Timing is Everything in Music

Last Sunday, after a lovely ladies weekend, I met my friend Tricia at an Open Mike event to sing together. Now, we have performed together before, but only once this year, and of course had not rehearsed anything. We got very lucky.

It reminded me a time in the late 1970’s when I came home one evening and my sister introduced me to her new friend Fred Mandel. He said “Your sister tells me you play the piano – why don’t you play something?” Now my sister was totally setting me up (as usual). My piano skills at the time were BOTH parts of Heart & Soul. “No” I said to the very young looking guest “You first.”

Well I didn’t know it, but at that time, Fred Mandel was playing with Domenic Troiano and was about to tour for four years with Alice Cooper. Oh yeah, he also went on to play live and record with Queen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd and little gigs like LIVE AID with Sir Elton John. No biggie.

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Fred sat at my parent’s little apartment size piano and played the absolute crap out of it. Amazeballs. After about an hour of stunning rock and roll, my Mom came out to say goodnight and thank him for playing. He made as if to stop, and she beseeched him to continue, (“I didn’t even know that piano could SOUND like that “) He instantly switched to Cole Porter and gentle swing for the rest of the evening. I’m glad he went first.

It was a less dramatic event on Sunday. Tricia and I got up and sang a song. They liked us and asked us to sing another which we did. They wanted more and we said no and that is always the best way. Then the next group got up. Four black guys – they sounded like 3-1/2 guys from Santana. You know when a band kicks in full throttle, completely in sync, from the very first note? It was like that. I bet they rehearsed.


My first fan letter.

In November, 1978 my sister called and invited me to go to a concert with her. This was quite remarkable as she didn’t like me very much. She said it was someone I “had to see”. As an older sister, she felt responsible for my musical education. I had never heard of him. It was Bruce Springsteen.

Well this was in the Concert Bowl at Maple Leaf Gardens – Bruce left the stage, came through the floor crowd and sang several times right beside our seats in the stands. It was a stunning,  4+ hour show and I left sweaty and completely satisfied. That was more than 37 years ago and I have since seen Bruce many times. Maybe 17? I stopped counting. Rochester in 1978. Chicago in 1999.



Everyone knows that on a scale of 1 – 10 a Springsteen show is a clear 17. Every one a remarkable experience.  And each is different. When I took my husband to see Bruce at the CNE in the late 80’s, the sky was threatening rain. Bruce opened up with “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. It worked.

When my sons were about 7 and 9 I took them to see Bruce. This was the 90’s and I really wanted them to see what it was like when a human being wrote every word, and every note, and then had other humans all play it together. It’s magic and at that time it was very rare.  It still is.

It was different then, when you couldn’t share things with the ease that you can today.  I remember driving down Avenue Road quite late one evening in 1980, and Q107 had a sneak pre-release preview of one song from Bruce’s new album “The River”.  There were no cell phones – I couldn’t share the moment with anyone.  They played “Drive All Night” and I was so overcome I pulled over to the side of the road.  Bruce is playing the entire album on Tuesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it when he sings that song.

I love  Bruce Springsteen.  He has never asked me for anything in all these years except to pay attention politically and to bring food for my local food bank to every show.  Like thousands of others, I submitted a response to the “3 Words about Bruce Springsteen” for the remarkable documentary SPRINGSTEEN AND I. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVQUeCi9V0s )  I don’t remember what my three words were – I am guessing one was “Authentic”.  Whatever.  I end up saying the same three words that most of the fans say, and that I still say today:





How my Mother saw the world….

When I was in grade one, I had a girlfriend named Mary Foudy. In the early fall, I asked my mother if I could go home with Mary after school and play. Now, my mom had met Mary at my house and liked her very much. When she asked “Will Mary’s mom drive you home from school?” I answered, “No, they live so close that Mary’s mom can just walk over and meet us.” You will note that I said her mother can, not her mother will. This is a fine distinction, and a perfect example of how, at age six, I was already a proficient liar. It is also a very clear indication of the time and place that my mother didn’t consider – even for a moment -that Mary’s mother wouldn’t be there after school. But I knew. Mary’s mother worked. For real. At a real job. She was the only mother I knew who worked. It seemed the utmost in grownup responsibility to see Mary’s house key hidden on a string around her neck. If my mother knew that two six year old girls would be walking home and entertaining themselves in an empty house, she would never have let me go. So I lied. I was very excited. We got to Mary’s house without incident (she even let me use her door key – a first for me!) We made ourselves a snack and I felt extremely grown up. Then she suggested we go and play outside. After a few minutes an older boy from her neighbourhood came into her yard. He was carrying a hockey stick. (This was Canada, after all). He said to Mary very slowly… “I know you – I’ve seen you around here.” He turned and stared at me. “But I don’t know her.” Then he swung the stick and hit me in the face. I woke up in Mary’s neighbours house. She was an older woman and more than a little freaked out at my unconscious body and rapidly swelling face. She got my name out of a hysterical Mary and called my mother. My mother arrived quickly and rushed me to the doctor. I recall being woken up through the night so I guess there was a fear of concussion. A greater fear was the state of my eye that couldn’t be checked as the swelling was too great. A few days later, I was still kept home from school and enjoying tea and cinnamon toast in front of the game shows with my mom. My eye was undamaged – certainly very lucky as they told my parents a tiny bit to the right and I would have been blinded.

My black eye after 3 weeks – Mom in Laura Petrie pants

My mom waited a couple of days and then took me over to the house where the offender lived. She knocked on the door and when the father answered she said, “Look what your boy did my to little girl.” The father looked at my bruised and swollen face and called for his son. The boy came around the corner and looked at me. His eyes widened and he turned to run but his father grabbed him and with one hand on the back on his neck, put him on the ground. With his other hand, the father removed his belt and started full out whipping the boy across his head and back. He cowered on the ground and tried to protect his face but he didn’t cry out. He didn’t make a sound. Without a word, my mother turned me around and we got into the car and left. I was absolutely shocked by the violence. It was so far from anything I had ever experienced – even the attack with the hockey stick.  Of course, that wasn’t the end. Turned out the boy was about 14 and still in grade 5. He had what would today perhaps be called ‘developmental issues’ but back then was called ‘slow’. He had been held back for many grades and was receiving no special education or counselling. My mother sprang into action. She was already a volunteer with the Catholic Children’s Aid. She ended up having the boy removed from his abusive home and placed in a group home that she knew well. She supervised his transition and actually visited him for the next several years, taking him clothes and books and spending time with him. This was how my mother changed the world – one kind and responsible action at a time. Now the rational adult part of me knows that this was an incredibly generous act on her part. The six year old brat inside can still remember that I was jealous of him getting her attention. As a parent, I can also hardly imagine two six year old girls going home to an empty house.  Of course the good news – my mom was so overcome with fear at my condition, and then relief at the outcome that I never did get punished for lying about going to Mary’s house. I guess she knew the lesson had been learned.