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Sixteen Candles

Fifty Five feels like sixteen right now. Moving forward…concentrating on creative things at last, oh how many years have I been hungering for this? Since at least the age of sixteen, was actually a lot sooner than that, but by the age of sixteen music, writing and art were almost the air I breathed.

I wanted to be a singer…but not just any kind of singer. Nooooooooo! Blues, but more than blues….I called it Impact Singing. It was all about throwing the head back and wailing. It was especially great in Rittenhouse Square, downtown Philadelphia. I’d throw my head back and sing things like “St. Louis Blues,” while playing my guitar. The goal was to sing above the honking horns and loud bus engines. I pretended my voice was hitting the top floor of any number of buildings. People must have heard it, at least from the Square’s entrance, because they came right over and listened. Some folks dropped money, one time somebody bought me flowers. Busking was fun and was a great way to get used to performing publicly.

I’d been going there for a few years on my own, incognito and stealth of course, and loved the bohemian culture. As the years went on, the bo-beats were replaced by hippies. Less bongos lots more incense. But by the time I was sixteen, a lot of the hippie mystique was replaced by a seedy, heavy drug oriented culture. I don’t include cannabis in this…not that people didn’t use it because they did. But once the heroin moved in, flower power dried up for the most part. I went there less and less, tired of running into the same old burn outs or brand new burn outs all waiting to pounce on anybody who had money…no matter how little.

But I did go there often enough with my friend Anna to meet up with a boyfriend and have a torrid romance, including running away from home and being brought back by my parents. This adventure may have happened shortly after I turned sixteen, and of course there was longing, many one-sided letters (I wrote daily for weeks), and the final realization that he would not come and rescue me no matter how Rapunzel-like I may have seemed.

So life went on.

The experience added a bit more edge to my singing, which was still kind of soprano at the time.
For years I tried to emulate Janis Joplin and finally was able to do so when she released the Pearl album. Her voice was in great shape at the time, and my still young vocal chords chirped happily along with Bobby Mc Gee, Get It While You Can and Cry Baby.

Everybody wanted to know what everybody was going to do after graduating high school.
In 1971 it all depended on your chances of being drafted. At the time only men were being taken into active duty, and there was a draft. My brothers were eligible. It was petrifying, sitting at the evening meal for years while the news blared from the t.v. in the adjoining living room. They showed pictures from the front.

They also held what was called the Lottery, only this one wasn’t about winning money. It was about winning a seat on a ride to Vietnam. Some of my older friends were already “over there,” in places like Long Bin and Pnom Bin-please forgive any missed spellings! Occasional letters from far, far away…announcements from the Sunday church pulpit about so-and-so’s son’s pending mass of Christian/Military burial…a few coming home eventually minus parts of bodies or parts of minds. These were daily things for our little corner of the world, a microcosm of the bigger picture.

When surviving vets did come home, there were no parades or honor guards. They came home to disrespect, unemployment, insufficient post-combat services and not even so much as a thank you…not from anyone.

By the way, thank you to all vets who’ve served our nation through the years.

I wasn’t interested in going to college, although I was beginning a life long love affair with law.
It just wasn’t in the cards, my math skills were non-existent. As luck would have it, tuition in the Catholic school system shot through the roof so my brothers and I were forced to transfer to the local public school. Public school was in a lot of ways my academic life saver.

Yay! I was finally allowed to take creative based courses like writing and art. It was kind of an issue because the folks wanted me to get some kind of job training, and in that sense they were right. So I took typing, but steered clear of anything focusing on college.

Music, writing and art were calling to me, and calling to me hard. I wanted to be in California. For some reason I felt it would be a place for me to fit in, or at least offer space enough to make all the big mistakes while still young enough to learn from them. I didn’t think it was possible in Philadelphia to be all that I needed to be…I felt inhibited and like a fish out of water.

At sixteen I had dreams and nothing was going to stand in my way. Well, I still have those dreams today…more realistically framed, mind you. But I still live for being creative and am at long last living that dream!

So for today, Fifty Five is the New Sixteen because dreams held that long can come true.

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