Memorial Day weekend has finally arrived and I am beyond excited to escape New York City and head back to the heartland for my annual family reunion. I have six older brothers and sisters who are now spread out across the middle west — two in Kansas City and one each in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Chicago — and this weekend is our yearly get-together. Along with their spouses and my thirteen nieces and nephews, my siblings and I will spend the next three days at my brother Don’s house in Milwaukee celebrating all things family. We’ll catch up on each others’ lives, commemorate a nephew’s high school and a niece’s college graduation, play some volleyball and board games, and eat. We’ll eat a lot. I mean a lot a lot. Over the course of the long weekend we’ll hoover down barbecue ribs and lasagna and monkey bread and fruit salsa with cinnamon chips and seven layer salad and all sorts of other goodies, many of which will be served in casserole dishes.
And throughout it all we’ll listen to music. Lots of music. I mean a lot a lot.
Although none of us have any musical talent per se, we have music appreciation in spades. And when we gather this weekend we’ll take turns connecting our iPods to Don’s state-of-the-art stereo system to play a combination of current tunes and ones that remind us of growing up in Kansas. Certain songs are universally adored by the entire family, including virtually everything by The Rolling Stones and pretty much anything that ever appeared on the soundtrack to an episode of The Sopranos.
That said, I also share one-on-one musical bonds with each of my siblings that are uniquely ours. Specifically…
RON, my oldest brother turned me on to WXRT, the greatest radio station on earth. He was just leaving the Chicago suburbs as I was hunkering down in the Windy City after college. Before he left, he gave me two pieces of crucial advice: “1. Hang out at The Everleigh Club because they have the best jukebox on the near north side and, 2. Set all your FM radio preset buttons to 93.1, because WXRT is the only station that matters.” He was absolutely right. The Everleigh Club has since closed, but I still listen to XRT on Pandora and always think of my big brother as the DJs spin their unique blend of classic rock and new alternative music.
My sister ROBIN, 12 years older than I, would sing me to sleep when I was a tiny tot, infusing my little brain with the likes of The Turtles ( “Happy Together”), Gary Lewis and the Playboys (“This Diamond Ring”), and Simon & Garfunkel (“The Sounds of Silence”.) When I got a little older, she’d play 8-tracks of Fleetwood Mac (Rumours), Jackson Browne (Running on Empty) and Pablo Cruise (A Place in the Sun) as she taught me how to play air guitar on the car steering wheel. If a particularly good song came on our Ford Pinto radio as we were pulling back up to the house after running an errand, she’d keep driving and go around the block a few times until the song was over. If the song happened to be “Stairway to Heaven” or “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” we’d be gone for a long time.
HOLLY, third in line for the throne, instilled in me my great appreciation for musical theater. I was seven years old when I saw her on stage in her high school production of Carnival and got completely sucked into the magic of the stage, the power of live performance. Years later at that same high school, she’d come see me when I appeared in Kiss Me Kate, Guys and Dolls and Brigadoon (all non-singing rolls, natch.) And to this day she comes to New York for an annual visit where we cram eight Broadway shows into five days. Over the years, we’ve seen the original Broadway casts perform Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Hairspray, and have enjoyed recent revivals of Evita, Sweet Charity and Godspell, among others.
My brother CLINT is smack dab in he middle of the birth order; he has three older siblings and three younger ones and he’s the only one who always gets along with everyone. Should I attribute his easy going nature to “middle child syndrome” or the fact that he was (is?) a Deadhead, having seen the Grateful Dead too many times to count or remember. When I finally caught the Dead in concert a few years before Jerry Garcia passed away, I appreciated the band on a level I couldn’t have fathomed without Clint’s influence. He and I would also bond over the Allman Brothers and Phish and Dave Matthews and other jam bands. What a long strange trip it’s been.
DON drove me to junior high school in his metallic blue Pontiac LeMans convertible, cranking Kiss and Aerosmith and Rush. He let me drive his Corvette (also metallic blue, with a T-top and a vanity plate that said STONES) when I was only 15 and had just received my learner’s permit. We were jamming to Elvis Costello when I pulled up to a traffic light and saw the cutest girl in my algebra class in the passenger seat with her mom at the wheel of their sensible Chevy Citation. When she looked over I merely gave her a bordering-on-dismissive “see you in class on Monday” nod. I don’t think I have even been cooler than I was at that moment.
Don’s twin brother DAVE shares my adoration for the one hit wonder. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure songs that have long been forgotten by most of my generation. To this day, he still sends me downloads of rarities he’s recently rediscovered, including D.O.A. by Bloodrock, Baby I Lied by Deborah Allen and Into the Night by Benny Mardones. His musical tastes are not limited to these random hits, but he sure has an uncanny ability to bring a song back to my attention that I had neither heard nor thought about for years and years.
And there you have ’em… the musical connections I share with my family. I clearly owe my passion for music to my brothers and sisters and I thank them for exposing me to the soundtrack of my life from the moment I was born. The iPod’s packed… I’m off to Milwaukee!
Today’s Poll: Which TV series about a big family is your favorite?
The Brady Bunch
Eight is Enough