Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Music gets the best of me, Marianne and Course in Miracles.

What it was like.

I grew up on a farm in Northern Canada. I hated it and felt unloved and in the way and like an alien. I had no self confidence and got beat up every day at school by what are now called bullies. Consequently, I hid as much as I could, at school and at home. When I was little, before I was in school, I taught myself to read. So by the time I started school I was eons ahead of everyone, often including my teachers. This did not help matters. I got straight A's without even trying, the academic part was all so easy for me, and boring. The social part was a nightmare and I often made myself sick before school (not consciously, but I was so upset about going to school that I would often get physically sick). In junior high I was out sick for nearly three years, I only went to school every few days. And I still got straight A's.

I spent a lot of time home alone, which I loved. My Dad was gone, my Mom was at school (she was a teacher), my brother was at school. I read and read and read. Being raised on a farm, my parents only listened to country music, which I hated. In time (like 25 years later) I would grow to admire the country music of the era, like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Lynn Anderson, etc. (Although I still cannot stomach Hank Williams.) But at the time I just hated it and, thinking that was what music was, wasn't interested.

One thing I did when I was young was I'd enter contests. All kinds of contests, like puzzles in the newspaper, etc. And since I entered so many contests, I won a lot of contests. One time, there was a new TV station that started, and as part of their opening celebration, I won a stereo! So suddenly, I graduated from my little hand held portable pop up record player that I played Disney 45s on (the ones with the booklets that you could read along with, that's a big part of how I taught myself to read.) to real records, an amp and big speakers. And headphones.

There was a newspaper that I won their contests so many times they eventually told me I wasn't allowed to enter any more. Their prizes were records. I could go into a certain store and pick out whatever records I wanted.

I discovered there was much more to music than my father’s country music. The first two records I got were Captain & Tennille's first two albums. I loved them so much and still love them so much I can barely stand it. They are criminally under-rated. I know you are snickering, but know that there is so much more to them than what you know, otherwise you wouldn’t be snickering. But that is OK with me.

The next record I got was ABBA's "Arrival." I had heard "I Do (x5) on the radio and just loved it, it was unlike anythign I'd ever heard. I had bought the record of "Greatest Hits" and I remember thinking that was extremely presumptuous of them, how could they have a Greatest Hits album when they'd never had any hits. At first, there were only a few songs I liked on the GH album, but eventually listened to it enough that I really liked nearly every song on the album. And then "Arrival" came out and I just wore that record out.

The other group I loved loved loved was the Carpenters. I'd heard them on the radio but didn't really know what was going on. Then one time I was in my uncle's basement. He was a garbage collector; he drove a garbage truck and picked up garbage. He also collected a lot of the stuff in his basement, and he had a lot of records. That was where I first heard the Carpenters album, (the tan one, with the fold out cover), and I've loved them ever since.

I think what I love so much about these three groups, is the dimensions to them. All three acts have tremendous female singers; I would say all four singers use their voices as instruments. Years ago, that might have been a derogatory statement, but to me, what that means is they use their voices as tools, as part of the entire song. I would say KD Lang does the same today. The second part is the male counterparts, which in all cases did the music, played most of the instruments, did the arrangements and production.

When I listen to Captain & Tennille’s “Dream” album (1978), Carpenters “Horizon” album (1975), or ABBA’s “The Visitors” (1981), when I sit there with the headphones on and just drown in the music, it just blows my mind how creative it is; on an artistic level, it is incomprehensible to me how any one person (or two, in the case of ABBA) could even conceptualize such astounding works.

And the fact that I can listen to it, 30 or 40 years later, and in fact understand and appreciate it even more than at the time. Well, that’s an achievement, as an artist myself, that I could only dream of. I am so glad that in each case, I have been able to have, in sometimes brief and sometimes lengthy conversations with these men, been able to tell them how much their music means (and meant) to me.

Because, as I said, when I was young I retreated into music. There was always safety there. They would never say, ‘not now’, or call me names, or not want to play for me. They would never be too drunk to play, or make me feel like I didn’t deserve for them to play for me. I could put my headphones on and be in my bedroom and listen to these records over and over, holding the sleeves in my hand, looking at the pictures, studying the liner notes, the lyrics, the photos. Trying to imagine what worlds these people came from, and how they got to the places they got to. When I was that age, and completely miserable and alone, the music made me feel like there was someone out there, some place other than where I was, and that one day, I would be one of them, and out there too. These people were different, and I was different. They were special, and I knew I was special too.

Also, these acts were all keyboard based. I started playing my grandmother’s piano when I was five years old; she was so astounded, she gave me her piano so I could learn, and take lessons, and play. I took lessons for many years but never learned more than I did from listening to and copying the melodies I heard on the records. I bought the piano folios (still have them) and while much of it was far beyond my level, I could play along, and dream.

Captain & Tennille was my first concert, in 1977. I barely remember it, but I was so excited I couldn’t sit down. My friend who went with me said, “sit down, this isn’t a rock concert!” I was so appalled at his lack of understanding. I saw ABBA in 1979, my friend and I had tickets at the far back of the Coliseum (same place I saw C&T) and, again, I barely remember the show itself. I do remember the screaming; when the lights went down, the roar from the crowd (it was ABBA’s first North American show, there were people from all over the world) literally shook the building. The Carpenters, well, I never did get to see perform live, although I saw Richard perform at the Carpenters Center in Long Beach. That was the first time I met him, and I’ve talked to him a few more times. C&T I’ve met many times, I have had many conversations with Daryl and, at one point, was possibly going to write a book about them, but the project never solidified because Toni had a breakdown during the Victor/Victoria tour and cancelled everything on the table, including their 25th Anniversary tour. Of ABBA, I’ve met Benny and Frida (at the Mamma Mia premiere in Las Vegas) and Bjorn (at the MM premiere in Los Angeles). I never met Karen Carpenter (although I’ve been to her grave (both in Downey and in Thousand Oaks) and I’ve never met Agnetha.

There have been a few times in my life when I was suicidal, for various reasons. There has (obviously) been something at each juncture that stopped me. In many cases, it has been music. One time, I specifically remember thinking, what if there is no Carpenters music on the other side. (I don’t believe this, but that would be a whole ‘nother story). Another time, there was a song, “Hold On” by Wilson Philips that came on the speaker while I was in the bathroom at a restaurant, having just made the decision that “tonight, when I get home, I will do it”; the song goes, “hold on for one more day,” and I thought, yeah, you know, I don’t have to kill myself TONIGHT. One of my therapists a few years back said, whatever it takes to get you to your happy place. For me, that happy place, is sitting with the headphones on, listening to one (or all) of these performers. Or, driving in my truck. When I bought my last two trucks, the first cds I played were Captain & Tennille’s “Dream.” Just the sheer beauty of that music, Toni’s voice at the peak of it’s perfection, Daryl’s astounding production, the exquisite song choices (C&T wrote some of their songs but most were covers). It’s so beautiful, it can make me cry; I am in my happy place.

(Duran Duran, Wynonna Judd, Sarah McLachlan, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Linda Ronstadt and Fleetwood Mac also work for this, but not to the same extent. I love Elton John too, his music means so much to me (see my DJ/Photographer name RocketManLA) but his music is so vast and diverse; it affects me, but not on the same level, he is in his own different category, he is my idol (and also a piano player).

What happened.

In the late 1990’s, around 1997, I got my first computer and got online. One of the first email groups I joined was ABBAMAIL, and what a ride that was. As I’ve said before, ABBAMAIL was unique in that people were encouraged to make Off Topic posts, and talk about their personal lives. Without a doubt, that is what made all the difference. After all, ABBA had broken up decades ago. Sure, there was sometimes extremely exciting news (Mamma Mia premieres, Agnetha’s wonderful wonderful album, etc) but for the most part, the heart of the list was the people, and the NAR (Non ABBA Related) posts. None of the other email groups that I joined at that time are even in existence now. Yes there were certainly many characters, and many many fights; several times I was kicked off the list, but eventually Graeme let me back on. I met both Graeme and Grant when they were in LA (separately) and each was a unique bonding experience.

Several other members of ABBAMAIL became very close friends that remain until this day, some in real life (Hi Merrick, Ryan, Pepe!) and some in virtual life (Hi Dora, Chris!). One member of ABBAMAIL became my wife when she moved to Los Angeles from Australia; we were married dressed as ABBA and performed two ABBA numbers, and had a 70’s theme wedding (which I was the DJ of course). Things didn’t work out, for many reasons (“no more care free laugh ter”), we are now divorced and have lost contact (“si lence ev ver af ter”), which is sad, but I learned so much from the experience, and it allowed me, no, let me rephrase that. The devastation that caused, emotionally and financially, forced me to deal with some major things in my life. I try, I have to, look back with no regrets. The past is over. All that matters is now.

What it’s like now.

One of the things that really pulled me out of all this was the return of Marianne Williamson to LA. In the mid 90’s, A Course in Miracles and her book, A Return to Love, LITERALLY changed my life. A Course in Miracles (CIM) is a 365 lesson, self study spiritual and psychological workbook that trains you (in the first half) to let go of fear, which, to make a long story short, is what the world runs on. (If you don’t believe that, just watch the news). The second half of the course trains you to think in what CIM calls “love.” CIM uses Christian terms (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, etc) but in decidedly non-christian ways. I think, for most people, these terms cause their minds to instantly reject the entire course, which is of course, “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” When the exact same principles are explained or discussed (or written about in songs, ala the Beatles) they are embraced. The word “love” in CIM terms (in my understanding) is the same word as “God” “Spirit” “Energy” or even “The Force”. Love is everything, and there cannot be an opposite to something that is everything. I did the course twice in the 90s and both times it was revelatory. Marianne lectured every week, but then she left for about 15 years.

In January 2010, just as my divorce and bankruptcy were done, Marianne returned and began lecturing at a theatre on La Brea in Hollywood. I have been to every single lecture since the first one. One of my friends had volunteered (as an usher) for ulterior motives that were quickly squelched, but in one of the staff meetings, they decided they needed some music before the lectures, and my friend said, “I know a DJ.” So I started DJ-ing for Marianne, before and after the lectures (and sometimes during meditations), which was both a wonderful and bewildering experience. But I got to sit at the front of the stage, and play music for hundreds of people every week, and Marianne would sit beside me before she went on. So that was rewarding. And interesting.

When the contract at that theatre expired, we moved to a much nicer theatre in Beverly Hills, which allowed for live music in the theatre. So no more DJ-ing, but they decided they wanted to record the lectures as they happened, and sell the cds at the end. So they asked me to do that, and I’ve done that every week since. I also sometimes DJ for Marianne at events and workshops, and have started doing graphic work for her as well. And of course I record the lectures and burn cds and post them online. I also do transcriptions, which means I have to (get to) listen to the lectures several times over and type them all out. So I am deeply immersed in the lectures.

And, at least as significantly, I also began the workbook again in January 2010; I worked through the course over the year, and then started it again in January 2011, so I am almost through it for the fourth time. As before, each time through the course, each day reading the course, has changed my life so much I cannot express. My astrologer (as is my therapist) is a wonderful wonderful resource for me; both have enabled me to make significant changes in my life. My astrologer told me one time, years ago (I have all our sessions on CD, just as I have all the Marianne lectures on CD), that it was hard to explain, but for him there was a tiny but significant point in his life when the needle clicked ever so subtly from the “all is lost” side to the “possibility that things will be all right” side of the emotional spectrum.

This has been extremely significant for me. I have lost many friends in the last few years, for various reasons, which has been hard, and I will admit, scary. But, as someone who has been sober for nearly 28 years now, when I speak at AA meetings I will say, there are only two ways to get sober. One, you have to actually want to stop drinking. And Two, you will lose all your friends. But you will get new friends, who are healthier, or, at least, on the same wave that you are. So I have to have faith that while the crowd from the 4:15 showing has left the theatre, I am here sweeping the popcorn up, waiting for the 7:30 crowd to arrive. I have to have faith that they will come. Even though I am not MovieFone and don’t sell advance tickets, so I have no idea who will show up or when.

So, ABBAvillage, (nee ABBAMAIL) remains one of the few constants that have been in my life for the last, what, nearly 15 years. I have moved several times, I have lived in completely different cities, I have changed my career three times, I have married (both to a man and to a woman, separately) and divorced, been rich and been broke, been robbed and broken into and had my inheritance stolen, I have lost and I have won, been sick and been healthy, been afraid, been very very afraid, and been happy, sometimes only in fleeting moments. People have died (my father) and been born (my nephew’s girlfriend just had a baby). People have come and gone. Some with good riddance, some with anxiety. Some have come back, others never will.

I’ve lost weight and gained weight, lost my hair and grew it back, been pudgy and been buff. Been acupunctured and cleansed and homeopathed and hypnotized. Bought flannel shirts and donated flannel shirts. Bought cargo shorts and donated cargo shorts. Fallen asleep and woken up. Been on the top and been on the bottom. Seen literally thousands of movies. A lot of it has gone into posts on ABBAMAIL (I have them all saved), my website, then MySpace and now Facebook… but ABBAMAIL/Village remains.

That, and the music, which is always there. It has sure changed many times, from the vinyl LP record to the cassette to the cd to the MP3 and iPod and now I DJ almost exclusively with my laptop. I have had several cars, from a beat up 66 Ford Fairlane to a brand new Honda CRX to a classic Mustang Convertible to a Ford Explorer and now a SAAB 97-X SUV… and in all of those cars and trucks, and all of those record players, cd players, tape decks, iPods and computers, I’ve listened to the music of Captain & Tennille, the Carpenters, and ABBA.

I remain. I am.

©2011 Rod Reynolds RocketManLA.com



  2. wow...humbled reading this today. Makes me feel a little less alone in my current wave of being lost and adrift. Thanks for writing all that.

  3. Rod,

    I share many of your passions and some of your pain from my past as well. Really enjoyed the read. I also have C&T, Carpenters and a whole lot of ABBA on my permanent playlist that's with me all the time. Thank God for the music!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this. Felt like I was right there with you. Wish I could have gotten to know you better in LA..but grateful for the emails.

  5. Rod, I'm so glad to have you back (writing blogs) for us! Music & Prose are so important and you have great talent with both. Much love, Barbara

  6. This is highly informatics, crisp and clear. I think that everything has been described in systematic manner so that reader could get maximum information and learn many things.
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