I can’t react to the death of Christine McVie without at the same time re-living the death of my wife Alison, who lived and breathed the music of Fleetwood Mac. That’s something I’d rather not do, at least in public, so I’ll leave it at the thought that like just about everyone of my age and background, I grew up listening to Fleetwood Mac, and even at my most “metal,” couldn’t help liking them. It was through Alison that I came to love them, and through Alison’s death that their music has become a constant reminder of her, and a bittersweet fixture in my psyche. Here’s my favorite one of McVie’s songs, which manages, at least for me, to conjure up the ghosts of childhood wonder, and with it, the evanescence of happiness in adulthood. That’s probably not what she intended when she wrote it, but eventually, the creations of a great artist take on a life of their own.
This is a memorial essay for Barbara Gordon, written by my friend Yvonne Raley, formerly Associate Professor of Philosophy at Felician University.
The sound of your voice will always be with me, Barbara, my beloved and loyal friend, my teacher of song. I am so grateful to have been graced with your presence for 27 years of my life, and so torn apart by your untimely death.
I knew you as delicate and fragile in many ways, and yet you were mighty, a true force that would fill people’s hearts with music and joy. I will never forget how you grilled me before taking me on as your student, to make sure I had enough dedication, because you would accept nothing less. I finally won you over with our shared love for Debussy and my ability to speak French, and so in 1994 I became your tutee Friday mornings at NYU, and a couple of years later at your home where I became part of your extended family: I stood next to the piano and practiced as Josh graduated high school and Ellie graduated college, got married and had kids of her own. I met Josh’s cat Milo who loved your yard, and I shared a memorable Seder with you. Not only did you introduce me to Satie and Ravel, but also to your Chiropractor and to Whole Foods!
I just got news today, a week after the fact, of the untimely passing of my friend and colleague Barbara Gordon, Associate Professor of Music and Instructor in French at Felician University. Hired about a year before I was (2007), Barbara essentially built the university’s music department and program (including its choir) from the ground up, and was responsible for just about every major musical event–religious, classical, jazz–that took place on campus. She organized the Christmas concert as well as the musical parts of the convocation and commencement ceremonies, and virtually every concert and recital in between. Where there was high musical culture to be had at Felician–be it Adele, Bach, or Coltrane–Barbara was likely behind it.
Van Halen’s music has always been driven by an interesting tension: a bad-ass hard rock side, typified by songs like “Mean Street,” and a romantic, even sappy pop side, typified by songs like “Little Guitars.” My personal favorite is one that manages to weave both strands together into a seamless whole: “Jamie’s Cryin’.”
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage
P.S. Calling Ray Trumbo. Contact me!
“Don’t let nobody pick your fun…”
The year is 1977–maybe late October or November. I’m eight years old, having dinner in a pizzeria with my immigrant family in Blairstown, New Jersey–Dominick’s, I think it was. Suddenly, the stereo system at Dominick’s pipes out the unforgettable bass-snare drum beat of the latest hit on the radio:
BOOM BOOM Clap
BOOM BOOM Clap
BOOM BOOM Clap
BOOM BOOM Clap
Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise
Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
Mud on yo’ face
Kickin’ your can all over the place
Everyone in Dominick’s but us–maybe two dozen Warren County rednecks–starts stomping their feet and clapping their hands in time to the music. Somebody yells out, “Fuckin Yankees!” (The Yankees had won the World Series that year.) And then, two dozen voices in unison, between bites of Jersey Neapolitan pizza, sing in commemoration of the Yankees’ victory over the Dodgers, and anything else that comes to mind:
Some things speak for themselves.