By Charles McLaughlin
In the previous episode a brief outline was provided of my background from which the reader could derive a series of skill sets I had learned before entering Geezerland. In addition, the importance of my family as a resource, the prime source, for guidance, understanding and support was revealed. I’ll now cover the second major resource and guiding light available to me as a geezer.
One humid summer day in 1963, when working in Lafayette, Louisiana as an oil tool company representative and while at the local library, a specific title caught my attention: Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts. Now, believe me, I was not the least bit interested in psychotherapy but the author’s name rang a bell as an up-and-coming new author, interpreter and popularizer of Eastern Philosophy, about which I had a budding interest. It turned out to be a good read and also had a tantalizing bibliography that included such wonders as The Surangama Sutra and Essays by D.T. Suzuki, both of which I later read and found fascinating. These led me onward to Zen Teaching of Huang- Po and The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau, two of my favorites among many others. These works were to inspire hundreds of hours of sitting and receiving dokusan at Zen Centers in various cities. Concomitant with this practice was and remains a study of the Tarot, the Kabbalah and Hermetic Philosophy. The value of these disciplines to this geezer as a geezer will be seen later.
A third source of vital importance is the love of and practice of instrumental music. I fell in love with music at an early age, nine years old to be exact, when I heard the third movement, Adagio lamentoso, to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique. From that moment a lifetime romance began between that impressionable nine-year-old boy and music. First kiss was the violin, then the fervent embrace of the piano and the learning of light classics, like Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata and Clair de Lune. Though the war interrupted the love affair it never dimmed its passion! The big band era had arrived and tens of thousands of us young hot-blooded lads were into dancing…jitterbugging and swing dancing with beautiful, well-stacked young bobby-soxers in oxfords to the music of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman. Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and many other bands of reknown.
Along came love, marriage, kids and the responsibilities thereof and little time left for learning new instruments but still dancing to the beat!
During the ensuing sixties, huge social changes occurred and music changed as well.. Folk songs were in and original anti-war lyrics were to be heard. I heard and resonated with their call for peace, social harmony, love and an end to war. I sang the songs of the youthful generation, supported their anti-war views and, like many young kids of that time, learned how to play songs of the day on a guitar. Sadly, my fingers were short, sausage-like, not long enough to play anything but short chords requiring little stretching. So much for that!
Following a divorce and a move to Oregon in 1975, a revived interest in music and a new marital relationship with a young lass from Cleveland named Barbara came about miraculously in Cannon Beach. Twenty-three years older than she, I was amazed she found any interest in this pre-geezer. But she did!
What did that have to do with music? Well, we both discovered a mutual interest in drumming…playing congas specifically. Over the years our drumming took a few turns. Barbara switched to the djembe and I to the cajon and bongos. Later, Barbara fulfilled a long-held dream to play a bass guitar.
To tell the truth here, I have always been a wanna-be musician and have never mastered any instrument. I’m mostly self-taught, poorly so, and that I’ve been asked to sit in with real and trained local musicians is a complete wonder to me. Yes, I can maintain tempo but that’s about it. A little later I’ll talk about music’s influence on me as a card-carrying geezer.