Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Truth and Virtue

April 30, 1978, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania           

The blue and white Commencement program looks new, even though it is thirty-four years old today. I flip through the pages until I get to my name. The names of the other graduates look strange to me now. I can’t even put faces to most of them any more, these people I spent almost two years of my life with on a daily basis. A young woman named Linda led our class into the auditorium. I didn’t even realize that she was a nun until that day, when she showed up in a black habit. Didn’t she wear jeans like the rest of us? Or maybe she only wore dresses? All I know is that I usually showed up in jeans and a rock tee shirt, with my ubiquitous bag of books and papers.

“To all persons to whom these presents may come, Greeting”

I look at my degree, the Gothic writing reminding me of the Cathedral of Learning, the iconic Pitt building where most of my classes were held. I am amazed that twenty-one is so hard to remember now. What did it smell like? I can remember the smell of hot dogs and chili from the Dirty O, the smell of stale books on the upper floors of Hillman Library, but what did the dark wood on the first floor of the Cathedral smell like? What about the arena, that bastion of hockey games and rock concerts, what did it smell like on that graduation day? Did it smell of promise? Of new beginnings? Did it reek with the sweat of hundreds of graduates, smiling nervously as mothers, fathers and other relatives snapped photos? Did it reverberate with the sound of shutters and glow with the lights from thousands of flashes? Someone in our class at passed out duck whistles. Once every name in our class had been called, we punctuated the applause with honks.

“All the rights, privileges and immunities thereunto appertaining”           

 It was one of the happiest days of my life. I had accomplished something, had obtained the education that could never be taken away from me. My mother, who had died in 1970, would have been proud. My father, who died in 1975, would have been dismayed. He couldn’t understand why I even needed an education, but he paid for it anyway. Six cousins attended the ceremony. My cousin Dickie took us out to dinner afterward at my favorite restaurant. What was it called? I remember having a party, dancing and laughing with my friends both the night before and the night of my graduation. But I would have to dig up my old photo album and search through the fading Polaroids to recall what I wore under my gown.

“In Witness Thereof”

It is sad to realize that only two of those six cousins are still alive today. Chancellor Posvar died a few years ago. Dean Epperson died last year. I don’t think I ever saw any of my classmates after that day. I haven’t seen anyone who attended those parties in years, since I left Pennsylvania for California in 1988. But I do remember that thirty-four years ago, I had my whole life ahead of me, a life full of overwhelming possibilities. Armed with my new Social Work degree, I was ready to change the world.

 “Veritas et Virtus”

 The world changed me instead. And that is the virtuous truth. But I can’t help but spend a few hours remembering the young woman that I once was, the young woman who, after a turn of the tassel, embarked on a still-evolving journey.

Dedicated to the University of Pittsburgh Bachelor of Arts in Social Work Class of 1978

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Book Review of “Graceland” by Deborah Grabien


I love Deborah Grabien’s JP Kinkaid Chronicles series, published by Plus One Books. So far, six books have been published in the series. The latest one, Uncle John’s Band, came out this month. This is my review of Graceland, the fourth book in the series and the first one I read. I went back and read the earlier books, then Book of Days, which came out last September. I want to hang out with these characters! Thank you, Deborah, for giving me some cool new friends.

I don’t like mysteries. But I do like rock and roll. The only way an author could ever get me to read a mystery would be to give it a rock and roll backdrop. San Francisco author Deborah Grabien does just that in her JP Kinkaid Chronicles. I happened upon Graceland, the fourth book in the series, one day at my local library. The cover photo of an empty stage with a Gibson electric guitar in a stand in one corner intrigued me. Once I read writer/musician Grabien’s bio, I knew I would be checking out this book.

Grabien’s protagonist, renowned British guitarist and San Francisco resident JP Kinkaid, is immensely likeable from the first page. Kinkaid, like Grabien, has multiple sclerosis, which plays a prominent role in the character’s daily life and his interaction with people, most notably his wife Bree. The story resolves around the induction of guitarist Farris “Bulldog” Moody, one of Kinkaid’s Mississippi Delta heroes, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When Ches Kobel, a writer who spent time with legendary blues sideman, is found dead of a heart attack in front of the Hall of Fame building in Cleveland, Kinkaid suspects foul play. Throughout the book, Grabien immerses her readers in the world of seasoned musicians. And she inundates us with what it is like for a guitarist to travel through that world while dealing with a debilitating illness. Grabien spends a lot of time developing the relationship between Kinkaid and his wife. From their unspoken communication cues to their sex life, she provides a fine portrait of a complicated, but loving relationship. I have not read the earlier books in the series, but it feel like this development has been a progression from one book to the next. It is a lot different from the stereotyped portrayal of the personal life of a rock star.

Halfway through the book, I figured out the identity of the murderer, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. But the story left me with several questions. Is a biological lineage really more important than a perceived heritage? And does it matter, as long as you believe? I plan to pick up the three previous books to learn more about the world of JP Kinkaid and his bandmates. According to the list at the front of the book, Grabien plans five more books in the series. I’m looking forward to reading every one. But just don’t call them mysteries, okay?

Fake Fur?

(Thinking about my late cat, Smokey, who died in March 2010. Years ago, I wrote this about him.)

When I am in my bedroom trying on clothes, my cat Smokey lies on the bed and watches. Like a feline fashion editor, he observes each outfit as I saunter from the closet to the bedroom mirror. But when I try on one of my fake fur items, everything changes. His head jerks upward as if yanked by an invisible puppeteer. His eyes get as wide as blue marbles. He jumps off the bed as if his tail is on fire. The last thing that I see is the tip of his long tail as he dives under the bed. The show is over. I won’t see Smokey again for several hours, not until he is sure that the fluffy garment has been stowed away.

For years, I was puzzled by his strange reaction. Then I noticed that my seal point Himalayan and my fake fur animal print jacket were a similar color. Did Smokey think that eventually he would become part of my wardrobe? Was he afraid that my next off-white and brown coat would be made of real Himalayan cat fur?

Smokey doesn’t hate all fake fur. He sleeps on the furry leopard print throw I keep on my bed. He doesn’t mind fake fur as long as it is sedentary and non-threatening. But when I put on a fur garment, it appears to come to life. My big fur hat—scary. The leather jacket with the fur trim—frightening. The denim coat that reverses to fur—terrifying. Smokey doesn’t know the fur is fake, all he knows is that it looks too familiar.

No wonder Smokey watches me so closely when I dispose of his fur after a good brushing. He checks to make sure I throw it in the trash can. He is afraid I will hoard it and sell it to clandestine feline fur buyers. Maybe Smokey imagines there is a giant shearing machine somewhere, where Himalayans and Persians and other longhaired cats are lined up like sheep. Years ago, when my other cat come home from the vet after a hip operation, his left side was shorn of fur. So Smokey knows cats can be shaved. In his mind, he hears the buzzing of the razor and watches the bales of plush fur pile up to the sky. Sometimes Smokey’s feet twitch when he is asleep. In his dreams, maybe he is running from a furless fate, hiding from those who want to harvest his coat to make coats for nearly hairless humans.

I read a story once about a woman who knitted sweaters from the fur of her beloved Himalayan. But Smokey has nothing to worry about, as I don’t own any knitting needles or electric shears. His fur will remain where it belongs, on his body, my furniture, and my rug. Of course, he doesn’t know that. In the future, I’ll try on my fake furs in front of the bathroom mirror, away from the sight of my skittish kitty. My bedroom fashion shows will be fur-free from now on.

I Skinned My Knee on the Sunset Strip

 

 

If there were a time machine or a do-over button, I would be a rocker chick on the Sunset Strip in the mid-80s. Back then, the Sunset Strip was my Wonderland, a magical place where dreams could and would come true, if you only believed. And I believed with all of my heart. I remember sitting in my boring Pennsylvania hometown, reading Metal Edge, Circus, or Rip!, looking at photos of the hottest metal bands as they sauntered along that famous street. I religiously watched MTV in those days, hungry for any sight or sound from those bad boys of the West Coast. Mötley Crüe rode their Harleys down the Strip, headed for the nastiest strip club they could find. Dokken perched on a semi, crooning, “It’s Not Love” to the lucky passersby. But it was love in those days — a love of music, excitement, and lanky, swaggering men with big hair, spandex, and boots.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so. I catch the #212 Metro bus to Sunset, and transfer to the #2 bus headed down the Strip, hoping to catch a glimpse of Duff McKagan at Book Soup, where he is doing a book signing. Who would have thought that our rock and roll heroes, those purveyors of booze, blues and tattoos, would become authors – with or without the help of ghost- or co-writers? Many books have been written about Guns ‘N’ Roses, both from insiders and outsiders. The lifestyle I once coveted is now the subject of not only books, but also movies, plays and trivia games. After a few minutes of winding down the busy thoroughfare, I step off the bus across the street from the legendary bookstore. I looked over at the long line – half of the people clutching Duff’s book weren’t even born when Appetite for Destruction hit the airwaves. And I still have the cassette.

Bam! I hit the pavement. While I was checking out the line across the street, I neglected to notice the uneven pavement and did a header onto my ass, skinning my right knee in the process. But thankfully, I didn’t lose my glasses, even though they ended up on my forehead. The Sunset Strip can be rough, I found out too late. I crossed the street, and tried to nonchalantly glance in the store window, but I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t have enough money to buy the book, so there was no reason for me to join the lengthening queue. My knee hurt. I wondered if it was bleeding. I wondered how many rock gods had fallen on that very same street over the years, propelled by brazen and interesting misadventures, instead of mere clumsiness.

I looked around at the bright billboards, the lanes of fast cars, the hovering exclusive hills, and the people young enough to be my children. I gingerly walked down the street as my knee started to swell. Yes, the Strip of my 20-something fantasies was long gone, but I could still rock and roll. I just had to watch my step.

Do You Feel Like We Do

Frampton Comes Alive

Yesterday was Peter Frampton’s Birthday. Here is an essay I wrote about “Frampton Comes Alive.”

 

At 3:30 AM, Peter Frampton awakens me. Each night I leave my radio on when I go to bed. Sometimes, the music mixes with my rock star dreams/reveries. Yes, I still have rock star fantasies, even at my age. But this night, the sound of the opening strains of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” from Frampton Comes Alive, transports my subconscious back in time. It is 1976 again.

1976 was the first year in which music was the paramount thing in my life. It was the oxygen that kept me breathing, the only thing that kept me from drowning. On December 27, 1975, my father died, leaving me orphaned at eighteen. I had inherited an eight-room house, as well as Daddy’s stereo. A few weeks after he died, I bought Physical Graffiti, and a lifelong love of Led Zeppelin was born.

But that summer, that Bicentennial Summer, belonged to one man. I can still visualize the poster that was on the wall across the room from my bed. It was behind the door, meaning it could only be seen when the door was closed. Dressed in tight satin pants, with his golden hair haloed around his chiseled English features, Peter Frampton was the embodiment of everything that was cool, hip and fun during my nineteenth summer.

And I needed to feel cool, hip and fun, even if only vicariously. I was a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh when my father died. It took several months to sort out his financial affairs, while I lived on his savings. Whenever I got any extra money, I bought rock and funk albums. The monthly death benefits from the United Mine Workers arrived and I headed to Flo’s Records. My survivor’s benefits check came from Social Security and I went to National Record Mart after class. Only the sounds of loud guitar and thumping bass could assuage my loneliness and grief. I went to funk concerts with my friends, seeing the Ohio Players, Earth, Wind and Fire and Graham Central Station. But I had no friends that liked rock music. If I mentioned rock bands to my friends, they ridiculed me for listening to “white music.” But behind closed doors, I continued to rock the nights away.

“Frampton Comes Alive” kept me alive that summer. After months of hearing the songs on the radio, I bought the double album on May 12, 1976. I played the album almost every day that summer, until the grooves on the record were almost worn away and the gatefold cover started to fray. I even had the album on eight-track tape in my AMC Gremlin. I longed to see Frampton in concert, but I had to settle for watching him on programs like “The Midnight Special.” I didn’t know if black people even went to rock concerts.

I found a tan “Frampton Comes Alive” T-shirt at the drug store in South Hills Village, one of the local malls. Along with my yellow T-shirt with the ironed-on picture of Jimmy Page, that shirt became part of the uniform I wore to summer classes at Pitt. The glares from the black students and the stares of the white students did not affect my wardrobe choices. I was leaving the closed doors behind forever. I finally came out as a rocker, an African American anomaly.

From the introduction to the last strains of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” that album brought a smile to my face. Frampton and his band kept up the pace; going from fast jams to sensitive ballads. Back then, I didn’t know anything about how albums were mastered, so I never questioned whether the album was really live or not. But it didn’t really matter. The music was all I cared about. Sure, it helped that Frampton was gorgeous, but I would have listened anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t have hung up the poster or bought the T-shirt, but that was inconsequential when compared to the music. I read the Rolling Stone interview where Peter lamented his sudden fame after years of hard work. I even checked out his early work with Humble Pie. I dreamed of going to a Frampton concert, sitting in the front row near the speakers. But I never dreamed that both Peter and I would get older; that he would lose his golden mane or I would lose my naiveté.

During the long instrumental break in the middle of the song, I can feel the tears rolling down my face. My sheets are wet as I remember those days. I wish I could go back; have a “do-over.” If I could, I would go to rock concerts by myself, see Peter and Zeppelin and Elton, when they were all young and cool and hip and tickets for shows at the Civic Arena were $7.50. In a box in my closet, I still have my “Frampton Comes Alive” T-shirt, a relic that has withstood 33 years and 3,000 miles. And Peter still alive, even though so many of his contemporaries, like Humble Pie vocalist Steve Marriott and his “Comes Alive” band mate Bob Mayo, are long gone.

But some things never change. Peter is still playing and I’m still rocking. As the crowd noise is cued up for the end, I answer the rhetorical question. Do you feel like we do? Hell, yeah, Peter, I do!

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