Alphabet Series - J is for Jackson Browne
I had thought about writing about justification and how so many of us endeavor to justify our actions. When someone is upset with us, we want to explain to them the good reasons why we did what we did. If we can justify our actions then, we want to believe, they won’t be upset with us. I was going to write a whole post about our need to justify, but instead I am going to write about another J word and spend the rest of the post trying to justify my choice. I am going to write about Jackson Browne. He is my favorite musical artist and has been for quite some time.
Growing up though, I had other favorites. My mother would take my sister and me to musicals and we would reprise the songs in the car and at home. I also went to summer camp and learned a bunch of folk songs that often had a sing along component. I liked singing along or by myself but it is a pleasure few have been eager to share with me . I think many homes have various forms of music in them and like other art forms having it around usually enhances the day. As Shakespeare said "If music be the food of love, play on."
When my seven year older sister was in college, my parents and I visited her. She took me to my first concert - the Kingston Trio. My first album purchase was their first album. There have been many other purchases since then. I don't much listen to the KingstonTrio anymore, but I have them on a playlist and they pop up every now and then and bring a smile to my countenance. Also on that playlist is music from Tin Pan Alley, the British invasion, classic rock, numerous singer songwriters and a few select musicals.
Living in Southern California I spend a lot of time in my car listening to the radio. In the 70's as I made my way through grad school I often heard Jackson Browne's songs and his words resonated with my experience. In the parlance of the day, between grad school, Jackson and other authors, songwriters and news makers I raised my consciousness. Or at least I thought so.
While I never did get to take my parents to see Jackson I did take my sister. Her tastes then were more along the lines of Frank Sinatra. When she sat next to me and I could see her engaged in the music it brought a smile to my heart. I guess we want the people we love to love the things we love and while it doesn’t always turn out that way, this time it did. She even bought an album.
I got to meet Jackson once and he did something that endeared him to me. We want our heroes to be worthy of our affection and he came through for me. There was a fundraiser in someone's backyard and Jackson was scheduled to sing. I got there early to ensure I would get a good seat. There was hardly anyone there and Jackson was setting up and just kinda hanging around. I went up and told him what a fan I was and that I had introduced my 5 year old daughter to his music. She would be coming soon to see him for the first time, but truthfully, I told him she didn’t really like his music. He wasn't overly pleased to hear that, but took it in stride. But, I informed him, there was one song of his that she liked. She liked I’m the Cat. And the only reason she liked that is because she liked cats. He told me that really the song wasn't about cats. In the music industry and your the best at something you are the cat. I told him I had seen him many times and he had never played this song (frankly, it is one of his lesser songs), but if he wanted to make inroads with my daughter he might want to play it regardless of what it was really about.
Later my daughter and her mother showed up and I was able to introduce Jackson to them. My daughter happily told him that she liked I’m the Cat. Jackson patiently tried to explain to her that the song was not really about cats. As he explained to me, he told her that in the music industry when you are the best at something they say you are the cat. As he explained this to her, I could tell that whatever esteem she held him in no longer existed. It was going to be a long concert.
We sat in front row seats and Jackson sang many of his well-known songs and then at one point he said he was going to sing a song he did not often sing. He explained to the audience that in the music industry if you are the best they call you the cat and this song was about that. I looked over at my daughter and he might as well have been rubbing salt in the wound. Then he looked at her, smiled and told her and the audience “Nah, it’s really about cats.” Then he sang it and regained my daughter’s esteem and endeared himself to me.
There is another song of his that holds a special place in my daughter’s life because it holds a special place in mine. The song is titled For a Dancer. I can’t remember when I first heard this song, but I do recall that one day some years ago when I was listening to it I eerily thought I wanted it played at my memorial service. It was kind of a grim yet touching thought. Every time since then when I hear that song I have the same thought.
I didn’t like it when my parents talked to me about their death, and I knew my daughter would not like it when I talked about mine. But, I also knew that if that song was going to play at my memorial service she was going to be the one to have to do it. So, I told her. It was an awkward and uncomfortable conversation and thankfully brief. But since then we have seen Jackson perform together and apart and he usually sings that song. When we have been together it is awkward and uncomfortable, but deeply touching for us both. When I am not with her it still is awkward and uncomfortable. Yet it is comforting too. I won’t be there in person to hear it at my memorial, and I suspect that too will be an awkward and uncomfortable moment for my daughter, but one I hope she will treasure.