24. ST. MARGARET’S SCHOOL part IV
Traditionally, the girls in school sang in the choir while the boys were expected to serve as altar boys and try out for soccer or basketball, the only sanctioned sports that competed with the other schools. However, in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, besides the Beatles, there was an upsurge of popularity in softer and more positive tunes. One such phenomenon was “Dominique” by a Dominican Sister from Belgium. The “The Singing Nun”, an international sensation, emboldened the nuns in our parish to form a singing group among the boys in the tradition of the Von Trapp singers, the celebrated family depicted in “The Sound of Music”.
We would be called “The Squires” and sing an assortment of quasi-religious songs and popular folk tunes. Mom made the bright red corduroy vest that served as our signature look and three times a week I would stay after school and practice with a dozen or so other schoolboys who had shown interest in music. We sang the Pete Seeger hits, “If I had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and a sweetly melodic version of “Jamaica Farewell” that Harry Belafonte had popularized: “I’m sad to say, I’m on my way. Won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town".
Once we had our repertoire down pat, we began to perform at businessmen’s luncheons, Catholic retirement homes and retreat centers. Though I wasn’t one of the soloists and didn’t like dressing up and performing onstage, I enjoyed the singing and explored the record racks when I’d go to the department store with my folks. A Peter, Paul and Mary record had tunes written by Bob Dylan and though I didn’t know about him at the time I could tell that his powerful evocations of social justice continued a long tradition of folk music that stirred people’s consciousness.
My brother William had no interest in folk music and thought it was all lightweight pop tunes. He was leaning towards a grittier urban sound and formed a garage band with my friends Ralph and Erik and called themselves “Aesop’s Fables”. They never played any gigs to speak of but they were a hit around the neighborhood and William saved up enough to get a cheap electric bass guitar from a pawnshop near my dad’s downtown studio. He’d borrow Erik’s amplifier and started practicing the harmonica and pretty soon could play a decent version of “Gloria” by the Irish band, Them fronted by Van Morrison.
Naturally, we were too young to hang out in any of Seattle’s music clubs but we’d hear about them on radio advertisements on KJR: The Paramount Theater, Parker’s Ballroom and the pre-eminent venue later immortalized by Jimi Hendrix; The Spanish Castle Ballroom.
William had acquired an old portable record player that he’d carry around and we began competing for hit records. The only way he’d let me play his phonograph was to loan him my 45s and so I got a few that I knew he liked. “Turn that noise down!” I’d heard my Mom shout more than once while cranking up the volume on “Twist and Shout”.
Even though dad was a committed swing jazz fan and had records by the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Harry James and Artie Shaw, he also appreciated artists like Sidney Bechet, Louie Armstrong, Fats Waller, Slim Gaillard and the big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. William and I scoured his record collection and came across sides by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. I didn’t take to the progressive sound as readily as William did but recognized serious music that wasn’t getting popular airplay on any radio station I listened to.
“What’re ya’ doin’?’” Dad said one Saturday afternoon, coming into the living room where I had about a dozen of his records out and was going through the liner notes. “I really like this guy, Art Tatum”, I said. “He plays piano faster than anybody else I’ve ever heard.” “Yeah, he’s pretty amazing all right”, said dad sitting on the floor cross-legged. “Listen”, he said, “Your Mom and I have been talking to your aunt Pauline and your uncle Rodg. How would like to spend a couple months with them this summer in Ketchikan?”
I didn’t have to think about an answer very long. “Sure, that’d be great. But what about William?” “Well, unfortunately, he has to go to summer school this year”, Dad said, “And besides, you’ve been saving up with your paper route money. Like I said before; if you can save up half I’ll pay the other half”.
I’d managed to save almost thirty bucks towards my first 3-speed bicycle. “If you pay for half of your airplane ticket, I’ll pay the rest”, he continued and started laying out some of the things I’d get to do; lots of fishing, hikes in the mountains above town, playing with my cousin Steve and celebrating the Fourth of July. “I’m also taking you kids down to Southern California in August after Will’s summer school to see Disneyland like I’ve always promised.”
Even though I hated giving up my dream of a new bike, I knew that I’d have an incredible time and already knew my cousin Steve pretty well from visits he’d have in Seattle with his folks and sisters JoAnn and Linda. “You think about it and let me know”, dad said and got up, put his hand on top of my head and strode out to the kitchen whistling. It was all I could think of for the rest of the day and by morning I’d made up my mind. Of course I’d go.