5

110: Mongolian Throat Singing (The Occidental Tourist)

Posted by jeff on Jul 19, 2018 in Other, Song Of the week

Two cool cats doing their Mongolian Throat Singing thing.

Two cool cats

I guess everyone knows that Mongolian throat singing is a style in which two or more pitches sound simultaneously over a fundamental pitch, producing a unique and vibrating sound. And I guess most people also know that the singer does this by manipulating the resonances which are created as air travels from the lungs past the vocal folds and out the lips to produce a melody.

You may be as surprised as I was to learn that when people speak of Mongolian throat singing, they probably mean Tuvan throat singing. Tuva just doesn’t get its just due. It’s a proud republic of good old Mother Russia to the west ofMongolia. So one can empathize with the neglect those Tuvans must feel when everyone just lumps them as satellite ofMongolia. But apparently those who distinguish between the finer nuances of Mongolian and Tuvan throat singing spend more time kayaking on icy rivers than surfing the internet, because I couldn’t find a single coherent explanation of the difference between them. So I’ll just stick with my unfortunate fuzzy preconceptions.

Steppes

Mongolian throat singing has enjoyed quite a fad in the West in recent years. Here’s Bela Fleck covering one of Tuva’s Greatest Hits, ‘Alash Khem’, with the help of a guest throat singer who looks like he’s having a very good time up there. But we all know that that his kimono was made in Honduras, because the guy’s wearing an ear monitor. Still, he seems like a very good-natured guy. So here’s what appears to me to be the real thing, as far as I can figure it out (which admittedly ain’t too far) –  two ultra-cool dudes flashing their chops (somewhat literally) while they’re watching the river flow (wholly literally).

More Steppes

I don’t mean to leap into stereotyping Southern Central Asians, but they seem like a very cheerful sort of folk. It could be that my attitudes are colored by a story a guy named NM. once told me:

While I was hitch-hiking across Siberia in 1992, on my way from Novosibirsk to Kamchatka, I decided to take a detour through Mongolia. I really wanted to see a Bactrian (two-humped) camel. There aren’t many roads in rural Mongolia. Just lots of steppes. There are trails, but they’re more recommendations than proscribed paths. You just pick a direction and go. Which is what I was doing when this little old truck came along. I flagged it down. Folks didn’t see a lot of occidentals out there, let alone backpackers, so I guess I might have looked rather strange to them. Anyway, they did stop the truck, and I asked them where they were going. They smilingly told me their destination was a town (the demographic definition of a town in those parts is at least three yurts and two yaks) vaguely in my direction, about eight hours by steppe path. So I asked if I could travel with them. I told them I’d give them money for gas, and they smilingly agreed.

(L to R) Yurt, truck

I tossed my backpack in the back of the truck and climbed in. There was Pa Enkhbayar, Ma Enkhbayar, and three little Enkhbayars.

JM: How did you communicate?

NM: A little bit of Russian, a little bit of Chinese. Not a problem.

So we were rolling along, having a real good time. I was juggling for the little Enkhbayars, which kept them out of their parents hair for a while. After a few steppey hours, we came upon a nicely decked-out yurt. Pa Enkhbayar suggested we stop for a break and a repast, and I readily agreed. The hosts seemed rather nonplussed by our unannounced visit, despite the fact that there didn’t seem to be much traffic of locals on that particular steppe, let alone waigouren (foreigner) hitch-hikers.

(L to R) Yurt, horizon

They graciously asked us into their yurt. Before we sat down to eat, they showed me how to wash my hands in the traditional fashion. You fill your mouth with water from a canteen, yak-gut I think, then gradually release a stream of water onto your hands, rubbing them together. It works pretty well, actually. Then we sat down to eat.

JM: What was on the menu?

NM: Oh, I don’t think you want to know that.

Two cool bactrian camels having a woo!

Anyway, after the meal, they asked me if I’d like to play a game. “当然”, I said, and they brought out the paraphernalia from under the yak-hair mat. It consisted of a board; a long, narrow strip of handwritten paper with symbols and numbers, and four yak molars. They explained to me that each molar (right upper, right lower, you get the idea) had six faces (a small stretch of the imagination), each with its own unique shape which (to them) resembled another animal (dog, Bactrian camel, yak, you get the idea). I had a hard time discerning that. They explained that each participant in his turn rolls the molars, and according to the way they land, you consult the list of possibilities (dog-dog-yak-camel, for example) on the long, thin strip of paper and win a certain number of points, apparently in accordance with how common or rare that roll of the molars was. The winner of the game was the one who accumulated the most points. See, games are the same all over the world.

Urban Mongolia

NM: No, we were playing for woo.

JM: What’s ‘woo’?

NM: You know, “Woo!” Fun. Excitement.

JM: Oh.

I didn’t quite grasp the nuances of how the points were allocated, but they said I’d catch on as we played. Well, we were rolling along. I didn’t really understand too much, but we were all having a real good time, everybody smiling and laughing and smiling. Each one would roll the molars in his turn, they’d consult the long, thin strip of paper, and give out points. I really wasn’t sure how the competition was going, but it didn’t seem like anyone cared too much about that. They were just in it for the woo. But then after we’d been playing a while, it was my turn, and I rolled the molars. The host consulted the long, thin strip of options, and got this puzzled look on his face. He showed the handwritten strip to Pa Enkhbayar, who got the same puzzled look.

I asked what was wrong. They showed me the list, and the roll of the molars, and explained that my roll wasn’t on the list. They’d been playing Yak Dice for many centuries, and this had never happened.

(L to R) Yak, Yak owner

Well, I knew about Aces & Eights in poker and the tritone (diabolus in musica) in harmony, and I was just a little afraid of what the ramifications of my roll might be. But they kept smiling, and it seemed that nothing more had happened than a major woo. But it did seem pretty clear that no one wanted to press fortune further, so the game was over.

The Enkhbayars all made their good-byes and went out to the truck. I was thanking the hosts, telling them what a great time I’d had, when I heard the engine start up and the truck begin to drive away. I ran out of the yurt, hitting my head on the low opening, and saw that in fact the Enkhbayar truck was bouncing across the steppes toward the Mongolian horizon. “Wait!” I shouted. “Wait!! My backpack!!” Which of course had my passport, my money, and my other pair of socks. I was running as fast as my Western legs could carry me, eloquently pleading “Wait!!!”

Why was Pa Enkhbayar doing this? Had he just been waiting for the ripe opportunity to steal my bag? Was he afraid to transport a waigouren who made unnatural rolls of the yak molars?

Finally, after what seemed like five kilometers worth of steppes, the truck slowed down and allowed me to catch up. I ran to the window to see what had motivated Pa to behave so unexpectedly.OlePaEnkhbayar was laughing away. Laughing and smiling and laughing, and slapping his Mongolian knee. It seems he had been playing a practical joke on me.

I was too out of breath to do much laughing or even smiling myself, but when I think back on that day, it seems to me that the Mongolians really are a pretty good-natured people.

Well, NM, I guess you would know. All I know is that these two cats show no little aplomb, however the yak molars fall.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

030: The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) – ‘Pilentze Pee’

068: Hermeto Pascoal, ‘Santa Catarina’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
10

004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’

Posted by jeff on Jul 12, 2018 in Rock, Song Of the week

As you can see by the number, this is one of the first Songs of The Week I ever wrote, way back when it was sent by email to a small list of unsuspecting friends.

In recent years, I’ve had the wonderful fortune to be able to realize a couple of musical fantasies. There’s another one in the oven.
If you make it to the last paragraph here, you’ll see the fantasy.

I hope within the next couple of weeks to share with you the first fruits of my Brian Wilson/pre-Pet Sounds/a cappella fantasy/obsession–the first seeds of which were planted 53 years ago, the format exactly what I described 10 years ago. Stay tuned.

The Beach Boys — ‘Kiss Me, Baby’

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who get the Beach Boys and those who don’t. By ‘The Beach Boys’, I don’t mean Al Jardine and Mike Love and ‘Surfin’ Safari’ or ‘Be True to Your School’; I mean of course Brian Wilson, and the stunning music that he created before his mind went mush.

It’s hard to sell the Beach Boys, even to people with good taste–there are lots of legitimate reasons to dismiss them: years of silly, pandering music (throughout their career); whiny, white-bread voices; the stupidest lyrics this side of Nashville.

But three gazillion fans can’t be wrong, right? And tBB had a string of hits from 1962 to 1966 (and onwards) rivaled among American pop groups only by the Four Seasons and the Motown stable. Then in 1966, right on the heels of their tenth straight hit LP, “The Beach Boys Party! (Live)”–came their first commercial flop. It was called “Pet Sounds”.

Go find a rock critic who doesn’t rank it in the top five greatest rock albums. But what do rock critics know? Paul McCartney said he and John were so blown away by it that “Sgt Pepper” was made as a conscious attempt to go “Pet Sounds” one better.

Brian Wilson (my transcription from a taped interview): After the Beales her Pessounds, they wand make a greyr album, so they id Sharzhin Peppersh Lowly Harsh Cluband. And it was a very, very, very great album. Right up there with Pet Sounds, And it was, like, really good. Well, that was obviously well into mush-hood. I belong to the camp that believes that “Sgt Pepper” was ‘overproduced and underwritten’, whereas “Pet Sounds” is one of the most beautiful works of any genre or medium I know. Books and movies and podcasts and probably macramé patterns have been made in tribute to “The Making Of”. So I’ll let you explore that territory on your own.

What I’m offering up this week is a cut from “Beach Boys Today!”, an album that riveted me back in 1965 when it was released, over a year before “Pet Sounds”. Side One contains 4 hit singles (enough to ensure the commercial success of the album): the dumb-out ‘Do You Wanna Dance’, the brilliant pap ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ and ‘Help Me, Rhonda’, and the audacious ‘When I Grow Up’. But there are another seven songs in which Brian was creating music on an entirely new level of complexity, sophistication—and beauty. I feel a bit uncomfortable touting cuts with titles like ‘Don’t Hurt My Little Sister’, ‘I’m So Young’, ‘She Knows Me Too Well’ (the last including the lyric ‘When I look at other girls, it must kill her inside, but it’d be another story if she looked at the guys’). But listen to them. And to the masterpiece of the album, ‘Please Let Me Wonder’. And to this week’s song, ‘Kiss Me, Baby’.

The song intrigued me in 1965, fascinated me for decades afterwards, and continues to haunt me today.

Try, please, I urge you, to filter out the cloying obstacles. I promise you, there are treasures within: unspeakably beautiful, angular, floating melody lines, an instrumental palette of colors and shades that offer deep, wondrous pleasures, and a symphonic tapestry of six or eight simultaneous musical lines bobbing and interweaving, stunning harmonies within the vocals, all of them playing off and with each other.

Take 9 (from the Unsurpassed Masters)

Vocal overdub 1 (from the Unsurpassed Masters)

Vocal overdub 2 (from the Unsurpassed Masters)

Several weeks ago I discovered the 58-CD series “The Beach Boys’ Unsurpassed Masters”. Yes, 58 CDs of Brian Wilson in the studio, rehearsing his music, hits and obscurities, layer after layer, first the instrumental track (with studio musicians–TBB might be his brothers and friends, but he wasn’t going to let anyone mess with his music), and only then the vocals (which The Boys did do). Here’s the voices:

Listening to him work in the studio, for me, is akin to watching a video of Michelangelo sketching out and then filling in the Sistine Chapel. The greatest thrill is being able to hear the threads. “Today!” is much influenced by Phil Spector. One big monaural glob of sound, impenetrable, inscrutable and hypnotic. There are those of us who spent many hours scrunching our ears to the hi-fi speaker trying to peek inside, to hear what was going on in there. No way. A wall of sound.

They say Brian is deaf in one ear, which is why he insisted mixing many of his masterpieces in monophonic, so that he could hear the precise sound palette that was being presented to the listener. But apparently in recent years he’s figured out (through the fog of sticky goo that remains of what was once his brain) that there’s gold in them thar archives. He’s allowed himself to be taken back into the studio, and remixed “Pet Sounds” in a beautiful, clear stereo.

Hearing the Unsurpassed Masters of “Kiss Me Baby” was a Rosetta Stone experience for me. Decades of gook removed. You can actually hear that counterpoint line being played by a bass clarinet and ukulele in unison. That’s a real example, I promise you. It’s a miracle dissected:
If I ever win a lottery, I’m going to try to commission the Danish jazz choir Vocal Line to record this song a cappella. I’ve already tried to convince both their director and assistant director to do so, succeeding only in convincing them that I have an acute obsessive disorder. Well, they may be right about that. But that’s another story. And I think this cut really is uncommonly beautiful.

Tags: , , ,

 
7

234: Carole King, ‘Up On the Roof’ (Live, 1971)

Posted by jeff on Jul 5, 2018 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Today we’re going to tell a tale of a song’s and its composer’s coming of age, their passage into (Wo)manhood, their bat mitzvahs. The song was only six years old when it started, and the whole process took a few years. But as music was the soundtrack of our lives, the song’s transmogrification reflected, colored, perhaps even nudged us along the path from adolescence to maturity (well, at least to majority. We’re still working on the grownup part).

1962-67

p02cfcgzThe story of how Jewish kids ground out hits for black artists in the Brill Building in the early 1960s is fascinating in and of itself. We’ve written about Doc Pomus, Leiber and Stoller, Bacharach and David, Phil Spector, and of course Gerry Goffin and Carole King, but the list also includes luminaries such as Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Greenwich and Barry, Mann and Weil, MOTs all.

Of all the songs Gerry Goffin penned lyrics to, his favorite was ‘Up On the Roof’ – an AM version of West Side Story (‘Tonight’ on the fire escape, exactly one year earlier – add a bass, a drum and a vibraphone, and they’re twins), an urban vision of transcendence that you could hear on your transistor and dance to at the sock hop. When Mrs Goffin (Carole King) wrote the melody, she was twenty years old, in the eighth month of pregnancy with the couple’s second child. It was recorded by The Drifters (with Rudy Lewis singing lead) in late 1962, and hit #5 on the charts.

2012-10-09-50005551-thumbBaby boomers are usually defined as those born after 1946. But the great preponderance of the leading musicians were a step older: Lennon (1940), Dylan and Simon (1941), Carol King, McCartney and Brian Wilson (1942), Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (1943). James Taylor (1948) and Laura Nyro (1947) were exceptions. It makes sense. Who’s an 18-year old going to turn to for advice? At 18, a 25-year old is a wizened sage.

So Carole is this 20-year old kid knocking out babies and AM hits one after the other, both in collaboration with Gerry Goffin.  In the Brill Building office she literally would play the piano with one hand while holding a baby in the other. The songs (up to 1967) – ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘The Loco-Motion’, ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’, ‘Go Away Little Girl’ (all #1 hits!) – great as they were in their own terms, were commercial pap. Even ‘Up On the Roof’ was a fairytale, as gritty and realistic as West Side Story itself, a sanitized and romanticized version of the New York streets.

Carole-King-4Here’s the demo Carole and Gerry cut for The Drifters, with Gerry introducing the song. And here’s an early video of the Drifters singing ‘Up On the Roof’ up on the roof.

If Gerry Goffin ever went up on the roof of the Brill Building, it wasn’t to excape all that rat race noise down in the street. (For that he drove out to his lovely tract ranch house in West Orange, New Jersey). If Gerry went up on the roof, it was to fool around with the Cookies’ (‘Chains’) singer Jeanie McRea, for whom he and Mrs Goffin wrote ‘I’m Into Something Good’ (although it seems that Gerry was the one who was into something good), in return for which Jeanie gave Gerry a baby girl.

Carole knew about the baby, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was Gerry getting hallucogenicied and violent and utterly detached from West Orange reality.

Early 1967

CaroleKingCarole started hanging out with a young band she and Gerry had signed, the Myddle Class, which included drummer Joel O’Brien, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, and bassist Charlie Larkey (b. 1947!). Carole was thrilled when the kids asked her to sit in on keyboards, and soon began a relationship with Larkey. The Myddle Class flopped in the Village clubs they played (outclassed by Al Kooper’s Blues Project, not to mention Sebastian’s Lovin’ Spoonful—the first American rock groups), as did their group The Flying Machine (led by Danny’s best friend, James Taylor).

Even as the fairytale world of West Orange was crumbling, Carole and the in-and-out-of-hospital Gerry kept stoking the star-making machinery behind the popular song, culminating in the harbinger of the times that were a-changing, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman’ for Aretha.

1967-68

AR-151019403But the center could not hold. Carole felt threatened by Goffin and split for The Coast, Laurel Canyon, home of the burgeoning LA music scene. Her neighbors included The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, young Jackson Browne and many other future stars. As a single mother (long before it existed as a status) and legendary songwriter, she was the Earth Mother of the scene.

In late 1968 Carole formed a band in LA with Larkey and Kootch, The City. The album (“Now That Everything’s Been Said”) was a respectable effort, but flopped. It included ‘Wasn’t Born to Follow’, later a hit for The Byrds via Easy Rider.

At the same time, James Taylor was in London, recording his own flop, his first album (an unrecognized masterpiece, one of my Desert Island picks) for The Beatles’ Apple label.

1969-70

New-2Back in LA in December 1969, James recorded the album that more than any other defined the new acoustic rock sound (and much of the pained, introspective zeitgeist) of the singer-songwriter era, “Sweet Baby James”, with Kootch on guitar and Carole on piano.

In March-April 1970, Carole cut her first solo album, “Writer”, with Larkey, Kootch, and with James on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Goffin had been hanging around, to no avail romantically, but co-wrote and mixed the album. Who am I to judge? The new material included ‘Going Back’, another hit for The Byrds. For the closing cut on the album, Carole chose one of her early hits, ‘Up On the Roof’.

The song’s inclusion is sort of the point of this whole ramble. It wasn’t a gimmick to capitalize on her cred as ‘the gal who wrote’. It was a bold gesture: “That previous incarnation? That also was me.” I’ve known a lot of people who’ve shed identities, designed for themselves new ones. I myself did it in a major way, right back in the days we’re visiting here. I suppose in one way or another, most people change personae over the years to one degree or another. I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing it’s always healthier if one can incorporate his former selves into the life he’s living. We all know people who ignore/hide/deny former incarnations. It’s inherently embarrassing.

Carole-KingCarole, with her unique biography straddling two coasts, two eras, two realities, embraced her former self. And that proud acknowledgement, that ‘this is me, and that was me, too’ is to be admired. Of course, it helps that that other self was the author of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, the soundtrack to about 50 million backseat deflorations; and not John Lennon’s 18-month lost weekend.

Carole’s ‘Up On the Roof’ from “Writer”, although unfortunately burdened down by strings, is an early template for an entire catalog of hits, the piano/acoustic guitar-based, mellow palette of James’ ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (January, 1971), ‘Handy Man’ (1977), and ‘Up On the Roof’(1979, seriously blighted by unka-BOOM! drums in the last verse).

1970-71

During 1970, as “Sweet Baby James” took off, Carole toured as the pianist of James’ band. He would give her a guest spot on his shows, to which the audience responded with booing—they wanted to hear their James singing ‘Sweet Baby James’ and ‘Fire and Rain’, not some anonymous chick pianist, even if she had written some good oldies. She would sing ‘Up On the Roof’ and ‘Natural Woman’ above the boos.

1035x1400-85336848Here’s James’ beautiful solo version of ‘Up On the Roof’ from the Fillmore East in January, 1971. Returning from that tour to LA later that month, the band (Carole, James, Larkey, O’Brien, Kootch) went into the studio to record a batch of new songs that Carole had written by herself, working for the first time mostly without the help of lyricists Goffin or her new buddy Toni Stern. She called the album “Tapestry”.

The album also included the most vulnerable, powerless expression of a girl’s dependence on a guy’s caprice, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, an ‘oldie’ in the most profound sense: it’s beautiful, it’s full of nostalgic meaning for the me who once was, but its reality is in the past. ‘Natural Woman’, although written back in NY, belonged more to the new LA Carole. It became, justifiably, the anthem of the new womanhood—just as Carole’s life was a harbinger of the feminist revolution that was yet to change the world as we know it.

1971, Jo Mama Tour

1971, Jo Mama Tour

The new songs on the album – ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘So Far Away’, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ harnessed Carole’s masterful (mistressful?) pop-hit chops to the new womanhood (and concomitant malehood) she and her generation were creating. “Tapestry” justly earned its place as a seminal cultural landmark, as the soundtrack of its time.

In April, 1971, the still almost unknown Carole recorded seven songs for the BBC. She begins with a fully confident ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ and a heartfelt, definitive ‘Natural Woman.’ But her introduction to ‘So Far Away’ shows just how much she still saw herself as second fiddle to James Taylor. It’s the ‘Will You Still Love Me’ Carole speaking. Apparently for all her independence, Carole was serially subservient emotionally to the men in her life (but that’s a wholly other kettle of fish).

You gotta remember – till Carole (and Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro) came along, male artists held primacy over women. Those three, each in her own way, created the persona of the new woman in music.

How strange it is to hear no audience response to the opening chords of the still-unknown ‘It’s Too Late’ (with James, Larkey and Khqdefaultootch). A fine, fun ‘Smackwater Jack’ shows just how much she’s the master – mistress? Why is the master by definition above, the mistress below? – well, she owns the pop song idiom.

She gives us a fine, heartfelt ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, then ends with her definitive treatment of ‘Up On the Roof’. Her singing and her piano are confident, in control, fully mature as a performer and as a creative voice, absolutely ready for and deserving of donning the mantle of spokessongstress of her generation. Funny (for me, as a guy) that both Joni and Carole were role models for the New Woman, while still slavishly in need of a man’s approval.

I guess you can take the girl out of the ‘50s more quickly than you can take the ‘50s out of the girl.

I an upcoming SoTW, via her early live recordings of ‘Up On the Roof’, we’re going to return to one of our favorite themes – just how major an artist Laura Nyro was.

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face (Up on the roof)
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space (Up on the roof)

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there, the world below can’t bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (Up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street (Up on the roof)

On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof (Up on the roof)

At night, the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me
I keep-a tellin’ you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that’s trouble-proof (Up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two up on the roof (Up on the roof)

Up on the roof (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, baby (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, honey (Up on the roof)
Everything is all right (Up on the roof)

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

117: Carole King, ‘It Might as Well Rain Until September’

182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

Tags: , , , ,

 
6

286: Joni Mitchell, ‘The Circle Game’

Posted by jeff on Jun 29, 2018 in All SoTWs, Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Joni Mitchell, ‘The Circle Game’

Nogah (aged 8) and Poppa, ‘High Hopes’

My granddaughter Nogah never ceases to amaze me.

Tonight’s her high school graduation, and I’ll be leaving the house soon to drive there, about 75 minutes away. It’ll be long and boring, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Nogah’s my first grandchild, so of course she occupies a special place in my heart. And now she’s all grown up.

These last few months have been a series of rites of passage:

  • her 18th birthday
  • her formal declaration of girlfriendhood
  • finishing her matriculation exams
  • graduating high school
  • deciding on her first steps as an independent major (she’s going to study Torah for a year at a girls’ seminary before joining the army for two or three years)
  • most importantly—her driver’s license.

 

She’s been deep in studying for her exams, so we haven’t had a chance to celebrate all these milestones properly. We probably never will. She’s too busy moving into that big future to stop and celebrate the past. She’s 18 and rocketing forward into the great unknown. The past is past. Let’s go, future!

I don’t have a problem with Nogah growing up. I look at her and see a young woman. Okay, I have looked on-line for ways to turn her back to being 4 years old—Aztec herbal medicines, quack elixers, New Age religions–but all in all, I’m cool with her growing up.

Even though, and I know this is a subject you’re not supposed to discuss, watching her reach adulthood entails some pretty grave ramifications for her granddad. But I’m sure that when I see her walk down the aisle to receive her diploma, my thoughts will be all on her.

I‘ll be remembering when my daughter told us that she was expecting. I can shed a tear at much less than that, so I’m guessing I made somewhat of a fool of myself there in the dining room at Mt Scopus.

I’ll be thinking of what my grandfather said to me when I told him I was going to make him a great-grandfather: “The sages tell us that each generation is like a strand. When a man sees the third generation of progeny, that forms a rope on which he climbs directly into heaven.”

I’ll be thinking of her at 3, and the CD I made for her. I never really liked singing kids’ songs, but—hey, this is Nogah. I just had to do it. Here’s my version of Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of Woodie Guthrie’s ‘Car-Car’. I really do like the CD covers, though.

I’ll be thinking of her at 8, the time I took her into a studio to show her how recordings were made, to see if I could encourage her to sing. We recorded Sinatra’s ‘High Hopes’. This is what Nogah and I sound like together. Ain’t she sweet?

I’ll be thinking of her at 12, when she stood up in synagogue to make her Bat Mitzva speech in front of several hundred people and gave a 12-minute talk (but who’s counting?) about birds in the Bible.

I’ll be thinking about her at 14, when she called me from a store: “Hi Poppa!” (with the honey dripping from her voice), “Mom said I could buy a new blouse for the holidays, and I’m in the store now, and there’s this really beautiful dress that I’m absolutely in love with…” She knows who’s an easy pushover.

I’ll be thinking about her at 16, wearing a beautiful opal-colored A-line dress to meet her grandfather at a fancy coffee shop in The Big City.

I’ll be thinking about her at 17, calling me to say: “I just had to tell you, Poppa, that I’m cleaning up my room. And do you know what I’m listening to? That James Taylor CD you made me.”

I’ll be thinking about her as a wise person, someone I and everyone who knows her consult with about interpersonal affairs, because she’s got people smarts and an emotional intelligence that surpasses that of most human beings.

I’ll be thinking about the fact that even though she knows she has me wrapped around her finger, and even though she knows I know she knows she has me wrapped around her finger, she takes advantage of it to just the right extent.

I’ll be thinking about conversing with her both eye-to-eye and old person to young person, simultaneously.

She amazes me every time I see her.

I really do think she’s an amazing young lady. And I’m not biased, really! Empirically speaking, she’s ambitious, she’s colorful, she’s dramatic, she’s engaged, she’s idealistic, she’s moral, she’s responsible, she’s sensible, she’s sensitive, she’s sentimental. I’m so happy that she’s going to be bearing my genes into the future, long after I’m gone.

And what did she do today to amaze me? She called and asked me to write a Song of The Week about her and her graduation. No-brainer, Pumpkin.

I know half a dozen coming-of-age songs off the top of my head: Harry Belafonte’s lovely ‘Turn Around’; ‘Try To Remember’, from “The Fantastiks”; the Beach Boy’s ‘Graduation Day’ and ‘When I Grow Up’; Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’. I even checked out Kanye West’s ‘Graduation Day’, but those lyrics wouldn’t have a chance of passing the local censor.

Easy choice: we’re going with that very beautiful Joni Mitchell song, ‘The Circle Game’, which she wrote when she was still an unknown, but didn’t put it on an album until her third one, “Ladies of the Canyon” (1970).

I think the lyrics are straightforward and familiar enough so that you don’t need my help with them.  But they’re as touching as ever, and certainly are worth revisiting.  So why don’t you just read along while Joni sings them. You can even sing along with her, if you want.

Me? I have to go get ready for Nogah’s graduation. And while I’m watching her get her diploma, I’ll try to avoid thinking about the fact that just as she’s growing up, I’m growing down. I’ll try to keep in mind that “There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams, and plenty”, and hope that I’m around to cry at a couple more of these, the milestones of our lives.

 

Yesterday a child came out to wonder

Caught a dragonfly inside a jar

Fearful when the sky was full of thunder

And tearful at the falling of a star

 

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game

 

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons

Skated over ten clear frozen streams

Words like “when you’re older” must appease him

And promises of someday make his dreams

 

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now

Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town

And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now

Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

 

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty

Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true

There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty

Before the last revolving year is through

 

Copyright © 2018 Jeff Meshel's World. All Rights Reserved.