May 12, 2009

Mother's Day and The Defenestration of Folk Music

(Mom... young, as I remember her)

The following are excerpts from something I wrote in 2005, seven months before Mom passed away. (These are only highlights, the whole thing was excruciatingly long)


On rainy or boring days, or just anytime Mom got tired of me, she would send me to my room with an armful of her albums. Yes, I mean the round, black, vinyl kind, believe it or not. Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow and others - they were my surrogate mothers.
When Mom was mad at Dad, or one of us kids, or just life, she would put on some Carly Simon (or the like) and ramp up the volume. For the next 4-5 minutes we were all her quiet, trembling captives while a husky female voice belted out despair and anguish on Mom’s behalf. This was her method for expressing all sorts of feelings and ideas. Yes, music was her medium.
When she loaded me up with an armful of albums she wasn’t just giving me something to do, she was giving me her toolbox, her art supplies you could say. I'd be alone for hours in my pale yellow room, lying on the floor with my feet propped up against the wall. I'd stare at the ceiling or into nothing at all while the smooth voices and mellow harmonies carried me far away from Mom's bi-polar hell. It was my favorite place to be, and a few years ago when I was instructed to find a "peaceful place" to ease birthing pains, I thought about lying there in my yellow room on my back with my hands behind my head and my feet in the air, keeping beat with my feet to Joni Mitchell's guitar strums.
My mom had moods that could shift faster than Alabama weather. And any trigger would do. And sometimes there seemed to be none at all, like the day I watched my record player sail out my second-story window, followed by Joni Mitchell, then Linda Ronstadt, then Phoebe Snow. After she left I looked out to see glass and plastic and machine parts all over the driveway. The defenestration of folk music. But if her fleeting intention was to take away the music, she was too late. It was mine. It was in me, woven around my heart like the very vessels that supply it life.
I only recently came to understand that all the insults I bore and all the projectiles I avoided and all the ear-bursting music and screaming really had nothing to do with me. She didn’t hate me. She hated her illness. I think she would rage until her energy was spent, only to discover she still had more blazing anger inside, with no way to let it out or to be consoled. And when Carly Simon or Joni Mitchell could neither say it for her, nor give her solace, her frustration turned into everyone's catastrophe.
When I sit alone in the quiet and think about those times, I don't see a mother expressing disdain for her child, but a woman who fiercely wished she could be more. And it is only then, that after 30 years of not really knowing this person as a mother, I can understand this person as a woman. To quote her beloved Joni Mitchell: “every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light.” Without a good portion of each we have no depth.
It has not been perfect, and it has not been ideal, but it’s my life. It is made up of beautiful song writers, and beautiful song lovers. I know my mom loved me because she gave me music. And I can give it back to her when I sit by her bedside and sing to her. She stares at the ceiling or into nothing at all while my voice carries her far away from bedridden hell. Maybe deep down *she* is still in there, dancing and humming along and knowing that this tune is my way of saying, “thanks Mom, I love you too.”

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful story! I absolutely love it.

    I just recently wrote my whole life story with my own mother for a friend of mine. It's not nearly as beautiful as this is, but one day I might share it (or a version of it) on my blog too.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    I'm so glad to call you a friend, even though I've never seen you. You are still my friend in my heart and mind.