I had the privilege of growing up in a poverty stricken region of the United States, without a whole lot of opportunity, and at times things seemed pretty hopeless. A lot of people wouldn’t consider that a blessing, but I do. No one really had the means to go somewhere else to find work, so when my parents and their respective generation found a steady job, they tended to hang on to it as long as they could. It was a different time, and I have a very specific memory of my high school sociology teacher talking about the phenomenon of cultural lag. He estimated that the valley we lived in was about ten years behind everyone else. Looking back on it, I estimate it closer to fifteen or twenty. It wasn’t always an easy existence, but most of my family stayed in one place for generations. Since I left to find my way in the bigger world, experience has taught me that this is a rarity. It made every memory of those times with my family even more precious. Every holiday, every birthday, whether you were turning six or sixty, a houseful of people were gathered together in love to celebrate. And some of the fondest memories I have of that time come from my family’s love of music.
I grew up around live music. At every family gathering, after whatever meal was being served, the guitars would come out and my very large extended family would sit around and sing. My father and uncles are all very good guitarists, and everyone else sang like the Von Trapps. We all participated in high school and church choir, so it wasn’t uncommon to hear some pretty amazing four and five part harmony from us. My family was at its most joyful in the midst of song. I miss it everyday.
I can remember going to sleep at night to the sound of my parents singing while my dad played the guitar. My dad is a rather shy vocalist, but he can bring it to the forefront when he really wants to. He fronts a band now; but in those days he tended to sing gently. My mother was a competitive alto in high school, and she played the violin. She had a strong, soulful voice that fit perfectly with some of the artists of her day, like Stevie Nicks and Rita Coolidge. Listening to her sing “We’re All Alone” to my dad while he played his guitar as I drifted off to sleep was one of the best things I remember from my childhood. I could hear the love in her voice. I couldn’t wait to grow up and get to sing in the living room, too.
My uncle used to write songs for all of us kids, and he and my aunt would sing us to sleep while he gently played his guitar. There is something magical about hearing a song when you are a child that you know was written about you. It tells you that you are so special, you need the music to really paint the picture, because the words alone can never communicate what a gift you are. It is something every child should experience.
My father and uncle are both songwriters, and have quite a large catalog of original work. But the coolest thing I can remember from those days was the Blue Book. It consisted of a blue three ring binder that my father had put together throughout my life. He spent the better portion of his free time writing out lyrics to the songs he loved, and carefully wrote down the chords he had figured out. This was in the days before the internet, and we didn’t have a lot of money for him to just go out and by songbooks. He did it all by ear, and he treated that book with the same loving care as he did his guitar. I had always expressed an interest in learning the guitar, but his own was a gift at the age of eighteen, and my parents could never really afford to give me a good one. There were a few times that he would find one second hand, but each time it was too large, or the neck was wobbly, and I know that he wanted more than anything to just go get me a new one. It wasn’t realistic, and I knew it, so I contented myself with watching him play, amazed at the way his fingers just knew where to go.
I grew into adulthood and eventually moved away to make a life somewhere outside of the Ohio Valley. In all that time, I would call my dad and we would talk about our belief that David Gilmour was the Best. Guitarist. EVER. He would tell me about some obscure live performance by Genesis from 1973, and I would find it on the internet. We would listen, and my dad would marvel that this music was still around, and that he had a chance to hear it again and share it with me. My mom and I would talk about our love of protest rock, and she was delighted one day when I told her I had a coworker that actually knew who the band Xit was (a Native American protest rock band, for those of you who don’t know. Think in the general direction of Redbone.) I made it a point to fly home for Thanksgiving, just to be with my family for the annual ringing in of the holiday season, with guitars, carols and laughter. Music was and is the tie that binds us together.
In 2007, my mother died unexpectedly, and the music stopped for a moment. But only for a moment. At her funeral, we sang a lot of upbeat, decidedly un-
Music has always been a part of my life, and it continues to be to this day. I am slowly learning how to play my guitar, and I am writing songs for my own precious son. My heart swells three sizes each time he hears the guitar and his face lights up. The childhood I grew up with is a rare gift, and I want my little family here in Austin to feel the way I do every time I hear an acoustic guitar, or a group of voices singing in a tight, haunting harmony. I have a wonderful family, but my desire to be around others like me grows stronger everyday. That desire led me straight to you all, here at Exosphere.
I am blessed with a sister-