I never considered a career as a writer. And yet, when I was young, two friends and I began writing songs, and as I say in my website, “terrible, tasteless things.” These two friends knew even less about music than I did, telling me, “Go higher,” or “go lower.” I only had a year of music lessons, but, I learned after becoming blind that I had my dad’s ear.
My father grew up, taking lessons from Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s dad. Daddy began playing a marimba, and became good enough to use three and four mallets in each hand. He turned then or in addition, (I’ve never been sure) to the piano. He was a remarkable talent. He matured with the big band sound and played a jazz piano with close chords of 9ths and sevenths and lots of arpeggios. At Princeton, he played piano in the Triangle club, becoming friends with the movie actor, Jimmy Stewart, also at Princeton.
Daddy couldn’t read music very well, but played anything he heard, mostly in the keys of C, F, and G.
But any time a big band came within an hour of our hometown or later when one came to Bucknell, he and I attended. And before half their concert was over, Dad was at the piano, playing in whatever key they chose.
But at ten years old, I didn’t know I carried the gene. Still, my friends and I made up songs. And they were pathetic:
“B.O. Betty has lots of charms,
But they’re sure not under her arms!”
Or more elaborately,
“Floosie Susie,” about one of the song writers,
“She has a pool and a fancy car,
And spend her nights at Hydock’s bar.”
And then there was “Foul Sal,” to the tune of “When Johnny comes Marching Home.”
“If Sally wants to be the way she is, okay,
The men are knocking at her door both night and day,
Though her price is high, it’s well worthwhile
‘Cause Sally has tremendous style,
And she gives you Green Stamps, too,
S and H!”
In our early teens, Susie’s father tried to teach us to play Bridge. Both of us had an talent for card games, but her father believed that “stress” was the best teacher. He barked orders at us, yelled impatiently, and treated us exactly as if we were military privates in boot camp. The result: we cheated. If I had diamonds, I fiddled with a ring to signal Susie. Hearts? I touched my chest. So we gave up the cards and turned to the piano. The result, “Love over a Bridge Table.”
“We played a game of Bridge,
An innocent little game.
You smiled at me;
I did the same.
We bid our hearts that night
A grand slam in hearts that night
Partners that night,
Love at first sight.
And then the final verse:
“Players of Bridge may pass,
But our love will always last,
Our fate was cast.
Waiter, fill my glass.”
We wrote a Christmas song that Susie’s mother taped and sent off to a scam music publisher. I don’t know how much money she spent, but we ended up with a demo of our song with a singer and accompaniment that surpassed our skills.
Finally, during college, I wrote two solo pieces, one to Jackie Kennedy singing to her children in a very overwrought fashion, uncharacteristic of the first lady.
“go to sleep, Babe,
Please don’t weep, Babe,
Though your Daddy’s left your side.
Hush now, give me peace,
I’ve not slept for weeks,
Ever since your Daddy died.”
This is too painfully embarrassing to continue.
And then after spending a summer as a server at the Lamp Post on Nantucket Island, I wrote, “Oh, Nantucket.” Because at this point I was nineteen, I really can’t bear to disclose the lyrics.
So whatever people think of my books, they are definitely better than my songs.