The Four Seasons of Cousin Myron
My cousin Myron, he of fiery hair and temper, will never forgive the NYC Board of Education, or for that matter, the teachers and staff of PS 165, in Brooklyn’s Brownsville. I witnessed his embarrassment, when in second grade he, Sheldon Whitman, and Helen—something or other that starts with a “p”, were taken out to the hall, on the day before our musical rendition of “This Little Piggy,” and told not to sing but to “mouth the words.” Later, in a private meeting with the principal, he was told that his hand over his heart was enough and that he should not even mouth the words of the Star Spangled Banner. Poor kid!
We all knew that Myron was tone-deaf and that his singing—loud and often, would encourage all the stray dogs in the neighborhood to attempt wolf imitations, but still, saddling a small, red-headed, sensitive child of seven with the message, “shut-up” seems, in retrospect, cruel. Perhaps, if his teacher had been kinder, Myron might not have thrown that inept waiter through the plate-glass window of Katz’s deli—twice. There is no way of knowing.
And, it isn’t as if Myron’s singing had not threatened to end our lives prematurely on more than one occasion. Do I need to mention the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, when Myron decided it was fine to share acoustic space with Nina Simone—the perennial crowd favorite? Three of us took turns holding a hand over Myron’s mouth through the performance and three encores. My unfortunate friend, Yogi, needed six stitches to staunch the bleeding at the end of the night. He was never really able to throw right-handed again in the stick ball games on Bristol Street.
So why did my face light up with pleasure when I happened to spy Myron practically skipping down Pitkin Avenue singing “Rag Doll,” at the top of his lungs. No, his singing hadn’t improved but he seemed supremely happy—and in a way that I rarely see Myron or anyone else for that matter, happy. I crossed the street so Myron wouldn’t see me and be forced to slip back into the tough guy act he’s worn like a favorite shirt since second grade.
What’s the deal with the music of our youth? I was recently at a Paul McCartney concert and I doubt there was a single soul—over sixty, with a dry eye after he started “Blackbird singing in the dead of night.” And I understand that—it was a song tied tightly to the cultural events of our era, and some of those events were scarring. But, Myron had just been to see “Jersey Boys.” I know. I’ve seen it twice. Both Myron and I would have been vaguely embarrassed to have been caught tapping our feet to the songs of the Four Seasons when we were sixteen, seventeen and eighteen. For the most part, the lyrics were inane, the melodies ordinary and the falsetto a little scary. But tap we did. And now, after so many years, to have actors standing in for the Four Seasons and giving us the always cheesy “Walk like a Man,” makes me profoundly happy. Why? Sure, I love to hear Dylan sing, “hey, mister tambourine man…” Who doesn’t? But, I suspect I’d be nearly as cheered by Sonny and Cher crooning, “they say you’re young and you don’t know…? Sonny and Cher? What’s up with that?
In truth, I can’t explain it. Can you? I’d ask Myron—to whom “Rag Doll” is apparently still significant, but I might find myself outside of Katz’s, on Ludlow Street, picking glass shards from my hair.