Does Marvin Gaye know what’s going on?

I’ve enjoyed blogging about each of the forty-five songs I refer to in my five books, and today I am writing the last of these posts. For no particular reason, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that distinction. It occurs near the end of z2, when much of the group comes together for New Year’s Eve, and the words to the song provide impetus for solving part of the puzzle of the mysterious Maya artifact.

cmkqowgweaeubypIn fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a song about hope. Written in 1966 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it became a hit in 1967 when it was recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It basically says I’ll be there to help you , because no force is big enough to stop me. It’s the last part of the that message that gets my attention; the idea that nothing can be so big and so bad that it can’t be overcome by someone who wants to make things better. I’m not feeling terribly hopeful these days; I guess I really need to hear this sort of thing. I must not be the only one, as I and over a hundred thousand other people have enjoyed this simple and classy early video posted a few years ago.

Looking up more information on Marvin Gaye (who is usually associated with the song) I found a wonderful fan page for him and learned that in the tumultuous year of 1969 he became frustrated with the type of music he was writing, wanting to turn towards topics that were more socially relevant.

The timing makes sense. In 1968, twelve elections ago, two fairly unpopular presidential candidates ran against each other while their policies sharply contrasted with a controversial war and a good deal of racial and political unrest. I would guess that Marvin Gaye didn’t want to only sing happy, hopeful songs for lovers. He wanted to weigh in on the social issues of the day.

According to the fan page

… in 1971 What’s Going On was released; the first song Marvin Gaye produced himself. The album explored topics such as poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse and the environment. Barry Gordy was reluctant to release the album because he doubted its potential commercial success. Despite the reservations, What’s Going On was an instant hit and groundbreaking work in the soul music genre.

It’s easy to see why. In a unique sweet and sour style, the title song contrasts a cocktail party sound with harsh words about the times. The song opens with … (From Metrolyrics)

Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying

Let’s face it, these are apt lyrics for today, and they got me thinking about how much 1969 and 2017 have in common. They had an unpopular war, we have unpopular wars complicated by global terrorism. Racial tensions then had grown out of the fight to eliminate legal segregation, today many of us of all colors are reeling from a plethora of incidents with the police that make us question how far we have really come towards racial equality. Two high profile assassinations, police brutality during the 1968 democratic convention and the sight of 250,000 war protesters marching in Washington left the people of 1969 angry and confused. Today, we face the inauguration of a president whose election was aided by a longstanding enemy nation and fueled by groups chanting about building walls and talk of registering members of a minority religion. Times change, but sometimes they seem to circle back around, and revisit the feel of a bygone era.

I sought out a video of “What’s Going On” and found this one which has been enjoyed by almost NINE MILLION people recently. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that Marvin Gaye understood something about the problems of 2017.

Father, father we don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate

Of course, he went on to write and perform many more songs before his tragic death at age forty-five, and he left a wide and varied legacy in R&B, soul, funk, jazz and pop genres. As I enjoyed researching and learning more about him, I realized that I like all of his music, although the hopeful song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the wisely prescient “What’s Going on” are my two favorites.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

As the background characters say in the video, “right on.”

Stand By Me: loyalty versus all kinds of other things

Does anyone doubt that a real friend is someone who will stand by you, no matter what?

Does anyone doubt that there are times to walk away from a friend?

maybe 1We hold both statements as self-evident truths and seldom trouble our souls with the contradiction that is implied. Yet in personal and public life we see this interplay at work, and never more than in an a messy election year.

Publicly, word has it that the Bush family places a high value on loyalty, and an insult to one is an insult to all. Witness the family banning together to shun the current GOP nominee, and almost unthinkable act for a blood line that has produced two presidents for that party. I’m no  great fan of any of them, but I remain oddly moved by their loyalty to each other.

The coin falls on the other side with the Trump family’s former butler and current unpaid historian, who was quickly described by Trump’s campaign as some crazy old guy the family barely knew after the “crazy old guy” was discovered to be posting really crazy stuff on Facebook. Hard to find an admirable approach in that mess, but walking away from the friendship was probably better than standing by it.

And in our personal lives? Yes, there are friends we no longer click with or enjoy. There are people we thought of as friends who it turns out we didn’t really know. There are friends who would take too much of our time or money, or at least more than we care to give, which makes us wonder how the strong the friendship was to begin with. Would they even ask that much of us if they were really our friends? And then there are those who do bad things, sometimes even awful things, to us or others and no matter how sorry they are we can’t let it go.

Plenty of people in the news these days that leave me wondering what are their friends thinking right now?

True voice 3And yet — in spite of growing apart, and selfishness on either side, and ethics and screw-ups — there is something so simple and compelling about the idea of “I will always be there for you.” The very concept takes us back to our childhoods. Does it have a place in adult life?

To me it is the essential kernel of a romantic relationship. It is the baseline of parenthood, except in the most extreme of circumstances, and of other close family relationships as well. It is what separates true friendships from social relationships, and it makes it apparent how unusual true friends are. Having someone, anyone, who will stand by you is rare and precious.

Maybe that’s why we all enjoy the simple lyrics and hypnotic base of the 1961 Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”. I referred to the song in z2, and just finished updating the music page on this blog to include the following. It’s still running through my head. Enjoy the video at the end.

ben-e-kingMy character Alex is a nice man, and he loves his wife, but he isn’t particularly romantic, at least not in the classical sense. When he thinks of their relationship, in many ways he is more impressed by their enduring friendship than he is by their romance. And when in Chapter 18 he needs to reach Lola with a song, and enlist her cooperation with a plan he has, he turns to this classic, as shown in the excerpt below.

Alex had learned to tolerate Lola’s telepathic abilities, but as the group gathered up their work to head back to the tiny hotel in Punta Gorda, he realized that he could do better. Why not actively use her talents at times to make both of their lives easier? According to what she had told him, all humans project emotions and to some extent also project the thoughts that drive those emotions. In other words, everybody talks. But hardly anyone listens. Some one percent of the population had vague, undeveloped receptive abilities, Lola had said, and some tiny fraction of that, through desire, practice and circumstance, crossed over into being fully adept receivers.

A little over a year ago, Lola had made just such a crossing. Which meant that now he could send information to her, but not get an answer. Think about it, Alex laughed to himself. In some ways isn’t that every husband’s dream? He can tell his wife things and not have to listen to a word back?

Alex supposed that was a less than admirable thought… but hey, a man thinks what he thinks, and fortunately Lola’s ethics were such that she generally stayed out of his head and let him think in peace. But knowing how much his people-avoiding wife was going to hate the idea of having three unexpected houseguests, and how much better she would deal with it if she had all the warning possible, Alex tried for the first time to actually get Lola’s attention. She said images worked well, so he imagined a picture of himself jumping up and down waving a large bright yellow flag. Look. Look over here. I need to tell you something. This is important. I’m going to totally mess up the rest of your holidays with the kids there and everything by bringing three strangers and two ancient artifacts home with me and I really need you to flow with this.

Then he remembered. Music was one of the easiest items to transmit and receive. What was a song that Lola liked? That he liked? His subconscious mind found it for him, and he hummed and whistled Ben E. King’s anthem of loyalty “Stand by Me” over and over as he helped to load up the car. Of course, he’d follow up with an honest-to-god phone call once he got to the better reception at the hotel, but with any luck by then Lola would already know and be in a frame of mind to help him.

I’ll bet you can’t sit still, or keep from smiling, as you watch this video that celebrates both Ben E. King’s original song and the movie of the same name.

 

Stop

Surpemes Like the other members of the Zeitman family, Alex finds that music helps him do the extraordinary things of which he is capable. To me, this is merely interjecting a bit of realism into the plot. Music helps me stay awake late at night when I am driving. Music helps me get out of bed and face a tough day, thanks to the fact that I have an alarm tied to an mp3 player with a special selection of wake-up songs. I play one kind of music when I am cooking a big meal or doing a chore that takes extra energy, and other types when I am stressed and need to relax. I think most people use music, the right kind of music for them, to bring out their strengths and to help them do what needs to be done. Because Alex can slow time down, it is natural that he gravitates to songs that tie into this talent. Enjoy this short excerpt from z2, and the video below.

Alex stood in the parking lot with his hands full of books and supplies to bring into his classroom. School was out for the day and it was better to carry all this stuff back in now rather than deal with it in the morning when he would inevitably be running late. The heat sizzled off of the asphalt and the glare of the late afternoon sun on the windshields was blinding. He gave the car door a hard push with his knee and then he remembered. His keys were on the car seat. The locks were on. Damn.

As Diana Ross and the Supremes started singing “Stop! In the Name of Love” in his head, Alex dropped the books and thrust his hands into the narrowing opening, trying to get the gradually slowing car door to hit his arms or at least his wrists. He did not want to break a finger. The door didn’t stop, but the speed of the door became slower and slower as he thrust forward until finally it barreled into his left lower arm and he felt the pain. Ouch, that was going to cause some bruising, he thought with a wince.

He stood for a few seconds in the blinding bright shimmer of sunlight on metal and glass, and let his heart slow down and the world around him speed back up. As he bent down to pick up the books he had dropped he thought, I have got to learn more about what the hell is going on with me.

Watch the Supremes perform their hit song live on Shindig in 1965.

You might also want to check out this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute to the Supremes, and consider purchasing this song from Amazon.com.

“Only the Strong Survive”

61DxiskibfL._SL500_AA280_When Jerry Butler first sang “Only the Strong Survive” in 1968, he was talking about a man with a broken heart learning to pick himself up and move on. The message resonated as his hit reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, with eventual versions by Elvis Presley, the Dutch group The Trammps, and even an eight minute club mix produced by Frankie Knuckles.

tatooThe title was used for an album compilation of soul music, a 2002 documentary on soul music, and it has inspired a wealth of quotes, t-shirts and tattoos. No wonder. The phrase itself goes well beyond recovering from a devastating love affair as it touches on each of our need to find inner strength to overcome whatever life throws at us.

Alex, the hero of z2, has a fondness for oldies. He is a strong man in the classic sense of being big and athletic. But he is also wiser than most, and he knows that true strength comes in many types of packages. As he gets to know the new transfer student named Xuha (pronounced “schwa”) he recognizes that along with the boy’s unusually short stature is a strength that is both physical and mental. Read the excerpt below to understand why Alex hears the Jerry Butler hit from 1968 in his head as he hits tennis balls with Xuha.

“Your real parents?” he asked hesitantly.

“Never knew my dad,” Xuha shook his head. “But I’m told he was not only there when I was born, but he delivered me.” To Alex’s surprised look he added, “I was an emergency birth in a car. Not my style to come into this world in a normal fashion, huh?” Alex could see the raw emotion behind the bravado.

“You knew your mother?” he asked gently.

“Oh yes. She came to the United States because my grandfather was here for cancer treatments. They were from Mexico City. Nice established family. Had some money, at least before my grandfather got ill. The treatments didn’t help and my grandfather died here in Houston hours after I was born. I’m told I was rushed to his deathbed. His first, his only, grandchild. He cried when he saw me and then he died.” Xuha laughed. “How’s that for a start in life?”

“You knew your grandmother then?”

“She raised me until I was almost six. Sort of.”

“Sort of?” Alex asked. He hoped he wasn’t treading too far into personal ground.

“Well, she never was very strong after my grandfather died. Sad. Sick a lot. Always crying. Lot of crying in my history, huh? But she wouldn’t go back to Mexico right away because they buried my grandfather here and she wanted to spend time by his grave. I’m told that my mother agreed to stay with her until she was done grieving, and my grandmother kept promising that she’d be ready to go in just a month or two more but she never was.”

“Your dad didn’t stay too?”

“He couldn’t. He had to get back to work. My grandmother told me that he got angry with my mother when she didn’t come home after a while and my parents fought on the phone and then my mom got hit by a car.”

“No.”

“Yes. Buella said I was three, three and a half. I don’t remember my mother. But after she died all my grandmother did was cry every day and night and I do remember all those tears. She blamed herself for everything. I used to heat canned things up for dinner and try to get her to eat. I guess I was almost six when she died. Just died in her bed.”

Alex looked at Xuha and watched the boy make a clown’s sad face that mocked his own sorrow. “Then I was the one who cried. I thought it was my fault that she died, you see. That if I’d known how to cook she’d have eaten and gotten strong and gotten out of bed and then fed us both.” He added a comic eye roll. “A child’s logic, huh? If I could have cooked better I’d have had someone to feed me.” Alex didn’t laugh.

“Your foster mother found you then?”

calm“Yeah. She was a neighbor, and according to her she was kind of keeping an eye on me already. Newly married, really pregnant with her first child. When Buella died she and her husband took me in and fed me and never fought once about my being there. They raised and treated me like their own, as best they could. Most of what I know about my real parents comes from things my grandmother said, but she told Maria, my foster mom, the same stories. So I believe them.”

“Wow Xuha.” Alex wasn’t sure what else to say when an odd question occurred to him. “So you were born in the U.S.? You’re a citizen?”

“I think so. I have a birth certificate. From the hospital in Houston where my grandfather died.”

“Where does it say you were born?”

“In route to hospital.”

”Well that should count,” Alex mused.

“Why do you ask?” Xuha seemed a little defensive now.

“Oh, it’s nothing. I guess because I am helping out some friends of my son. There are some complicated nationality and immigration issues involved and he knows that I’ve dealt with some of this before. So it was on my mind. It just seems that you’ve had enough trouble in your young life, and for some reason the animosity towards undocumented immigrants has grown exponentially in our region over the last couple of years. It’s pretty sad. I’m just glad to know that you’re okay in that regard.”

Xuha didn’t say anything for several seconds. Alex took the cue and sipped his own tea in silence.

“I don’t think that Maria and Diego have the same luxury,” Xuha said finally.

“No, I was guessing that they didn’t. Let’s keep that between us. Your foster parents sound like wonderful people working very hard to raise a family and do what’s right. I’d hate to see any trouble come their way.”

As Alex and Xuha made their way back onto the court to finish their workout, Alex couldn’t help but notice the song that was playing in his head. Without thinking about it, he was hitting tennis balls to the rhythm of the Motown hit “Only the Strong Survive”.

Check out this video. It will have you swaying in your chair, humming along and feeling just a little stronger yourself. If interested, you can purchase the song at Amazon.com.

And remember …..

fast

With the second song of each book, I pick up on the intensity of the theme a little more. Click on to read about x0’s “We are the World“, y1’s “Party Like it’s 1999“, c3’s “Heads Carolina” and d4’s “I Follow Rivers“.

“Fame”

I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about how Alex likes Motown and bubblegum music from the 50’s and 60’s, just like I think about how he likes sports and physics and making a really good pizza from scratch. For me, this is part of the process of getting to know him.
I’m in the process of updating my music page on this blog. I’m including a little description of how each song is referred to in the book, and adding a short excerpt from the chapter that contains the reference to that music. Then, for every song, I’ve found a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer or of the song itself. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason. At the end I am including links to places to buy the music, or learn more about it, and in some cases I am adding related bits about more contemporary music. As always, interested readers are encouraged to support all the artists and websites.
Here is my updated entry for “Fame”,  the first song on the z2 playlist. Enjoy!
FameFebruary is music awards time and the novel z2 begins with hero Alex Zeitman sitting dejectedly in a hospital room watching the 1981 Grammy Awards.  Alex likes his music uptempo and he’s rooting for Fame, made famous by Irene Cara, to win song of the year.  He’s just torn his ACL and his dreams for playing professional basketball are going up in smoke, and to make the evening even more miserable Christopher Cross with his soft rock sound of “Sailing” ends up winning in every major category. Christopher Cross even beats out Pink Floyd for album of the year.  What is the world coming to?

Later, leg elevated and packed in ice, he was taken to a local emergency room. Several other players came along and tried to lift his spirits before the doctor saw him, before the doctor told him that it was likely that more than his evening had ended. His anterior cruciate ligament, commonly called the ACL, had been ruptured quite badly, and he was absolutely out for the short remainder of his college basketball career. The coach was sympathetic enough, even though Alex suspected that the man was mainly relieved that it hadn’t been a sophomore or junior who had been injured.

The hospital staff settled him into a room, having insisted on keeping him overnight for observation. The last of his teammates left, not knowing what more to say. So as he waited for the new pain medication to kick in, he morosely watched Christopher Cross receive a Grammy for song of the year on the tiny television. Alex had nothing against the soft rock song “Sailing” that seemed to be sweeping up the awards that night, but frankly being in a sailboat wasn’t an image that moved Alex much. All that sitting still. He would much rather have seen Pink Floyd win best album. And for best song? He guessed he had been rooting for “Fame”. It was catchy. With a beat. The way Alex preferred music.

Did you really think that fame would make you live forever? He laughed at himself. Of course not. Alex thought about his hopes and dreams for playing some pro ball before he got older and had to move on to something boring but acceptable like coaching high school ball. The doctor had just counseled him that a lengthy program of rehabilitation would help him recover eventually and that surgery was of course possible. But Alex had to face the fact that there was no real excuse for devoting himself full time to his own recovery. With no professional team to pick up the expense, it wasn’t likely that he or his folks could justify all the money for the sort of surgery and rehab it would take to get him back to where he had been. He hadn’t been that good. And, even worse, he’d still be prone to knee injuries for the rest of his career. It just didn’t make sense.

So twenty-two-year-old Alex Zeitman lay with his sandy-colored head on a hospital pillow and sadly watched the end of the 1981 Grammy Awards as he let go of a dream. Crowds wouldn’t cheer as he flew down the basketball court, or be amazed as his sturdy, lightly freckled hands performed spectacular physical feats that would, maybe, have had people remembering his name, at least for a day. He would not play basketball for a living after all.

Check out this video to see why Alex was cheering on the song “Fame.”
You can purchase the music to Fame here.

The fact is that I started each of my novels off with a special song. Click to read about x0’s “Time After Time“, y1’s “A Whole New World“, c3’s “A Texas Kind of Way” and d4’s “Lights“.

Alex Zeitman is, of course, made up of a good bit of Sherrie Cronin, as are all my characters, the sympathetic and the less so.  My tastes in music run more towards stirring lyrics and less towards rhythm than Alex’s tastes do, but in February 2014 I was pretty sure that Alex would have joined me in cheering for Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”.  It’s a haunting two-sided song, yet it has that mesmerizing tempo that Alex loves. I was glad to see it win record of the year, and to know that in spite of Alex’s concerns thirty-two years ago, good music has hardly died!

None of live videos of “Somebody That I Used to Know” that I could find had very good audio. My favorite is this one of Gotye performing the song in Brussels in February 2012 along with guest vocals from Noemie Wolfs from the Belgian band Hooverphonic. Great fun.

The day the music died ….. it didn’t.

cockatielSometime in late 2010, my husband dropped his iPod in the toilet.  It fell out of his pocket and I never asked for details because frankly I did not want to hear them. It was clearly gone, even more so after he went ahead and stuck it in a bowl of uncooked rice that he later couldn’t even find.

Fall of 2010 wasn’t so great at our house. We also lost Pebble, our cockatiel who’d been with us for twelve years. We never figured out whether Pebble was a guy or a gal, but he/she/it used to walk around on my shoulder and sing along with my husband and was part of the family. The music was well worth all the moths that came into the house with Pebble’s food, forcing us to put our cereal and other dry goods into Ziplock bags. Pebble left us shortly after the Ipod did and between the two losses there was far less music in our home for awhile.

But of course time moved on and the iPod was replaced and we started leaving dry goods in their original packaging and life was good. Our kitchen filled back up with new songs.

walk talk 3Last week my husband, chief cook at our house, made a wonderful crab creole and then discovered that we were out of rice. He couldn’t believe it.  We do eat a lot of rice. Rummaging into the darkest, furthest reaches of our pantry he found an old bag from the Pebble days, the little white grains firmly enclosed in not one but two Ziploc bags. Might be better than nothing, he reasoned, as he poured the grains out into a bowl to see if they looked okay.

More than rice came tumbling out, of course. There was the iPod from 2010, dry, happy and in perfect working condition. All the old songs were there, the battery was weak but fine. My husband plugged it into a charger and our sound system and by the time I got home from work he was happily singing along as he made some pasta to go with the creole.

A gift from a cherished pet from long ago? A testament to the fine engineering over at Apple? Or just a reminder that what appears to be gone and forgotten is sometimes still very much here? You pick. I’m too busy enjoying the music.

 

84 years ago. 56. 28. It’s a pattern! Or is it …..

Yes, Tuesday Oct 29 1929 was the infamous Black Tuesday of the stock market crash that many think brought on the great depression.  Read more about it here. In fact it was preceded by several days of free fall and mild recovery, and in fact the causes of the depressions were far more complicated. None-the-less, it remains one of the few days in history for which many people who did not live through it can still identify both the date and the day of the week on which it occurred.

This allows me to point out the fun fact that dates and the day of the week reliably repeat themselves every 28 years. Luckily historical events themselves have no such cycle. Twenty eight years after the stock market crashed,Tuesday October 29, 1957 saw no major economic turmoil. Rather the day brought the disturbing event of the Israli prime minister and five of his cabinet members being injured by a hand grenade tossed into Israel’s parliament. On the much lighter note, the number one song in the US that day was “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley.


Another twenty eight years later, Tuesday October 29, 1985 boasted as its biggest news event that Samuel Doe was announced the winner of the first multiparty election in Liberia. Sounds like a nice calm day in the world. The number one song in the US that day was “Part-time Lover” by Stevie Wonder.

And what of today, October 29, 2013? The main headline is that there are six people dead in a shooting in South Carolina.  The top hit in the US comes from New Zealand singer Lorde’s “Royals”.

You may wonder what was the biggest musical hit back in 1929? Yes, they had music back then. Looks like it was Eddie Cantor’s “Makin’ Whoopee” and it really can be seen in video. The styles and costumes have changed a lot over 84 years. But the subject of the songs? Like and ebb and flow of the news, not so much.