Night bird, white bird

My first great love? I was 19 and she was 18, and we met at college in upstate western New York. There’s one perfect word for it: I was smitten. She had long dark hair, pale white skin which freckled in the summer, a wonderful smile, and a sweet New England accent that buckled my knees and was the result of what seemed to me an idyllic childhood in a small Massachusetts town near the New Hampshire border – where she lived with her parents and 11 siblings – 10 brothers, one sister. They all played hockey on their own pond. Summer nights, they hung out at some place called the DQ. They all had those accents. One of the brothers was a smart, eccentric friend I’d met the year before – he introduced this Yonkers boy to the music of Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck and Todd Rundgren, as well as the essays of C.S. Lewis.

The girl and I were certainly in love, but it was a fledging, first-time love — and it succumbed to the strains of youthful angst and inexperience. We were together about six months. When we split up, I was devastated. I’d lost my first and only true love.

I ended up taking a semester off from school, heading back to Yonkers, in order to lick my wounds, contemplate what had happened, and figure out what was next. I missed her terribly. We tried a couple of times to try to get back together, but it didn’t happen.

Going home to Yonkers was a bad mistake. I worked five nights a week, midnight to 8, as a security guard at an IBM office building in White Plains. Go ahead. Laugh. I did, indeed, look pretty funny in my guard uniform and my shiny badge. And of course I was in no position to protect any IBM computer guys from whatever it was they needed to be protected from.

But I WAS in a position to read a book per night for the entire six months of my service to the Gleason Security Agency, which was certainly the best part of working the midnight shift with no one around and a security’s guard’s key to the stockpiles of food in the executive dining room.

The other two nights of the week, though, I was lonely and miserable. And now I’m getting to the point:

My life was saved by a bird – Alison Steele, the Night Bird, late-night DJ on free-form WNEW-FM.

She always began her radio shows with a poem – usually something reflecting those times – hippie stuff like “The Prophet” or something by Rod McKuen.

And then there was the carefully chosen music, a certain genre that fit the “Night Bird” theme so perfectly, our generation’s version of “The Milkman’s Matinee,” songs of lonely late night: “Riders on the Storm,” “Moondance,” “Free Bird,” “Piano Man,” “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell all come to mind – and have stayed there in my memory.

Romantically and remarkably, my Girl from the North Country came back to me — and I to her — decades later, after fulfilling lives and marriages that had  turned topsy-turvy and sad.

Part Two was much better than Part One…this truly felt like a miracle…but miracles require three proofs, and maybe we had one or even two, but after about three years of bliss mixed with sorrow — and, again, conflicting expectations — our great love fled among the stars once more.

And so it’s the wee, wee hours, and the milkman’s making his lonely rounds, and I feel like hearing the soothing  sound of Alison Steele, the Night Bird, who’s telling me: “Come fly with me…

 

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Shivering trees…and the traitor cold

There comes a certain time each winter when I think of New England, and an old love who lives there, and this melancholy and beautiful song — written by Joni Mitchell and sung here by Tom Rush — starts drifting through my thoughts:

 

November

I know there are good things about November: my brother Tom’s birthday, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving.

But mostly the month feels melancholy, a time of fading and dying, as summer’s bounty turns to autumn’s final harvest and then inevitable winter. Click on the Tom Waits song (above), and you’ll hear some of what I’m feeling on this first day of November.

I took a break from my writing this morning, bought a cup of takeout coffee, and drove down a back road, heading in the general direction of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. I found myself on a gravel lane winding up a mountainside through deep woods. A rush of wind blew hundreds of dry brown leaves all around my car. A flock of wild turkeys, about two dozen of the birds, scurried across the road and down into a dark and deep ravine. It felt like a time of conclusions and departures and endings, and I while appreciate the month’s barebones beauty, I’ll be glad when November makes way for December, with its bright lights and boundless, beautiful dreams.

Here’s another song that feels like November. Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going,” sung by Tom Rush:

When the sun turns traitor cold….

Another cold, chilly, gray song….Another winter song to fit the wintry mood…Another emotional weather report…
Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” sung by New England’s own troubadour Tom Rush:

Cool songs, cold climes (a winter’s tale)

I’ve spent a lot of time in New England this winter, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid serious snow.

Lately, though, snow’s been following me around.

I just got back from two weeks in Virginia, at a writers/artists retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my popularity skyrocketed when a fluke snowstorm hit and my fellow writers/artists learned I’d driven down there in my 4-wheel-drive Ford SUV.

Then I ended up leaving the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts one day early, spooked by weather forecasts of a freakish monster storm — good thing I fled, as the storm dumped upwards of 30 inches on the region.

And now I’m hunkered down in Central New Jersey as a blizzard or near-blizzard is barreling in, expected to leave behind as much as 18 inches of snow, which will be whipped around tomorrow by winds of 40 mph.

But I’ve got a warm place to stay, I’ve got food, I’ve got the two most recent issues of  two issues of the New Yorker magazine, I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got my cellphone and I’ve got a view of the N.J. Turnpike.

And I’ve got three perfect songs.  They’ve all got that stark, cold, lonely sound of winter.

New England’s own Tom Rush sings Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going”:

Lindisfarne performs the beautiful “Winter Song”:

But let’s not succumb to those Cabin Fever Blues…Albert Collins sings about being “Snowed In”:


Let it snow!