Tuesday, April 2, 2013

When Music Goes Interstate/Supporting Musicians From Everywhere

I re-read this morning and was so moved by it I wanted to re-post. Written by my mother, Gerry Hitt. Some great history of my Dad. 

I had a good time down to the Duck and Decanter from around 4-5:30 listening to Raymond play.  He sang a few songs last night that Dean, his dad, always sang, so it was like Utah visiting Arizona for a little while as he sang, "Heartaches" and "Drink my java", I thought all he has to do is turn up the connection a little stronger and you could swear his dad had come back to life, a stronger touch of the blues, because Dean was a blues singer without even trying.  There was a deep sadness in his inner being he always used to tap when he sang certain songs.  I associate him with the song, "Me and my Shadow" because he sang that more than once in a way that made my heart ache because I could hear the years of loneliness and longing in his voice every time.  I have hesitated to ask Raymond to learn that song because Raymond is such a sociable outgoing guy who can always chase the blues away by connecting to his friends or to his mother. 

Dean never had a mother, or at least one not on this earth.  Of course one gave birth to him and he had a few precious memories of her before she went away, victim of pneumonia that used to part a lot of people back in the days of no miracle drugs.  I never got used to the tears that Dean could always evoke in a few who knew the story when he sang "I'll have the last waltz with Mother."  Tears came to my eyes every time I heard him sing it because I knew the only place he was going to have the last waltz with his mother was in heaven. 

I always associated her death with another sad death of a mother, who was Dean's mother's niece, her brother Reese's daughter and Dean's first cousin a few years older.  Aseneth and her husband's car broke down on a wintery day when they were crossing the top of the mountain between Wayne County and Escalante.   He got out to go for help, and after waiting a long time, she wrapped her tiny baby snugly in all the blankets she had brought with her and started off on foot herself.  They found her lying over her baby, frozen to death.  Her brothers carried her to a truck to bring her home, but the baby survived to be raised by her grandparents.

Out of the effects of such deaths, the blues were born. The children left behind were never going to be as happy again as other children.  The blues left their mark on them as long as they were on the earth and separated from an important figure in their lives.  

Dean had another nickname he earned in high school which was "Frankie" and he learned a lot of Frank Sinatra songs because he had been associated with this singer while he was still so young.  I remember one night I left the dance hall while everyone was busy dancing to go to a cafe to see if a guy I liked was coming to the dance.  I was shocked when I came back to hear Dean's voice blaring out from the dance hall, "I didn't even know she was leavin', some sweet talkin' tomcat took her from me--"  The guy I went to check on lived next door to the dance hall, and had followed me home to get ready for the dance I thought, but he must have heard that song because he never made it to the dance that night.  He must have thought it would be wiser for him to stay home.  We used to dance a lot in those days, and so these 'affections' sprang up from time to time. 

What was so funny is Dean started singing, "Blue Hawaii" and I started coaching him to sing it even more romantically than he was doing.  He slowed it down, and I screamed with joy and said he had to sing it that way the next time he sang "Blue Hawaii" but there was no next time until his second wedding, and he sang "Blue Hawaii" to his bride who was living in Hawaii.  He must have been a big hit, and she probably did not know that I coached him to sing that song in that beautiful way.  

His oldest son Gary's favorite Frankie song he likes to sing in karaoke bars is "Summer Wind."  I love how he sings that song.  He would make his dad proud.  I had Gary come over  for a karaoke night with Pierre, when I was with him.  Pierre loved to sing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin songs and I had a bunch of them on karaoke discs.  Gary and Pierre both sang Frank Sinatra songs that night. 

But Gary had his first hit song when he was still a child.  His dad coached him to sing "I am a child of God."  He was quite sharp with him, which I thought gave Gary's delivery a poignancy it might not have had without his dad being so hard on him.  Gary must have been praying a little bit during that song that he would do it right.  

Raymond was only five when I divorced Dean so he did not get to sing with his dad for a long long time. He was in his thirties before he ever really got the chance to sing with him.  Pole Griffin, his first cousin, was Dean's singing partner until he died.  Pole learned to play the guitar so he could accompany them.  I used to love some of the songs they sang together like "Harvest Time."  They harmonized on that song so beautifully.  Dean could harmonize with anybody.  

Pole died of cancer and eventually Raymond stepped into the empty space he had left and became his dad's last singing partner.  I recall them having some jam sessions with a guy next door to where Raymond lived then in Phoenix.  He had a band.

That was the start of Dean going interstate because he kept coming back to Phoenix in the winter to live with Raymond.  I recall Raymond getting him over to some noontime singing at restaurants downtown back then. I met them over there once, and Dean was all excited about getting the chance to sing in Phoenix, just anywhere. Gary Dean had started working at Pinnacle Peak when he just fifteen, and they hired some good western bands.  Gary told me during the three years he worked there he thought very strongly of trying to become a country western singer, but he was afraid he might drink too much.  He got the chance to go into construction work as an operator, so he took it.  That was a big opportunity for a young guy to get a union operator's card. Dean, of course, had been in construction, and he had renewed his carpenter's card in Hawaii and Phoenix and was working in Vegas when he retired.  He first got his card when he went to work on the Glen Canyon dam in Page. Dean was very proud of Gary's work in construction.  He told me a number of times, "Gary has made a million dollars doing construction and he never stops learning."  Which Gary didn't, going from foreman to project manager to field supervisor and then he asked to be transferred into the office to learn bidding, which he is still doing today.  He can do it all.  He can point out many sites in Phoenix where the company he was working for at the time got the job.  He 'owns' Phoenix through the construction business. 

Dean eventually moved back to Utah, but to Boulder where he and I had lived different times.  His sister ReNon still lived in the Petersen ranch house after her husband died and the ranch was sold and he lived in a trailer on her property at first and then later he moved into the house. Raymond eventually helped form the Boulder Heritage Foundation that sponsors a music and history festival in July.  Dean was excited about this festival from the beginning, I am sure thinking he had come 'home' to sing.

In the festival Raymond featured bands from Arizona where he had lived so many years as well as from Utah, and after he had toured his one man show "Bohemian Cowboy" in Austin, Texas, the fabled city where all country western musicians aspire to play some time in their lives, he wanted to form a connection by bringing Austen players to the festival.

"Bohemian Cowboy" is Raymond's sad tribute to his dad who disappeared into the desert above Los Vegas one year when he just could not wait for Raymond to recover from hip surgery in St. George so he could go back to winter in Phoenix.  Dean started to Phoenix but never made it.  He was never seen again.

But in his play, "Bohemian Cowboy," Raymond took his Dad and his music further than he had ever been before, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Austin.  Some theater goers in all these cities got to see a son playing the songs of the father, and "Bohemian Cowboy" is a blues play if there ever was one.  In it, Raymond has Jesus the carpenter arguing with his dad, trying to get him not to walk into the desert and disappear.  Oh how that rang a bell to me, because so many times I had tried to talk Dean out of a suicidal intent. I staged so many dramatic interventions trying to shake him out of a down mood.  I would think he was going to end up dead if I don't do something. One time I went to see the Mormon Chaplain on the base and told him Dean was so suicidal I didn't dare stay with him, but I had to try to do something for him before I left. It was unbelievable what happened that time, with me incarcerated in a psych ward because they found out I had been in one before and they decided I was the problem not him.  But Dean was pretty impressed by me trying to get help for him and ending up in a psych ward for a week myself.  I was pretty mad.  So he was somewhat chastened, and that seemed to distract him from his ancient reoccurring intention to commit suicide. 

I have often thought about how easy it would have been for him to have died in a flaming car wreck.  I don't know how many times during our marriage I ended up in a car with him and one of his suicidal drinking buddies he seemed to find everywhere who did not care whether they lived or died either, and the buddy would be driving us around hairpin curves trying to hit eighty and past a hundred for sure in the straightaways.  How many times can you do that and come home alive. I didn't think Dean had many more suicide rides left he could survive.

And he didn't.  During his last reckless disappearing act he met up with a devil, whether within himself or in someone else, and disappeared without a trace.  Anything could have happened to him when he was in one of those moods, even murder at the hands of somebody dangerous he crossed.  That is when he would say things like, "I'd kill you in a heart beat."  It was more likely he would sober up and be peaceful again but the person he was threatening wouldn't know that for sure and some had reported him to the police for threats to commit mayhem on their persons.  But yes, he would attack if he got frustrated enough, despite of how 'harmless' his relatives wanted to think he was.  I had to divorce him before he succeeded in killing me.  He would attack me if I could not get out of his way soon enough. 

So Raymond visualizing Jesus out there arguing with Dean, well that was like me arguing with the devil that came into Dean under the influence, the voice he would echo with mad eyes that scared me.  I have listened to him for as long as an hour sometimes, cursing God. Calling God names.  He blamed God during those crazy interludes, for taking his mother.  

A boy driven mad from neglect and loneliness.  Dean and the sister closest to him in age both had their mean moments when the devil got into them and you better not cross them.  He got way past his alcoholic dad's ability to connect to him, so even though his dad lived just across the street, for the most part he just ignored those two kids.  And they burned with rage and frustration for years.  

Which is why I think this play, "Bohemian Cowboy" is universal, a blues play that many can relate to who know people who have been shattered by grief and become addicted to alcohol or drugs and hurt the ones they loved.  The play is going to be published and after that Raymond hopes to make a movie of "Bohemian Cowboy" which will really make it a universal play, crossing all state lines, to play the music of a country singer that singing the blues saved from sure death for many years.  Finally he could no longer outrun the dark figure who had haunted him all his life by taking his mother, the Grim Reaper.  

If I could just get Dean singing I always knew that even if he was drinking, if he could sing his dark mood out, he would not hurt anybody.  He would be 'safe' after we got home.  Sometimes at a party when he was singing people would be startled at what poured out of him, but those were the best of times for me with Dean belting out his blues.  Not acting out later when he got home.       

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Beautiful remembrance of your mom about your dad.