I was (still am) the youngest of five children. One of the benefits of this set-up was that I listened to rock and roll from a tender age. I remember Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” from Cooke School in Detroit. I remember Van Morrison from 6th grade in Milford, mostly because I had a friend named G-L-O-R-I-A. One of my older brothers and his friends used to sing rock a cappela on the school bus. Another brother annoyed me because he always demanded that I answer the question, “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?…Who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand… (Barry Mann, 1961).” I don’t know that man’s name, but this morning I am happy to report a breakthrough on a similar venerable rock and roll question:
I Wonder, wonder who, who ooh ooh who
Who wrote the book of love?
The Monotones, 1958
The answer, I now believe, is Stevie Wonder. Last night, my husband, Tom, our next door neighbors Mark and Ward, and another (roughly) 10,000 people at the John Paul Jones Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia jammed to Stevie’s skill, power, grace, and love until after the midnight hour. I can’t sing, I can’t dance—my hiking boots stuck to the floor in best WASP-of-a-certain-age-style—but still, I danced and sang with Stevie until I was hoarse and tears were in my eyes. I could go on and on, but, well, maybe I will just a little bit: the geniality, the humor, the call and response, the steel guitar, the harmonica, intertwining The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing in the funkiest and best version of either I’ve ever heard, and on and on.
I do go on, but here’s the take away: Stevie called on us all to love more and hate less. Yes, he referred to the Paris massacre and the gun violence ongoing in this country. I am going to try to accept his challenge. Note: When I say “called on,” I don’t mean that lovey-dovey ideas were just floating in the ether. I mean Stevie explicitly gave us our marching orders: He told us that we need to start going forward, not backward.
What I didn’t write: Since September 25, I’ve wanted to write about finally getting on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I read the poet, Vachel Lindsay, sometime in the mid-1960s. Lindsay, more noted for such works as “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” and “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” also wrote a poem called “Going-to-the-Sun” in a volume of the same name. I’ve searched for the snippet of poetry that had inflamed my imagination all those years ago. I haven’t been able to unearth it yet, but more on that in another post.
Then I came back to Charlottesville and started sifting through books and memorabilia like I have for the last five years. Do I keep this or that piece of paper or shred of cloth? What do I do with the remaining mountains of teaching materials?
Then, last night with Stevie, I had to think, yet again, of the innocents and their blood–in this country and around the world–and of the refugees.
Likely I will write some more about poets and rock and roll, my travels, and my memories. Not today, though. Stevie brought it all home for me last night. I know now which sun I am really traveling to:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson (poem to music, 1900)
I’m Starting Now: I love you.