A few years ago I started recording music for my Dad. I played some of his favorite Bing Crosby songs on the ukulele, recorded them simply, and gave him the CD for Father’s Day. Since then I've recorded songs for him for most holidays. Because my father has dementia, I realized I had to get over the perfectionist bullshit that is a tenet of my tribal beliefs.
When I was a kid "I was the 'let's put on a play' asshole,” as Jenny Slate describes it in “BUST.” I would screw up and my father would bellow: “Get upstairs and rehearse!” Fast forward thirty years and life jams forward at warp speed and for all my hemming and hawing and practicing I hadn't been playing music for a long time because I put entirely too much pressure on myself and what music was supposed to do in my life. I did play in some bands ranging from lame to OK that always belonged to some other guy. Those guys are all fine — it’s completely my bad that I didn’t have the cojones to do my own thing and so instead joined up with someone else's vision and then lived in constant frustration that my good ideas weren't heard. Maybe because I wasn't giving them space to live myself.
So, as anyone who’s lost anyone can attest (unless you go the opposite route and plant your feet and/or head firmly in cement) the ephemeral nature of life becomes damn apparent and you just might end up being acutely in touch with how precious and fleeting everything is. Which is a great place from which to get the hell over yourself and do something already, for the love of God, regardless of what your parents or your high school bully told you.
And so through recording for my Dad I found myself playing a lot more. I record for the joy of it, to follow the sound and my love of harmonies. And I'm also now in the Somerville Ukulele Club with four great women and we end up doing stuff like playing during the day for banner celebrations and seeing other local acts we wouldn't otherwise run into.
The best part is when little girls run up to us at the end of our sets. I remember being little and looking up to female musicians I would see on those special occasions I was allowed to come along when my brother was singing at Nobody's Inn or somewhere and a lady would be playing, too. Those women were magic to my young heart and so to now be one of those women to little girls just makes my heart grow three sizes.
I did not play perfectly on the day pictured above, And this gig was only three-fifths of our band for various reasons. My dear Abby limped in with a busted knee but we pulled it off. My love of playing and laughing with my gals cannot be overstated.
We got to see the amazing Brazilian folk band, Robson Lemos and his cohorts, pictured above, with this beautiful dancer, Paula, at the center, dancing through the rain with a smile the whole time. My cherished friend Emily talked about how full of joy this dancer was — so full, in fact, that she made Emily tear up when she stretched her hands towards hers. We're a tender sort.
It was just a bunch of us on the steps of the East Somerville branch of the Somerville Public Library, the tiniest of crowds because the rain poured on and off. Even this red-faced guy who was lurching around (off to the right in the above photo being placated by Theresa, our fearless leader of the day and organizer of the occasion) made us a bit tense but really was enjoying the music.
I marveled at how gracefully Lemos managed to handle the red-shirted man when the guy got onstage. Lemos eventually came off the stage to end the set by pulling a homemade bull costume over his body (kind of like a Chinese dragon) and ran into the man’s red shirt playfully with the head of the bull. It reminded me of how my Dad always used to say feeding and working my muscles would make me “strong like bull,” with a put-on accent.
Lemos' music and playfulness did soothe the savage red-shirted beast, as did our music for a time. The guy yelled out to us that he wanted to hear Janis Joplin but he was also pliable in our musical hands, making animal noises during a song we play called “Misery Farm.”
I learned a lot from watching Lemos and his band. Eventually you have to let yourself be part of the flow, with what you have at hand, trusting that music will triumph — you’ve rehearsed enough (for now). Now it is time to be strong like bull, but tender, too.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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