Try a Little Love Potion No. 9

Remember Love Potion Number 9? If you’re a baby boomer, you do. For those who are ready to click off in confusion, it’s a song, a hit record by The Searchers from 1964. Remember the famous line when the music stopped and singer sang, “I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink”? After which he says, “I didn’t know if it was day or night. I started kissing everything in sight.” When he kissed a cop at 34th and Vine, the cop broke his little bottle of Love Potion No. 9. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Check it out here on YouTube. The guy up front is not really playing that guitar, is he? If he is, he has a pretty weird picking style. But he’s having fun.

That song came out a long time ago. I was 12. Many of you were not even born. Yet yesterday at our South Beach open mic/jam session, when our leader Renae started playing it, we all knew all the words. In a minute, we knew all the chords, too: Am, Dm, C, D, E7. That goofy song brought us together in ways that very few other things do. And that led me to a revelation, one of those God knocking on my head moments.

I’ve been struggling with a bad case of the “why bothers” lately with my writing. Why struggle over poems and essays that I send to literary magazines and mostly get rejected. Even when I get something accepted, the readership is so small, and nobody I know reads those publications, so why bother? I’m sending out my novel, and nobody’s buying it, so why bother? I’ve written a ton of songs, but I don’t exactly have a record deal, so why bother?

Here’s why. Because when people know your work and share it, magic happens. When my words touch just one person’s heart, magic happens. When people sing together, magic happens.

Music has a special power. Think of all the good old singalongs that everybody knows. “Down by the Riverside.” “Amazing Grace.” The Jeremiah was a Bullfrog version of “Joy to the World.” “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” “You are My Sunshine.” Somebody wrote those songs, and somebody shared them. And it was worth the bother.

One of our local high school teachers brought some of his special ed students to perform as a band at yesterday’s open mic. Most are developmentally disabled, some severely. But they ran up front with their tambourines and shakers and sang Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It wasn’t on pitch, and the words were slurred, but they were so full of joy, the rest didn’t matter.

Other singers paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard and the late David Bowie by singing their songs. The writers are gone, but their songs remain. We will sing them forever. Even if we get dementia and forget everything else, we will remember the songs because music lives in a different part of our brains. It matters.

So, write your writing and sing your songs and don’t worry about the rest. If you’re not a writer or singer, that’s okay. Do what you do. It matters.

Next time, maybe we’ll sing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Man, we had good songs back in the 60s.

Loving the music, missing my barbershopper


See that picture? There’s something missing: Fred. My husband sang with the Coastal Aires barbershop chorus for seven years. He had a rich bass voice, and he loved to sing. I have mostly avoided the group’s concerts the last few years because they bring back so many memories. I can still feel Fred resting his hands on my shoulders as I fastened his bow tie. I can hear him practicing his “bum bum bum bum’s.” And, as I watched the chorus yesterday, I could still see Fred standing in the back row to the right of his buddy Roy, the white-bearded guy who looks like Santa Claus.
When Fred got too sick to sing with the Coastal Aires, we still attended their concerts. We’d sit in our favorite back row seats at the Newport Performing Arts Center, and Fred would sing along with every song. Alzheimer’s made it hard for him to deal with sheet music, schedules or knowing where to stand, but it never took away the music.
I’ve been missing my guy a lot lately. My life is good. I know he’s been dead for three years and out of the house for five, but I often think about what it would be like if Fred were here. Sometimes I feel a pain that runs from my chest down to my guts. It will never show up on an x-ray, but it’s there.  For those who have not lost a loved one, God has blessed you. Those who have know that it doesn’t matter how many years pass; you’re still going to miss them.
The concert brought back other memories, too. Joining the men was a women’s group called Women of Note. The eight women do mostly a capella (unaccompanied) harmony. I was an original member when we were called Octet Plus. Now the only remaining original member is the director, Mary Lee Scoville. The current group of women sang so beautifully I wanted to join their fan club and buy their CD. I remember what it was like feeling our voices merging so perfectly that the high, medium and low notes formed a perfect braid of sound that resonated through the building. There’s nothing like human voices singing together.
It was a musical day. I sang with the choir at church, attended the barbershop concert, scooted to our South Beach jam session for two hours of folk, country and whatever, ate a quick dinner and settled in for the Tony Awards on TV. A good day, but I wish Fred had been there to share it. I hope he heard the music from wherever he is. The Coastal Aires sounded great, especially the basses.