My husband and I saw a Tom Stoppard play recently called The Real Thing. Compelling ideas, and a lot of clever banter—mostly about fidelity: whether we can truly be committed to another person or if we simply make daily bargains with them.
But enough of substance. I was fascinated by one of the play’s devices: the search for just the right music to signify or bring back important moments in one’s life. The final song of the play is the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”—perfect, because the protagonist is declaring himself a believer in true and permanent commitment. Throughout the play, he has been experimenting with music, trying to find not only the song but the arrangement which takes him back to an important moment or transition in his life—something he can hold on to. He wants to find eight.
I have been thinking about what my songs would be. I am old enough to easily compile eight, but those of you in your twenties might settle for four or five. I will list only five for now
1) “Some Enchanted Evening” from The King and I. My mother loved Rogers and Hammerstein, and had record albums (ancient disc things) of all their musicals, which I would listen to over and over as I cleaned our little Indiana apartment. To this day, I’d guess I can sing just about anything they wrote, from “I’m Just a Girl that Cain’t Say No” to “When You Walk Through a Storm.”
2) “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”—because the Beatles made us feel so cool, and I could sing along with my uncle who was three years older than I. I was ten years old, and knew that with music like this, my teen years were going to be spectacular.
3) “Dizzy” (Tommy Roe). I was in middle school, and though I felt rather ostracized by my classmates, I knew great music when I heard it. “Dizzy” was a sign that I would probably be able to actually dance, if anyone were ever to ask me. As it was, I danced with the vacuum in the hallway outside my bedroom. And damn, I was good. I never did dance with a boy at Farrer Jr. High, though. I stood against the gym wall and watched everyone else. So my dancing abilities remained my own secret—as they do to this day. Only my family has seen me dance, and that particular image will remain en familia, thanks. Our own private Hell.
4) Layla—Clapton. Can I just say that I have not yet recovered? When I took my son to a Clapton concert and the encore included that one (NOT unplugged), I leapt up and screamed like a teenager.
Finally, the one I will link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zdb94HbyRko
My parents had an album called “One Hundred Great Moments of Classical Music.” I listened to it over and over during my teen years.
Today, sitting alone in a London flat, I suddenly had a longing to hear the duet I remembered from my youth. I couldn’t remember the title, so I emailed my mom, who emailed my brother, who sent me the title. (Ah, the miracles of technology!)
I started playing it on youtube, and burst into tears. So many images, mostly of my dad, because Dad loves this duet.
I see my dad in a crew cut sitting on the hide-a-bed in Bloomington, Indiana, watching five Blair children chase each other through the apartment. He is a grad student, working on a degree in linguistics, and I have no idea how poor we are. I will be baptized in my slip (after the black bow is removed), probably because we can’t afford a nice dress which would be used only once. We can afford some things, though. My mom will buy me a lovely band of fake flowers for Easter, and bobby pin it to my hair. And she will make many things with hot dogs and tomato soup, and sometimes, for a special treat, will create a cake with a sticky frosting I will later learn is called “Seven Minute frosting.” But when I make it for my own children, I find it far less tasty than what my memory had promised.
Dad, wearing black-rimmed glasses and longer hair than before, is talking Spanish to a small man from Guatemala, who is living with us and helping to translate the Book of Mormon into an Indian dialect.
Then Dad is at his sister’s funeral, and just three years later, at his mother’s. He, the last surviving child, has bought the flower arrangement for Grandma’s coffin. It has a red ribbon with the glittery words “I love you, Mom.” I hadn’t really thought of him as someone’s son until that moment.
Dad is in the temple with me, as I prepare to get married. His hair is starting to turn white, but has not yet made the transition. Four years later, he is crying with me as I try to tell him how guilty and awful I feel for filing for a divorce. I learn later that when he understood what was happening in my marriage, he wept fiercely as he confronted my then-husband: “You cannot—you CANNOT treat my daughter like that!” I was stunned that he would do that for me. I was so battered, ashamed, and weak at the time, and it amazed me that my father would stand up for me so boldly. I remember thinking, “You did that? For me? You did that?”
Then we are in the temple again as I marry Bruce, and years later, as my own daughter marries her husband. By this time, Dad’s hair is completely white and starting to thin.
Then he is in a blue padded chair, connected to many tubes and pumps. He’s on dialysis. His laptop is open (he is studying a language, of course), though he always closes it when I enter the room. “Margaret!” he says. “How good to see you!” I can see his pink scalp under the thin strings of white. His hands shake as he closes his laptop.
I’ve been playing the recording over and over as I’ve been writing this, weeping the whole time. I have no idea what the words mean, and I’ve heard that that particular opera (Pearl Divers) of Bizet’s is rather stupid. But this one song, this rapturous, soaring song seems to yearn into possibility and redemption. And, for me, it moves into memories that all carry the same message: I have loved you in moments you never knew I was watching. I have loved you even when you couldn’t understand. I have loved you in ways you never knew.
Couples often have a song they label “Ours .” I suppose if Bruce and I had one of those, it’d be “O Death, where is thy sting?” because we sang it when we got engaged. But I think I haven’t yet heard the song which expresses what my husband means to me. I will hear it someday.
I do know what the song means MY DAD, even though I can’t understand the words.
And I know that, like Stoppard’s progatonist, I’m a believer.