

When I married the love of my life, Donner Brown, in 1998, we got along beautifully, except about a few things.  One of them was flowers.

Every Valentine’s Day he would buy me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. For the first year or two I simply looked at them with chagrin, not having the courage to tell him what I thought.  But eventually I did speak up. “Honey,” I said, “I really don’t like red roses.”  “You don’t?” he asked in amazement.  I shook my head, feeling guilty.  “They are cut.  They will die.” “Oh!” he said.  I could see by the perplexed look on his face that he was hitting a brick wall.  I waited.  “What DO you like?” he finally asked.  “Something with roots,” I said.  He walked away, not quite rolling his eyes at me, but almost.  He had the most wonderful sense of humor.

As we approached Valentine’s Day six or seven years into our marriage he took me shopping.  Just a regular outing, that we frequently did.  With a look of  utter adoration, he stopped me in front of the floral department of our wonderful local supermarket and said, “What would you like for Valentine’s Day?”  A bit verchlempft, I smiled back at him, and then looked around.  Everything was cut…or all green.  I looked. I searched.  Tulips. Daffodils. Freesia.  Ivy.  Daisies.  And then I saw them, in all their fragrant glory.  “A hyacinth,” I said.  “Blue”.

And so this mystery was resolved.  And every year thereafter we bought a hyacinth together.

Until he died in my arms unexpectedly in the late spring of 2016.  On JFK’ birthday, in fact.  In a savage irony, it was JFK research that had originally brought us together.  And it was red roses that Jackie carried when JFK died in her lap.  In greater irony, Donner, who had, before we met, played guitar with bands from New York to LA, especially Donovan, with whom he had recorded, was recovering from drug addiction in his family condo just off of Central Park, and from his second floor window long ago had watched Jackie walk John John to St. David’s School, up the street.  Now they were all gone…a perfect circle of pain…

I walked around in a state of shock for most of that summer.  It was hard for me to find the energy to speak, at times. It even hurt to smile.

When fall came and school started I was anxious to get back to substitute teaching, to focus on the students and contribute.  A new school district was opening to us — a district where students are sent when the regular public schools are unable to meet their needs. I jumped at the opportunity to take the training needed to be qualified for this, and soon found myself in an amazing, and at times frightening environment of locked rooms, one-to-one student teacher or para relationship, wonderful students who could ramp up and turn violent in a moment.  I was on a roller coaster and so far outside my comfort zone that I realized I no longer had one. It was just what I needed.

There were days of peace as well as those of intense strife.  On one of those days, in January of 2017, one of the paras said to me, “Come with us to the gym.  They are giving away Christmas wrappings and ornaments.” “I don’t do Xmas,” I said.  “There is nothing I need.” “Come with us anyhow,” she said.  And so I did.

In the hallway adjacent to the two large gyms were tables filled with every imaginable kind of holiday decoration.  Piles and stacks of things donated to the school from local stores. As I walked along, somewhat numbly, as I just wanted get back to the classroom, I spotted a cloth red polka-dotted rose.  I took it back to the room. One of the students had brought back the same rose, in blue.  I almost asked him if he wanted to trade, but something said, ‘no’.  I brought it home with me and set it on the dining room table.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready to go to bed that it hit me.

It was a rose that would never die.

A wonderful gift.  From him.  From the great beyond…

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