From ACM #20: The New Music
Anita O'Day was recently interviewed on the radio, on one of the stations I am fond of. She was hooked on drugs for years but claims to have kicked the habit. She told the interviewer that she had taken drugs because she had felt like taking drugs. Then, when she no longer felt like it, she went off to Hawaii where she was a stranger to drug salesmen. She sounded drunk to me. She said, "My name's O'Day and that's pig latin for money, honey, and plenty of it." She must have been drunk to ramble on like that. She claimed that her record company is managed and financed by her dog. Drunk.
It turns out that Anita O'Day is missing her uvula, that sack of flesh that hangs from the rear of most everyone's palate. Hers was accidentally removed during a childhood tonsillectomy. She was young then and has adjusted, made quite a name for herself.
I heard Anita O'Day sing plenty of times before but was very excited when, at the end of the interview, the station played a few of her songs. It sounded completely new to me knowing that she was missing her uvula. Apparently, along with the appendix and tonsils, the uvula is one of those things that we can do without. Since the interview, I cannot get it out of my mind, the idea of this extra baggage. It makes me gag, but still I find myself constantly poking at my uvula with whatever is handy. It's funny, I just want to take a pair of scissors and snip the damned thing off. It would bleed like the devil but it wouldn't kill me.
I am not a physician but have read enough to know that everything is not as complicated as it is made to sound. Most of it is just common sense. For example, I have given my daughter, Dawn, stitches several times. If you sew a button on a shirt then you can give someone stitches. Just make sure to use a clean, sharp needle and some strong thread. I recommend unwaxed dental floss. Do not, under any circumstances, use yarn. I found myself in a pinch last year and Dawn still blames me for that scar on her forehead. I said then and I will say now that there is no way I'm going to pay some doctor three hundred dollars just because my daughter got drunk and fell. She certainly doesn't have that kind of money and whoever it was that pushed her didn't step forward and offer to pay. I am still making payments on the last hospital visit. I will probably be paying on that for the rest of my life. Doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. The less we have to do with those people the better off we'll be. They have everything very neatly tied up and plan to keep it that way.
Two years ago, when Dawn was fifteen, she fell off the roof. Don't look at me, I have no idea what she was doing up there. I thank God that she landed on her feet. I found her staggering across the lawn and was troubled by her ankles. They felt puffy to me so I set them and applied two fine casts which, it turned out, were a little bit too tight.
Eventually I was forced to carry her to the hospital where some power-hungry surgeon decided that he needed to amputate both her feet. I am still convinced that her feet were that color not because of gangrene, but because they were dirty. Whose feet wouldn't be dirty after three weeks in a cast.
Anita O'Day was the first music I have listened to since I got rid of the stereo. I still have a bit of tissue lodged in my ear. I had to put it there to blot out the new music Dawn was listening to. The paper is lodged way up in the canal and I don't dare try and dig it out myself. Everyone says Don't Stick Sharp Objects In Your Ear. I believe that this is sound advice (ha ha). Seriously though, the ear is a complex and delicate thing, my ears are anyway.
Lately I find myself wishing that, instead of paper, it was a scrap of metal inside my ear. That way I could draw it out using a powerful magnet held up against the side of my head. It would make a little clinking sound when it hit the magnet.
When I listen to music I like to relax and imagine my place in it. I believe that this is fairly common. I like to imagine myself as the vocalist or, if the singer is a woman, I pretend that I wrote the song and play all of the important instrumental solos. I generally don't listen to music on the radio. It doesn't allow me the time I need to set the stage for myself. I like to know, for instance, where it is that I am performing. How many people are in the audience? What sort of a crowd do they make? As a rule I picture myself playing small clubs where the audience is allowed to drink or move about freely during my set. They ruin my concentration with their damned tinklings. I almost always imagine Carol, my ex-wife and Dawn's mother, making an appearance during my nightclub act. Sometimes I allow her to stand shivering in the doorway until the end of my act when she staggers towards me begging for forgiveness. The trouble with this is that Carol wouldn't be caught dead drifting into any of the clubs I fantasize playing. She doesn't give a damn for ballads, for anything that isn't fast and dancey. It all becomes very complicated and tiresome to imagine, so I rarely listen to music anymore. I do, however, pay close attention to the radio and have quite an impressive collection of tapes. I have the entire Iran-Contra hearings on high quality Maxell. I tried to draw Dawn into the hearings but she wasn't interested. Daniel Inouye is missing one of his arms and that certainly didn't slow him down or keep him off the radio! I have a complete three-year collection of National Press Club broadcasts along with several hard to find Noel Proctor commentaries. I have tapes of myself calling in on The Larry King Show and speaking personally to such guests as Ed Meese, Tommy Smothers, Bob Hope, and The Velvet Frog himself. The local radio hosts can recognize me by voice and respect the way I have of challenging their guests. It isn't easy getting through to any of these shows, but if you are persistent and have something to say then you'll find a way to voice your opinion. I often try and encourage Dawn to call a few shows and speak her mind about the issues. Stupid me, waste of time. Dawn doesn't even know what the issues are. She would sit glued to the television set or else she'd try and hog the phone making calls to her so-called friends. I sometimes just want to shake the life out of her, to point at the invisible radio waves in the night sky and tell her that, God-dammit, people are thinking out there.
After I got rid of the TV set Dawn took to listening to a lot of rock music. I can't remember the names of any of the bands. It was just one long, horrible record to me. All of those English men with their weary voices remind me of someone walking very slowly through the garbage they have strewn over the face of this earth. Dawn would sit in her chair and listen to these records, one right after another, which was just not healthy. It is music that was popular during the time she spent dating a boy named Rusty Miller. She used to carry on and on about Rusty, the sun rose and set with him. Rusty wasn't the right type for Dawn but she, of course, couldn't, wouldn't, see it. In my opinion he paid too much attention to his hair. It was sprayed up on top and fell to his shoulders. Beautiful hair, like a girl's. Dawn's hair should look so good. She threatened more than once to run off with this Rusty character. Dramatic. She tried to convince me that she was pregnant with his child and that they would have to get married. They would cross state lines to do it. I know she was lying. I have a better chance of getting pregnant than she does, but I said, "Fine, all right, you make your filthy bed and you lie in it." But where was Miller after my daughter lost her feet? You tell me. He was just a fair-weather friend and I tell her it's a good thing she found out before it was too late. I found that out about Carol too late. I said, "Look at me."
I figured Dawn had met someone else when she started playing this new music. She hears it on the radio and has gotten a hold of some records, too, big 45s the size of regular LPs. These are songs that have been retouched so that the singers stutter and the music falls back on itself. The same lines repeated over and over again as though they were intended for memorization. Simple, stupid lyrics over and over and over again. "I I I I I I Need I Need You." What? How's that again? She's getting these records from some kid down the block. I've seen him around a few times on the street barefoot and shirtless but with a big hairbrush sticking out of his gym shorts. He's not going anyplace barefoot so what does he need with a hairbrush? He's just begging to step on a nail or on some of the broken glass I've set outside Dawn's window and I can't wait until he does.
The songs Dawn plays gave me a headache, gave us both headaches. Mine went away after I dismantled the record player but when Dawn's persisted I figured it probably had something to do with her wisdom teeth. Do you have any idea how much it costs to have wisdom teeth removed by a dentist? I've done some research and the procedure is really not as complicated as you might think. I could handle it. Those teeth have to go. If left untended, they could work their way through her skull and into her brain, wiping out every decent idea she might be capable of.