I Sought, and Eventually Found

Last Saturday night, I was in such a hurry to type up the blog entry about Pulpfest that I neglected to write about the very pleasant denouement of the whole day.  (I was racing the clock, making sure I finished and posted the entry before making the 3¼-mile walk to Grandview to see Teenagers From Outer Space.)  During the day I spent at Pulpfest, I successfully ended long searches for a book that I had lost (the Ace Giant Double Novel(s?) They Buried a Man and The Dark Place by Mildred Davis) and found a DVD of a made-for-TV movie I had seen in 1977 that had affected me deeply (Alan Alda in Kill Me If You Can, a biopic about Caryl Chessman).

Between coming home from Pulpfest and meeting Mike Nevins and Steve for dinner, another long search came to an end.  Propped against my front door was a package from Classic Vinyl in Gaithersburg, Md.  It was not a total surprise, since I had mailed payment for it at the end of the previous week, but seeing the package there was reassuring and made me feel rewarded for hard work and effort.

My parents played many classical music records when I was a child, especially in the house on Third St. in Marietta where I lived until I was six.  Part of my love for classical music came because my parents watched NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report every evening, instead of Walter Cronkite and The CBS Evening News.  (The Huntley-Brinkley Report‘s closing theme was the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.)

When I was an adult, my mother told me that she first began to suspect I had some type of clinical depression because, after school, I showed little interest in playing outside or watching TV.  “You’d just eat your snack, and then go up to your room and put on Vivaldi and stay there until dinnertime.”

Although I could identify my favorite Vivaldi composition if I heard it, I could not remember its title.  I do remember that, on Sunday mornings, while my mother slept in, my dad and I would remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8) by having pancakes or French toast instead of cold cereal, and by playing a record of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  But I loved one instrumental piece so much I took it from the record cabinet of my parents’ Magnavox console and kept it in my bedroom, where I could play it on my orange and white monaural General Electric phonograph.

My desire to find this recording began anew in December 2009, when the church featured the Gloria as part of the winter concert.  That triggered the memory of the instrumental piece I so loved, and I checked out a six-disk Vivaldi set by Deutsche Grammophon, and, after going through the entire recording, could not find it.

This did not deter me.  I could physically describe the album.  I knew it was from the Musical Heritage Society.  Its cover featured no graphics–just a list of the works on the album and the personnel.  It had blue letters against a white background.  The other side of the album cover was blank–just black, with nothing on it.

The piece’s being instrumental made it more difficult.  If a song’s title eluded me, I could always log onto Lyrics.com and type whatever phrase I remembered into its search engine, and the song would pop up in front of me.

Besides remembering the album cover, I remembered that the bassoonist was named Anthony Checchia.  (I had a rudimentary knowledge of the instruments of the orchestra due to playing and replaying my Vanguard Everyman Classics record of Peter and the Wolf–incomparably narrated by Boris Karloff–until it was marred and scratched.)  Earlier this summer, I Googled his name, hoping to find the album, or at least something that would trigger a distant memory of the title of the piece.  Much to my delight, I found out Checchia is alive and well, artistic director of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.  (The album came out in the mid-1960s, so I was not taking for granted any of the performers were still alive.)  I emailed Checchia in Philadelphia and, to my delight, he replied a few days later.  He thought he knew the record I described, but was in Vermont overseeing the Marlboro Music Festival, and would not be able to go through his personal files until he returned to Philadelphia in September.

I went back to Classic Vinyl and Googled Vivaldi’s and Checchia’s names, and found an album that I thought may be the one I wanted.  I was wary, because it cost $26 (not including postage), and it may not be the right one.  Finally, after some emailed conversation with the owner of the site, I bit the bullet and mailed him the $26 money order.

I held my breath when I unpacked the record Saturday evening and put it on my turntable.  I put the tone arm to approximately where I remembered my favorite piece being, set it down…

…and it turned out I hit paydirt!  Indeed, it was the recording that I remembered.  I was 99.8% sure when I turned the album cover over and saw the black side, but I wasn’t sure until I heard my favorite Vivaldi piece for the first time in over 40 years.  (By the way, its title is “Concerto in G Minor for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Bassoon and Figured Bass, P. 403.”)

When in search of a book or music title, I will leave no turn unstoned stone unturned, and will make many people who know me get down on their knees and pray that I please find it, and soon, so they won’t have to hear about it anymore.  I have two friends who live quite some distance from me, and I have fired off many emails to them titled, “You Would Know This If Anyone Would…”  Robert Nedelkoff in Silver Spring is my Delphic oracle when it comes to matters literary, although his musical knowledge is quite encyclopedic as well.  (Robert is the only person–other than myself–who had heard of Lauran Paine, who was the most prolific author in history.  Paine had published 880 books, mostly Westerns, under 74 different pseudonyms, when People wrote about him in 1985, “Author Lauran Paine Rewrites the Record Books Every Time He Sits Down at the Typewriter.”)

My St. Louis friend John Bilgere, whom I met at a Unitarian youth conference in Michigan in 1979, has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music from the British Invasion until the end of the 1980s.  One day, bored at work, I had an earworm for a song from 1974 in my mind.  I emailed John:

In 1974, there was a one-hit wonder that I heard on the radio quite frequently.  I can’t give you the title or the artist, because the song was completely in Spanish, so I think the title probably was, too.

Any idea of who that might be, or what the song is?

And John did not disappoint!  A day or two later, I checked my incoming email box, and he had written:

The song which you speak of is possibly “Eres Tu” by the Mocedades (key of E flat).  Another one, which did not make many waves in the U.S., was “Jesuscristo” by Las Fresas Acidas (1972?).

I pulled up “Eres Tu” on YouTube, and John had been right.  My Spanish fluency consists of counting from 1 to 20, thanks to many afternoons watching Sesame Street until I was a teen, so I would not have been able to identify the song otherwise.

The pre-Internet days were much worse.  When my parents gave me a record player for my fourth Christmas, they also gave me an Apple single of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  I was happy to receive this, along with The Archies’ “Bang-Shang-a-Lang” and Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days.”  There was another recording I wanted, but, since it was instrumental, I did not know its title.

I would not know its title until the summer of 1990.  That summer, I worked as a medical billing clerk for a company contracted by Christ Hospital, and we kept WRRM-FM (Warm 98) on the radio in the office.  One day, while typing the prices for rhythm strips and EKGs into the database, I heard the song that I had liked so much as a preschooler.  I heard it from the transistor radio of a teenage girl sunbathing in the next yard while I had been playing outside.  Warm 98, like many other stations, now posts its playlist on its Website, but this was several years before anyone had heard of the Internet.  I stopped what I was doing and called the station.  I didn’t get the DJ on the line, but I asked the receptionist who answered the phone, “What was that song you just played?”  She put me on hold, and she came back on the line in seconds.  The song was “The Horse,” by Cliff Nobles and Company.  I jotted that in my pocket notebook (I had started the habit of always having a notebook and pen handy my final months in Athens), and then began to plague record-store owners in Cincinnati with requests to find it for me.  Even PhonoLog‘s three-ring binder on the counter didn’t yield any results, and I was all prepared to pay for an ad in Goldmine.  Then, one day I lucked out.  In a St. Vincent de Paul (where I also bought most of my clothes), I found a Billboard compilation album from 1968 which featured “The Horse.”  (When “The Horse” was the number-one song, the number-two song was Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” maybe the only time when instrumentals held both number-one and number-two spots.)

Of course, my neighbors were not happy that I had this stroke of luck, and they prevailed upon me to use headphones for my many replayings of the song!

I like to think of myself as a generous type, so I now share with you the earworm of “The Horse.”

A Question No One’s Ever Posed (at Least Not to Me)

“If you could only have one [this part varies] for the rest of your life, what would it be?” is a question and a what-if game that I’ve alternately enjoyed and dreaded over the years.  I had mixed feelings when it was immortalized on the Stand By Me poster:

If I could only have one food for the rest of my life?  That’s easy–Pez.  Cherry-flavored Pez.  No question about it.

I recently thought of something that hasn’t come up, not in let’s-go-around-the-circle-and-get-acquainted sessions, or camping-out-in-the-yard situations.  If you could only hear one piece of music the rest of your life, what would it be?

For me, two pieces of music are tied for first, and for me, I doubt it’s possible to break the tie.  The two choices are either Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite.  The only way I can minimize these two choices is to say that if I could only hear one movement of the Ninth Symphony, it would be the second.

I’m not even sure if the Ninth Symphony would have made it onto the list–let alone vying for a spot at the top–if my parents had watched Walter Cronkite and The CBS Evening News.  Being a native of Wheeling, for a long time my dad insisted that he and Mother watch WTRF-TV (Channel 7) local news.  Channel 7 was the NBC affiliate at that time, and it was followed by The Huntley-Brinkley Report.  After 30 minutes of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley reading the news, the closing credits rolled, playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  I didn’t know how special it was until my dad played it for me from their multi-LP set of The Basic Library of the World’s Greatest Music.  (I was familiar with Beethoven, because I had seen his scowling profile on the bust that was atop Schroeder’s toy piano in Peanuts.)

I guess The Huntley-Brinkley Report is a much better introduction to the Ninth Symphony than A Clockwork Orange, although after seeing that film, I no longer associate “The William Tell Overture” exclusively with The Lone Ranger.  When I was in Boston, Sega released an arcade game called Pengo.  In between rounds, a row of penguins would march out onto the screen and dance to the “Ode to Joy.”  The game was popular enough that I could easily get the tune stuck in my head.  Later on, when hearing a professionally recorded version of it, if I’ve been unmedicated for awhile and the volume is high enough, the choral portion of the “Ode to Joy” triggers manic episodes for me that can last hours or days.

The other piece of music, The Lieutenant Kijé Suite, was the B side of the Peter and the Wolf album that my dad brought home for me when I was in kindergarten.  It was produced by Vanguard Everyman Classics, with Boris Karloff narrating Peter and the Wolf.  (It is available on CD, and well worth every cent, especially the way Karloff ends the narrative: “…because the wolf, in his hurry, had swallowed her [dramatic pause] alive!”, stretching out the final word over several seconds.)  I felt adventurous one day, and decided to play the “grown-up” part of the record, and found I liked it even better than Peter and the Wolf.  With an adult’s supervision, I could play it on our stereo, the big Magnavox console in the living room, but my parents finally let me play it on my orange and white General Electric monaural phonograph in my bedroom because I asked them to play it for me so often.

My mother told me that when I was in first grade, she had no idea that I was being physically and emotionally abused by my teacher.  She said that I would come home, eat my after-school snack, “then you’d go up to your bedroom and put on Vivaldi on your record player until it was time for dinner.”  I do love Vivaldi (enough to rip an entire five-CD set of it to this laptop), but my memory is a little fuzzy on playing Vivaldi.  (I did hear, several times, about my bringing The Four Seasons to Pioneer Nursery School when the teachers asked us to bring our favorite records to share.)

The other vivid Vivaldi memory was when I was preschool and kindergarten age.  We didn’t go to church on Sunday morning.  My mother usually slept late, and I would be awake to watch Tom and Jerry before the news and religious programming dominated the rest of Sunday morning television.  My dad was usually awake at the same time, reading the Sunday paper.  As far as remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, we always played Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Dad would make pancakes or French toast, along with bacon and eggs, instead of pouring me my usual bowl of cold cereal.  (Neither of us said it aloud, and I only came to realize many years after Dad died in 2000, but part of what made the Sunday morning celebrations so special was that Mother was not with us.  She had yet to go fully nuts, but she had begun going down that path.)

First UU’s holiday concert last year included the Gloria, and I forgot how special that piece of music had been until I arrived at the church.  I arrived while the musicians were tuning and warming up, and the goose bumps rose all up and down my arm when I heard the French horn player practicing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” several times while preparing for the concert.

And what have I been listening to while I’ve been typing this entry?  Such erudite music as Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and The Fortunes’ “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again.”