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As I drive north through Cyprus swamp, red dirt and pine, I think of John DeSisto. Oh, what, thirty years ago anyway, 20th floor John Adams in the Southwest section of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, room 2005. Walking past on Friday mornings after my incomprehensible biology class, bellowing what some would come to nickname me, “Weekend! Weekend!” and glancing in, usually to see Johnny and my roommate Phil Benbenek grinning, holding shots of Jack Daniels and listening to the high-volumed, weekend opening salvos of the Almond Brothers' Statesboro Blues.
I have come to believe that there is more to music than we may realize. Traveling around the country you sense parochial possession; when on Long Island, you hear more Billy Joel. When in Ontario, you hear more Gordon Lightfoot. And when in New Jersey, you're always answering to The Boss.
I have come to believe that the universal allure of music has something to do with our primal attempts at communication; what resonates in all cultures is ‘the wail.' When you see people closing their eyes and singing along to a song, their greatest reaction, their epic grimace, is always in response to the wail, the long, drawn-out anguished voice or instrument cry, the apex of the tune's emotion. Wails communicate our most intimate, important emotions in life, whether it is the sound made during pain and suffering, or love making, or elation. When our team scores a touchdown we yell “Yaaaahhhhhh!”, we don't jump up in unison and utter, “Good. Now we are ahead.” When someone jumps out of the closet and yells “Booo!!” we don't respond with “You shouldn't scare me such,” but, more normally “AAHHH!!” and then, perhaps, “You sonnafa...” When one sits alone before a coffin beholding what was dearest in all of life, there is no rational, reasoned response, but a heart-rending, elongated suffering wail. Our wailing is the very genesis of uttered sound, emitted from the deepest instinct we possess, and which words will never replace.
I have also come to realize that these wails we listen to on our radios and on TV and on CD players also emboss themselves on our collective memory, so that when we hear these sounds they forever bring us back to their related emotion. It's why everyone listens to the songs of their youth for their entire life. They simply remind us of the great changes, the great discoveries, and the great mysteries we unraveled during the early years of our journey.
I have come to realize that music is so important that bonds are forged from the mere sharing of sound. I once spent a few hours and cocktails with Jeff Reinebold, then head football coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. When Reinebold mentioned that he loved Key West, I mentioned that I loved Jimmy Buffett. He responded immediately with the lines of the tropical poet that most move me: “He went from sailing ships/to raking mom's backyard…” at which I jumped up and he jumped up, and we shook hands in fast friendship. I once sat with old compatriot Mike Lydon in Millie's Moose River Lodge on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, at a birthday party for a ninety-year-old woman. The woman never showed up, nor did anyone else. Lydon and I pulled up chairs right in front of the country band that had shown up to perform, and they played our every request, to just the two of us. As they sang one of our favorites, Big City by Merle Haggard, we hollered to replace the lyric ‘Montana' with ‘Alaska,' which they seamlessly did, much to our amusement. Fifteen years later I sat at the end of a row of friends in Lowell, Massachusetts listening to Merle Haggard perform. When the first recognizable strains of Big City came from the fiddler, I leaned forward and looked down toward the end of the line, where I saw Mike Lydon also leaning forward, nodding and smiling back at me.
I once called my wife as I drove south from Sacramento, and sang Lodi to her as I passed through that town. When I accompanied friends Bobby Mulcahy and Bob Bernstein to Colorado for a vacation, the first song we put on the tape deck in Estes Park was Rocky Mountain High. And I once called Bernstein from Istanbul, Turkey, and asked him to play one of our favorite Tom Waits tunes entitled, Telephone Call From Istanbul. And today, pulling into the semi-seedy semi-stately old southern town of Statesboro, Georgia, upon seeing the athletic fields of Georgia Southern University, I yearn to hear the hard, joyous, beginning chords of Statesboro Blues…
I don't have the song with me. What I do have is an image of nineteen-year-olds Johnny ‘Resisto-Ray' DeSisto and Phil ‘Ben' Benbenek, standing in room 2005, grinning and raising their shot glasses to me. John's shiny new stereo blasting that old Almond Brothers anthem. Walking down a hallway I feared, despised, and loved. A fifty-year-old guy recalling the anguish and suffering of adolescent pain, love making, and elation. Rocking back and forth in front of a coffin holding all that was once dear to me in my youth, all that I was about to lose, emitting an intellectual wail.
I called John DeSisto today. He mentioned that one of our other friends from the floor had turned fifty this week; I told him I had turned fifty two weeks ago. He mentioned that he was arranging a UMass 20th floor John Adams reunion in July, at his parent's summer home down on Cape Cod. And though I only lasted two years on the floor, John asked me to come down. …going to the concert, baaabbbyyy do you wanna go…
It was music to my ears.