Not Just The Usual Suspects

I recently talked about songs reminding us of people, or sometimes specific places or scenes from our lives. That usually will mean friends and family who are reasonably close to us, but not always.

My friend Frank, had a friend named Mike who played bass guitar. When I met Frank, four towns were part of the school district and we were in 9th grade together. He had moved to the town part of the way through 8th, but had never hit my radar before 9th. Had I not met him in 9th, or gotten to know him, really, I likely never would have. That would have changed my life so enormously that there would be no comparison. I would never have known many of the people I know, lived some of the places I lived, had perhaps even most of the jobs I’ve had, everything. I hate to say it, but that might overall have been for the better. If not, it would at least have been utterly different and I would never have known the difference. And had his surname not been close enough to mine to place us in the same homeroom, that would have been enough. He was in a class with me, but if that were all, he’d have just been a name I recognized.

I didn’t know Mike then. He also lived in the town Frank lived in, which was the one building its own high school, opened for our 10th grade year. Ella also lived in that town. Which, neither here nor there, had been where my paternal grandmother grew up, and where I have dim memories of visiting her parents when I was very, very little, down a dirt road, by a lake, in little more than a shack. For such a vague memory I didn’t realize the exact meaning of for decades, it sure became a fixture in my dreams over the years. A house based extremely loosely on that, in a spot based less loosely on that, has appeared as a dream setting many times. That should be its own posts. It’s funny, formative places and how they are in your dreams, alone or melded with others, while others, particularly newer ones, are not. I can only remember a single dream that took place in the house my father and stepmother owned from 1976 to just a couple years back, in which I actually lived twice, for a total of 11 years. I might have had some when I lived there either time, but I have always been more likely to have dreams based on my grandmother’s house or the house where I grew up. Which for some reason reminds me of my history over the years, but not for a long time, of having nightmares from which I’d wake up screaming “mom!” The impression of those I had was of being hurt by her somehow, as opposed to being upset that something bad happened to her, but I’m not clear.

One time I was with Frank, visiting Mike at his “hobbit house,” as Frank called it, upstairs in his bedroom, which did kind of fit that name. Mike played the well known bass line from The Chain by Fleetwood Mac over and over and over. Mike was crazy for Stevie Nicks, and named living with her for at least a year as one of his forthcoming goals in life. We were young. And hey, she’s only 13 years older than us! That’s how much older I am than the wife. That’s arguably more of a problem overall for us than not a problem, but it’s not completely absurd. She’s always been old for her age.

I will forever think of Mike when I hear The Chain, or even just the bass line from it. Mike did go on to be very nearly successful in a couple of bands. I have no idea what ever became of him. Frank had long since lost contact, until just before he died, when I believe he’d gotten an e-mail address.

Another song that will always remind me of Mike, and by association with Frank, is Babe, by Styx. Mike had dubbed it, and turned it into a running joke between the two of them and then me, “the messy song.” Why? The line “my heart is in your hands.” Messy! Still makes me laugh, and that’s what I think of when I hear the song, however pretty and romantic it may be.

There are girls I’ve had crushes on that were pretty intense, yet with no musical associations. Then there’s a girl named Tasha. She was certainly kind of cute, but her biggest claim to fame is after Carol had moved away between 4th and 5th grades, I looked around for Carol, didn’t recognize anyone as the girl I remembered, and wondered if it was Tasha because there was a modest resemblance. She was always super nice. Still is. But in 8th grade, when she happened to ride the same bus as me because fewer were needed to pick up the kids on the second session in 8th and 9th grades, I crushed on her a little on the bus. Especially since my crush on Mary came to an embarrassing end that fall, and nothing as intense replaced it that year. The crush I developed on Kerri was kind of artificial, in name of feeding the sensation I’d enjoyed of having a crush. So Tasha was in there somewhere, eyeing her on the bus, set to the music from the radio we had on the bus. I think one of the students had actually installed it with the driver’s consent. Somehow I came to associate her with Rainy Day People, by Gordon Lightfoot. Always a great song, and appropriate for a girl who always seemed pleasant and kind.

Now, I could list a large number of songs I associate with my old friend Zack, others I associate with Frank, and even multiple songs I associate with my late stepsister. I was asked not to write any online tributes or whatever for her when she died last April. Not sure if they thought I’d say something bad or if it was just a sensitive topic or if they’d seen the craziness I ranted here a few years before, but songs associated with her are a big part of my memories and I intend to write about that at some point, even if I can’t write a post that expresses how unexpectedly heartbroken I was, and how much I’d apparently loved her even though we became involuntary siblings at ages 10 and 12. Or perhaps because we were still young enough. Just the week before she had the stroke that killed her, I was thinking of her, wondering how she was doing, and regretting I might never actually see her at some point. It had already been over 20 years. Any annoyance she might have been in our younger years was far overshadowed by my pride in the adult she became, and my appreciation of how much she clearly adored my father. She would buy him Patriots tickets and fly up from Florida to go to a game with him. I am not supposed to write about that kind of thing, but one of these days I will talk about at least three songs that are, for me, her songs.

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