Saturday, August 6, 2016

Under the Big Top # 31: “Music and Memory Revisited”

(Personal reflections inspired by Who songs)

Song: “Love, Reign o’er Me”
Album: Quadrophenia
Release Date: October, 1973

As is noted in the heading/description of this blog site, back in 2008 and 2009 I posted weekly “Gem Videos” to family and friends via email (which were eventually included here).  There were 100 in all, and the intent of those entries was to write about the music videos I tracked down (mostly on YouTube) and the memories these recordings stirred within me.  Entries included great songs from a whole range of musicians, many of whom were not who we would consider as mainstream artists (i.e. songs by Iris Dement, Gram Parsons, Flash and the Pan, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Curtis Mayfield).  The subsequent series’ on the Rolling Stones (“Stepping Stones”), Neil Young (“Forever Young”), and now the Who (“Under the Big Top”), are a bit different in their focus, as I dig deeper into the music of these artists who I know the most about.  The url links are less of an emphasis here, but the attention to the thoughts and memories I connect with remain the same.

Not knowing where all this was going back in 2009, I included entries from the Who (as well as the Stones and Neil) in that original series.  In each of these newer series, I’ve resurrected a handful of those entries in an attempt to incorporate them into the flow of my current musings, particularly when I felt the time was right (and especially with this current series).  Below is the last of the Who entries from that “Gem Video” series. 

The actual title of my Blog site, “Music and Memory” was based on the title of this now 7-year-old entry below, which is one of the most personal and heartfelt from that series.

Songs are often linked with memories, but occasionally a song is so inextricably linked to a memory, there is no separating the two:  The memory defines the song, and vice versa.  This week’s entry is about a powerful moment/memory in my life and the Gem of a song that accompanies it. 

Twenty one years ago today, Cousin Rebecca Hedtler (Smith) and great friend, Dave Hedtler were married (both are on the receiving end of these weekly postings). I was there when they met, and several years later, was honored when they asked me to be their best man.  It was a picture perfect wedding on a picture perfect day, and other than my own wedding, I’ve never before or since had more friends and family gathered together at one event. 

At the rehearsal dinner, Becca introduced me to her nephew, Danny, saying to him: “This is the best man”.  He was young and innocent enough to believe this was my real name.  When he started calling me ‘Best Man’, I neglected to correct him, despite the half a dozen or so opportunities I had when he posed a question my way.  How could you correct a name like that?  Besides, he had it right….at least for the weekend.

The best man speech for the reception was pretty easy to come up with:  When you are there to see the relationship of a cousin and close friend unfold, there is no shortage of material to compile a 2 hour toast, never mind 2 minutes.  I don’t actually have the speech memorized, but will do my best to resurrect/paraphrase/embellish/idealize it here for posterity’s sake (leaving out the murmurs, throat clearings, stutters, ahems, and grunts):

It’s remarkable to be here today to be a witness to the marriage between a great friend and an equally great cousin.  I figured the best way to toast them, would be to revisit how they met over three years ago. 

It started with an extended family gathering at my parents’ home, when Becca mentioned to my Mom that she was looking at options for Graduate School, including visiting universities in Canada.  Mom told Becca that I would soon be heading up to Ottawa to visit school friends, and that she should talk to me about coordinating our travel plans.  It was not long before Becca and I were ironing out the details.

Although excited about the prospect of having my cousin join me on a trek north of the border, I was a bit concerned:  This was another side of me, the bachelor side.  Not so much a problem on its own.  However, my bachelor side included many fellow bachelors, particularly two who would be joining us on the road trip: Dave and Mac.  I would be able to tone things down a bit on my end, but I had no control over these guys…. none whatsoever. 

As we began our trip, Becca and Dave in the back, Mac in the passenger seat, me driving, things got off on the wrong foot. Mac and Dave had spent a large chunk of the night before awake and partying.  The conversations were over-spiced with harsh adjectives and interjections.  And one word came to mind in regards to their appearance: Disheveled.  Normally I could care less (I can be as shabby as the best of them).  This time it was different.

But Becca seemed to be enjoying herself.  And when a misplaced donut was sat upon, there were no moments of tenseness to work through.  On the contrary, abuse was slung in several directions, with accompanying laughter, and no one was offended.  All seemed rather normal in terms of a road trip with Mac and Dave (of which I had much to compare to).  As the trip entered Vermont things got quiet in the back seat.  Crossword puzzles were being solved at record pace.  This was teamwork.  Something was up.

When we got to Ottawa, Becca and Dave were already very much enjoying each other’s company.  This was great, because I had a lot of catching up to do with my Canadian friends and, in all honesty, I plum forgot about my cousin at times.  It did not matter.  Becca was in good hands. Everyone had a blast. The weekend went without a hitch.  It was a top-drawer road trip.  And most important, a romance began to take root.

Since then we four have been quite inseparable in regards to good times.  Over the last few years, I’ve looked at Becca more as a friend than a cousin.  And her relationship with Dave has become long-lasting. Now they are appropriately getting married.  I wish them the best of times in their future together.

These are the memories of a priceless day, but in terms of introducing this week’s Gem, Becca and Dave’s union is but half the story.  Unfortunately, the other half was tragic, because there was one person who did not make it to the wedding, Aunt Ginger, who died in a car crash the day before.  Ginger, a Dominican Nun and a beautiful person, was related to half the crowd in attendance, including the bride.  Many heavy hearts were valiantly put on the shelf that day, to celebrate a blessed event.  Looking back, it was quite amazing that the celebration truly overcame our common loss.

Last week I talked about appreciation, and among many other superlatives, appreciation is something Ginger had an abundance of.  Ginger appreciated everything, particularly people, and however much you appreciated her it was hard to top her appreciation for you.  This, I am sure, she garnered from her strong faith in God.  And when you have that much appreciation for those around you, you’re well loved and admired.  Her death was a very difficult blow because through her faith, she was a source of strength for everyone who knew her.

For me, I can never forget the moment of that sunny morning when I realized I could focus on the wedding while still keeping Ginger close to heart.  I had already headed back home that morning to visit (and cry) with Mom, take a shower, and dress up in my tuxedo.  I then picked Dave up and we connected with the old gang for breakfast.  I recall Mac stepping to the plate and keeping the atmosphere upbeat, as the spirit of the moment was still escaping me.

Dave and I then took the drive up Rte. 495 to the Martha Mary Chapel at the Wayside Inn, Sudbury Massachusetts.  We had the radio on, and as we drove along the rolling valley of that long stretch of highway just north of the Rte. 9 exit, The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” came on the radio:  Not an all that common song to hear on the radio compared to other Who songs. The song, sun, valley, and cruising that stretch of road dressed to the hilt in tuxedos as groom and best man was surreal.  We turned the dial way up.  I listened intensely to the lyrics and music, and I was immediately locked in, suddenly ready and excited for the day ahead. 

Dad was locked in too, giving the blessing (which Ginger had written) at the reception, with Mom standing by his side.  It was an unforgettable moment as I recall reflecting on how close Dad was to Mom’s sister.  Ginger’s brothers and sisters were also locked in, as were Becca’s entire family, particularly the bride and groom.  With all that locking in, I have no doubt, Ginger was there with us.

The Who have performed “Love Reign O’er Me” frequently in concert over the years.  I believe it to be one of Roger Daltrey’s favorites. The songs bridge, the weaving of the words reign vs rain, and the over-the-top vocals all contribute to the intensity of this song.  Last year, when the Who were recognized at the annual Kennedy Center Honors, Bettye LaVette covered ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and did an exceptional job.  It’s her version that is captured for this week’s Gem.  Below it is a still shot video with the original studio recording that gave a well needed dose of healing all those years ago.  Below that is a live 1996 Who performance of the song (the first Quadrophenia show in Hyde Park, London).

Happy Anniversary, Becca and Dave!  Has it really been 21 years since I was thrown into a lake wearing a tuxedo?  21 years since watching a DJ get coerced into playing Little Feat songs and little else?  21 years since the first guy in the old gang made the Big Leap?  …..Yow!

There you have it.  And now it’s been 28 years.  Another seven years of great memories.  My goodness!  Happy Anniversary again to you Becca and Dave!

- Pete

  • Betty LaVette performing “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors.  I love the moment at the 1:57 mark when she rocks backward, intoxicated by the lyrics and the meaning.
  • The Who performing “Love Reign O’er Me” live, 1996 (the Prince’s Trust concert that unleashed the Quadrophenia Madison Square Garden shows and eventually a Quadro tour)
  • This is the magnificent Who studio version.

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