Song for Keyo

I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday, but my brain has forever stored the lyrics to useless, senseless songs from the 1950’s.

Dungaree Doll

I wanna make a chain of paper clips and chain us together while I kiss your lips.

The kind of slow sensual song I listen to now reminds me of packing seven of us into a Volkswagen Van to drive from Portland, Oregon to New York City. Big Bush was the driver, named for the Afro that filled most of the front seat. They were street musicians who performed in Harvard Square. They played music and I read Tarot Cards.

The lyrics to Lean on me floated through the square sung by Keyo Morales, my wonderful Puerto Rican friend from Spanish Harlem. Keyo had a shaved head. He wore a hoop ear-ring (before men did such things), a tuxedo jacket over Army fatigues and red high top tennis shoes. I loved Keyo with all my heart, but so did ever other woman whoever met him, because Keyo’s love was universal, too big to be contained. Keyo sang because he wanted people to stop fighting and start smiling and dancing. His music opened their hearts.

What a lovely troupe of friends I traveled with that summer. My daughter, Kristen was there too, but I missed my son, who stayed with his disapproving father, my thankfully X-husband. Everyone welcomed Kristen as part of our traveling family.

Eager customers formed lines around the block waiting for comfort, healing, and a view of their future from the woman in the blue velvet dress. I gave each person 15 minutes and they gave me $5, which actually meant something 30 years ago. After a long night of work I hid in the public restroom and counted my money. Great wads of five dollar bills made me rich. It was enough to get us an apartment for the summer and keep us in food. Transportation was provided by Keyo, who gave me a ride to Harvard Square each day on the handlebars of his bike, my nine year old daughter perched on the cross bars between his protective arms. Women were always lined up to see him when we arrived, but I was the only one coming and going on his handlebars.

When I hear dreamy loving music I remember that summer, the summer of being a nomad. How ironic that I led a gypsies life only blocks from the French Music School where I’d prepared for a career in opera. My life seemed to veer farther and farther from the mainstream every day.

Once I asked Keyo if he had ever done acid. “400 times,” he answered. Some part of me thought I should be worried, but it was the baldheaded man in red tennis shoes I felt most comfortable with. He was the person who taught me about love with no sexual expectations or conditions.  Keyo was love. His life was loves statement and his music its expression. His audience recognized the lack of it in their own lives and flocked to him like a pied piper of the heart.

I returned to Portland in the fall on The Grey Rabbit Hippie Bus, all of us crowded together like bunched asparagus. No room to move or breathe. They let us out in California and we hitchhiked back to Portland. Keyo stayed. I heard he moved in with a Native American woman in the winter. I tried to imagine a female vast enough to encompass his energy and love.

I felt sad and more than a little jealous, yet I knew he’d been there as my teacher and deepest friend; holding him was like holding the wind.

written 5-21-08

Arias

I love singing the arias of my youth. No matter where I am in my life, no matter my age, or what is happening around me, I can open my memory and access the vocal acrobatics that take me back to being a girl.

I stand on years of singing around the piano with my brothers and sisters, lessons from a full-faced teacher with a large gap between her front teeth, and finally off to boarding school, where all that love of music was nearly extinguished by a German voice teacher named, Madame Schinera.  There were recitals, performances and pressures, plans to study opera followed by the Mozartium in Austria.

I sing the arias of my youth perfectly, as I was taught to do. I am a vocal gymnast doing double back flips to amaze an audience. A single melodic phrase can return me to all of that. I congratulate myself on my exceptional training. The money, time and effort invested, that stopped when I married, as abruptly as a car hitting a telephone pole.

I remember. I am transported, and always, without fail, wished I’d studied instead with a large black woman; a woman who wiped her hands on a threadbare dish towel; a woman heavy with kitchen smells and children. She was the teacher I sought, when I was too young to know what I knew. I wanted her large embodiment of spirit to teach me the blues, I wanted to find jazz in her bloodstream. I yearned for a musical mama with her feet in the dirt; not an academic, who asked me to measure classical tempo, like teaspoons of baking power in a centuries old recipe.

written February 13, 2008