My 99: Part Two

My Life Playlist, Part Two (please scroll down to see Part One):
Wicked, Dude; Wicked
Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan (These two junior-senior years in high school, 1981-1983, were wicked wonderful. I met a guy named Kurt through our theater program. Every third word was “Wicked,” followed almost always by a chuckle or some term of endearment that was not far from “dude,” if ever. He wore this floppy, pre-Indiana Jones leather hat with tie beads and a small feather tucked in the side. He was thin, terribly thin, always wearing long sleeves, jeans or dark cords with a stringy hemp belt that hung down his side like the tzitzis that Jewish men wear. And he helped me break free (a little) from that pressure to be somebody I’m not. We spent hours and hours in his bedroom, with psychedelic lights, hip music from the sixties and early seventies, talking about acting, life, love, and the endless pursuit of peace. On Christmas Eve 1981, I wrapped presents in my attic bedroom alone, listening to the last track on my Bob Dylan Greatest Hits vinyl, vol. I, side 1, track 5. Dylan sang through the scratched track of “Like A Rolling Stone” as I cried. I don’t know what it was. A longing for this feeling of peace to last beyond the night and the early morning? Or was it the realization that I was growing up and becoming aware of the hatred in the world? We had just finished a run of 24 shows in 25 days at various hospitals and nursing homes. We called ourselves The Smile Merchants, and we did our best to bring a little love and peace to children with terminal illnesses who would not be coming home for Christmas; to abandoned mothers and fathers in nursing homes who cried when they saw us—and sometimes not because we had made their holiday but because we reminded them of where they were in their lives, and that this might just be their last Christmas shared with anyone. It tugged at me that night, made me feel thankful and selfish and grateful and sad, emotions like the strings on Kurt’s belt, tangled and vulnerable, dangling there with nowhere to go. That night I got Bob Dylan, and I let him get me. Makes my holidays a little more important these days.)

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon and Garfunkel (One of the many songs Kurt and I listened to. Our theater coach tells me that Kurt is very sick, and putting this list together makes me think that I should find out where he is. Let him know I’m thinking of him and hoping he’s okay.)

Little Deuce Coupe, The Beach Boys (Ah, yes. My first car. The Little Deuce Coupe was my 1968 Ford Falcon, sold (given?) to me by my brother Jim when I turned 16. The Smile Merchants used it for all their shows. I had replaced the factory-installed radio with a Panasonic boom-box system with bookshelf speakers in the back window. I also had to throw it in Park whenever we stopped at a red light to avoid stalling the car. With my foot on the gas pedal, I would drop it into Drive when the light turned green; most times, we made it through without stalling. This was particularly challenging after one of our holiday shows at Hopkins Children’s Hospital, where we then got lost in Baltimore City and drove for 2 hours, or 67 miles, if you prefer, before we reached the county line (a city driver I am not). One of the Smile Merchants, Faith, brought Deuce to life every season, decorating the interior (and sometimes the exterior too) with hearts, signs, Christmas ornaments, you name it. She’s a great spirit, Faith. I miss her terribly. Perhaps I’ll give her a call, too.)

You’ve Got A Friend, James Taylor and Carol King, Live (Brad, my best friend, gave me James Taylor’s Greatest Hits for Christmas in 1982. He signed, in blue ballpoint pen, “To Rus, My Best Friend. Love, Brad” in the top left corner. We met in Mr. Dwyer’s math class in our junior year, and immediately we became inseparable. Theater, music, show choir, we did it all together. We’re still extremely close today, despite a few arguments that left us in silence for varying periods of time. It doesn’t matter. We’ll never change, and we’ll always know that we’ve got a friend in each other. The version that I’ve chosen for my life playlist is one that I found rather recently on iTunes. It’s older than the version on the album Brad gave me, but it better reflects who I am now. Plus, it’s live. And by now you know that, for me, live is always better.

Imagine, John Lennon (I don’t think I could get through this one without losing it. This song, more than any other, has made such a profound impact on my life. The story I wish to share here (it is one of many throughout my life) is the one-year anniversary of John Lennon’s death. On December 8, 1981, the Smile Merchants all wore black to school with black carnations. We stuck together, pinned peace symbols and “Give Peace A Chance” to our clothes and bookbags, and played John Lennon whenever possible. We had a show that night—I can’t remember exactly where, but when I drove up to Faith’s house, “Imagine” came on the radio, and I lost it. The anger, the injustice, the killing, the everything that I was realizing about this world. Faith held me longer than the song, and it was many minutes later that I felt like I could make it home. By that time the rains had come, and I drove home in silence, wearing my black on black, not wanting to grow up anymore.)
Part Three will be posted soon!

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