RE: the rock and roll album and unfurnished island situation.

I'm going to have a problem packing my rucksack. The fact is, I don't have a relationship with music, although at one time in my life I've owned a box seat at the San Francisco Symphony, I've played a musical instrument in a professional band, and I've spent enough time at the San Diego Opera to be able to walk through a side door, go backstage, and get a wave from the crew.

Still, I can take music or leave it alone. I rarely have music playing in my home. The presets on my truck radio tune to NPR or sports stations. I don't go to rock and roll concerts now or ever, don't go to bars and listen to bands now or ever. I don't dance. I don't have a glimmer about how music is put together, the technical foundation of it, much less a sense of music's history, how it's developed over time. Come to think of it, I don't know the history of rock and roll.

I was born with a voice that cannot carry a tune; indeed, it cannot lift a tune. Now, add the wild, rhythmic syncopation of a rotting tomato. I've known these unfortunate personal truths since my first conscious thought, but, and this is horribly unfair, that self-knowledge did not arm me against the disappointment I endured as a consequence of my first run-in with a musical instrument.

Sixth grade. My parents moved to Burbank, SoCal. It was my first day at William McKinley Elementary School. Third period. Music class. This was well into the school year and the roomful of whizgigging little toadies had been practicing "Pomp and Circumstance" for weeks. The peculiar, tippy-tippy-toe male music teacher directed me to a seat in the first row and handed me a triangle. I was to be the new trianglist!

Now we're cooking. I received instruction from the peculiar male music teacher, to wit; at a predetermined point during the orchestral performance, he would thrust his right hand directly at my nose. That's the instant I am to take my tiny stainless steel triangle striker, which I hold in my right hand, and strike the bottom of the triangle, which I hold in my left hand, with authority.

Well now. I was pumped. First day in class and already a soloist. The peculiar male music teacher taps his conductor's baton and the William McKinley Elementary School sixth grade orchestra came together, much like an out-of-tune lump of compost. The peculiar male music teacher glides his charges through the haunting introduction of "Pomp and Circumstance," the melody builds, builds, builds, hearts swelling, music billowing, up, up, up, and now, yes, now, finally, finally...every instrument in the room falls silent, just for a moment, just for that one beat, the beat that was to belong to me, and now the maestro's right hand moves away from the swarm of greedy children, and points to my nose, only to my nose, or, to put it another way, to the nose of the one and only trianglist. I understand now, by the terrible light of all-seeing adult clarity, that the responsibility for this morning's performance rests upon my shoulders. I grip my tiny, stainless steel striker and with a manly cock of my wrist, launch it toward the triangle and...miss. I MISSED!

I missed the bottom of the triangle! Missed both sides! Missed. Missed. Missed! The music room heaves and rolls with yahoo har-de-har. I am mocked.

Twenty years later my professional musical career is in full swing. We called ourselves the Sidewinders. Our old-time band was made up of two fiddles, banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, kazoo, tambourine, three female backup singers, and, ahem, myself. I play washtub bass. This was Alaska, summertime. We toured roadhouses, small towns, fairgrounds, and passed the hat. Constant carnival, rolling jamboree, once-in-a-lifetime fun. I lived one summer far above my game. Credit belongs to the powerful combination of youth, drugs, booze, sex, and travel.

But that summer didn't bring me closer to music. I don't know why. I've cruised El Cajon Boulevard with my tape deck cranked to obnoxious, blasting a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune, one hundred times. I've had my heart broken to the sound of "Girl from the North Country," enjoyed raunchy, foulmouthed sex while listening to "Sympathy for the Devil." I've known my share of heartthrob songs that spoke, privately, urgently, to what was in my heart. Nothing else cut so deeply as that song. For that particular season.

But...seasons pass. To be dropped onto a desert island with only one tune or album would inevitably mean my musical selection would quickly transmute into audio torture, or, perhaps, considering our national circumstances, one should say, audio abuse. Still, if you're going to be packed off to a deserted island one is not in the position to say no to any offer of entertainment.

Therefore, the envelope please. Ta-da. My desert island musical companion shall be... Eternal Chant (An Anthology of Classic Gregorian Chants). Atlantic Records. Catalog #82703. Three discs, 70 tracks.

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