I was born with the innate to let passion grab me, whirl me, take me and fling me to the winds. Music and boys were the passions of my young teen years and continued for many more. Once I had an instrument that could respond with a true and rich sound (stripped of its coats of hideous and suffocating black varnish), and my fingers understood the basics of the fret board, I was on my way.
My mother graciously gifted me with a few lessons with a talented classical guitarist. But with the impatience of youth and the burning drive that had been awakened, I wanted to make the guitar, the music, the joining of my spirit with those two... mine. I wanted to make my own chords, write my own legacy in notes, sounds, and wrap them up with words. I wanted to write songs. It wasn't really a conscious choice -- the songs just poured out of me. Sometimes they were mine, sometimes they were the plaintive songs of love, travel, longing of the folk artists of the time. STarting with Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio, I was soon enamored with the willowy dark-eyed unattainable gypsy princess of folk, Joan Baez.
I listened for hours to her records and mooned to the tales of Elizabethan love dramas, Appalachian tragedies and Celtic legends. Soon a very scruffy young man named Bob Dylan was in the picture. Shorter than her (or he seemed so), untamed hair, with a wild and rough-edged unmusical voice, he was a sharp contrast to her patrician beauty and the bell-like clarity and purity of her singing. I liked it better when she sang his songs than when he did, in his nasal whine. But his songs were compelling, and the lyrics were something I had never hear before - poetry, strength, vision, anger, irony and wisdom -- all in a song.
My girlhood baby sitter, Judy Collins, was also making a name for herself -- not in the classical piano circuit, but in the folk circles as well. Her strong, lyrical voice lent itself amazingly well to ancient Irish laments and to modern folk tales.
I spent every free moment of every day cross legged on the bed, the floor or wherever, engrossed in music, playing my guitar, making up chords and songs, learning the songs of my idols, interpreting them with different styles, turning them into my own.
I found a kindred passion in a schoolmate of mine, Corinne Mosco. Dark-haired to my light, mediterranean classic features, she looked to me a lot like Joan Baez. We became fast fast friends. She also played guitar and sang. Her parents were wealthy and gave her voice lessons. The voice teacher kindly let me sit in on the lessons. That is where I learned about breathing with my diaphragm, how to sustain a note, how to cut the vibrato (Joan Baez had a famously strong vibrato, untrained and lovely voice) -- but mainly that breathing. I learned what a "glottis stroke" was, and how to emit smooth notes without the "click" of the "glottis."
Pretty soon Corinne and I were working up duets, harmonies, songs we would play together. We played at the folk club at school and for talent shows - and we won! We got our first paying gig! It was a concert for the Alliance Francaise (Corinne's parents were French jewish, mine Russian Jewish). Our mothers made us matching purple velvet V-neck jumpers and we bought matching pink chiffon blouses with floppy bows to tie at the neck and blouson sleeves. We played our concert and we were a hit. I still have the lovely note that the Director wrote to me after the show. We were paid too! I think it was $15.
That summer though, Corinne went to France. I was 14. At home, I continued with my music. I entered a contest put on by a local movie theater. Finalists played live on the stage before the newest release Elvis Presley movie, right in front of the big, shimmery silver screen. I played two songs, 500 Miles and another one I can't recall. I won the contest! The prize was five Elvis albums and free tickets to see the movie, Blue Hawaii.
Well, I was thrilled to have won, but I hated Elvis Presley. I called him Elvis Pelvis. I thought he was a "greaser," looked degenerate and I hated his music. When I had been younger and had stayed home with babysitters, most of them would sit in front of the TV and scream with desire, watching Elvis on the tiny black and white screen. I was beyond disgusted. So, I won the albums and went to the movie, but left at half time. No Elvis for me. But for sure, I had really been bitten by the stage bug.
To be continued...