Early Memories of the Beatles

I remember the first time I ever heard the Beatles. It was sometime in 1966 I think.  It was on the last night of a play that my dad had directed at Paducah Tilghman High School. I’m not exactly sure which play it was but I think it may have been Ondine, a retelling of the little mermaid story of Hans Christian Anderson.

My dad was very disciplined about how he ran his plays. Everyone, cast and crew, had to help strike the set before anyone went home after the last performance. And striking the set was a very disciplined endeavor. There was no wild tearing apart of the set. It was carefully disassembled. The nails were hammered out of the lumber and the flats were carefully stored for the next production. Since he always had a relatively large cast and crew, this process rarely took more than an hour.

Then, he always had a cast party on the stage. Having been a teenager himself not that long before, he knew that the cast would have a party whether he sanctioned it or not. Unsanctioned parties were liable to be disreputable affairs with alcohol and all sorts of unsavory behavior. Instead, he held a party, my mom catered it, and he provided the soft drinks. The cast and crew brought records and many of them danced.

It was at such a cast party that I first heard the Beatles. They were just starting to gain popularity in the US. I was a violin student and liked all kinds of music. I liked the Beatles enough to find out who they were. This was in the era of I Want to Hold Your Hand and Twist and Shout. 

I looked up to the high school kids. I had had my taste of the limelight and I was anxious to get back on the boards. I also related more to them than my schoolmates my own age. They were doing the things that I wanted to do. There was no outlet for the theatrically inclined in elementary school in Paducah Kentucky in 1966.

I was also interested in girls. Most of the boys my age hadn’t noticed girls yet. Most of the girls my age were paying more attention to older boys, largely because of the immaturity of the average fifth grade boy. So I turned my attention to the high school girls in dad’s plays. I had enormous crushes on some of them and they were, for the most part kind to me.

One time, my dad took a group from the play he was producing at the time to St. Louis to see a production of Camelot. I sat in the back of our station wagon and brushed one of my crush’s hair all the way from Paducah to St. Louis. She seemed to enjoy the attention.

I am thankful to my parents for who they were and the way they raised me. I had a magical childhood. I got to do so many things that none of my other friends even dreamed of.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Star is Born

Before second grade, we moved to Paducah, Kentucky where I would spend the rest of the sixties. I went to Andrew Jackson elementary. It has since been renamed in memory of the woman who was principle when I attended there, Dove Anna McNabb. I remember my second grade teacher. She had black hair and brown eyes. Every morning as soon as class started she would write the news and weather on the board. We would copy it onto our tablet. She taught us conversational Spanish. All the boys had a crush on her. All the girls loved her too. I’ve tried to remember her name for several years now to no avail.

My dad taught Speech and English at the High School. He also did the plays. Tilghman High School was huge. It had a large theater and a football stadium. I suspect it wouldn’t seem quite as big to me now as it did when I was growing up in Paducah but even so, I’m still impressed by it.

One of the high points of my life growing up was getting to attend rehearsals for my dad’s plays. Tilghman was a large enough high school that there were lots of talented actors to pick from. He did productions as diverse as Macbeth, Mr Roberts, The Rainmaker, The Miracle Worker, Ondine, and Lady in the Dark. All were mounted with consummate stagecraft.

The spring of my second grade year my mother and father and I auditioned for a production of a play called Stars In My Crown. It was being produced during the summer at Kentucky Dam. It told the story of the development of the TVA and its role in taming the rivers of Western Kentucky. My mother was cast as the school teacher and I was cast as an extra. I played a student in the school scene and a young Indian in the scene about the Trail of Tears. My dad was hired as property master.

That summer and the next were magical. We got up around 11 am and ate lunch. We got ready and took my little brother to the baby sitters. We drove to the theater. Mom would usually pack a picnic dinner. We would eat and get ready for the show. I would play with the other children in the show.

The curtain went up at eight. The show had two acts and a twenty minute intermission. It was done outdoors in an amphitheater. After the show, the director or the stage manager would give us notes about things we needed to do to improve the show the next night. Sometimes we would rehearse a scene if we were getting too sloppy about it. Then we would drive home.

Often we would stop at a little all night truck stop on the way home. Mom and dad would drink coffee and I would have milk or a soda. Sometimes I would get a hamburger. Then we would go pick up my brother at the baby sitters and go home to bed. We did this six nights a week, all summer long. I loved it.

When I turned eight at the end of June I had the entire cast of Stars In My Crown at my birthday party. It was held after the show on stage. I felt like a very special person indeed.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Step Right Up

I heard a Tom Waits song on the radio the other day. It is called Step Right Up. In the song, Waits strings together every carnival pitch line, every tv pitch line, every used car salesman line that you’ve ever heard over a pulsating bass line accented with sax riffs. It is great.

I like Tom Waits. He plays characters when he sings a song. His singing voice is very intentionally gravelly. He sings in tune but his tone has lots of texture. It is so rough that it inspires concern that he will hurt himself singing that way.

He has had a second career as an actor. He typically plays the same kind of gritty character that he sings about in his songs. I listened to an interview with him at SIU in Carbondale, Illinois. He talks about the character that he attempts to portray and how he has become the character to some degree.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.