Life Story Interview, November 2003
Oklahoma, where I grew up, was a classic 50’s backwater. Alcohol was still sort of banned in the state, so that meant that every Friday evening, this long trail of vehicles would come to the local university campus, which was off police grounds, full of booze, and so this long caravan would come down and everyone who was ordering booze would come to the university and buy it. So that was back in the days of prohibition of alcohol – 1956, and I think in 1961, one of the governors decided to really enforce the prohibition laws and everybody got so angry at him, they went ahead and changed the law. So I think that’s what was going on in the state around the time I was born. It was a convenient hypocritical – a Protestant hypocritical state.
My family was in turmoil. It was a family that shouldn’t have happened. My mother had two daughters, which, back in the 50’s, especially if you’re a Native American woman, was a real taboo. And my father had gone to college, had gone to school, had known my mother before going off to WWII and Korea. He came back, found her again, and now she had two children….my sisters. Technically they are my half sisters, but they are my sisters. We never made any distinction. Dad adopted them. We were always raised in the same house. I’m the oldest “biological” as they say. And my father’s sisters, who I call my “evil aunts”, one of whom passed away from cancer a year ago, rest her soul after a particularly vicious battle with it. I won’t speak ill of the dead – but she was one of my evil aunts, and the two of them took my father to court when he announced he was going to marry my mother, and tried to have him committed to an insane asylum! The judge threw the case out – said “You women are out of your minds” and threw the case out of court. And them my mother’s side of the family, back up in the Cherokee hills, didn’t want my Mother to marry my Dad. They thought he was weird, wanting to marry my mother, who had these two children, give her his name, and build a family. No one can understand to this day why he did it. But he did and the two of them must have loved each other fiercely and they kept it together for 40 years. So something must have been going right. So they did make it work for 41 years until my Mom passed away. My mother was full-blood Cherokee, my father was half-breed. Just over half breed. He is half Cherokee and half white. His father was white and married an Indian woman. That makes me just over three quarters Cherokee. So anyway, the family should not have existed. There were tremendous social pressures from within the family, trying to pull it apart. But they kept it together for 41 years. And eventually, my mother, just by dint of who she was, and the incredible focus she could bring to things, basically won everyone over. She just kept being gentle, generous and kind. And just won everyone over. Same thing with my Dad. Until after she died, and then you know, the long knives came out again.
I was born in 1956 in Claremore OK, at the Claremore Indian hospital. “Oklahoma!” (the musical) is set in Claremore. It’s where Will Rogers came from. So I was born in Indian hospital there, just up the road from the Will Rogers memorial. And I remember going back a few years ago to the hospital with my sister, I have a card somewhere that states my degree of blood through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and if I get sick, I can present myself and this card to an Indian hospital and get free… if you want it. If you want that kind of medical service. It’s like sitting in a Greyhound bus with a doctor attached to it. But I remember going to the hospital, and this was about midnight, my sister was feeling very badly, and while they were looking at her, I was walking around, they had re-done the buildings, and I remember asking one of the nurses, I said “ I was born here in 1956 – where are my records?” And she said “Probably sitting in a vault someplace in Houston. “ But she showed me photographs of the Cherokees that would load all their sick into these horse wagons, way up in the hills where my Grandmother lived and come down Rte. 33 and through the town of Claremore, and they would set up these camps, not quite teepees, but they would set up hogans on the grounds of the hospital, you know, cook food, build fires and basically just hang out until everyone was well. They did not leave until everyone was able to travel and well. And then they packed up and went back. They just lived there, people would bring food down to them from the hills. So this nurse showed me photographs of these encampments. That was going on until after WWII.
Traditions in our family were nothing all that unusual – Christmas was lots of presents, Halloween was going trick-or-treating. I remember when I was younger, my family would take me to a corn dance – a green corn dance, or Stomp Dance, which was the old pre-Christian religion, and I remember going one time – I think I was only 4 or 5 years old, and remember driving way up into the hills above Skytook, or even further, oh yeah, way up near the Kansas border. And I remember turning off the road and going into a farmer’s pasture and seeing guards with shotguns. No White People Need Apply. I remember the dance, and to my eye, it was just a plain old pow-wow, a stomp dance, and I remember my father trying to set off a Roman candle with his bare hands. I remember he dropped it on the ground – and I saw it shoot off across the fields…all kinds of screaming and shouting and general mayhem. But I remember that stomp dance and I remember that after awhile, we didn’t go to them. There was a point where my father became very very Christian – very Methodist, and he said “We can’t go to that anymore because that’s not Christian”. And since he was the father, he laid down the law and that was it. We didn’t go anymore.
I remember lots of trips up to the hills to see my Grandmother and my cousins on my Mother’s side of the family, and we were always bringing food, always bringing clothes, always bringing big bushel baskets of hickory nuts. My mother and I would go all over the parks in Tulsa which had these big huge hickory trees and they had these nuts all over the ground and my mother would shell them, or husk them, and them we would take them up into the hills in the Autumn, and through the Winter, my cousins would pound the hickory nuts – they are only about an inch big, not a lot of meat in them, but we would bring up bushels – I mean literally, five or six bushels on one trip, and we’d make three or four trips a month – and so we were constantly….I mean… bags and bags of these things. My Mother’s cousins would shell them and turn them into a Cherokee food called Kanutchee. Kenutchee is where you take the meats of bushels of these things and you make a ball, like a brown softball and you dump it into a large pot of boiling water and it just infuses it with this incredible hickory smell. And then you dump in hominy – big treated pieces of corn and then you eat them with a little bit of salt. I usually dump in a bunch of sugar. So we would go up there and we’d bring clothes to them because my mother had garage sale fever, but she was always buying things to take up to the hills. And bringing food up there, bringing things like that up there. We didn’t do things like that so much with my father’s side of the family. My father’s side was much more distant and we were much less involved with them.
But for some reason, we seemed to be…more proud of them…I don’t know. The side of the family that we helped out, that we had real fellowship with was my Mother’s side of the family, up in the hills. The folks that lived in Muskogee – my Dad’s side of the family – are the, I don’t know, the City Indians, I don’t know how you would say it. They were really really really sort of nice people. They grew up going to all the nice schools in Muskogee and went to the big Southern Baptist church and were very very much a part of the kind of …Ollie North…super conservative….”just go along with it, it’s easier” kind of….That’s why I live in Maine instead of Oklahoma. And my mother’s side of the family was the sort of wild, crazy native, undisciplined spirit that I tend to respond to more strongly. We went to a lot of pow-wows in the Tulsa area. This was back in the days before sobriety became a major concern in the tribes. I remember seeing people drunk, I remember seeing one guy beating on a drum with a beer bottle, you know, drunken Indians wandering around. I remember driving to church one morning, picking up a guy and taking the back road to the church that we went to in Turley it was way north of Tulsa, and going over a road and seeing a guy laying under a tree and I though “My God, we found a dead body”, and it was a drunk Indian. Got drunk, passed out, and Dad got him up and going. We put him in the car and took him someplace…. I can’t remember. I just remember, in the early morning light, this beautiful, almost Wyeth type of setting…a tree on a hill overlooking the city, and here’s this guy – drunk, under the tree. It’s like “Christina’s Dream” with a drunk Indian.
Alcohol was a problem on my Father’s side of the family. His father was an alcoholic – I think. There was nothing specifically said, but it was pretty clear. My father’s family was broken up, mostly because there was a white guy – a mostly white guy married to an Indian, and when my Father’s family broke up, let’s see there…my father had two three brothers, two three sisters …the family was broken up and scattered to Native American Indian schools. All through the southwest, and then the records were destroyed, so my father never really knew where they ran off to. He kept in contact with his two sisters, my evil aunts, but then there was my Uncle Gene, who later on became a raving alcoholic, who would re-enter my parent’s live, like a bad penny, asking for money – just constantly.
My father is the kind of person who just wants to help, pretty blindly, not really thinking about it. It was the kind of thing where, you give Uncle Gene a bunch of money – it never reappears again, and he’s back asking for more. And then Uncle Gene just disappeared out of our lives – he just went away. Then there are another coupe of brothers that my father has re-discovered in the last few years, one of whom, when he died. “Oh, Dewey Albert is your brother” – I never even knew these guys. Aunt Onnie – Oneseeket, is her name, and Aunt Maxine, but the other two brothers, I don’t even know. Our family is woefully inadequate about sharing information. Myself, I don’t really care. I’ve got enough on my plate. When my sister got married… I found out my sister was getting married by phoning my parents up one evening – I was in graduate school – and asked, “How are things going?” And we talked and we talked and we talked and finally I asked “Anything else going on in Tulsa?” and they said “Oh. Christy’s getting married this weekend.” “She’s marrying this nice guy, Shawn” and
“Oh. Well. Is she registered someplace?” And to say something like that – I mean I knew it was stupid, our family would never think to register…. I mean, it’s just not done.
So I said, “Well, I’ll send her a gift or something, tell her I hope it works out OK.” But that’s just how our family works. The idea of sitting down at a big Thanksgiving dinner I mean…which we would have – our immediate family – my mother was a phenomenal cook – and she was a housekeeper at one of the old oil-money mansions in Tulsa. And these were houses that made Falmouth Foreside look like tarpaper shacks. These were built with huge amounts of money for people who just didn’t give a damn what people thought about them! And my Mom worked in one of them, this old Italianate mansion. For a Mrs. Motley, Mrs. R.E. Motley. Bob Motley ran an oil-supply service. ..casings and drill bits and things like that. And he finally passed away when I was just out of college and going on to grad school, and Mrs. Motley took it over after he passed away and she was much more of a ball-cutting bastard than he ever thought of being, and the company became extraordinarily profitable. So my mother was their housekeeper, from day one, from the day of their marriage. So, anyway. Our family was a really loving family but there are definite…strangenesses.
My father was a Christian for as long as I can remember. We always went to church. Indian Methodist. We always went to Indian Methodist churches. There were some beautiful Methodist churches in Tulsa, but we would never think of going to them. You know, it was sort of carriage trade churches. Boston Avenue Methodist – walked by that church everyday on the way to school, but would never think of going to it. Our churches were, we went to three. The first one was Whitmore Indian Methodist, right by the park where we picked hickory nuts, a sort of big white building, bit square blocky white thing. With a big front staircase, downtown. And that lasted for awhile and then a big highway came through, so they had to move to Turley – way north of the city. Way beyond what my parents would call the “colored” section of town. The black section of town, or “Little Africa”. Really lively African-American place. Where some of my best friends lived.
But past the “colored” side of town, you got to the Indian side of town. No one else but Indians would live in a town called “Turley”. It was a much larger building, with three sections, fellowship hall on the left and the main part in the idle and the children’s classrooms on the right. I drove out there a few years ago and now an evangelical group owns it. Of course. I remember a friend of Dad’s that we would pick up and take to church and he was a retired house painter, and they wanted to repaint the downstairs and he got to do it and he basically frescoed the whole bottom of that church with Native American symbols. Really. Almost “Six Flags over Texas” type stuff. It was all done by hand, all painted …gorgeous crazy things….thunderbirds and teepees and people riding horses…all over the bottom of that church. I hope they survived but something tells me the evangelicals painted them over. Last time I went out there, the building was locked up.
I was incredibly involved with church. I was a Bible scholar. I read it and I could understand what was going on in the Bible…probably more than made the adults comfortable. I kept asking really stupid questions….really pointed questions that they couldn’t quite put together. So they moved me into the adult Bible class. So here I was, this 9 year old kid, sitting in the adult Bible class, for two or three years, and I never really knew it, but my mother always sort of knew what was going on, because when my Mother passed away, and the man who preached at her funeral in town was a family friend who is now one of the major ministers in Oklahoma. He said that every time they would ask me a Bible question – I would get it right, or I would come up with some kind of wild answer. And he said that my Mother would just smile. She had this sort of Mona Lisa smile about her. That’s where I got in touch with playing the piano. No way we would ever be able to afford piano lessons, but there was a piano upstairs, and so, especially when I was in junior high and high school, after church, when people were downstairs having coffee and fellowship hour, I would sneak back into the sanctuary and I would just play the piano and just make things up…just go and go and go. One of the real joys of my life was just being able to do that.
At one point, the minister – Lee Chupko – heard me and…he was Kiowa…Lee Chupko and Reverand Chupko heard me play the piano and said “Well, listen, what we can do is… ” he immediately wanted to channel the energy, a very “Methodist” thing to do, “So, we will pay for you to have lessons and you can play piano for the church! – Wouldn’t that be great?” And I never touched it again. “No! I don’t want to do that! Sorry!” Much as I loved the church, much as I loved doing that stuff…I got it. I got the essential core of Christianity at a very young age. And so I started asking questions about all the bullshit. Which is not what they were prepared to deal with. I remember when we had the Methodist Youth Fellowship – MYF. And I remember being the treasurer and God. I ripped off every penny they had. Shit. I spent it all on chocolate. I don’t know what happened. Nobody every asked me for the money. But yeah. I hated it! They refused to think! Absolutely refused to think. And they were perfectly happy with that. There was this poor girl from Oral Roberts University. My mother still got on my case about it when I was in my 30’s. I remember my mother getting angry at me once when I came home from graduate school. We would have some occasional… Finally! We would have some occasional
Knock down drag outs. Which we probably should have had when we were younger, but everyone was just too damn polite. And I remember this poor girl from Oral Roberts University came and I remember she had great legs and she wore a short skirt and she couldn’t keep it under control. And I thought, “That’s not fair”. I mean, that this girl is going to Oral Roberts. And I started giving her all sorts of shit about fundamentalism and about “Well, the Bible says this, and why does the Bible say that about…” “Look at Jeptha’s daughters, and if the Bible says we are supposed to kill somebody, than does that mean that we have to go out and kill somebody?” And just on and on and on and I don’t think she was quite prepared to hear that from a ten-year old. No – an eleven- year old. So, my mother would say, “Remember when that girl from Oral Roberts came and you just made her life a Hell.”
My mother was an extraordinary women, She loved me very much. I last saw her alive at the end of the driveway at one of the schools I teach at. The Memorial School in North Yarmouth. About a year or two before she died, it was ten years ago, Mom and dad came up, to see me do Love’s Labours Lost with American Renaissance (Theatre). I had written the music for it, some songs for it and had directed the music for it. And I played Armato, the mad Spaniard, and I enjoyed it. It was something I had wanted to do…I lived Shakespeare since I was in the 7th grade. That was the first time I had first heard the cadence of the words and it just clicked – I understood it. And so here I am, playing Armato. But you have to understand there is not a whole lot in Cherokee culture that prepares someone to listen to Shakespeare. There’s storytelling, but not storytelling like that. So my parents came up, God bless them, to see me, and we had dinner with them, I took them to dinner at my friend Mary Flagg’s house.
Mary is this extraordinary woman, one of the lions of the Episcopal Church, the first female National Committee member. Incredible woman. She’s very old now, she may not last the winter, but boy. Ten years ago she was just…scary. She hosted us for dinner. Hank and Nancy Beebe came over, lots of friends came by, I remember my Mom being very polite, but my father was just terrified. He was paralyzed. It was a formal situation, a social situation. I’m trying to help my parents out. My mother just sort of gets through it, she does the best she can, and my Dad was just lost. But the next day after the show, they came to the school, and talked to my students about being Indian. And I got it on videotape. So I have a videotape of the last time I saw my mother alive. And she is sharing all this stuff that she had, and my father as well. My mother is talking about making baskets and quilts and passing things around, And my Dad is singing Cherokee hymns! These hymns you know…(sings) “At the cross, at the cross..” I’m thinking “Come on….Dad and Mom…it’s school, don’t do this to me!” And my Mom – “Here’s a picture of a buffalo” It’s the size of a Greyhound bus…so I have this all on videotape, and the last time I saw her alive, snow was falling, this was December, the first snow is beginning to fall…and they are off back down to Boston to spend the night, and take the plane back, and I remember giving Dad a hug, you know, the kind of “A-frame” hug that men like my Dad give, and my mother, just grabbed me, you know, and held me, and she said “I don’t know what it is you do, but I know that you are happy doing it, and that’s good enough for me.” I just stood there, I watched them drive away, and I remember thinking, well, crying, you know, softly. But thinking if she died today – if both of them died today, it would be OK. Even with, god knows, all of the craziness that I have to process because of the way I was raised, because of the tensions between being very intelligent and being, you know, part of this culture, and having to deal with the white culture and just being a flat – geek-oid all the time. Even with all of the bullshit I have had to go through, it is going to be OK.
My father and I had a similar moment. He was up here visiting several years since my mother passed away, and there is a specific blessing in the New Testament, I think it’s in the Second Epistle of Peter …May the Lord Bless you and Keep you, May the Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You…and and,, and. Oh. I can’t remember the rest of it now, And Give you peace. And he actually…the day he left he said, “Wait, before you go, I have to give you my blessing”. And that’s like Jacob blessing Esau and Isaac. And he specifically put his hand on my head and said, ”I give you my blessing.” As a father to a son. At that moment, before he said good-bye. And again, I remember just standing there crying, watching him leave, and again, having the same feeling that…you know, there are times I could drop-kick my father through a brick wall, but I also know that if he passed away…we’ve had, over the years, cancer threats, and various others, but I know that if he passed away – it would be alright. We’ve done what we needed to do. He did the best he could. And I acknowledge that. And he knows I love him. He knows that and so did my mother. It’s very strange, in Cherokee, I don’t know the language, my parents made a very conscious attempt to separate us from the really self-destructive lay-about, really lazy, blanket-ass Indian culture. My mother would get mad at me or mad at my sister and she’d say, “You’re acting like a Full-blood!” “You’re just sitting around drinking, or “honky-tonkin’”. She busted my older sister for honky-tonkin’. My Dad was just “That’s not Christian” and my Mom was “You’re honky- tonkin!” My Mom had great expectations; I just remember my father being scared all of the time. There was so much in the culture that just overwhelmed him, and still overwhelms him. Even though he’s re-married and fairly happy – you can see it.
When I was in the sixth grade I made a painting of the Mayflower. I talked to my students about this today. Because Thanksgiving just creeps us out. We are very much of two minds about it. But I remember painting a picture of the Mayflower, in perspective, this is in the 6th grade, when most kids are drawing pictures of their hands, and making turkeys out of them, I drew a perspective picture of the Mayflower, with gray, everything was in muted grays and browns. And of course there was Plymouth rock and an empty boat on the ground and nothing….crows, there were black crows flying all over the place, but there were no people in the picture at all. And I signed it with my Cherokee name – “Thom” James comes out to be “Thom” in Cherokee. That’s as close as I have to, like, “Standing Water” or “Running Late”, I don’t have a name like that. But I signed my Cherokee name to it and it was accepted into an exhibit in the Gilchrist Museum of Art, for children, you know, all around the city of Tulsa. And I remember going to this big reception, And sitting and talking to an albino kid who was just as lost as I was. This sort of very feminine albino kid. And the two of us just sort of grabbed onto each other, and I remember looking back and seeing my father standing back against the wall, like he was trying to blend into it. Wearing a suit, tie, the whole bit, obviously proud, but obviously scared by all of this. And I have since found out, that when he was sent to all those Indian schools, it was the classic “”We’re going to make a white person out of you” type bag, so he was…you know…if you tried to write in the Cherokee alphabet, they would slap your hands with a ruler if he tried to speak the Cherokee language they would wipe out his mouth with soap. And the fact that he is where he is and doing what he is, and the fact that I have really bizarre issues…there’s an explanation.
My father gave me creativity and my mother gave me patience. My father, I can remember, had weird names for us. My mother was “Skidgett”. I was “The Sans” but he had these pet names for us and I remember moments when he could be so crazy – almost in character – I remember watching him paint Easter eggs once, and he pulls these two blue eggs out – a blue egg and a purple egg and suddenly “whoop-de-doo!” he starts playing with these eggs. I got my singing voice from my father. I get my sense of patience and a different, more feminine creativity from my mother. My father was a painter, and recently he has picked up his brush again, which I am really proud of. He came up here – that time he gave me his blessing and a friend of mine was running an arts clinic and I said “We should take a painting class together” and he just froze – he just lost it. Well, now he is making paintings, so he is painting again. But that’s a different kind of well-thought-out creativity, My mother, late in her life, recovered the art of making baskets and quilts and silver. It was just something she wanted to do, there was this enormous energy inside of her and looking after my Dad and looking after her relatives and looking after us and looking after the house and looking after the Motleys, wasn’t enough. It was expressed in her cooking it was expressed in the way she did things. Very powerful. I get a lot of my acting ability from my Dad. But I think I get my focus, and the intensity with which I see things, I get from my mother. They are very different parts, but they are complimentary, – split complementariness, in how I see the worked, in how I experience it, because it is very intense. So intense that I sometimes run away from it. Just run away – live a fantasy life, pretend to do things, rather than haul off and go do them.
Adolescence was interesting. I enjoyed it. I remember in the 6th grade, creating out of whole cloth, a Friendship Treaty. I had enormous trouble making friends. And there are people, I have found out in the years since, who really cared about me, who were passionately on my side, but I could never see it. I remember crying, “Everyone hates me” .I remember being sent to a psychologist when I was a child, Dr. Block at the children’s medical Center on South Lewis street in Tulsa. Playing chess with him – they are trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with this kid. And I think the consensus was – this kid is just lazy. Just get in there and make him clean his room! So that is one of those records I would love to take a look at. I mean, “What exactly was this guy thinking?” I’m sure I was a mystery to my parents in a lot of ways. I desperately wanted to have friends; there were girls I desperately wanted to be friends with.
When I was a child I read a book called “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline Lingle. When I was in the second grade…and that caught me. I told Madeline Lingle once when I finally met her that that book kept something alive in me until I was old enough to cry the tears I needed to cry and get on with it. There was a certain child-like quality to the book that just spoke to me. I try to read it every year; I try to keep a copy with me. But that sense of walking through with someone holding hands and just being with someone, was a sense I never never had. Until I began to date in the 7th – 8th grade – and I had that but it never seemed real. It didn’t match up with what was inside me. So what happened was I got really critical with the people I was with. So I had wonderful relationships that I absolutely destroyed. It’s not that they weren’t good enough, it’s just that what was going on inside my head was somehow more entertaining and more safe. Oh God, the first girl I dated, Pat Bruce – a flaming redhead – I had a thing for redheads – it’s from the book because the main character Meg Murrey is a redhead.
So I dated these girls, but I couldn’t bring myself to sit in the back seat with them. That’s finally why Pat broke up with me – she said “You always sit in the front seat with my parents – you won’t ride in the back with me, it’s like you don’t want to be with me!” I was thinking, If I ride in the back seat, she’ll think I want to grope her, she’ll think I’m trying to behave inappropriately, and she’ll dump me. She’ll think I am some kind of idiot. So I couldn’t allow myself just to be there. So I would construct elaborate fantasies – there were beautiful parts of Tulsa that we lived in, and I remember wandering through the parks when I was in high school, pretending I was in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” because that movie started me as a composer. I mean, I was composing in 6th grade. I started taking it seriously in high school because I saw “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and there is just something about the magic of that opening sequence that just caught my imagination.
So I wrote to Paramount pictures and asked if I could have permission to arrange this for my school band, and they sent back a thank you note and a copy of the music, and said “Sure kid, go for it!” And I should have gone for it, but I never finished it. It wasn’t “Real” enough for me. It was just easier to sort of carry it around and try it – “Here band, let’s play the first 16 measures” but never finish the piece. I could never bring anything to completion. Always in a state of potential. They gave me an I.Q. test and I tested at – like, 190 and I was constantly getting letters from teachers “He’s got so much potential, why doesn’t he do something?”
Mrs. Chandler’s Kindergarten was my first memory of public school. I remember a big red mat and a slide inside the south wing overlooking 21st Street of Robert E. Lee Elementary school. I remember going to the morning kindergarten class. And singing “rigajigjig and away we go” , we would partner up and hold hands and I remember blocks – wooden, plain sort of piney blocks, and one of the boys holding up a triangular block, like a slope and him saying “Look! The block of the Future!” I remember learning how to count and read and add at a very early age. I knew how to count to 100, learning multiplication, I remember having a quilt. My God. I may still have that quilt. A little children’s quilt my mother made me before I was born. There’s a bloodstain on it that came from somewhere…but I still have that quilt. It’s in my bedroom. I think that might have been the quilt I took with me to kindergarten.
I remember Mrs. Chandler really well, she smelled like baby powder, so did Mrs. Pucket…when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. She had gray curly hair, sort of triangular shaped glasses, livery looking skin. I remember skipping to the music and drawing pictures and leaning against the radiator and looking out at 21st St.
I was a voracious reader. So much so that I was getting called into the principal’s office – Dr. McFale – Harry McFale was this sort of Liminny Snickett, toady looking thin fellow – sort of like Don Knotts with better skin. But he would let me, like in 2nd grade, that was when the space program was starting – like 1961, and so my mother would let me stay home and watch the space shots. I wrote to NASA in the first grade and asked what it would take to be an astronaut. And they wrote back! And I wish I had that info pack because it was so cool! But they said you need to study math and engineering and they sent me all these pictures of the Vanguard space program – it was kind of a dud – and the Mercury, and all this stuff from the press office. I started this space scrapbook and every launch I would write it up and put it in the scrapbook until the Apollo 1 fire, and then I just quit.
In second grade I remember having arguments with Dr. McFale about the speed of escape velocity…I said it was seven mph and he said no it was seven miles a second. And I remember having to go back and apologize to him because it was seven miles a second. But he would take me into his office and we would have these long technical discussions about space flight and how do you get from here to the moon and if a space ship weighs 1,000 pounds, how much energy does it take to get it out and how big is the…what’s the grange point for a 1.000 pound payload? I remember having these conversations all the way through the sixth grade. It was really fun. At the same time I was having fits and screaming and going totally crazy in the classes. And not having any friends. And the names are very powerful to me. Ann Audley – who I saw a few years ago, and she’s all grown up and has had kids and a nervous breakdown…some of them are still in Oklahoma. Carol Herndon – who was this incredibly feminine girl, just…oh God, I loved her, and I still love her to this day. And Craig Smith…he was the other genius, but he was the genius who actually built things. Dianne Davies, who became a researcher for Frito-Lay, Barbara Edwards, who was the tetherball queen,..and rich bitch. Ward Camp, who went on to become a lawyer, John Harvey, who was the bully I had a fight with, he pulled a lead pipe on me one day – yeah, I challenged him to a fight, he was just constantly bullying me so I challenged him to a fight, and he and Scott Ryan…He showed up from behind the Grindstadt Cleaners, by the railroad track, and he had a lead pipe in his hand. And so I said “Drop it! Do this fair and square.” And he did and then Scott slipped it back to him. And Scott was my baseball coach’s son. And so, he beat me up with a lead pipe in his hand. This was maybe fifth grade. And so my Dad took me to the cops, and said “OK you need to describe this kid.” And I described exactly what was going on and the cops said “Why did you do this?” And I said “It was an affair of honor…I just had to do it” And I remember the cop looked at me like I was just something from the other side of Jupiter. Who the hell is this kid? This dumb Indian kid with glasses who’s talking about honor. But it was really important to me! I suspect they got punished, but I have no clue.
I remember, partly my mother’s influence, when we moved to our third house. Right across the street from the largest synagogue in Oklahoma. And I remember one night, my father backing out of the driveway without looking and he backed into a Lincoln Continental – it was a Friday night, it was someone at Shabbat, – David Kahn, his father was the rabbi for years and years, he was my bets friend…well no, not my best friend growing up but someone I knew really really well. You know. I didn’t have friends, I had people who knew me and liked me, but I didn’t have friends, I didn’t know how to do it. What I wanted was such an intense connection, something that has dogged me, positively and negatively throughout my life. I wanted such an intense emotional connection, I wanted a girl I could walk and hand with through the Winter leaves, and just be close to, and that’s what I wanted in a friend, I wanted someone who could keep up, emotionally and intellectually, and I could never find it. The other kids just didn’t understand it. It was just not part of the currency of exchange that kids use to build relationships. And I didn’t really figure that out until college.
I didn’t last long in sports. I played football. Baseball all through elementary school and finally ended up hating it. But my father thought I should really play sports you know. Oh God. I was overweight, you know. And my breasts were fatter than most, and my father was terribly offended by that. He had a plastic strap and tried to bind my breasts against me. “Wear this”, he said, “You won’t look so fat”. So it was really strange. I remember, my Dad would say to me “Get in the car” and I would get in the car and he would drive way the hell up Utica street and then he would stop and make me get out of the car and he’d say “OK now run all the way home.” And he’d make me run home, trying to get me to get into this. And I just wasn’t interested. Until I discovered fencing. And I got into fencing in the 6th – 7th grade, and I got fairly good at it. Until the guy who was running it, Art Wade, who was the father of one of my old school friends Ellen Wade, said “Listen, we need to get him equipment – he needs the vest and the mask and…can we get it?” And that’s when my parents said “No, you’re not doing it anymore.” And Art even offered to give me stuff, and they still said no. “If it’s going to cast money, then he can’t do it.” And that was it.
I was in the Civil Air Patrol for years as a cadet. Civil Air Patrol is the civilian auxiliary of the Air Force. It started off in WWII as civilians looking for submarines, and then it became search and rescue. And now since airplanes have transponders as required equipment, it’s really easy to find crashed planes. But back in the 70’s that wasn’t the case. You actually had to go out and look for the damn thing. So my Dad had a friend who was a senior member of the CAP, and he said “Your son might be interested” and so I got interested and I got into it. I was in the CAP for 3-4 years and became the youngest
Ranking cadet non-commissioned officer in the state of Oklahoma, this was Junior High, High school – they let me in early, I didn’t tell them my age, so I got in early. And after awhile, I just flibbered it, they would ask me to do tests and I would just blow them off. I just sort of lost interest in it. Just like in football. I hated baseball, And in the last game I played, I arranged to get thrown out. I have a lump on my scull here, from a ball…I got that in the very first baseball game I ever played in from Luke Gilpin, who was this Irish-Catholic bully boy who went to Marquette. Which was the Catholic school in Tulsa. He threw a ball, it was my second time at bat, in the second grade, The Beatles, which was the name of our team, and I remember instead of ducking out, I ducked down and it beaned me! So I had this huge goose-egg. And I was screaming and yelling and “Oh God this hurts this hurts, I’m going to die!” So that was the very first game I ever played.
The very last game I ever played was in the 6th grade, Luke was playing 3rd base or something, and I got thrown out at third, because I was trying to steal third, and I got thrown out. And I picked up some dirt, I got so mad, and I just threw it in his face. And the coach said “You’re out of the game!” Well, I didn’t want to do this anyway! And so I walked out, my Dad was mortified, you know, he couldn’t take me home, I had to stay there. And I remember sitting on top of the thing, watching the rest of this game, and thinking….he never did punish me or anything, I think he just realized, this was not for me. Same thing with football. I played football in 5th and 6th grade, which was like “I have pads, you have pads, let’s just bang around and have fun”, for the South Side Colts.
And then I went to Junior High school, and my Dad said “Well, you gotta go out for the football team” the Horace Mann Junior high school Golden Comets. I have photographs of my oldest sister as part of the drill team when she went to Horace Mann. Little boots with pom-poms and little shake-o’s and they would march out in big circles and just go around and go around and so my oldest sister was part of the drill team and played clarinet in the band, and so they all said “Be on the football team!” and I hated it. They all had cheerleaders and homecoming games and “Roar! You gotta kill ‘em!” and “You gotta win!” “What’s the matter with you? They’re gonna beat the crap out of you!” Which they probably would have. And so finally, in 7th grade, I started playing and I lasted about seven games. And I started clipping people. I remember playing Miriam Anderson, which was one of the colored schools in town and they were this tough tough school, I mean they played it for real, these were the big black kids who were out there raising merry hell, an these little kids from , you know, Maple Ridge – we were like white Harlem, I hated this. Just hated it.
I remember getting tackled, they were like “Yay-oh! Uh –uh “ Like “We’re gonna get you!” And they were clobbering us and I remember getting tackled and this guy was getting up and I clipped him. I just knocked him flat on his face. And the Miriam Anderson people were like screaming “You just clipped that guy for no reason!” And I had this feeling that if I clip him, and they throw the flag, and the ball comes back, you know they will play back the penalty. You either take the penalty or take the touchdown and maybe they will take the penalty. There were parents that were really really angry, I mean they really were, and I think that’s when the coach started looking at me funny. And I remember at the Homecoming game, Oh God, what was her name? The cheerleaders had these little flippy white skirts and I remember she had these creamy white thighs. That’s all I remember about her. This gorgeous head cheerleader. But I remember playing the Homecoming game and getting hit and getting my glasses knocked off, and I looked at this play and I said “Ball! Loose ball!” and I dived just as they blew the whistle and I crashed into the thing and the ref – he looked at me and he threw his flag and he said “Pilin’ on!” I said “You’re a damn liar!” And he said “You out the game!” And I said “Great! I didn’t want to play this damn game anyway!” I went into the home dugout and stomped off and people were screaming and applauding and I got this round of applause for …being so pissed off and I sat down at the end of the bench and I remember finally walking back to the car, with my Dad behind me, just like the other time, ten yards behind me, but I remember this cheerleader coming up, you know, the really pretty one, and she says “Hi! How are you?” and you know we just talked for awhile and I thought, well, this is really nice. Shit. I should have quit a long time ago! And finally we were driving to church very shortly after that and my Dad said “You’re going to get killed. If you keep playing like this, someone’s going to kill you. So..“ he says to me, “Do you want to play the game?” I said “NO! I absolutely hate it !” And he says, “Well, what do you want to do? You’ve got to do something!” And I said “Fencing. I have always been interested in fencing.” And that’s how I got involved in it. I would wander upstairs at the YMCA and saw it going on and Art Wade saw me and said “Try it on” and I was Justin like 6th – 7th grade and he made me “OK, up and down up and down, foot position, foot position, advance retreat, advance retreat,” It was basic dance training, you know. Because you know, that’s where ballet comes from.
And I remember that training to this day. I have a scar that he gave me on my hand. I was training with him, and he finally said to my parents “This kid is good, we need to get him some equipment” and that’s when my parents pulled the plug. And CAP was different, you know, we had uniforms but we were able to get those from the Air Force. But again, once it started to cost money….and the idea of my going out and getting a job was anathema to my mother. I remember saying once when I was in high school – you know, “I need to go out and get a job”. Like at the U-Totem or the 7-11 up the street, or get a paper route and she said “No, if you need money, I will give it to you.” “If you want something, I will give it to you, but you don’t go to work.” And she was angry. I think it had to do with control.
I remember sitting..my high school put on a musical, it was a theme show that was put on every year and it was designed by the students, we wrote the music, we came up with the acts, we set the lights, we did everything. The teachers just served as advisors, and I ended up writing the music for it, because we had a full-scale pit band and I had to listen to the music and transcribe it. We were doing full-scale arrangements, and real choreography and everything. And I remember sitting there writing music one night, kind of like Johnny Carson, and I felt this whack on my head and I turned around and it was my mother! She had come downstage and she had just hit me! And I was standing there with my pen in my hand, leaning against the sofa and she said “What are you doing?!” “ Why can’t you be like anyone else? Why do you have to be this way?!’ All I remember is the hit, and Johnny Carson, and I have no clue what I said to her afterwards. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I was a junior in high school. It was when I first began writing music seriously. It must have been a powerful question for her.
“What have I got here?” My father was sort of floating by things. But my mother was the one who was involved. And she was the one who set the emotional tone for my life.
But I would rather just go off in the corner and pretend that things are really wonderful and that my drum and bugle corps exists, rather than saying “If you really bust your ass..” That’s why I never went to New York and became a starving composer, or a starving actor. Even though I always always always wanted to do it.
They had a Children’s Theatre in Tulsa – The Arts council had a Children’s Summer Theatre group and I remember watching The Wonderful Village of Vim, and they are all dancing around and talking about dancing dragons and they are all such pretty kids.
All such pretty, really nice kids and I remember thinking….”God, I’m this lumpy Indian kid, I’m never going to do that.” And I so wanted to.
And so when I was in the 7th grade, they hired our junior high school band to be the River City Band boys in the production of The Music Man and suddenly here I was! I was onstage actually dong things! I was a River City Band boy and sort of lounged around backstage all through the show and came out at the very end and got to do it, and that’s the first time I ever experienced the camaraderie, the insanity of theatre. I played the trombone in the show. The only trombone. I was all 76 trombones. Or the other 75 were off somewhere else. And then the next year I though “I have to do this again!” And it was The Sound of Music… I remember thinking…they said, show up with a song prepared, I had no idea how to do this….The song I wanted to do was from Hello Dolly! I would go to the library and I would listen to these musicals and it’s the song – “Put on you Sunday Clothes” And I would walk around the streets of Tulsa singing “Out there…there’s a World outside of Yonkers…..” I mean, I had it! I knew it! And when I got there – I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even do “Doh a deer, a female deer” I couldn’t do that! I couldn’t find it!” I was completely lost to myself. And so they said, “Ok, we will take you upstairs and we’ll dance” And they took me upstairs, and I remember there was this black girl that sang – and she had just this gorgeous voice, and I remember thinking…”They won’t let her in because how are you going to have a black nun in Austria, in 1938?” How the hell does that work?
I remember going back and seeing that show, and seeing the other shows all those people were in who were in The Music Man with me, and I remember going back to the theatre and saying “What can I do? How can I help?” And then by high school I was so involved in marching band, that all of that sort of faded away.
Finally, my senior year in high school, the director there, Marilyn Yoder….In Tulsa, we had an Equity stage. We had two stages actually, with a full-size pipe organ, it had a complete fly-floor, everything. Six light bars, it was a real nice professional facility, and that’s where they taught us. You were taught to be professional. And I remember Marilyn, finally, in high school, senior year, I took speech with her, which meant basically, Acting, and I remember at that point, seeing 1776 and building a set for that, and we were asked to stage scenes, and I remember directing that. I did Chekhov’s Marriage Proposal, I played the old man, and I got to be in character make-up for the first time and got to raise merry hell! And she encouraged it! And I think Marilyn understood…my band director kind of understood…but Mr. Wilson was such a space case in and of himself. He was this black man. He wore shades all the time, a classic southern guy. Played bass for a band in Las Vegas. Oh yeah, he was cool. So we were totally cool for jazz. The concert band kind of sucked, and the orchestra – forget about it- but again, he was smart enough to let us write music for these shows. We wrote our own marching band music, we designed our own drills. We did everything ourselves. He wasn’t being lazy because he gave good supervision,…and he was like “You did it man – Look at what you did!” And the other schools might have been classier or better prepared but we were doing stuff that we wanted to do. We were doing stuff that came from us.
So Marilyn asked me to do the lead in this play called “The Desk Set”. I got to do the Spencer Tracy part. And I discovered I loved it. Absolutely was good at it. And then the Opera Club does this big musical every year, and that was were the cheerleaders and the jocks hung out. The really really beautiful people were in the Opera Club. And they sang Meghan in Brigadoon, and The King and I and stuff like that. And I remember watching those people and thinking,…”Why can’t you do this?” I’ve always felt that, when I have watched other people perform. “Why can’t it be like this? It says this….why can’t you get to that?” And I remember going to the University of Tulsa shows….Shakespeare, I always loved Shakespeare. When my sister bought me the soundtrack to the Zefferelli Romeo and Juliet, I memorized the whole damn thing. I could quote it word for word. In 7th grade, and so the cadence was in my ear and I remember going to the University of Tulsa and watching the Theatre Department put on Shakespeare and thinking “God! I get this!” And then going back to watch the Opera Club do The King and I and I’m thinking “Why are you making it look so boring?!” “You look like Steve Krum in a bald wig saying lines when you could be this anguished character whose having his life opened…why can’t you do that? And I’m thinking, “Well, who the hell are you to be saying that?” “You’re not up there”. So again, wanting to be there wanting to be there, and just feeling this bubble – you’re just never going to get through. Go do something else, but writing the music and doing these shows…did it. And so the Opera Club did this Christmas thing called “A Night of Miracles” in a public school, and they had the shepards and they had an angel….a gymnast with creamy thighs, I remember, floating…they actually floated an angel, with a nativity….this was in a public school! And they asked me to be the narrator – Mr. Joe Atheist. Because by that time, I was a senior in high school, nothing that they were offering religiously cut it. And I said “Look, I don’t believe any of this crap.” And they are like “Oh Jim, you really gotta believe in the Lord, you know the Lord loves you, don’t you?” Oh God, it was this sappy….it was like getting nibbled to death by…ducks!. So anyway, they made me the narrator. And so it was “Lo, it came to pass, in the days of Herrod Agrippa,” and all of a sudden there’s this ripple in the audience. “Oh my God – It’s Jim Alberty!” And so in between the shows, all the Opera Club kids came running over “Jim! Have you found the Lord?” And I said “No. I’m reading a part.” I think that’s the first time I ever used the phrase “That’s why it’s called Acting!”
So there was this part of me that really really wanted to do it. But just the idea that “Now you’re going to go study Theatre”, and do all this other stuff, when I really wanted to write music. I really wanted to play, I really wanted to design, you know, whatever was out there and calling to me – one thing would not cut it. I don’t know what I was aiming at, but it sure wasn’t whatever they were holding up for me to shoot at.
I think the way I really started to pull away from all this was when I got involved in the drum and bugle corp. By pure accident. I went to the first national marching band championship in whitewater Wisconsin. And so, I had saved up money, and my Dad worked for American Airlines, so I could fly for free, and I went to the University of Whitewater, I was in Junior college then, and…oh yeah! We had this all-city band called the ‘Young Tulsans” Great marketing move. Run by a guy named Gerald Lawless who was William Revelli’s fair-haired boy at the University of Michigan. Revelli is this martinet of a conducting god and Gerald was his fair-haired kid…a clarinet player, and he started this all-city group, he started the drum and bugle corps. So I joined the drum and bugle corps because they were going to go to Romania and do this tour behind the Iron Curtain and I said “OK I’m here to play baritone bugle in the drum and bugle corps ”
And they said “Well, you have to play an audition” and I played an audition and Gerald said “Well, we really want you to play in the wind ensemble”. This was the top ensemble. “And we would really like you to be first chair and Concert Master.” And I said “Thank you, but I really just want to be in the drum and bugle corps.” And I thought his jaw was going to go through the desk. Because no one turned down Gerald Lawless. And he said, “Well, we’ll let you be in the drum corps if you will also be in the wind ensemble”, so that’s how I got into this thing. And so because of that I got involved in the Valiant Knights of Enid, Oklahoma. I remember painting a house, and working by hand to build a railroad that had been washed out and so we got a summer job pounding rails, for a mile, by hand. To rebuild this railroad and that paid me to live there for the summer. I remember taking my Mom and Dad when they came to pick me up at the end of the season, taking them down to this park and we rode around on this train and I said “Isn’t this great? I built this!”
So anyway, I went to the marching band championships, and I had one year of eligibility left. I remember meeting a drill designer there, and I said “Look, I’m a real good baritone player, I have one year of eligibility left, who do you know who’s got an opening?” And he said that his group – the Seneca Optimists in Toronto had one, but I though – I can’t go to Toronto from Oklahoma, y parents will go nuts. He said “There’s a group out on the West coast called ‘The Flamingoes’ that might need one, and oh yeah, there’s this other group out in California called “The Blue Devils” and they need a baritone player.” Now they had just won the championship the year before. So I flew out there and did an audition and they were stunned because I could read music. Because most guys in those days did it by rote. And I said “Ok, what next?” And so I got this letter – “You’re in”. So I went out there and I marched with the Blue Devils and I have been associated with them ever since, as an alumnae. Getting involved with that….that is a level of excellence that is immediately apparent. You know, in Denver, in 1977, we finished our show and we did this hands-up move at the end of it and I looked up and 38,000 people were on their feet and started screaming because of the performance…it was like…”Hey. I like this!” And so I think that’s where it all sort of sublimated. That ability to – just sheer excellence. Just throw yourself into something….and make it as intense and wild and focused, but as controlled and as well thought out as possible. And again, I bring that attitude to my writing, my teaching, my being on the board of the Children’s Theatre, to the performing that I’ve done…I guess it’s the sense of liberation. And that’s what I have discovered about myself. The sense of just throwing yourself into what ever it is you are doing with your eyes wide open and saying “Great! I’ve done this!” And just going to the next thing. And I can see my mother saying. “Ok great – you’ve done this. What’s next?” And I have held myself back so much. I’ve spent my whole life holding myself back. In relationships, in my writing, in my work onstage, I’ve spent so much of my life hiding from myself, being afraid of who I am.
And so I have this little stone I wear around my neck, a clan stone, you can get them at pow-wows, they are totem stones. Little green thing. And people ask me what kind of stone it is; I say “It’s green.” But it’s got this eagle on it and a little girl who is a friend of mine, the daughter of one of my best friends. Her name Madeline Weatherhead. Madeline when she was 4 years old, was coming back from visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Toronto, and there was an Indian store and Madeline would insist that I take her to pow-wows and teach her to dance. And so I took Madeline and she said, “We have to go to the Indian store!” So they stopped off and she saw this and she said, “That’s Jim’s clan!” Anasheetsqua. Anasheetsqua in Cherokee means Bird Clan. And so she gave it to me and I have worn it ever since. And the reason why is that it reminds me of who I am.
There was a moment, when I was at a pow-wow about six years ago, and I remember seeing a guy named Arnie Neptune, he’s an elder with the Penobscots way up north and I remember looking at Arnie’s face while all this drumming is going on, and thinking – in about 30 years, I’m going to look like that. And for the first time in my life, I thought, God. That’s going to be cool”. He’s a cool looking old man. So is my Dad and I thought, Wow. I’m going to be cool looking when I get older. And that’s when I started crying and I thought, “Yes. You are.” And I remember going back to my house and waking up very shortly thereafter one morning and laying there and hearing this voice saying “It’s Okay. “ And what that meant, I still don’t know to this day, but there was this sense inside that a switch had flipped, “It’s Okay now”. And so I was able to look in the mirror and say “It’s Okay”. “You’re just this Cherokee guy who does what it is he does, whatever the hell it is.” And to get to that sense of…it’s not a sense of closure, it’s more a sense of opening. The sense that the door you have been wanting to walk through all this time that should have taken you to New York, and should have taken you to be a singer/dancer/actor/performer/director/composer is now open and now you just have to go through it.
I know that I had stopped going to pow-wows by the time I was in high school. It just wasn’t cool. I didn’t understand it. Well no, I felt it, I could integrate it, it made sense to me but I just wasn’t interested. And it was at the Topsham pow-wow, which was seven years ago now, and I remember that I actually went to a pow-wow and thought hey yeah. This is what I grew up with. Well. It is and it isn’t. Different style – More social than competitive. But I remember going, and seeing Arnie Neptune and thinking “That’s really cool, I can get into this, that’s who I am”. And that’s always been a part of…when I’ve done counseling, it’s like you’re a Native American. Sort of feeling like an apple, you know, an Uncle Tom, red on the outside and white on the inside. And well, maybe that’s what I am for the time being. But after awhile, I started to see…no, no, I really am red on the inside. I just have to figure out how to be that. Because my parents consciously took us out of the culture. There was a lot of alcoholism, a lot of negative stuff. And it has allowed us to get too where we want to get to, me and my family, but at the same time, there’s a part of me that got walled off. And that’s got to be opened to be completely integrated, as much as you can. That was about 6 or 7 years ago. I don’t have a good memory for time. Everything is kind of all the same to me, like high school is right there, college is right there, it doesn’t go away, it’s immediately available.
So I just started helping out at the Maine Summer Dramatic Institute, and got on the board and here I am the Vice president of the board at the Children’s Theatre, and that’s how I do it. Just help out where they need it and then I just got sucked in and began to meet friends and meet people. We have this Cherokee mafia up here. Me and Trailwalker and Gary Standing Elk and all these other guys and we just kind of hang out, we are all Cherokee. So there’s this whole culture of people that are way way different from the lawyers and people I work with at CTM, and whose kids I’m teaching in Cumberland, and the Cathedral at St. Luke’s.
I came to Maine by accident, pure accident. I was finishing my Master’s, finishing my second year of classes at Penn State, my second Master’s in conducting, and by that point, I had had it. I had been in college for nine years. Two years of Junior college, four years of undergraduate school, one year in Louisiana, two years of Penn State, I had had it. And so I was getting ready to go. I had a chance to go for a Doctorate at Penn State, I was a finalist for a fellowship, and I was going through the Job Box, and I saw this job in Farmington, Maine that read like my resume. They wanted someone with drum and bugle corps experience and someone with arranging experience, and marching band and conducting experience, and my girlfriend at the time had grandparents who live in Scarborough, so I came up for an audition, and I got the gig. At Mount Blue High School. For a year, one year sabbatical replacement.
And so at the end of that, I needed another gig. And so the band director at Deering High School left to go to Westbrook, the hated rival, along with the principal. And I should have known. I broke a rule that I learned in school that you never, ever follow a John Phillips Sousa. You never follow a superstar. You always wait and be the second guy in. But I followed. I was the sacrificial lamb. I lasted three months. I was fired for inability to motivate children, lack of organization, which I will cop to. So I remember walking the streets the night that I left, the night of holiday vacation…that was the worst time. I got this huge cash settlement. Because it turns out that they had done some really sort of bizarre things too. So they basically bought out my contract. Paid my rent for four or five months, and I just wandered around the city, I remember just walking around that night, it was a Friday, thinking….I’m homeless, I have no job, this is the worst, this is what I wanted to avoid desperately at all costs, because here I was, trying to play it safe and trying to play it safe and here it was – not safe! So I drove a cab. And I answered an ad to be the choir director at the Congregational Church in Yarmouth. And I answered an ad to be the sabbatical replacement for a chorus teacher in Cumberland. And once I started doing the chorus job in Cumberland, which was half-time, the music person at the Memorial School quit. And so that was another half-time job.
I remember the first day of school, I had this big conference with everyone, and the principal standing up and saying “Do you know of anyone who can teach music, because our music teacher just quit, and every eye in the place turned around and looked at me because I had been doing work the Spring before with the graduating seniors and that was it. So one year later after Deering I was working full time again. And after the sabbatical was over, they went out of their way to increase my time, so I am working more than full-time – 110% in the district. Chorus, band, music, occasionally Gifted and talented, you know, helping to design the Middle School, design websites for the district. It’s really nuts. But that’s how I came here – sheer, dumb luck.
I turned down Florida State. I had been asked to become the Assistant Concert Master at the Interlaken Festival in Michigan. Because they had heard my radio show at Penn State, and someone said – “We’d like you to be the Assistant Concert Master” which was looking after artists and wiping noses and, you know, bottoms and basically making sure everything worked. And I turned them down to be Equipment Manager for the Blue Devils. This was 20 years ago. So I turned down Interlaken to be in the Drum and Bugle corps and I turned down Florida State to come up to Maine and the faculty at Penn State wouldn’t talk to me for about a year. No phone calls, no answer to letters, I mean, they were pissed. Because I was the first person to come out of the conducting program that actually had a chance at a pro conducting career. And I thought “No!”. after taking Michael Tilson Thomas out to dinner one night when he came to do a residency and I said “I’d like to buy you a drink!” You know, Mr. Tilson-Tomas, please, tell me what it’s like to be a professional conductor”. So he said what it was like to be a professional conductor and I thought, “I don’t want to do that!” I just don’t like the taste of some of the things he is describing. But that’s what you have to do to get a wand. Who do you have to buy off, who do you have to please off, who do you have to suck off? I’m sorry. I’m not going to go that way. He may have been pulling my leg. But still, just the same, it was not a pleasant experience. And also, where would I get the nerve to do it? And, am I going to do the real hard work to get to where I would need to be? I’m just not going to do that. So again, I was scared. I was lazy. So maybe Dr. Block was right.
I am most proud of my willingness to be myself. At the end of the day. Because every time I’ve gotten in trouble in a relationship, or gotten in trouble professionally, or with the IRS, it’s because, I have not been myself. I was trying to be something other than what I am. And that’s either social, or spiritual, or intellectual, or educational, or something, but that’s where I’ve gotten shot in the foot because I’ve refused to be who I am, at the level I feel that I should be at. And that’s easy to fix. That’s a no-brainer.
When I look back on my life, I’ve done a lot. And now, my dreams are evolving. I never thought I would want to get married and have kids and live in a house. I never thought I would find Meg Murrey. I don’t think I will ever find Meg Murrey. But to have a stable relationship. I mean, that’s a part of it, it’s not the total piece, but that’s a piece of the picture. Starting the drum and bugle corps. Having it really work, It’s having my own train set. Despite working with a loot of really good people over the years, it’s again, the same trouble I had watching the kids in the drama club. Listening to someone play a piece of music, or listening to someone tell a story, or explain something, you know…”Can’t you see that this is what it’s supposed to be like?” Whatever it is I do, I want to feel like it’s my train set and I have done it. And making that full. It only feels like it’s about 40-60% right now. You know, in drum corps, it’s really easy to break fifty. It’s moderately hard to get to seventy. It’s pretty damn hard to get into the mid-80’s, anything above 90, you are busting your ass. The highest score is..99.1 – it was pulled last year, by the Rosemont Cavaliers, that’s like…nuts. That’s what I want to get to. And I have this feeling that I could just run and run and run and run…it’s a dream I have, fairly often, I can just run and run without anything holding me back. That’s what I want, that feeling. With someone who can keep up with me. Someone who can just drop and run with me. That would be nice too. It scares the hell out of me, but that’s just how it is.