My friend Debbie Hunkele died a few days ago. She'd had cancer for quite a while. I never felt close enough to her to feel I could ask her about her health, other than the usual how-are-you's which people traditionally answer with "fine" and then you move on, but of course with friends you don't move on, so I'm being presumptuous by saying she was my friend. She certainly treated me like one, on occasion, though; for instance, I stayed with her and her husband in Oakland for a week or so when I had one of my very isolated gigs there about fifteen years ago. We had one good conversation but in general I felt like it was important for me to not take up her time in her own home. She had the bearing of someone who had stuff on her mind. Debbie and I were classmates at Passaic Valley Regional High School in Little Falls, New Jersey, class of '59. The year Grease was about. I loved Passaic Valley.
My first picture of Debbie Hunkele is at football games, she did that drum majorette thing with style and grace and a great smile, and there might be something to be said for the notion that pictures like that are evidence that I've kind of frozen her in time. But you know at fifteen or so the hormones are little flaming rivulets cutting courses through your body that possibly never disappear. And certain things just stick. I hasten to say I wasn't in love with her or any of that stuff, it may just that I was walking around while percolating and all my stars of that beautiful year are kind of emblazoned forever. Anyway, I think she became a symbol for me, of a very difficult nature to define; and I think I never really saw her clearly after that, she'd become such an archetype, like Ricky Nelson or Archie and Jughead or Betty and Veronica. The popular girl, the hip and pretty one, the girl always on top of things and off-handed and light-hearted about it. The one you think of as coolest at your school, the one who symbolizes some sort of place and time and attitude and feeling that only exists for a while, in the minds of innocent dreaming teenagers. My cool friend Dave Jeffreys was pretty tight with Debbie through the years, and might even have arranged with her that I got to stay with them out there in Oakland. Dave has a quality that endears him immediately to everyone and for years I've gotten the benefit of the coolness of his wide sphere of admirers.
So, it's late September and I am back at school, though just in my head, and thinking every day about Debbie Hunkele, whose easy way and smile and charm and grace from the age of fifteen I see so surely in my mind's eye, but just as surely can not communicate; I'm afraid she needs somebody closer to F.Scott to get her effect across. It has something to do with autumn, too, and the unreachably far Eden of youth. You get the privilege of remembering some beautiful and poignant moments, and they stay with you forever. They kind of are you. Man, I remember Debbie Hunkele, a Saturday afternoon in September, in her drum majorette outfit, the curly blond hair, that sunny-great smile, under a tree full of red leaves, waiting in line to get a soda. And I'm working the stand, reaching into the ice cubes. I've carried this picture around for almost sixty years, it's always been here inside and in some way these pictures fuel everything I do in music. Still I can't get my feeling about Debbie across; but maybe a few words from Dave can. He sent me an email: "Debbie Hunkele died---that fabulous girl!"
THAT'S ALL RIGHT
I had a great time watching Bob Dylan on Letterman's penultimate show, singing "The Night We Called It A Day". Wherever he goes, he gets there way before I do, so I'm always, reliably, totally at sea while I hear him, which is always so fun. He keeps it happening for me.
Saw a TV show he'd done fifty years ago in Canada, they'd put him on a set with some actors in plaid shirts who were supposed to be lumberjacks, sitting around eating, drinking, playing cards in the bunkhouse, and he wandered among them playing his early songs, from the "Don't Think Twice" era. Would have been distracted if I'd seen it then, the singing and writing being so wide of my small experience, but seeing it later in life I saw that his finger-picking was absolutely precise and that he never muffed one note on the guitar, that he always sang perfectly in tune, and that clearly he had rehearsed everything way beyond the point of reasonableness, I mean he could do all this while casually walking around.
Like seeing Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr on Ed Sullivan, every one totally together, presenting himself happily and cheerfully perfect, really.
Though I'd love to think that someday I could be as completely assured in the way I present whatever the hell it is I do, I believe I am way running out of time to accomplish this; but gotta say, in all honesty, really, that the pursuit of getting it right is a joy and a privilege in itself, and since only some of us get it right when we're twenty-one, it's great that the rest of us have some joyful templates from the guys who catch the ring:
- The Kingston Trio doing "Tom Dooley".
- Belafonte doing "Day-O".
- Elvis doing "That's All Right, Mama".
- The Beach Boys doing "Help Me Rhonda".
Man, you can spend years contemplating just those singular musical events, listening over and over. And each time you go back each one is better than you remembered it, and you see more coolness each time, and more jungle paths each has machete-ed to coolness. When I got tired of The Kingston Trio (I did once), man, I was tired of music.
Right now I'm privileged to be continuing to work on "Snow Queen". And listening to a lot of Bing Crosby. Thank God for YouTube.
Oh yeah, one more thing: I just found out that Oscar Hammerstein II got the line "Tired of livin' and scared of dyin'" from Saint Augustine.
The guy, not the town.
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