Friday, May 25, 2012

5-21-12 Pictures of Tommy - a memoirist’s blog #22

(Right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work that I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- all about my psychotic brother and his legacy. If so inclined, please share, and tell me what you think. . . )

I loved music, especially Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.  Oh, and the voice of Linda Ronstadt, so rich and strong.  I always sang in church -- I’d find an “alternate melody” that worked with the hymns, usually in a lower register.  Later on, that was called the alto harmony part.  It just seemed to make sense, and the songs sounded prettier that way.  Before I split from the church, the music was the only reason I went.

My brother Tom, before he went away to hospital treatment more or less permanently, was really into the guitar.  He had a “folk guitar” with nylon strings that he tried to play during a Folk Mass (they tried them in the late ‘60’s at Catholic masses, to try to be more updated and relevant).  I remember being at one of them and cringing: he didn’t play very well, and I knew it, but couldn’t say anything.  I just felt bad for him.

When he went away, I started to play that guitar, spending many hours by myself, cradling that guitar, teaching myself chords, by ear.  When we graduated the 8th grade, a boy in my class who I had a huge crush on wrote in my autograph book, with an unflattering illustration of me in pen: “There sits Laurie Agnelli, in her room, hunched over her guitar.” 

No matter.  I knew I could sing, I knew I could learn how to play better guitar.  Because it didn’t take much rhythmic ability, I took a folk guitar fingerpicking class at a nearby after school Saturday morning program.  We learned to play a few Simon & Garfunkel songs. . . then I went home and figured out other songs I wanted to sing.

By the time I was fourteen, I wanted to join some bands. Not sure how I found it, but the first band was about 30 minutes away, in southern Queens, in a kid named Pete’s basement.  They had a keyboard player (Pete), a bass guitar, and me.  Being a girl, I was not supposed to play an instrument, just sing.  So I sang Janis Joplin songs and banged a tambourine.

The band had no name, but we did play one gig: at another kid’s party. One of the songs we did was “Color My World.”  Ugh.  Another was, “In-a-gadda-da-vida.”  Eh.  I think I sang “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Move Over,” two of my fave Janis songs from Pearl.

 Then, the unthinkable (and inevitable): Janis died.

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