I feel my age every time I hear that another of my favored movie stars, television personalities or musicians has passed, but most of all I feel my age whenever the announcement concerns one of the long-haired musicians who were my contemporaries. In a span of less than two years, it’s goodbye to Robbie Robertson, Christy McVie, and Tina Turner, three musicians who were coming up just as I was growing up and who, together with their colleagues, helped shape my musical tastes. Most recently, death took Randy Meisner, one of the founding members of the Eagles.
Today their deaths resonate with me but increasingly over time I know that there will be others. Some, like Sinead O’Connor, will die too young. Rarely, someone like the great Tony Bennett comes along. He first burst onto the scene back in the 1950’s and didn’t stop performing until he was ninety-five-years-old, bless him!
I even had felt a tinge of sadness upon learning that Astrud Gilberto of “The Girl from Ipanema” fame died this past June. Alongside the smooth and silky vibes of saxophonist Stan Getz, Gilberto’s light, airy voice, a whisper, really, helped make the Jobim bossa nova an enduring classic. I recall that their recording was a huge international hit. While I still enjoy hearing bossa, mainly because it is great fun to play on my guitar, prior to the recent news of Gilberto’s death I nearly had forgotten about her. To me, it was her misfortune to have come along just as I was being exposed to the beat of the British Invasion and indigenous American blues.
Before we had computers, we had phonograph records. Mine are stored in multiple crates scattered throughout my home. Every now and then I get to show off my favorite record album covers to a youngblood, who has developed a late interest in the history of rock and roll. A few of these record covers are iconic, considered to be minor works of art.
When I was young, this music was our secret language. It influenced how we interacted, gave direction and meaning to our lives, and in rare cases contributed to the formation of lasting bonds of friendship.
So it was that at some point in our feckless youth, we imagined a rock band, which, for reasons I won’t repeat here today, we called the Frazier Thomas Band. It became part of our group’s identity. To be a member of this imaginary band meant you were an insider. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the Frazier Thomas Band as a symbol for our enduring friendships.
For several days this past week, my dear friends Bob, a charter Band member, and Linda, his wife, were guests in my home. Bob has a form of cancer his doctors say he won’t survive. However, when Bob is feeling well and his doctors give their blessings, as on this occasion, he and Linda still enjoy travel.
Their brief visits are always significant events since it might be Bob’s last. Indeed, one of the Band’s founding members, A.P., has already departed this mortal coil.
Accordingly, most of the remaining members of the Frazier Thomas Band, depicted below in our youth, gathered in my home, along with our significant others, for another celebration. (Unfortunately, “Z” couldn’t make it as he and Joanne reportedly are cruising somewhere in the south Pacific, but they were with us in spirit.)
We began with a sumptuous food spread. The alcohol flowed. And under a warm sun and blue sky, as fluffy white clouds slowly drifted by, the smell of weed wafted in the air.
Without a word, one by one people began to remove the guitars from their cases or else dipped into the bag containing tambourines and assorted rhythm instruments. Tuning up the stringed instruments is a necessary part of the ritual.
Sometimes we play acoustic guitars but it’s mid-afternoon on a glorious mid-summer day, so we agree to crank up the volume. In anticipation I have set up several amplifiers with patch cords. I have my Telecaster at hand; Bob removes his fire engine red Fender Stratocaster from its case. I see that Sherry’s husband, Tom, who is a regular Mr. Gizmo and Band member by marriage, today has brought along a cutting-edge modeling guitar that emulates a broad array of musical sounds and styles when played through an amplifier.
I coax reluctant Sherry, who initially demurs she can’t join in today’s jam session because she has no fingertip calluses left due to the lack of practice, to try out my hollow body Guild electric guitar with the smooth, rich tone I use when I play jazz. Soon enough, Sherry is belting out songs and adding sweet harmonies while keeping up steady rhythm. It turns out all she needed was a quality guitar and decent tube amp to restore her flagging confidence.
Bob’s medical condition affects his playing and singing, yet I’m happy to see that it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm one bit. He pulls out and passes around copies of the song book containing words and chords he has compiled over the years, then calls out a tune and starts to play. The book is full of familiar tunes most everyone knows. We form a loose circle, occasionally digressing from the song book to perform other personal favorites, which today includes an impromptu and extended medley of songs honoring the recently deceased Robbie Robertson.
From time to time, I will glance over toward Robyn. She has met my friends individually but is new to this group setting. I see her smiling broadly and shaking a tambourine. Later, she tells me the best part of her day was watching our happy interactions. Music still has that power.