I BLAME CAROLE KING: THE EVIL INFLUENCES OF MY MOTHER’S MUSIC
(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)
I’M LISTENING TO “Walking into Clarksdale” by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Man! Talk about a stinky CD! I got it a few years ago on Ebay. I guess I just had to listen to it today to remind myself how bad it is! What a disappointment compared to most of their early work in Zeppelin! There won’t be any writing inspiration from this music! I better put something else on!
Let’s see… Dire Straits? Eagles? ELO? (Hmm… “Evil Woman” I could write about X.1 or X.2.) The Goo Goo Dolls? The Guess Who? (Hmm again… “American Woman” Sounds like more ex-wife inspiration.) Don Henley? (“The End of the Innocence” That happened at birth.) Faith Hill? (Wait! Who put THAT in my CD collection?) Carole King? (Lots of childhood inspiration there thanks to Mom!) Led Zeppelin? (Nope. I got a bad Page and Plant vibe right now.) Lynyrd Skynyrd? (“Gimme Back my Bullets” Ah! More ex-wife inspiration!) John Mellencamp? (Someone once told me that I sound like a mix of Bob Seger and John Mellencamp when I sing. “Sammy Cougar Mellonhead.”) Nazareth? (Not again! “Love Hurts” More ex material!) Tom Petty? Pink Floyd?
Did you notice that they are all in alphabetical order? Yeah. It’s one of my idiosyncrasies, just like making sure all of my money is facing the same direction with the smaller bills in front.
OKAY. Here we go. It’s Carole King. Look what you’ve done to me, Mother! “Oooo, Darling! When you’re near me and you tenderly call my name…” What have I become? Oh, this is disgusting! I hope none of the guys at work find out that I listen to this mush! Yet I don’t seem to have the will to turn it off. And it’s taking me back…
I’m remembering the year that my parents divorced. I was nine. The signs that the end was near were pretty obvious even for a nine-year-old. The note on the table that read, “You can have the pool. I want such-and-such,” was a dead giveaway. When the news was broken to Sister C and I, I remember saying, “I know already.” We were in the dining room at Pop’s diner.
Was I angry about it? Did I have resentments? Did it cause some heartache and bring weirdness into my life? I’d be a liar if I answered no. Yet, through the years I realized that I would not have become the person that I am if I didn’t experience living through my parents’ divorce. I also have this gut feeling that I would have been a rather boring person, maybe a passionless average Joe. Just before the divorce I was interested in playing the saxophone. My God! That would have prevented my whole glorious drumming career! I could have turned out to be one of those kids in the band who have no coordination yet insist on “trying out” your drum set. How annoying! And they never stop once they start! A few of these types came SOOOO close to being harpooned through the throat by a drumstick! So, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what could have been if my parents stayed together. To me it felt more like this was the path that my life needed to follow. It’s just the way it was.
“You gotta get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world that you’re beautiful as you feel.” Well, Carole, easy for you to sing about it! Not always the easiest thing in the world though! But I’m learning to do it more!
NOW, where was I? Oh yeah. Age nine.
Remember Pop’s red Ford Ranchero? For the rest of my fourth grade school year we lived with my grandparents and Mom drove us back and forth to school instead of changing schools mid year. (Thank you Mom!) It seemed like we were always on Asbury Road. I distinctly remember “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John playing on the radio one hot afternoon as we drove home.
Fourth grade was also the year of my first fist fight in school. Yeah, there’s a milestone for any boy! The fight broke out in the middle of class. I don’t even remember the other kid’s name now. It was stupid. I had other fights outside of school in those days. One friend and I got into fights every now and then. One time I broke something of his. He chased me all the way home. The front door was locked and Mom was inside vacuuming the living room. This kid was pounding on me and I was pounding on the door. But Mom wouldn’t open it! (I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, Mom!) I ended up getting pushed into the rose bushes. He got me good. That may have been our last fight before I moved away. I think he was one up on me. We’ll see who ends up in the bushes if I ever find that guy!
It was also the same year that I punched an eighth grader in the face. He was this big tall kid with flaming red hair. One time he chased me all over the neighborhood, pounding me on the top of the head the whole time. I couldn’t get away from him. Then one day I went to meet one of my friends, David Clark. At the spot where we were supposed to meet there was someone sitting on the other side of the road. I thought it was my friend and yelled, “Hey, Clarkbar!” To my horror, the person on the other side unfolded and stood up. Strutting his way across the street was the giant carrot head! “What did you call me??” “Nothing!” POW!! Right in the left cheek! It worked! It left him stunned just long enough for me to get a head start. I ran to the house of the aforementioned friend (the one who shoved me into the roses) and pounded on his front door. His mom opened the door and yanked me in just as the flaming giant was nipping at my heels! He left me alone after that.
There was another bully where I lived as a kid. His name was Gary Sinko. Sinko doesn’t sound like much of a bully’s name. But we were all afraid of him. I don’t know exactly why. He wasn’t very big. It was all in his attitude I guess. He used to pick on me and beat on me. One day I was crossing through some yards. Suddenly, Gary was standing right in front of me. “Where do you think you are going?” “Nowhere!” POW!! Right in the stomach! Again, it bought me enough of a head start to get away. I never punched a kid in the stomach before. I remember thinking of how soft it felt. He never bothered me again either.
Bullies are everywhere though! Even after we moved to Gram’s I had to deal with a few. One of them was Victor Motyka. Even in fifth grade he had long hair. It was pure blonde. And he was smoking pot back then. He was a bad dude with a big bully attitude. Everyone in school was afraid of him. He was a little crazy. It was dislike at first sight for he and I. He’d push me around and what not. Until one day, the day he made a big mistake. Returning my tray in the cafeteria during lunch one day I bumped into Victor. He decided to show off in front of everyone. Whenever Victor was around, people watched him to see if he’d do anything crazy. So, he started pushing me and calling me “four eyes.” (Yeah, I wore glasses as a kid.) Then he knocked my glasses off onto the floor. POW!! I punched him right in the face! No running this time. I stood there and waited. I guess I put him in his place because he didn’t fight back and he never bothered me again. If you don’t put a bully in his place he will always feed on your fear and never leave you alone.
WOW! Look at what this Carole King music is doing to me! People talk about rock-n-roll causing people to do violent things. I don’t know. I think this mellow junk is more dangerous! Maybe there are subliminal messages recorded backwards on this CD. “I feel the earth move under my feet.” Yeah! It’s from the bodies of the wounded falling down! “You just call on my name, and you know wherever I am I’ll coming running to see you.” No thanks, Carole! You’ll just come running to knock me into the rose bushes! I need to listen to something wholesome instead of all this easy listening angst! Something like Nirvana maybe…
Now, with the proper musical background, let’s go back to fourth grade and talk about…
I only ever threw up once in school. I told Mom that I felt sick in the morning. She wouldn’t believe me and felt that I was just faking it. As a kid you are guilty until proven innocent. So off to school I went. I made it to lunchtime. I managed to force down some fruit cocktail. But it didn’t stay down for long. After lunch our class was in the library working on book reports. I delayed the puking for as long as possible. That’s the way I am. I can’t handle it. I lay there for hours when I have the flu and dread the idea of puking until it comes out with such violence that it nearly rips my head off. Afterwards I always tell myself that the next time I will puke ASAP because you always feel so much better as soon as you do. But I never do that! So, here I was in the library, choking it down until I couldn’t hold it much longer. The teacher was surrounded by students who were waiting their turn to ask questions. So I in my timidity stood there green-faced until it was finally my turn. I said, “I… think… I’m… gonna… pu…” He pointed and yelled, “Run to the bathroom! Run!” One step. Two steps. Three steps. BLAHHHHHH! Right there on the library carpeting! It was embarrassing but I didn’t feel well enough to care. A few more steps. BLAHHHHHH! BLAHHHHH! Ten minutes later Mom was picking me up in the nurse’s office. “I told you I was sick.”
NOW, the most embarrassing incident in my entire school career happened in second grade. During the whole ten years of school that followed, nothing topped this. No, not the time that I fell in a huge puddle during gym class. No, not the time that I farted by accident in seventh grade geometry class. No, not the time that I got caught burning papers during study hall in the auditorium. This just may be the most embarrassing incident in my whole life. It happened when I had to read a report in front of the class. I did my report on bats, the flying kind. I sat there in utter nervousness as student after student got in front of the class to read. I was so scared! So much so that I did not even have the courage to ask to use the bathroom before it was my turn. (You know what’s coming. Don’t you?) So I got up to read. I was pale white and shaking. All eyes were on me. It was my turn in the spotlight. I can still see all of those kids with looks of anticipation on their faces, waiting for me to start. “My report is on bats. Bats are the only flying mammals…” PSSSSsssss…
Yes! I pissed my pants in front of the whole class in second grade! There! Now the whole world knows! For all of these years the laughter of those kids has echoed in my mind night after night! I can still smell the fear and urine spreading on the cheap indoor/outdoor carpeting! I still curse the flying mammals!
But God bless my second grade teacher, Mrs. Yates! She quickly ushered me out of the room with her arm around me. “Oh, Sammy! Why didn’t you tell me you had to go? I would have let you. Go down to the nurse.” I walked into the nurse’s office with my pants soaked and reeking. “What happened to you??” “Uh… I got sick?”
SO MUCH for the past. Here’s something interesting. I just joined the Toastmasters club where I work. Let’s hope that my first speech there goes a little better than my speech in second grade! I hope they don’t ask me to speak on the topic of the most embarrassing experience of my life. I’ll be pissed!