From the mid-1960s on, Joan and Nelson were my parents’ friends, and their kids, Mark, Allison and Betsy were friends with me and my sisters. I loved visiting them at their home (they almost never came over to ours) – and I loved their dogs, Mitzi and Thurber.
Special stuff was always going on “Chez Bakers” – theatrical hijinks, of course, since, like my folks, Joan & Nelson loved performing, producing, directing – but also music and art, books and politics and lots and lots of talk. I’m sure they had their challenges but the Bakers were such upbeat people, involved and animated and good humored. They were open to new ideas and inspired my parents to stretch a little, too; Nelson drove an Austin Healy bugeye Sprite, energizing my mother’s appetite for imported sports cars, and Joan’s fashion flair encouraged us all to wear clothes that were a little different (I once remade a thrift store fur coat into a very warm skirt!)
They’d open their dining room and invite friends to set up drums and come over with instruments to make music together. There was always a new project they were working on, thinking about, planning to do. While their lawn was never pristine, and I do recall visiting their cellar and seeing the same unfinished repair project on the workbench that I’d spied 6 months earlier – the Bakers always managed to take care of the important stuff, and I felt accepted, heard and noticed when we were there.
The summer of 1971, they were all going to be away and asked me if I’d be willing to stay over, water the plants and look after the dogs for a few days; ooh, I jumped at the chance! To be by myself, away from the noisy chaos of my own family, alone in their quiet house with the piano and tape recorder for a few days? Heaven!
(Actually, I did get a little lonely and was relieved when my dad and sisters dropped in one afternoon and took me to McDonald’s over on the Berlin Turnpike. Otherwise, it was a perfect staycation!)
One of my very favorite memories is the time when Nelson and my dad spontaneously broke into a performance of SONNY BOY – with Nelson’s Irish tenor ringing out so sweet and tender, as my dad gave voice to the Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy smart aleck responses. Without any rehearsal at all, it sounded pretty much just like this: https://youtu.be/1nIrzb0O5ho?t=71
“For who right where on what?” I still laugh at how much fun it was.
I had a thought this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep after waking too early – about Mother Nature’s intentions for our home, planet earth. I think she’s programmed us all to “be fruitful and multiply”, i.e. for everything that grows, flora as well as fauna, to KEEP growing and REPRODUCE for the continuation of Life. I see this every morning in my backyard; the lemon tree enjoys monsoon rains, greening up more and more every day, while the mourning doves cuddle together in their nest, and spiders spin webs, geckos race across the side of the house… Mother Nature DIGS monsoon-time in a big way!
And perhaps our patriarchal society conspires to compel that by attempting to control women and FORCE them to be mothers or at least baby incubators. I think this is the belief behind the recent SCOTUS decision to rescind Roe V. Wade and criminalize/outlaw choice.
Whether this is rationalized as “a divine mandate from God” or anything else, the bottom line is that Mother Nature is calling the shots. She decrees: Human beings are supposed to make babies, period. Everything else is nonsense and poppycock.
In grammar school I’d learned how the parasitic embryo took whatever it needed from the mother’s body; calcium from her bones and teeth, every other nutrient from her glands, muscle, blood… basically laying waste to the “host” for its own survival. I knew very young that I didn’t want any part of that! That was just yucky. Yet, in younger years, in spite of my conscious desire to remain barren, my hormones kept telling me to have sex, to get pregnant. I knew from an early age that giving birth was not something I ever wanted to do. Aside from the financial and emotional considerations, abortion was illegal so I chose to take every precaution to avoid popping out any “Mini Me”s.
Viewed in a certain light, using birth control appears to be an affront to Mother Nature’s insistent edict, and getting a tubal ligation or vasectomy is the ultimate insult; the biggest, loudest way to say “NO!” that exists. Both procedures involve surgery – cutting into the body, which is pretty drastic.
It might be different if society actually liked women. If collectively we supported and honored mothers truly – not just paying lip service on Mother’s Day, but holding them consistently in high regard. If women were genuinely accepted as essential to humanity. If women weren’t treated as 2nd-class, but true equals, with their own unquestioned autonomy universally respected and cherished.
It might be different if we treated Mother Earth with respect, instead of laying waste to her ecology, drilling for oil and mining for minerals; despoiling the landscape and the air and the water; polluting the food chain, creating toxic chemicals, climate changes… for what? So a few rich folks can get richer?
42 years ago I staged my own little “sit-in” with my lady parts. I’m still chewing on this, aware that I’m at odds with Mother Nature and disjunct in a way inside my own body = disembodied by my choice. The way I see it now is the same as how I saw it then; it was my only chance at survival.
It started out slowly and evolved as most torrid affairs do – into promises of everything you’ve ever dreamed of; connection, love, creative fulfillment, riches, recognition, inclusion and belonging.
“Beethoven” played synthesizer in a jazz band where I’d become the copyist in the mid-1970s and I soon became HIS copyist, as his reputation grew as a freelance arranger.
In the beginning, it was a pretty straightforward client-supplier relationship – he’d call, I’d go pick up the scores, run home to extract the parts and then deliver them to the studio – always last-minute. There was built in drama to the timing – will we be ready? can I get there on time? I always did, but there were some really close calls, when he’d still be writing the 2nd chart in the cab on the way to the studio while I was copying parts to the 1st chart so the musicians would have something to play at the start of the session.
He got plenty of work for pop and disco records as well as music for advertising. New to jingles, I was a little surprised and delighted to discover residual payments; after the initial TV and radio cycle, often ad agencies would continue the campaign using the same music, resulting in another payment for the musicians. When you’re self-employed, “money for nothing” gets your attention!
And then there were magic moments; when the musicians would yell out, “hey, Marilyn’s here! NOW we can get this party started!”, or the guitarist would hold my waist to steady me as I squeezed by the microphones to put parts on the music stands, or when the drummer and bassist would start dancing while listening to the playback. It was great to see pretty much the same fantastically musical guys pretty much every weekday, and watch them switch seamlessly from country tracks in the morning to funk grooves in the afternoon – their musical prowess was spectacular!
“Beethoven” was always the picture of casual elegance with his velvet blazer, tailored jeans, gold Dunhill cigarette lighter. He could “pass” in the business world but had bohemian proclivities; one time I came by to prepare music and found him preparing illegal substances and singing,🎶 “this is the way we chop our coke, chop our coke, chop our coke…” 🎶 Drugs added to the mystique, plus I think he grew to rely on them as much as his chain-smoking and alcohol consumption.
It seemed that he never turned down work, and got to a point where he needed help finishing scores; at first only horn parts, or a string voicing, or vocal harmonies, which I was more than happy to do. It was thrilling to hear what I’d written being brought to life by NYC’s best talent in the best studios. And he’d tell me to add $50 or $75 to my copying invoice. I could use the extra money and heck, we all want to be indispensable. Plus it was dramatic to see him “miraculously” save a session, to notice how impressed the clients were with the results, and to know that behind the scenes, I’d helped contribute to the magic.
What do you give the man who has everything? When his birthday came up, I wanted to get him a suitable gift – it was the only time I’ve ever shopped at Tiffany’s.
Over 4+ years, “Beethoven” was never my only client, but he was the most important one for quite a while. I’d check with him about what was on the schedule before accepting other gigs and I never left town if there was a chance he’d need my services. I was constantly reassured that I was an essential and irreplaceable “part of the team” that sustained his professional success. And that was easy to believe since I bailed him out time and again as he “bit off more than he could chew” work-wise.
Promises were made. While I knew I would never have the keyboard chops he had and I certainly never expected to be asked to play, I was a good sight-singer with choir and studio experience and the ability to blend in vocal groups, and I became frustrated that I was only rarely allowed to sing on sessions (potentially much more lucrative than copying or arranging music). It was confusing when what he’d promised didn’t match up with what went down, and I kept being disappointed when his actions didn’t match his words – much like the married man Carrie Fisher is hung up on at the start of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. “Will he ever leave his wife?” Umm… no. At a certain point, I realized I was living a cliché.
Fortunately the stars aligned and a few things happened to secure my freedom; I’d taken a film scoring summer course at Eastman, and in my absence, “Beethoven” had found someone else to ghostwrite for him. Simultaneously I had an epiphany where I realized that if I didn’t stop working for him, I would hurt myself so that I wouldn’t be able to work for anybody. I had no idea how this would happen – I might get hit by a bus, or fall down and break my arm. I just knew it viscerally, and unlike so many other messages from my gut, for once, I believed it.
The kicker was when he called me again for a last-minute gig after I’d returned from Rochester. I rushed over to his apartment, but it turned out to be a false alarm – his wife told me that the session had been cancelled. Then she added 5 words that totally broke the spell: “You’re married to him, too”.
Whatever else I may have been clueless about, I knew for sure that THAT was not the case!
I hadn’t thought about him in a very long time but recently learned that “Beethoven” died a couple years ago; one of the earliest victims of COVID. And it stirred up a lot of feelings. At first I thought, “oh, gee! What a shame he’s gone.” But after only a short while, as the memories flooded back… hmm. Maybe not such a loss after all.
I began trying to get into the jingle business in the mid 1970s; making the rounds of Madison Avenue ad agencies and music production companies, large and small. My demo reel was pretty thin but I was diligent about calling back “next week” and trying to get a meeting with whoever called the shots. Most of them were “too busy” to actually meet with me, so I’d drop off my reel and business card at their office and follow up by “calling back next week” to remind them to listen and get their reaction.
They generally told me to get lost, but a few one-man jingle shops were more receptive – Stan Applebaum, Louise Messina, Marc Brown – or maybe it was just a slow day and they were bored. I actually got in to see some more than once, and would call every time I’d updated my demo. When I asked Norm Richards how he got business from agencies, he told me he treated the ad guys to lavish lunches – maybe he was hinting that he himself was hungry? Whatever – it was something I sure couldn’t afford to do.
A decade later, after our first foray to Los Angeles, we’d bounced back to Chicago and were frantically making sales calls to Michigan Avenue agencies. We’d been leaving messages for the Head of Production at N.W. Ayer-Chicago every other day for weeks. Finally he took our call and agreed to let us take him out to lunch. We could hardly wait for him to hear our new jingle reel! “Friday,” he said. “Let’s try that new Italian place on E. Huron – Avanzare, I think it’s called.”
“Sure!” We were really excited; this was a super elegant 4-star cloth-napkin-upscale-everyone-wants-to-go-to place that we’d read glowing reviews in the trades and heard all the ad folks buzzing about.
We got there early to suss out the menu; everything sounded delicious, came ala carte and was quite pricey – no Businessman’s Lunch here!
But no worries – this guy was the Head of Production! He could throw a lot of work our way! What’s an expensive lunch in the grand scheme of things?
He arrived a few minutes late, apologized for his tardiness and immediately ordered a dry martini. Then appetizers. Another martini. Then soup. Then the most expensive entree. And wine.
Then he told us this was his “farewell lunch”, as today was his last day at N.W.Ayer, and he was retiring from advertising.
“I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good 🎵 I’ve had a whole full day of motherhood 🎵 But I’m gonna have an Aviance night!”
I didn’t need to see this commercial in 1977 to know that motherhood was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. My mom had profound ambivalence about being a parent, which she shared openly with her girls while we were growing up, and we harbored few romantic illusions about “the pitter-patter of little feet.” Raising kids was hard work!
My mother hated the overtly commercial nature and artificiality of Mother’s Day. She’d accept flowers and chocolate any day of the year – but greeting cards on Mother’s Day? No way! One year I sent her a card intended for a NON-mother, and it made her laugh – which was my intention. (I loved to make her laugh!)
I don’t recall her ever complaining about how “pregnancy had destroyed” her figure, as other women have been known to do; in fact, she said she liked how nursing babies filled out her bosom. She wasn’t crazy about housework (who is??), and once she allowed herself to spend the money, really loved going out for meals instead of cooking at home. And treating you! She was generous like that – and lots of other ways.
However, she had mixed feelings about possessions, including furniture. For the longest time she didn’t have any. This worked almost as an anti-welcome mat, except that she had friends and family stay over frequently. Still, I remember visiting her in San Francisco where the only place to sit (besides the FLOOR!?) was the toilet! She had sewn up some multi-colored pillows for the hardwood floor and that night I slept on Chiclets!
When her older sister came for a visit in NYC, my mother finally broke down and bought a couple of captain’s beds, a table and 2 chairs – “they’re for Helen!” she said. But she kept them after that, so maybe they were for other guests, too?
The incongruity of her resistance to motherhood is that she was actually quite gifted at the most important parts of being a mother; she liked to teach us, to share her enthusiasms (art, music, theater, fashion, movies, other people’s cooking, etc.) She followed her interests and tried new things – she wasn’t fearless but she did it anyway. And she could be extraordinarily affectionate and playful; sometimes she’d hug you and refuse to let go, until it got silly and you both collapsed in laughter! And then she’d grab and hug you again!
Among my loved ones, she was “the one that got away” – the person I most wanted to impress, whose attention was most elusive and thus most precious. In a way, I never stopped being her baby; looking for her approval, desperately wanting her to be happy. I think she always wanted to be wanted – and she was!
In the late 1980s my dad had a friend he called “the rabbi” – a man at the track who provided counsel on which horse to bet on and why. And Maharishi Mahesh Yogi inspired a generation to embrace Transcendental Meditation when the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many others joined him in India 20 years earlier. While John Lennon later claimed that the Giggling Guru was a fraud, the impulse to Follow The Leader seems to be hardwired into human beings.
Anyone who visits my website meets my mentor Hale Smith; I could say that “he made me who I am today”, and while that’s not entirely accurate, he certainly had a profound influence for which I’m eternally grateful. 12-Step groups tell newcomers, “find someone who has what you want and ask how they got it” – and when I saw the career Hale had built for himself, I was in his face, demanding as much of his time and attention as I could get! Fortunately he had boundaries (and plenty of other students!), but I could see that Hale was the best, so being “like Mike” was my top priority!
I invested a lot in my relationship with Hale, but I didn’t feel entitled to his help and I never held him responsible when there were disappointments. I also didn’t go so far as to take up his habit of cigar smoking!
Which brings me to today’s subject: whose job is it to ensure employees are fulfilled in their jobs? When I read this article in today’s news, I started to wonder!?!
As a rule, I’m not a fan of essentially-one-chord songs, so I didn’t pay much attention to THIS one when it first came out. But it came to mind when learning of staff leaving the White House in droves because “we’re doing a lot of work but we’re not decision-makers and there’s no real path towards becoming decision-makers”. Ummm…. excuse my ignorance, but since when did it become management’s job to provide advancement?
The Declaration of Independence promises “the pursuit of Happiness” – but no guarantees! In truth, none of us are actually entitled to much of anything and the sooner we learn that, the better. Like so much else in life, career progress is self-propelled. It has to be a priority to the extent that one keeps working at getting around, over, under and through every obstacle. In my experience this takes energy, focus and steely determination.
To paraphrase John Houseman’s iconic ad for Smith Barney, “Happiness doesn’t grow on trees or march up and bite you on the behind… you have to EARN it!”
I’m not much of a prize-winner – (one reason I don’t play the Lotto!) Ten years ago I won a couple Toastmasters ribbons for fairly coherent Table Talks. And I won a trophy for Safety Patrol service in the 6th grade – essentially for good attendance, not because I’d saved anyone’s life or anything like that. The next year my older sister took home practically every award and prize given by the school when she graduated from 8th grade. Meanwhile I slumped into ignominy in junior high, receiving my first of several troublesome report cards. My dad was very nice about it – he even defended me to the teachers, but it was obvious I’d never be the superstar student my older sister was.
Competition was a fact of life in the Harris household – for applause from the outside world and for attention within our family. But at the same time that the quest for the spotlight was expected, it was also sometimes shamed and ridiculed. I grew up feeling somewhat ambivalent about such recognition, as it could invite jealousy and sneering contempt.
Still, it’s gratifying to be acknowledged for our accomplishments; high school diplomas, college sheepskins, gold records, acknowledgement for one’s work being chosen in competition. Tokens of friendship, mementos of belonging.
When we got married, my husband had several boxes of awards he’d won on graduating from high school. The John Philip Sousa trophy. Outstanding Musician plaque. Awards for conducting, prizes for arranging, medals for performing, assisting, leading the section…. I honestly couldn’t believe how many there were – WAY more than the haul my older sis had!!
(And over the years I’ve learned how deserved they all were – how Mark had EARNED these awards and lived up to his potential – no, surpassed the expectations of his teachers.)
I was overwhelmed, and once again felt horribly inadequate. I told him they had to go, that our midtown Manhattan apartment was too small to keep them, even tucked away in a closet.
Truth is, I was envious. I had never had my talents publicly acknowledged like that. I wanted those trophies GONE.
So we took photos of them and threw them in the trash.
Not my proudest moment. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make that demand today.
C’mon now – everybody’s doing it!! (heck, WE even did it a few decades ago!)
I just finished reading Randy Rainbow’s memoir PLAYING WITH MYSELF – and it’s pretty much what you might expect: about as saucy and irreverent as he is. No huge revelations, nothing too surprising about his story; essentially he works his ass off to create his YouTube musical commentaries and is having the time of his life doing so.
I confess I got a lot more from reading Paul Evans’ HAPPY-GO-LUCKY ME – in part because Paul has had a longer and much more dimensional career, and also because we’ve had the pleasure of working with him and being friends for over 40 years.
There are any number of coaches out there who can guide an author on how (and WHY! ) to construct, edit, publish and promote their books. And I believe that while not everyone needs to tell their story in printed form, ALL of our stories are valid and worth the telling. Though it’s none of my business, I badger a few friends on a regular basis to get crackin’ on their memoirs – mainly because I want to re-savor their adventures, but also because, as my grandpa (and Hank Williams!) always said, “none of us are gettin’ out of this alive!” Let “the world discover” your story while you’re still here to set the record straight!
When it comes to trust, I’ll almost always choose dogs over people. We recently watched an episode of the Netflix series DOGS, and I found myself judging Alana, the young military woman who had rescued a beautiful homeless puppy while based in Iraq. Her support system moved heaven and earth to bring Jet🐾 home to Boise, ID for her, before her latest deployment was over. Everyone involved gave their all, especially Tara, the woman who fostered Jet back in the States. It was heartbreaking to see Alana ultimately return Jet back to Tara, his foster mom, but I also found myself thinking, “what’s wrong with Alana that she can’t handle Jet, after ALL these people went to such lengths to bring him back home for her?”
Granted, Alana is a single woman in her 20s who had never had a dog before, and a lot had happened to both Alana AND Jet while they’d been separated. Jet had grown into a much larger dog, and after being held in quarantine and moved halfway around the world, whatever bond they had originally had was broken – on both sides. Neither Jet nor Alana were the same people they’d been when they’d met, and they just didn’t trust one another!
And then I began to feel guilty, as I realized that we’d had a very similar experience just a few years ago. In May 2019 we rescued a pair of beautiful mini-schnauzers but the chemistry had been “off” pretty much from the get-go, and they’d never bonded with us OR our other pups – so after 10 days we chose to return them to their foster mom! We were inconsolable, but Elke & Dana never relaxed around us, and we could never relax around them. They wound up being adopted by a different family and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault – it just is.
As a Baby Boomer kid, I remember The March Of Dimes https://www.marchofdimes.org as my first exposure to charities. I was handed a collection card at school, and expected to fill it by begging dimes from my parents and their friends, or even (gasp!) contributing my own meager allowance! Even during the Great Depression, every “buddy” was expected to at least have a DIME to spare, right?https://youtu.be/nLZTdhY1GVE
The thing is, I’ve always had a thing about money. While I didn’t think our family was “poor”, I knew that we didn’t have a lot of “extra” – certainly not enough to go splashing money willy-nilly into other people’s hands. And by the late 1950s, most kids my age had been vaccinated and polio was no longer the scourge it had been when the March Of Dimes charity was started by FDR in 1938. Ella Fitzgerald, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and even Elvis still made appearances in support, but they had a LOT more dimes than I did! – and besides, I had better things to do with MY dimes, like saving for a piano! https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/05/30/i-love-a-piano/
I don’t like to think of myself as stingy. I’ve donated blood. I donate books to the library and assorted items to Goodwill. I volunteer my time and energy to worthy causes. However, my reticence to make hard cold cash contributions has persisted my entire life, and even increased in recent years; for one thing, I’ve noticed malfeasance on the part of some charities and seen various “Matildas” take-the-money-and-run-Venezuela. For another, I’ve become aware of ulterior motives creeping into and polluting original causes; internet scams, email entreaties, GoFund Me campaigns and even mainstream media reporting on the horrors of war all muddy the waters of what constitutes giving. When gifts-in-kind aren’t accepted, but only MONEY welcomed… well, that raises a red flag for me about the nature of the actual charity.
And I abhor being shamed. That just doesn’t work for me. I think being bullied into making a contribution is appalling and the opposite of sincere generosity.
So what exactly IS our responsibility? I like the idea that charity is kindness and compassion – both qualities that have a lot more to do with maintaining a state of heart and mind than making financial donations. My responsibility comes down to owning my own actions – or inactions. There are so many ways to delude and blame others for our lives – so many ways to be distracted and irresponsible. Being honest with myself and the world is the most charitable thing I can do.