What if I couldn’t hear the music?
About forty-two years ago I played in a band and the drummer booked our first gig at a school for the deaf. His cousin attended classes there and they held dances every so often in a small community room and while there was no actual payment, we were able to partake in the refreshments which I recall were pretzels and chocolate chip cookies. Kool-Aid was also served, but this was long before the beverage got a bad rap from a sad weekend in Jonestown.
I’m struggling this day to remember our bass player’s name, but the drummer was Mole and the singer was Popeye. My guitar was a solid body Hagstrom that Frank Zappa promoted in an ad that showed up often in music publications around this time, played through a fuzz box and a Vox wah-wah pedal which was cutting edge technology. Our repertoire was standard sixites garage band with tunes from the Standells, Safaris, Cream, Count Five, Champs, Paul Revere and the Raiders and I think we did a Stones song or two.
Mole’s parents had a Ford station wagon with fake wood panels along the side, and they transported our equipment to the school, while his sister Nancy drove us as we squeezed into her Corvair. When we arrived the kids were waiting with their teachers and aids, and they helped carry our stuff into the building. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a bit uncomfortable about performing for deaf kids, because it seemed sort of strange to me that they would find us of much interest and to be completely honest here, many of them had other problems besides being unable to hear. So there was that uneasy feeling I was experiencing that many people get in the presence of what we used to call handicapped people.
When we began to play our first song which was possibly “Time Won’t Let Me” or “I Feel Free”, a strange thing occurred. Many kids moved very close to us and laid their hands on the amplifier’s speakers and on the sides of the drum kit. Some shut their eyes and swayed back and forth while others who had limited hearing disability (another word I don’t think that’s used much anymore…forgive me…I don’t keep that up with the correct vernacular as I should and mean no offense) took to the floor in front of us and danced as they could. Some needed help staying upright; others were in wheelchairs.
It was a successful gig by any stretch of the imagination. Not only did we sound pretty good to those who could hear us, but the ones that couldn’t found a way to connect. The beat of the drum , the pulsing of the speakers breathing in and out and the image of four boys making music for them clearly made an impact. We were a hit…hands shaken, hugs given, autograph’s requested and words, sometimes clear and sometimes not, of thanks and appreciation.
I was listening to a song this morning, and it doesn’t matter which one it was. It could have been recorded by anyone really… maybe even Merle, Johnny, Wilco, Elvis or Radiohead. It wasn’t any of them…but the point is that it was a blessing for me to be able to hear clearly all the sounds, notes and lyrics. There was a physical feeling of warmth when the keys of the piano were struck, and the singer began to bend the notes as they formed words and moved across and around the scale. My heart beat in time with the drummer and my fingers made chord figures in the air as I played along.
It’s the end of another year, and we make lists. We share our favorite songs, artists and albums. We debate which ones are better, which ones are worthy and those that aren’t. To the deaf, it must seem a silly way to spend one’s time.