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Thursday, September 9, 2021

I Can Hear Music

I Can Hear Music

Cruising to dinner on a very rainy Sunday night last weekend, The Beach Boys’ song “Do It Again” came on the car stereo. One of so many of the great “teenage angst” tunes that genius Brian Wilson wrote in the 1960’s. I commented that I could vividly remember the first time I heard it. This will obviously date me some, but I’d submit that there are still lots of people who grew up with The Beach Boys, and still enjoy their music.

It was early July 1968, and my friend Marty and I were taking a trip to Southern California to experience sun and waves. It was the first of many such trips, once we discovered that although the beaches were crowded, the water was easily 25 degrees warmer than our local favorite spots at Pedro Point and Santa Cruz. Cruising down 101 in his big Ford Country Squire wagon like the one above, through some scorching July weather, on our way to new waves and some incredibly fun times, “Do It Again” hit the airwaves.


So many memories, so many songs, and the specific moment I heard them for the first time. I’m obviously not unique in this regard, surely many of you loyal readers are thinking the same thing now as you read this. Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” playing through the jukebox at Guernewood Park at Russian River, in the summer of ’63. The Beatles’ real first appearance on the Jack Paar Show in ’64 (Ed Sullivan was a couple weeks later). All are moments that conjure up such vivid memories. Do you remember exactly what you were doing, and where you were?


Music-related tragedies bring similar memories to mind. I was on my way to work and heard the news that Keith Moon (drummer for The Who) had died. I had to pull over on Geary Blvd in San Francisco and “gather my thoughts” for quite a few minutes. I was talking to my friend Marie, on a break in the meat department at the store where I worked, and she said, “Oh my God, Elvis Presley just died.” She worked in the stock market, and the ticker tape displayed the horrible news … live, so to speak.


I worked for concert promoter Bill Graham Presents for many years and was fortunate enough to be working a Stevie Wonder concert at the Cow Palace, one memorable Monday night. I remember it as a Monday, because I was missing a 49ers-Dolphins game that would determine who would go to the playoffs. Stevie did the whole show, left the stage, then returned for his encore song. But something was very wrong. He walked to the front of the stage and told the audience of 17,000 fans that he had some very bad news. He said that John Lennon had just been shot and killed in New York City. He dedicated his encore to Lennon … the song was “Happy Birthday” from his Hotter Than July album. The song was originally written for Martin Luther King.


Have you ever done this with food? A specific food item at a specific time, triggering a memory, either good or bad, that still lingers in your mind? A restaurant experience that was simply beyond incredible? How about the first time you ate a McDonald’s burger? Do you remember it? Or your first bite of chili. Was it the first taste of fish that caused you to forever love or hate it? How about sushi? How about obscure, ethnic, eclectic foods?


I was in Junior High School and was invited to see a play at the Berkeley Community Theater with my friend John and his wonderful mom. The play was “A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum,” featuring the late Zero Mostel. On the way home, I was treated to my first cheeseburger at Joe’s of Westlake, which to this day is my absolute favorite restaurant. As a very young child I used to play in the lot that was to become Joe’s. I watched it being built and couldn’t understand why a restaurant was going to destroy our playground.


My first bite of a Joe’s cheeseburger provided the answer. As the picture attests, this is a huge burger cooked over a real wood grill, topped with a generous slab of cheese (always specify Monterey Jack, which is better than the standard Swiss), on a quarter loaf of San Francisco sourdough, with a big helping of steak fries. If there’s a better cheeseburger, I haven’t found it. I ate there (literally) thousands of times of the decades, until it was taken over by “Original Joe’s,” and remodeled. 


I’d never had sushi and thought I simply didn’t “need” this weird item in my culinary life. I’d tried it all of one time, and it just didn’t click. I’ve surfed Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz since I was about 14 and had already eaten all the seaweed I needed to consume over a lifetime. And raw fish would make this all better?? And then I met my future wife and was informed that it was her favorite food. Fine. We’ll give it a second try. By sheer coincidence, a wonderful co-worker friend named Kathy Lucky, invited me to lunch, and suggested we have sushi. This time, I had an expert who could coax me toward some items that might be a little more appealing. I remember my first bite of a piece of hamachi sushi, dipped in soy sauce and wasabi … like it was yesterday.


This burst of flavor was such a revelation, that it was virtually life-altering. Like many “interests” that I get involved in, I of course had to learn everything there was to know about this wonderful food and try it all. And along with it being “required” to pursue my impending romance with my future wife, it was also a catalyst in moving the relationship ahead. We’ve had so many sushi dinners over the years. One of us will say “how about bait for dinner,” and we know to meet at our favorite local spot. Hamachi, maguro, fancy rolls, a great miso soup starter, hot sake … again, if it gets any better, I don’t want to know about it.


Taking this full circle, music has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve played in bands since my early teen years, and when I don’t have a formal band to play with, I still play the drums almost every day. Last Saturday night provided a moment that I’m sure will go down as one to remember, in my “music life.” After a several month hiatus while they were redesigning their home studio, I was invited down to my bandmates’ home for a great dinner of Indian food, and the first shot at playing their new original music in a live setting. Up to that point, these were all “studio” productions, which were performed and recorded by the two of them. But now they have a “live” potential. And we all agreed that the songs sounded awesome! Stay tuned for updates on this new band development. I’m sure it’s coming.


So, if this rings a bell for you … if hearing a song for the first time induced a life-long memory of the specific moment you heard it, you get the point. If a special moment in a restaurant or trying a type of food can still put a smile on your face, or bring a tear to your eye, you’re on the right track. None of us like the negative moments, but if there was a “good way” to be told that John Lennon had been killed, it was from Stevie Wonder. The good things always outweigh and outnumber the bad ones. My initial distaste for sushi turned into two lifelong loves. Embrace the world around you. Savor the good things. Think of times like these in your lives, reflect on the bad ones, celebrate the good ones, recognize that we’re all human and the mind is a wonderful thing for providing us these memories.


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