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Musically Speaking: First Musical Memories: From an up coming novel by JJ Rocks

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JJ Rocks Article # 135:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 28, January 2009
Where does your memory start? Is it foggy pieces of the past that contain no visions of your own self? Is it a group of mental photographs that can’t be dated? Where am I in these photographs? Don’t worry; this isn’t a hundred and one questions. It’s just that I want to start at the beginning, and I have a hard time figuring out when that was. My mother always said, “You can’t remember that! You just heard me talk about it!” but believe it or not, I can.

I think it was the barber shop tiles. You know those big black and white squares that filled a room the size of an entire football field. Well, at least at the time it seemed that way. Haven’t you ever dreamed about being very small and the furniture was very large and you wanted to climb on everything? I think that’s just our recollections of the first terrain we ever explored.

And how about those giant people that towered over us. My giants wore saddle shoes and bobby socks. And I seem to recall a kitchen. “Too much for memory” you say? Well, they weren’t just different rooms, they were different worlds and I definitely could tell them apart. But I never would have remembered if it wasn’t for a sound coming from that tall tower that everybody kept going to and opening the door. The tower was white and went way up in the sky. It went so far up, that I couldn’t see the top. But I did hear something coming from it that changed my life. Or should I say at that age, just pointed me in the right direction.

“See ya’ later alligator, after a while crocodile”. That greeting between two scary reptiles was to be my introduction to a musical world yet to come. I also recall a man with a deep voice singing about sixteen tons, whatever that was. I tried my best to look up to see what was making those sounds from atop the tall white tower, but it was difficult because my head seemed to be too heavy for me to lift up. Rolling on my back seemed to do the trick. But every time I did, the giants with the bobby socks kept turning me over on my belly. But one day as I was in the right position for viewing the mighty tower with its majestic enamel painted skies and the tiny sun that came on when a little chain was pulled. I remember two of the white saddle shoes quickly flying over top of me and heading towards the mighty white beast that spoke the first language that I truly understood, and some how made it louder.

All of a sudden, an arm reached out and the entire front of my mysterious monolith opened wide to reveal the inside of its huge belly. It also had a tiny sun inside, but I didn’t see a chain. “So that’s where the food came from!” As I lay there I could feel a blanket of cold air caressing me on a hot day while odors of big people food filled the room. “So that’s what the word “cool” means that the bobby socked girls were always saying!

I did know a few words. Probably about as many as our dog, “Damit” I knew that was his name because every time he’d lie on the couch my mom would say’ Damit! Get off that couch! Now of course the couch was in the living room and that’s where my first friend who was my size lived. And every morning I went to pay him a visit.

Captain kangaroo lived in a big brown box. Although not as big as the white one in the kitchen, I still had to stretch my neck to see him. And his friend was a bunny rabbit! The one thing that bunny rabbit and I had in common was that we both ate a lot of carrots. The only difference was that mine came from a jar. There were also sounds coming from the captain’s “home in a box” that were like the ones in the kitchen, but I didn’t care for them as much.

Sometimes my older brother would make the captain and his bunny go away and put his cowboys in the box. That was the only time from back then that I can remember him smiling. Anyway, I didn’t mind the cowboys; I just felt a little upset when the horses would fall down. I think that was the beginning of my love for animals.

Again and again, more sounds came from the big brown box. Howdy Doody was cool, but of my favorite sounds that came from “the box” happened when I got up in the morning. This had to be when I was a little older, because I don’t remember any one else being around to watch over me. There was this different sound. A sound that didn’t move and it came when there was no one in “the box”. There was just a big picture on the front that wouldn’t let me see inside. No captain kangaroo. No cowboys. No howdy Doody. Just one strange sound! And I would sit and stare at the picture with a circle and a bunch of lines that didn’t move while trying to sing along with that strange sound. I would sing until I ran out of breath and then, start again. But the box never ran out of breath. After awhile I started to sing a different sound that was higher. I loved doing that, and it may have well been the beginning of my inner independence and first experience with musical harmony.

You know it seems like every one, at one time or another, has to sing along with some one else. Maybe it’s at a birthday party, Christmas, or on New Years Eve. And it seems like most people either like it, or at least don’t mind it. Personally, I hate singing in public! I know by now you must be thinking “this guy just said something about true harmony”. Well it’s possible that the musical flame that still burns inside me and my social development parted ways many moons ago, but that never bothered me. Every one has their own path to follow, or in my case, paths. My infatuation with the beauty of two or more harmonious tones and my separation from the bonds of hand holding campfire singers have nothing in common. But there is, and has always been a direct connection between music and my attraction to the opposite sex.

I’m pretty sure that started a few years before the first grade, so let me set the scene. We lived on Tenth Street, in Brooklyn. No, not the Brooklyn that’s in New York. It’s a place just south of south Baltimore between the big city and the country. Well, at least that’s what we called it. You see, to my family, any place that had a lot of trees that wasn’t a park, was the country. We had just moved out of the projects into the first house that my parents actually bought. To me it wasn’t a big move because the projects where we lived were very cool. They were called that because they were government projects built after world war two specifically for service men and their families. Around the late forties and early fifties, all kinds of families had moved in. As far as I know, most people had jobs, and I do remember it being very pretty, with green manicured lawns and little flowers growing along the house called “four o clocks”. And of course, being Baltimore, the houses were all red brick and all stuck together in rows.

Even though our new house was nicer, it was three blocks away from the old one. That was a whole world away for a kid that never ventured more than one block in any direction. So when I got there, I had to find my boundaries. I did so by standing on the corner of the alley every day where I couldn’t cross the street and waited for the big girls to pass by on their way home from school. When they walked by they would smile at me and say “isn’t he cute?” But soon that got old, so one day when they were walking by I came up with this brilliant idea. Even though I hated it, I started to sing! I think it was “the Howdy Doody” song. But man, I’m telling you, it worked! From then on not only did I get candy and other various items left over from their lunch, but I got kissed! And then they started saying, “hey little Johnny, are you going to sing for us today?” I guess I made a wrong turn on that deal. My mom used to call me a hustler and said “one day you’re going to marry an old rich lady just for her money”! And I thought “well, as long as I don’t have to sing for her”.

I have fond memories of those times, but not many. It seemed as though I was living the same life as the people on “father knows best”. But those times didn’t last long at all. That’s ok. Whether times were good, or just the pits, I’d still rather recall them rather than relive them. I would never exchange the future for the past. It would just take all the mystery out of life.

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Copyright, 2008 From JJ’s novel “The Apple Tree”.