(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.