The Mystery of Neuronal Connections

 

After I take a shower in the morning, I like to wipe the water off the tile walls with a squeegee.

I had never done this until I visited my friend Michael Ricca’s family home in Quincy, MA.

Their bathroom was spotless, and I learned that Michael’s dad always cleaned the water from the shower walls with a squeegee.

So now I think about Michael and his parents almost every morning as I stand — naked or wearing a towel — and use my shower squeegee.

Michael’s parents used to invite me and him and Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton over for huge Italian feasts when the four of us were singing together in a musical project called At The Movies.

So I also think about Nina and Brian and the music we made together each morning as I wipe water from the shower walls.

I love how “squeegee” and “Michael Ricca’s dad and mom” and “Michael Ricca” and “Nina Vansuch” and “Brian Patton” and “Quincy, MA” are all neuronally linked in my memory banks.

And somehow the act of wiping down the shower walls brings all of them to the surface of my consciousness.

Brian and Nina and Michael and I performed together for a few years, selling out Scullers Jazz Club on a regular basis and recording a CD, Reel One, which still — ten years later — sounds great.

I have included a couple of selections from Reel One in this blog. And a couple more (“Wives & Lovers/Coming Around Again” and “That’ll Do”) are in the player in the right hand side bar of this page.

I especially love Nina’s vocal performance on “Theme from The Valley Of the Dolls” and the vocal harmonies Brian crafted for us to support her.

 

I don’t know if At The Movies will ever perform together or record again, but I am very grateful that we have such lovely audio documentation of our time together.

I was talking with a fellow singer about the fascinating power of neuronal associations the other night as we drove home from an open mic in Natick.

Sometimes what transforms someone’s song interpretation from good to great is simply how many neural associations they have woven into their memorization of the lyrics.

A song may remind them of a loved one who once sang it to them, or an intense crush they once had in high school, or a particularly tumultuous (or poignant or peaceful) period in their life.

Or all of the above.

And those images, those memories, those associations somehow bring the song to life when they perform it.

I try to inoculate songs that I am learning with as many different layers of memory associations as I can muster.

Then when I am performing, I can tap into different constellations of memory associations as the spirit moves me.

One night a song about love might evoke a strong image of my nephews and niece.

On another night I might find myself remembering my former voice teachers — or the first person with whom I fell head over heels in love — or my sweetheart of 22 years — or one of my siblings — or the horse our family owned as a pet for over 30 years — or the corgi we had who once raised a litter of abandoned kittens — or the heron who sleeps at night on an abandoned shopping cart in the middle of a stream which runs along a busy road near my house.

Or huge Italian feasts with Michael and Brian and Nina and Michael’s parents at his childhood home in Quincy.

Or squeegeeing my shower tiles.

Or all of the above.

Advertisements

More Weight

 

Night arrives suddenly these days — the autumnal shock of daylight savings time.

I am also feeling shocked by the outcome of our recent national mid-term elections.

According to US News & World Report, only 36.6 percent of eligible voters showed up to cast our ballots. And only 13 percent of eligible voters under age 30 participated in this last election.

Yowza!

How do we educate and inspire our next generation of adults to do something as simple — yet profound — as vote?

The Center for Voting and Democracy’s web site says that countries such as Australia, Chile and Belgium, where voting is mandatory, experience almost 90% participation, while other countries — including Austria, Sweden, and Italy — have turnout rates near 80%.

In a presidential election year, our voter turnout rate rises to around 60%.

Food for thought and then perhaps some action…

I wrote the song in the player at the top of this post when I was in a rock band — Cue — with four other hard-working musical souls.

It reminds me of autumn — our shorter days and longer nights — as well as the billions of leaves which are letting go and falling to the earth… to decompose and then — we hope, we trust, we pray — give birth to new seedlings in the spring.

One of my bandmates, Alan Najarian, took my a cappella, four-track recording and added a bunch of great music to it — drums and keyboards and church bells and other atmospheric sounds.

I was inspired by the story of 80-year-old Giles Corey, an early emigrant from England who was crushed to death in 1692 as a result of accusations during the Salem witch trials.

He chose not to stand trial, which — according to Douglas Linder’s account on the University of Missouri-Kansas City web site — meant that his farm would be less likely to become the property of the state and his children might inherit it.

However, “the penalty for refusing to stand trial for death was pressing under heavy stones. It was a punishment never before seen in the colony of Massachusetts. On Monday, September 19, Corey was stripped naked, a board placed upon his chest, and then — while his neighbors watched — heavy stones and rocks were piled on the board. Corey pleaded to have more weight added, so that his death might come quickly.”

Deep sigh of sadness…and amazement.

How many of us would be so brave — and strategic — under similar circumstances?

Linder continues, “Corey is often seen as a martyr who gave back fortitude and courage rather than spite…His very public death may well have played (a part) in building public opposition to the witchcraft trials.”

And yet we know that this pattern of accusation and persecution and brutal punishment continues to thrive in human communities all over this planet.

And a damaging spirit of  “us versus them” seems to have hijacked much of our current political process — which certainly may be affecting our voter participation rates here in the US.

Eventually the Salem witch trials wound down.

“A period of atonement began in the colony following the release of the surviving accused witches. Samuel Sewall, one of the judges, issued a public confession of guilt and an apology. Several jurors came forward to say that they were ‘sadly deluded and mistaken” in their judgments.'”

“Governor Phips blamed the entire affair on Chief Justice William Stoughton, who refused to apologize or explain himself. He criticized Phips for interfering just when he was about to ‘clear the land’ of witches. Stoughton became the next governor of Massachusetts.”

“The Salem witches disappeared, but witchhunting in America did not,” concludes Linder.

“Each generation must learn the lessons of history or risk repeating its mistakes. (The Salem witch trials) warn us to think hard about how to best safeguard and improve our system of justice.”

And participatory democracy…