Every year on this day I think of this song:
P.S. I took this photo several years ago on a hilltop outside of Amherst at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
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:
It’s the summer solstice, so of course I’m thinking about the Drifters…and Sly and the Family Stone…Springsteen…and even Tom Waits…
Yep, I’m thinking about songs that make me think about summer.
There are others, of course, including “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran and just about anything by the early Beach Boys.
But I’ve been in Brooklyn a couple of times in the past two weeks, and as I rode the J train over the Williamsburg Bridge and along the elevated tracks I heard this great summertime song, a hit for The Drifters, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and performed here by the great Dusty Springfield:
Last weekend we were at the Jersey Shore, on the Raritan Bay side of Sandy Hook, with the little dog Roxy, a collection of short stories by Stephen King, and a cooler equipped with sandwiches, cherries and white wine.
And here’s the song I heard, even though there wasn’t a boardwalk in sight:
And then I heard this song, drifting in upon the soft bayside breeze:
And as I looked out on the water, the sunlight dipped and danced on the rippling bay, and I heard a voice ask “What makes the water glimmer like that?” and I replied, “It’s a school of diamondfish.” Then the sun slipped behind a big white cloud, and the diamondfish all dove out of sight, and music drifted across the water from a beach club across the bay, and Tom Waits began to sing this song:
Finally, just because, here’s Sly with his Family Stone:
Here’s a song I’ll be listening to — via the soundtrack of my mind — as I take a little trip to heaven (aka the Berkshires) this weekend…
And here’s a song I’ll be hearing in my head as I pull into my favorite small town in the Berkshires foothills — a place that feels like home — where everything seems just right, where spinning stars shine bright, where my sore eyes will seek the sight that soothes my very soul.
Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide…
The title of this post — of course! — is from the song “Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead.
Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to…
I’ve been staying recently in my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.
A time to mourn…
One morning a few weeks ago I acted on an impulse and visited my father’s grave — more specifically his pullout drawer high up in the marble wall of a creepy mausoleum in Hartsdale, N.Y.
To everything there is a season…
The depraved piped-in organ music and the sickly funeral-home smell of flowers got me thinking about my own funeral plans.
Little trip to heaven…
Basically I have no plans. I do know I’d like to be cremated. I do know I don’t want a funeral.
Imagine all the people….
I think I’d like my friends and family to gather for an informal nondenominational memorial celebration.
May you stay…forever young…
I’d like my younger daughter to read one of her poems. I’d like my son to play something on his guitar. I’d like my older daughter to choose and read some samples of my own writing.
No need for greed…no hunger….
I’d like donations to me made in my memory of anti-hunger groups, peace groups or literacy groups.
And…most important of all perhaps…
May your song always be sung…
I’d like there to be a really good sound system set up
to play these songs (in no particular order):
“Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles
“Little Trip to Heaven” by Tom Waits
A Bach cantata
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“Turn Turn Turn” by Pete Seeger
“Amazing Grace” (no bagpipes, please!)
and, of course, “Imagine” by John Lennon
Someone who’s more than dear to me wants her final farewell to include Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World…”
My poor father requested “Ave Maria.”
So many other songs would be appropriate and meaningful and sprung from the heart. So maybe I’ll add a few more songs and someone can burn a CD…it would make a nice departing gift for everyone in the studio audience to take home — and take to heart.
Lately I’ve been doing lots of driving. Actually “lots” is an understatement. You wouldn’t believe how much driving I’ve been doing. Let’s just say that if I leased a car I might go over the mileage allotment in a week.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I’m not exaggerating when I describe the two guys I saw driving this morning on Interstate 287 in northern New Jersey. One guy was reading a newspaper as he cruised along in the middle lane at about 60 miles per hour. He had the paper propped up in front of him on the steering wheel. The other guy actually had what appeared to be a financial ledger book opened in front of him, also propped against the steering wheel while he was speeding along at about 70 mph.
I was going to include with this post a video of Jan and Dean singing their 1964 classic “Dead Man’s Curve.” But that would be too creepy.
I’m hitting the road again in about an hour. I don’t need any bad karma. But I do need a car song. . “Little Red Corvette” by Prince? “Drive My Car” by The Beatles? “Drive” by the Cars? “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman? Early Beach Boys?
No, how about something that fits this rainy night? How about Tom Waits singing his song “Ol’ ’55?” It has nothing to do with dangerous drivers. But at least it’s about a car, right? Right? Or is it…could it be…about love…about driving in your car…and you’re not reading a newspaper or a financial ledger book…and you’ve just been with the woman you truly love and you’re wishing you could have stayed longer…yes, I think that’s what Tom Waits is singing about…and I think I’ll think about that as I drive up the highway one more time tonight with melancholy love songs playing in my head as the wipers keep the rhythm as I drive through the darkest darkness in what seems like never-ending rain.