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Grandmother, Melisa Manchester, Led Zeppelin and Other Personal Reflections

So, as I’ve mentioned in a couple and my most recent post, I am working through a rather difficult time. I’ve been doing a lot of personal reflection as of late. To be honest, sometimes it feels like that is all I can do. Anyway, this morning as I forced myself into motion I decided to put on a CD I purchased last month. Now, I hope I don’t get teased too much about this — but when I found out that Arista was releasing Melissa Manchester’s 1978 hit album, Don’t Cry Out Loud, to CD — I was sooooooo excited!

I do own her greatest hits, but found the prospect of actually paying money for one of her actual albums on CD seemed a bit much to even me. Don’t get me wrong — she has a fantastic voice, but there has always been something lacking in her choice of material. I’ve always thought of her as Bette Midler’s less-fortunate sister or something. Talented, but no cigar. Anyway, I didn’t even tell Karl about purchasing this CD. I hadn’t even played it until this morning. I associate this album with a very specific time of my life. …and with my Grandmother — with whom I was very close.

Both of my parents worked long hours and my Grandmother used to look after me quite a bit. She also indulged me and loved spoiling me. She gave me the kind of unconditional love that every child needs. She also gave me some neurotic tendencies, but no one is perfect, right? Anyway, when I was about 4 or 5 my parents built an extension house on to the one we lived in for my Grandmother. So my summers and afternoons during the school year pretty much belonged to me and my Grandmother.

We had several sorts of rituals. One was our listening to music time. I should note that this was a ritual I established. I spent a great deal of time alone in my bedroom and by the late 70’s was starting to slowly get myself into a bit of trouble with some of the kids I hung with at school. Am certain my Grandmother was aware of this, tho she never made a point to tell me. Anyway, I remeber wanting to break the music ritual, but she put her foot down and refused. Now, my Grandmother never refused me anything — so I didn’t put up any arguement. Thus, our musical ritual remained in place.

This was the ritual —- after my Grandmother’s “story” (The Edge of Night) ended I would go into her living room and put an LP on her huge record player. Am sure you know what I mean —- one of those big wooden cabinets that held a record player inside and was decorated with speakers on either end of the cabinet. I wonder why they stoped making those? Hmmm… Anyway, normally I would put on a Barbra Streisand LP. I would lie on the floor. She would lie on her sofa. I would sing along with the record and she would put her hand on my head and hum along with me. Around 1975 or so I started to discover other musical artists than Babs. ( I was an odd kid and had been a devoted Barbra fan since I was 4. Gay much? ha!) Anyway, by 1975/1976 I was discovering artists like The Who, Blondie, Patti Smith Group, The Ramones — and, thanks to some new friends at Caldwood Elementary School, bands like Kiss, Queen and Led Zeppelin. Grandmother was always cool with the new music. She didn’t care for most of it, but she would listen with me. She would always find something positive about at least one song —- excepting Patti Smith Group or Kiss. She just plain didn’t like them. However, she did love “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.

During the summer of ’78 my mom was pregnant with my brother. I was in my 12th year of life and the marriage of my parents was falling apart. That had always fought a lot and I really had no reason to think things were any worse than usual, but I remember being sad. Normally, I would just turn to Babs records — still do when I am down. However, during the summer of 1978 I heard the single, “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and just loved the sheer drama of it all! So, I secured a copy of the album. At that time, I love everything about the record. I loved the cover and gatefold artwork — lots of pretentious shots of Ms. Manchester doing modern dance in a some sort of empty amusement park which was in bad need of a paint job. …and the music. I would venture to say that me and Grandmother listened to this album for several months straight. Even despite the fact that Babs had released a new LP that year, this was still the one we listened to together.

After my brother, Roy, was born — my parents decided to divorce. Everything changed in what seemed like the span of one night — tho am sure my memory exaggerates here. However, my Grandmother had to relocate to Houston to live with her sister. My Dad moved to Port Arthur and me, Roy and Mom moved to a nice apartment in Beaumont. By this time I was in jr high and was really mixing with a questionable crowd. I had already dabbled with drugs, but got much more involved with them in the summer of 1979. Anyway, after my Grandmother moved to Houston — there was no one to stroke my head and hum along with me. I never listened to the Melissa Manchester album again. In fact, I gave it to her to take to Houston.

So, last month, when I read it had been put to CD — I rushed to Newbury Comix and picked up a copy. I’ve been playing it all day. Funny, I hadn’t played any of this music excepting the cheesy title track which I have on her greatest hits CD since 1979, but I can still sing every single lyric. Grandmother’s favorite song was “Through the Eyes of Grace” — mine was “Caravan” — and we both loved the title track as well as “Such a Morning” and “Bad Weather” — which I think is a cover of a Stevie Wonder song. The arrangements are so dated and over-done, but I just love it!

Grandmother died in 1996. I wish she were around to hear the album in full-glory digital sound. She would love it and I would love to hear her hum along. As I put the CD on this morning, I was worried that it might make me feel really sad —- something I def. do not need to feel anymore of right now — but instead I have to say it has been somewhat healing. It made me feel warm and comforted. It gave me hope.

Later in the day, upon doctor’s orders, I went down to the pool and just floated in the water and thought about my Grandmother and I came to the conclusion that I will not allow this depression to take me any further down. I see a new therapist next week and am determined that I will insist upon returning to work at that time. I’m going to be OK. Like Melissa sings, “I will find my caravan!” …however, am not so sure her advice about not crying out loud is very sound. Sometimes ’70’s logic is best ignored. Tho, gotta love those bell-bottoms!!!

I figure there is a kid somewhere in some shitty little town listening to the same record over and over again. And, that record may not be very good — but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that we have art to help get us through the rough times. …and Grandmothers to watch out for us — in that way that only grandmothers can.

April 2, 2003. Uncategorized.

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