Mo-o-o-ore (than I’d ever have guessed)

Mo-o-o-ore (than I’d ever have guessed)

I had a somewhat unusual childhood — as you may know if you have read some of my previous posts.

Most of it was “normal” (in a privileged, white, male, upper-middle-class way).

I grew up with a mother, a father, three siblings, and various animal friends.

I had chicken pox.

I listened to James Taylor, the Beatles, Buffy Saint Marie, Cat Stevens, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Carly Simon (among others) for hours on end.

Carly SImon

One of my favorite Carly Simon/Jacob Brackman songs is “The Carter Family” — from her great album, No Secrets — which I recorded a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer during a rehearsal for a show called Songs about Parents and Children.

You can listen to it using the player at the beginning of this post.

3600 Porter Street Aerial View

Up until the age of ten I liked to walk, run, bike and climb around our neighborhood in Washington, DC after school (which was Sidwell Friends, where the Obama daughters have been educated in recent years).

3600 Porter Street2

We lived in a semi-attached house on the corner of Porter and 36th Street.

One of my best friends was indeed a girl — named Eve — although (unlike the song) it was me who moved away from Eve…

Next we lived for a year in Queens, NY (in my grandmother’s house where my mom had grown up) while I was a standby for the very small role of Theo in the original production of Pippin.

Grandma Jo's House 3

When my mom moved there as a child, it was the first house standing on the block — and by the time my siblings and I knew it in the 1960s and 70s, it was the only house on the block which still had open space on both sides of it.

My grandmother had an organic garden; blueberry, gooseberry and currant bushes; lots of trees (I remember scaling oaks, mimosas, hemlocks and locusts); and big lawns on which we could play with our neighborhood friends.

I don’t recall my grandmother ever “nagging at me to straighten up my spine” (as Carly Simon sings in “The Carter Family”), but I definitely miss this childhood eden.

When my grandmother died, my mother sold this house and a developer immediately built two big houses in what had been her side yards.

Grandma Jo's House1

I definitely miss this place “mo-o-o-ore  than I’d ever have guessed.”

In fact, I dream about it on a regular basis…

Then we moved to the northwest corner of Connecticut — where I attended our local public school and rode my bike up and down the hilly country roads, exploring the woods and fields around our house.

10 White Hollow Road Aerial View

We did not have a swimming pool. Someone else added that after we sold this small log-cabin-style house…

Interspersed within my relatively privileged and relatively normal childhood were days, weeks, and sometimes months when I worked professionally as an actor.

Will Toddler Head Shot

That was not normal.

That was walking into a room full of strangers and doing whatever one needed to do in order to be hired for the job.

That was a lot of anxiety and disappointment interspersed with a few moments of elation — when I learned from my agent that I had been hired to do a commercial or modeling job or voice-over or theatrical production or made-for-TV movie.

WIll Smiling Head Shot

The elation inevitably morphed into fear as the date for the actual gig approached.

And then — depending upon the kindness and patience and generosity and humor of the people in charge — the filming or recording or photo shoot or performance was more (or less) bearable.

I do NOT miss working as an actor mo-o-o-ore than I’d ever have guessed. It’s a very stressful life.

Since this was before the era of the VCR, most of the commercials, voice-overs, and TV movies I made were lost along the way — ephemeral bubbles in the incessant flow of popular (and to a large extent disposable) culture.

So I was happily shocked when two of my cousins looked up a TV movie I had made in 1975 called Bound For Freedom and discovered that it had recently been uploaded in four chunks onto YouTube!

If you are curious to check out the first chunk, you can click here.

That’s me being sold into indentured servitude by my father during the opening sequence.

I played a character named James Porter, and I had a lot of strawberry blond hair back then…

Will Bound For Freedom

This is a photo from that movie which I found for sale on Ebay.

If my memory serves me, Bound For Freedom was originally broadcast on NBC during the Sunday night time slot usually filled by a Disney movie.

However, the husband and wife team — Suzette and David Tapper — who produced and directed the movie also managed to incorporate it into the social studies/American history curriculum of a few elementary schools in the late 1970s.

I learned about this when a friend in high school, John Gallup, told me how he and some of his classmates at Salisbury Central School had sometimes quoted lines from the movie to each other in jest.

Today I am VERY grateful to a man named Ethan Hamilton (as well as his teacher who at some point loaned him her VHS copy of Bound For Freedom) for recently uploading it to YouTube.

The main thing I remember from making Bound For Freedom is how kind and generous Fred Gwynne was as a fellow actor.

FredGwynne2

I may have written about this in a former blog post… but it made an impression many decades ago and bears repeating.

Often a non-actor on a movie’s staff will fill in for the star of the movie and read their lines off camera when other people’s closeups are being filmed. This gives the star a break.

fredgwynne4

But Fred, although he was the recognizable star of this project — having been a main character in the hit TV series Car 54, Where Are You? as well as in The Munsters — willingly stood off camera and interacted with me when my closeups were being filmed.

FredGwynne5

And something in the kind and empathetic way he made eye contact pulled all sorts of emotions out of me which I doubt I would have been able to access otherwise.

If you have time or interest to watch any of Bound For Freedom, you will see that Fred shines in a gentle, understated way throughout the entire film.

And I AM surprised to find that I miss him mo-o-o-ore than I’d ever have guessed.

Thank you, Fred Gwynne, for your generous spirit.

Thank you, Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman, for writing such a wise and beautiful song.

Thank you, Doug Hammer, for our decades-long creative relationship.

Thank you for the astounding magic of the internet which allowed me to find the images for this post.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post.

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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.