Staying in Focus: Teenage Idol/I’m a Daydream Beleiver

Daily Prompt: Teen Age Idol: W o did you idolize as a teenager? Did you go crazy for the Beatles? Ga-ga over Duran Duran? In love with Justin Bieber? Did you think Elvis was the livin’ end?

I was born in 1953, about 11 years before the advent of the Beatles. Who couldn’t love them – four young, talented British musicians, riding the crest of the wave of the British Invasion? I liked the Beatles, George being my favorite , but the first band I idolized was the Monkees.

Now, I know what you are thinking. They were a manufactured band put together by some Hollywood programming wizards who wanted to ride the wave in the wake of the Beatles.  They didn’t play their own instruments or sing their own songs. But aside from the cheap ploy of putting Davy Jones  in the band, an homage to Paul (the cute Beatle), the Monkees were ours. Mickey Dolenz, a child TV star (we all watched Circus Boy), Peter Tork, a folk singer, one of the last of that genre  which included singers from Peter, Paul and Mary to Simon and Garfunkel, and the most unlikely band member of all, Michael Nesmith, an accomplished musician and songwriter, his sound a blend of country and rock music.

So who would have foreseen that these four talented, yet disparate individuals would  combine their talents and go on to record such hits as “I’m a Believer, “Daydream Believer, and “Take the Last Train to Clarksville.” I’ll bet every Patricia Ann out there who was born circa 1953, has the lyrics to one of these songs running through her mind right now. The band fought tooth and nail with the show’s producers and the record company executives to play and sing, not only songs written for them, but most importantly to Michael Nesmith, songs he wrote himself. The TV/record people capitulated, and the rest is history.

The videos that ended each of their shows were the harbingers of MTV and the music video phenomenon. Michael Nesmith is considered one of the founding fathers of country rock music, paving the way for groups like the Eagles and singer/songwriters like John Denver. Recently the band launched a reunion tour and last summer I had a dream come true. I had seen Mickey, Peter and Davy in concert, but never my favorite, Mike.  However, on a warm summer night in last July, in Raleigh, NC, I attended the performance of Mike, Mickey and Peter (sadly, Davy passed away in 2012). To my delight many of the songs were Mike’s.The audience was  a mix of old fans and new fans , and at one point the band asked the audience to sing Davy’s signature song, “Daydream Believer” as now that Davy was gone , the song belonged to us. Come on, you know that you know the words – “If I could hide ‘neath the wing, of the bluebird as she sings…



Staying in Focus:Daily Prompt: Let’s Dance

Daily Prompt: Let’s Dance:In my earliest memories of dancing, I’m under my auntie Nancy’s dining room table, (which had been pushed off to the side of the room), watching my mom, dad, aunties, and uncles all dancing on the hardwood floor to a never-ending stack of 45 records, dropping one after the other. I remember foot-high stacks of 45s all around the record player. The song that I remember playing most? Twistin’ the Night Away by Sam Cooke. Every time I hear that song, I remember auntie’s spontaneous dance parties. What are your earliest and fondest memories of dance?

Sadly, I have no fond memories of dancing from a personal perspective. I have absolutely no sense of rhythm and my mother’s sincere attempt to help me by enrolling me in dance lessons lasted about one lesson. I suppose my earliest exposure to dance was watching the various animated characters waltz and twirl their way across the movie screen in Disney films.  A little later, I was an avid fan of American Bandstand, enjoying the music and the gyrations of people in tune with it.

I love music in many forms from classical to rock, folk to pop.  I was 7 years old in 1960, 11 when the Beatles made their Ed Sullivan début, a time when music and dance wove their way into the tapestry of our lives.  Everybody wanted to be in a band.  We all had ‘nine transistor’ radios. We all knew the top ten hits and grooved with Cousin Brucie.

However, school dances were fraught with anxiety. I wanted to attend, to hear the music and participate  in high school activities, but the thought of trying to dance in front of others filled me with fear.

I tried dancercise with a friend once. I was going left when they were going right and I never did figure out that grapevine step. I know the instructor was relieved when I failed to return, because I messed up her choreography.

My lack of rhythm with dance and music accompanied my inability to sing, as well.  I attended a Catholic school and every morning before school started, we were required to attend Mass. One day, in fourth grade, I think, we attended Mass in the choir loft with the church choir director playing the organ.  She was on the lookout for new voices for her choir. I employed my usual strategy of just mouthing the words, without sound. She wasn’t fooled, however, and brought me down next to the organ so she could hear me sing.  She asked me if I were an Alto or a Soprano. You tell me, you’re the one with the, organ and sheets of music in front of you, I wanted to say, but I just shrugged my shoulders. She listened to me sing the next song and obviously couldn’t figure out what I was, either, because she promptly returned me to my seat, and never asked me to sing again. I was happy though; relieved I didn’t have to pretend to sing anymore. Instead, the nuns assigned me to leave the choir early and go down to the teacher’s lounge and put on a kettle of water for their morning tea.

It’s just as well I decided early on not to pursue a career in the performing arts.  There’s not a lot of need for a tone-deaf singer/dancer with two left feet and Parkinson’s disease!

I did not despair, however. I can exercise to the “Oldies” with panache, stretch and meditate to new age music as I do my yoga and tai chi practices and pedal my exercise bike to hundreds of songs on my iPod. Music and movement are in my life, just not in the form of dance.

We each have our own special gifts. Some people can dance and sing, some people, like me, enjoy writing and photography.  I am most grateful for my special gifts. Speaking of which, I have finished the manuscript of my book and am getting ready to upload it. (See my Focus on Fiction Blog for the latest updates and a sneak peek at Chapter 2 ).

Once I received my Parkinson’s diagnosis, I realized there was no going back for certain things – like dancing, and that there was a time to let go of others like tennis and driving. To every season, there is a purpose and mine now is to enjoy the gifts I’ve been given for as long as I can. Still, one can wish…

Belated Wishes

I wish that I had learned to dance

to glide with grace

my feet in place

I wish that I had learned to dance

(long ago,  I had the chance)

I wish that I could really sing

notes as pure

as birds in spring

to be in tune with everything

(I would have loved to sing)

I wish that I could walk with ease

and go everywhere I please

(and never worry my feet might freeze)

Moving now is a challenge, though

Count your steps

Heel to toe

Moving is a challenge

(though it wasn’t always so)

and when I had the chance

I wish I’d learned to dance.


Staying in Focus: Focus On: My Last Day

I am so far behind in keeping up with the daily prompts. I am trying to finish the final rewrite of a book project, design calendars for Christmas giving, and write my annual Christmas poem and a bunch of other stuff, including playing  a seemingly innocuous game on the internet called Candy Crush Saga. Beware, it can take over your life!  A recent prompt asked how I would spend my last day on earth.  Here is my plan

On my last day on earth I would want to spend time with my friends and family, but as they may have their own  agenda as to how to spend their last day,  I will outline mine..

I would begin the day at sea, rising before the sun, and watching it as it appears over the horizon. There is nothing more profound than a sunrise at sea. Once on shore I will don my yoga clothes and run through a few routines of the sun salutation on the beach and then meditate to the sound of the waves rolling to the shore. I’d lie on the sand and look up at the sky and try to find objects and faces in the clouds. I loved to do this when I was young, a child’s form of meditation, I guess.

I would try to eat some of my favorite foods throughout the day including a Peanut Butter Bash from Dairy Queen, a sweet potato dripping in real butter and sprinkled with cinnamon, a double chocolate donut from Dunkin Donuts, a cup of IHOP coffee and a stack of pancakes with original syrup, Butterfly Shrimp from the China Paradise restaurant in Wayne, NJ, an Entenmann’s crumb cake, a Reese’s peanut butter bunny and a large order of hot, McDonald’s fries.

I would watch my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind. I’d also like to watch While You Were Sleeping, Love Actually, Groundhog Day and the Muppets Christmas Carol, during which I will eat as much buttered movie popcorn as I can.   I would watch the last episode of Babylon 5(because it makes me cry), all the Firefly episodes (because it was the best sci/fi series on TV) and Star Trek 5 because everyone else hates it but me, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day, unless I can fly to an earlier time zone. I’ll have to work on that one.

Then I would fly to Sitka, Alaska, with as many friends and family members as are willing to go . We’ll gather round a large fire  and sit under the stars and talk or think about only the good and beautiful aspects of our lives  and the world.

I ‘d  listen to the songs on my iPod:  John Denver, Mike Nesmith, the Monkees, The Beatles,  Sir Paul McCartney, James Blunt, The Plain White Ts, The Moody Blues, Enya and even scary Rob (Thomas). Listening to music, surrounded by mountains and the people I love, is the way I’d like to go…

What I will not do on my last day on earth is count calories, eat lettuce, listen to ‘What Does the Fox Say’ , take my meds (won’t matter anymore) exercise (except for yoga),or waste another minute of my fast diminishing life playing Candy Crush Saga.

I’ll gaze at the stars for a while, saddened that I never had the chance to discover what the universe is really all about. Then I will sit quietly and look to the horizon, until the sun fails to appear and everything fades to black.

Staying in Focus: From the Footsteps of the Beatles to Rocking with the Monkees

IMG_2318What a summer for escaping to the past, musically speaking! While in Liverpool, England, we toured the boyhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, visited Penny Lane and the Cavern, and toured The Story of the Beatles Museum. Then, last night we rocked with the Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz. (Sadly, Davy Jones passed away last year.)

The two bands could not have been farther apart in the beginning. The Beatles were all singers, songwriters, musicians. They found each other and formed their camaraderie by choice. The Monkees were formed through auditions for a comedy TV show about four young men trying to break into the world of rock and roll. Their individual backgrounds were quite different. Davy Jones had a background in musical theatre, Mickey Dolenz was a child actor (Circus Boy), Peter Tork was folk singer/musician and Mike Nesmith , a singer/songwriter/musician.

But somehow, despite being loudly criticized as a “manufactured band,’ they were able to meld their talents, fought for control of their music and the right to play their own instruments. Mickey learned how to play the drums and his voice added a distinctive sound to many of their hit songs. Davy was already an accomplished vocalist, and Mike and Peter, already musicians, added their talents in singing, song writing and  playing instruments.  Mike’s country sound also added a distinctive flavor to their music. He is credited with  being a pioneer of country rock.

What emerged was a phenomenon, never duplicated as far as I know. And to those critics, including some classmates I had in 8th grade,who, not able to play a single note themselves, sneered at the band that “wasn’t real”, I say that a long time ago the four pinocchioes became real boys, who grew into real musicians, who can still rock the house 47 years later to a crowd that included as many youngsters as there were gray and silver-haired original fans. Can they top that? I think not.

At ages 68 to 71, they played and sang with gusto, made us laugh with their Monkee antics (Mike’s imitation of  a Moog Synthesizer nearly did us in!) and took us back to another time…as did walking through the homes of John and Paul, a few weeks earlier, and imagining them there, writing those legendary songs.

I have to admit to getting a bit misty-eyed when it came time to sing Daydream Believer.” With  Davy’s image on the stage-sized video screen hanging behind them, Mickey explained they were uncertain at first as to who would sing the song. Mike suggested that none of them could, because the song no longer belonged to them, but to us. So the entire audience stood up and sang the song together. I looked up at the video at one point and saw Davy’s young face, singing with all his heart, and I thought, that was my youth. I was there. . .

This brought to mind the words of a song by the Moody Blues called Vintage Wine

                                 I remember the taste of the vintage wine
                                             from 63 through to 69
                             and I’m proud of the things we believed in then
                              if Ihad the chance, I’d go around again
                              oh, I tell you, we were young and free
                              oh, I tell you, because I was there you see…

Last night we sang the songs we will never forget with a band we will always remember. Thank you, Papa Nez, Mickey, Peter and Davy.  And thank you John, Paul ,George and Ringo. Thanks for the taste of the vintage wine. Thanks for the music.

Staying in Focus: What Matters When You’re Ninety

IMG_0787Today we are celebrating Mom’s 90th birthday with an afternoon barbecue in Sanford at my sister’s house.  She has been through a lot the past month or so, barely surviving two failed chemo attempts which left her weak, sick and miserable. Both she and her doctor have agreed to suspend treatment.  He will give her a month or so to recover, and hopefully put on a few pounds before starting monthly shots to suppress the tumor in her lung.  She has chosen quality of life at this point, as many days as she can enjoy without being sick so much of the time.

As I prepare for her birthday, I ask myself, what matters most when you’re ninety? For my Mom, no question about it, it is her family and friends. There comes a time in our life when material goods no longer matter. It’s all just stuff in the end, stuff you leave behind, unless you are planning  a King Tut kind of send-off. complete with a tomb filled with your stuff arrayed around you for thousands of years. But it is still just stuff.It doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

Time spent with family and friends is worth much more than stuff, and it becomes  more precious, more of a priority, as we grow older. Our lives are short and as we age, we become more aware that at some point we will simply run out of time. That is why we need to make  a special effort to spend this time wisely, getting together and sharing laughter and memories, celebrations and milestones, playing with the young ones and listening to the stories our elders tell of their lives and all they have seen or done during them. My mother has experienced so much in her ninety years, and has accumulated a great deal of wisdom along the way.

So with that in mind, I created a time line of her life so far (see post 5/02//2013). Then I had the idea to make a collage of all her children, from my brother John to her latest great, great-grandchild. I placed her picture in the middle of the collage, cutting it in  a heart shape, as  she is the heart of our family. As I worked , the words of the governor in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, came to mind, so I added this quote at the bottom:

We are your symphony. We are the melodies and notes in your opus. We are the music of your life.

Family has always come first with Mom. The warm, loving home she created for us, the support and encouragement she has always given us, her pride in our accomplishments, these gifts she has freely given and the children she has nurtured, are her opus. They are a legacy far more worthwhile than an accumulation of stuff. Perhaps we should all realize this sooner rather than later and make the most of the time we have, just being together.

So today, my mother’s family and friends will gather round her to celebrate 90 years of  a life well lived.She’ll glow in the warmth of their love and delight in their laughter. The sounds of their voices will surround her like a symphony, and the music will fill her heart with joy for this is what she lives for. This is what matters when you’re ninety. It’s what  matters most of all.IMG_0789_1IMG_0792_1