Last Friday while walking the dog, my classic 160 GB iPod – less than eight months old and holding approximately 6,800 songs – slipped out of my jacket pocket and hit the sidewalk pavement hard enough to knock out not only the music, but also the backlight. When I got home, I attempted to revive it by restoring it back to its original settings, but alas, the iPod was dead due to something understandably not covered under the year-long warranty. Without hesitation, I ordered a brand new one from Amazon and paid extra postage so it would arrive in two days instead of three. Why didn’t I agonize over whether or not to make this purchase like I do with other items costing much, much less?
When it comes to music, I’m willing to listen to nearly anything and immediately want to own a recording of what I find interesting . . . just like my mother. Fifteen years ago, when Madonna released her “Ray of Light” album, my mother asked to borrow my copy of the CD. She had loved Madonna in the movie version of “Evita” and wanted to hear more of her music. Noticing my surprise, my mother said, “Hey, when it comes to music, I can be hip.”
Yes, she can. My four sisters and I grew up listening to my mother’s music. Stored in the living room closet was a pile of piano sheet music measuring at least 15 inches high. A tower of 78s measuring nearly twice as high stood next to a phonograph in the basement. In that pile were recordings of songs like, “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown, “Buttons and Bows” by Dinah Shore and “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole. As much as my mother loved these songs, none compared to songs from musicals. While stirring a pot on the stove, pulling weeds in her garden or hanging wet socks on a backyard laundry line, I would often hear her singing or humming hits such as, “If I Loved You” from Carousel, “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific, and “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma.
She wanted her daughters to love music, too. She believed that driving the entire family 45 miles away to a Pittsburgh movie theater featuring a Cinerama screen was the only way to appreciate The Sound of Music, and she was right. Watching it today on a TV screen – no matter how large – just isn’t the same. She signed up her daughters for piano lessons and encouraged us to participate in school choirs and bands. The annual airing of The Wizard of Oz was treated like a special holiday, complete with popcorn and a rare treat -- Pepsi. Nearly 50 years after I first saw it on TV, The Wizard of Oz hasn’t lost its magic. The original movie soundtrack is in my iTunes library along with the original movie soundtrack to The Sound of Music and approximately 18,300 other songs.
My mother also wanted her five daughters to believe in the fantasies inspired by her music: that any little girl could grow up to be Miss America; that sisters could sing together like “The Lennon Sisters”; that blue birds flew somewhere over the rainbow; and that you could climb every mountain ‘til you found your dream.
My fantasies, on the other hand, were decidedly darker. My parents did not own many books, but I remember at age 10 discovering the first three volumes of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Ape series in a hidden bookshelf (a birthday gift to my father from his parents) and reading every one several times, intensely riveted by the graphic violence yet strangely comforted that a small child could be raised by apes. That same year, Kennedy was assassinated, destroying the country’s fantasy with “Camelot” and further fueling my deepening perspective that the world indeed was a grim and hopeless place. I lost myself in dark and brooding television shows like, “The Avengers," “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E” and “Mission: Impossible” and breathlessly waited every week for Diana Peel, April Dancer or Cinnamon Carter to save the world . . . and me.
On October 15, 1966, my mother’s fantasy world collided with mine.
That evening, the ABC television network was scheduled to air the television version of the musical, Brigadoon. My mother had loved the 1954 movie and its story of a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years. All week, she had talked about how much she wished she lived in Brigadoon and how she couldn’t wait for her five daughters to see the musical so we would know why.
That same evening, at the very same time, CBS was scheduled to air the second part of a “Mission: Impossible” episode. Part One of the episode had ended with Cinnamon in great danger, and I was desperate to learn if she would survive.
Fortunately, there were two televisions in the house, a large one in the basement and a smaller one in the kitchen. Neither my mother nor me would have to give up our heart’s desire.
The night before Brigadoon was to air, my mother brought to the dinner table her vinyl recording of the musical and read from the back: “If you live in Brigadoon,” she said, “the passing of each century seems no longer than one night. This enchantment is viewed by the villagers as a blessing rather than a curse, for it saves the village from destruction. According to their covenant with God, no one from Brigadoon may ever leave, or the enchantment would be broken and the site and all its inhabitants will disappear into the mist forever.”
She paused, looked up and asked, “Who would ever want to break that enchantment?”
“Is that in the Bible?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?” replied my mother.
“That covenant with God. Seems scary and not enchanting at all,” I said.
“You’ll see what I mean when you see the show. The music is enchanting. Wait ‘til you hear the songs, 'Heather on the Hill', 'Come to Me, Bend to Me', 'From This Day On' – my mother pointed to each title -- 'Almost Like Being in . . . .'”
“Do we have to watch it?” I interrupted.
My mother’s lilting tone immediately became sad and sharp. “You don’t want to watch it?”
All eyes at the table – including my father’s – pivoted toward me.
“Part Two of a show I really like is on at the same time,” I said with as much regret as I could muster, “and since we have two TVs, I figured that I could watch that one for one hour on the small TV and when it’s over, then watch the last hour of Brigadoon with all of you on the big TV.”
“What show are you talking about?" asked my mother.
“You and your dark shows. Of course you can’t miss out on that," said my mother. "I suppose if you don’t need to watch Brigadoon, then no one needs to watch it."
The next night, bending to her will, my mother sacrificed her heart’s desire to shatter mine. The televisions were kept dark and silent.
In 1967, this version of Brigadoon would win five Emmy Awards – the television equivalent of the Academy Awards -- including one for “Outstanding Musical Program.” The Emmy for “Outstanding Drama Series” would go to “Mission: Impossible” and Barbara Bain would win for “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series”. Brigadoon -- true to its enchantment -- aired only on that one night and is not available on videocassette or DVD.
Later that year with babysitting money, I purchased my first album, Wildflowers by Judy Collins. I desperately wanted my own recording of Collins' cover of "Both Sides Now", a song I fell in love with the moment I first heard it on a friend's transistor radio. Yes, life was give and take, up and down, win and lose. Yes, I really didn't know life at all. I hid the album at the bottom of my school locker, where I could safely reach for it and secretly bend to its dark and silent wisdom.