Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cynthia on the throne




Get up and dance to the music!
Get on up and dance to the fonky music!



Dum-dumm du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm
Du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm - du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm
[All:] Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music


[Freddie:] Hey Greg!
[Greg:] What?
[Freddie:] All we need is a drummer,
For people who only need a beat, yeah!


[Drummer]
I'm gonna add a little guitar
And make it easy to move your feet
[Guitar]


[Larry:] I'm gonna add some bottom,
So that the dancers just won't hide
[Bass]



[Sly:] You might like to hear my organ
I said 'Ride Sally Ride'
[Organ] 


Cynthia, Jerry!!
You might like to hear the horns blowin',
Cynthia on the throne, yeah!
[Trumpets]


Listen to me
Cynthia & Jerry got a message they're sayin':



[Cynthia:] All the squares, go home!
Aaaaah, yeah!!!
[Trumpets]


Listen to the basses:

Dum-dumm du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm
Du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm - du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm



[All:] Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music



Written by Sylvester Stewart • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


It took me a while to deal with this song, and it's not because I don't like it. Quite the opposite. I wanted to find the original so I could do a "mondegreen"/lyric clarification on it: none of us ever knew what all the words were, especially not through tinny AM radios in the mid-'60s. And it was intriguing to decipher them at last. The song is an example of soul music at its finest, flamboyant, infectious, full of spangles and stars. Later versions of Dance to the Music, some of them 14 minutes long, really let the band rip, and boy are they good, better than I ever remembered. This version seems tame by comparison.






Listening to a really clear stereo version of this is a revelation. We never had such an option back then. The little "guitar riff" I hear right after "dance to the music" isn't guitar! It's saxophone. Cynthia screams her head off like a banshee, which is great: whereas then, I wasn't sure there WAS a Cynthia. That shows how much I knew. This band not only has women in it (unheard-of in a major rock band), it has women brass players! And everyone knows a woman can't blow a trumpet. Don't tell that to Cynthia.

There was something glitzy about Sly and the Family Stone which would later be transmogrified into the much-slicker Fifth Dimension, but since they had the incredible Marilyn McCoo, all was forgiven in my eyes. I've never heard a voice with greater honesty and clarity, but at the same time, it was plaintive. "Bill!" she keened. "I love you so, I always will. . .Oh won't you marry me Bill, I've got the wedding bell blues." And this was right around the time I met MY Bill. Hey, the pop music of that era is so potent in my mind, so fused with those dizzy times, that I still do a little mental back-flip when I hear Crocodile Rock.





I'm working up to it, I'm working up to it, what I am going to write about. I can feel it coming on like a bad cold. It was the summer this song came out, my sister was home from university or Europe or wherever-the-hell-she-always-disappeared-to, before reappearing with something like an illegitimate pregnancy, a new fiance or a few quarts of very expensive booze. She considered herself to be a Liberal with a capital L, consciously cultivated friendships or at least associations with non-whites and radicals at whatever-the-hell-school-she-went-to, but when she came home one weekend from wherever, I made some reference to Motown music. 

She said, her face puckering in a disdainfully puzzled way: "What's MOW-town?"

I had the radio on CKLW (Windsor/Detroit), like I always did. Hey, this was Chatham, Ontario, with one of the largest black populations of any city in Canada, and a terminating point for the historic underground railroad (which I wouldn't find out about until many years later). Motown music was the pulsebeat of our lives. We were saturated in it. It blasted open the stodginess of this Victorian small town and brought it alive.

So. . . what is MOW-town. I will show you what is MOW-town.

I turned up the radio just as this song was starting. Well, someone on YouTube just pointed out to me that technically it's "soul music" (some might say "funk"), because it was never on the Motown record label. But never mind, it's the spirit of the thing.

To her credit, she did listen to it, all three minutes of it. I don't remember what she said, if she said anything, but her reaction was a sort of puzzled disdain.





The unspoken message was: if it wasn't by Brecht and Weill, if it wasn't by Alban Berg or Rautaavara, it was primitive and declasse and not worth listening to.

You can see why I have trouble with this. Oh, it's not this, not specifically. She was thirteen years older than me, and lived in another universe. I'd go stay with her in Toronto - it was a real treat for me, or at least it was seen that way - and she'd take me (I was fifteen) to adult parties and encourage me to drink heavily, and sometimes smoke pot. Older married men (I mean, in their 30s) hit on me constantly, since I was tender meat and would never say anything. The one time I DID go to my sister, terrified I would get pregnant, she looked at me with an arched eyebrow and said, "Nothing wrong with a little smooch and a snuggle after a date."

I understand all this somewhat better from my vantage-point of being about a million years older. I see now she was likely jealous of the fact that I attracted so many men - and I did, though the sloshing drunken atmosphere at these things was a factor, for sure. She once slashed at me for wanting to go sit in the living room: "Oh, so you want to go in there and sit with Derek and snuggle up to him and romance him?"


The really weird thing is, I didn't even know it was emotional abuse for years and years. The reason is, I was supposed to be grateful for this opportunity to have a social life. They were being nice to me by allowing me to drink and dope among them. And the weird thing is: I was grateful. It was a chance, and I was lucky. A chance at what? I probably had nine or ten full-strength hard-liquor drinks at these things, and went home and barfed my guts out.





What about my parents? Did they not have a clue, or what? My parents turned over in bed and went to sleep, telling themselves my sister and older brother were "taking care of me" and protecting me. But they attended some of these parties themselves, and they knew exactly what was going on. They even watched it happen.

So this song is like one of those jack-in-the-boxes, or those things that jump out of a can - you know, like the magicians have. This is but the tip of the iceberg, of course, and the abuse went on for years and years and years, but the very suggestion that ANY of it was abusive would be met with a "whaaaaat?" or a "Well, Margaret. . . you're crazy", said with a dismissive, who-gives-a-fuck shrug. In fact, "I don't give a shit" was one of her favorite expressions.

The thing is, though, my sister not only didn't find lasting happiness, she didn't seem to find any at all. She gave away her baby daughter, went through men (most of them married) like water, then slammed the door and decided she didn't need anyone. Maybe she doesn't. I am not sure.

I'm not big on this forgiveness stuff that is so fashionable right now, nor do I think I'll be consumed with anger and never find any peace unless I forgive her. A lot of people only pretend to forgive because they feel like they're supposed to. It's the thing, nowadays - you see it on television, on Dateline maybe - someone murders someone's daughter and they forgive the killer. Makes them look pretty damn saintly, so there is payoff. 





You know, this is pretty incredible, but I actually found a Facebook page for my sister, though it was established in 2012 and has two posts. I see this a lot, and I am not sure what it means. Why establish something you're not going to use? I also found a Facebook page for one of her old boy friends. I really liked him, and though he was very nice to me and flattered me, he never once made a pass. That was rare. I found a photo of him, and he's just an older version of himself, and you see the goodness shining out of his face.

But she dumped him. He had problems (her being one of them). He wasn't good enough. So fuck him, he was out.


There's a lot on the internet now about narcissism. Back then, I called it "Pat". It was this inchoate mass, this churning in my stomach, this feeling I would never be good enough and I wanted to die and it was my own fault. Now I know my sister was the queen of gaslighting, and she did it due to the sucking void, the great nothing, the three zeroes at the centre of her own life.

"So now you think you've got your whole life solved. Is that what you think?" This is what she said to me, verbatim, at my wedding. After watching me play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, her reaction when she came backstage was, "You weren't boring." When I looked hurt, she gave me the "whaaaaat?" reaction. It's just incredible. But that's how it was, and maybe still is, or maybe not. Though I think she is still alive now, and living alone. She'd be 75 years old.





This always brings me around to "where we are now", and it does seem like a bloody miracle that my current family brings me such joy, such pride, so many good times, such laughs. But in spite of what she thinks, it didn't land on my head out of the sky. I co-created this situation with my husband, over 40-plus years of commitment and devotion. Some of it was very, very hard. Can you believe there was fallout from all that sexual and emotional abuse? I once told a psychiatrist about it, and halfway through the story I noticed his mouth was hanging open. "Why didn't you tell me about all this before?" "I didn't think it was important."

I was on the track of forgiveness, and got sidelined. What I can manage, at least part of the time, is pity. I just feel sorry for anyone who would feel that OK about slashing and burning and leaving the scene. I don't think she feels this nearly as much as the people in her path, however. Narcissists are good at dealing out cards, poison-dart tarots of death, but lousy at playing the cards they are dealt.

I'm not sure how Dance to the Music got me here, and I was sure if I followed this path it would take me into some rough waters. I still feel baffled, and I feel pity - I suppose condescending pity, but that's all right. Hey, feeling anything at all, being above GROUND after going through all that, is quite admirable, I think. 






My sister has always called herself a writer, and when she decided to be a novelist, she took home a hoard of my grandmother's old diaries and believed that if she read them, a novel would appear. She kept talking about wanting to get in touch with Margaret Atwood. They were obvious colleagues and just hadn't met yet. The novel never materialized, nor did anything else. In what world would a person like that ever risk shattering her most cherished illusions?

I've pursued my writing doggedly, written three published novels and keep on blogging, I suppose mainly for myself. But I do the work, that's the thing, I don't just talk about it. For some reason, trying to wind this up, I keep thinking of the setting for a gemstone. It has to be held by something, surrounded by something. In my case it was a sort of molten meteorite hurtling down from a death-planet, but somehow or other, the gemstone, the amber or hematite or whatever-it-is, stayed intact. It didn't really crack up after all.





Post-whatever. It occurs to me that my representation of the lyrics to Dance to the Music sucks raw eggs, because you can't even tell what it SAYS. I was too busy being fancy with the text, playing around with colour, etc. So here are the "real" words. I did change one word, sensing a mondegreen. Instead of "listen to the basses", I substituted "the voices", because I can hear an "oi" sound in there.


Get up and dance to the music!
Get on up and dance to the fonky music!

Dum-dumm du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm
Du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm - du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm

[All:] Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music

[Freddie:] Hey Greg!

[Greg:] What?

[Freddie:] All we need is a drummer,
For people who only need a beat, yeah!

[Drummer]

I'm gonna add a little guitar
And make it easy to move your feet

[Guitar]

[Larry:] I'm gonna add some bottom,
So that the dancers just won't hide

[Bass]

[Sly:] You might like to hear my organ
I said 'Ride Sally Ride'

[Organ] 

Cynthia, Jerry!!
You might like to hear the horns blowin',
Cynthia on the throne, yeah!

[Trumpets]

Listen to me
Cynthia & Jerry got a message they're sayin'

[Cynthia:] All the squares, go home!
Aaaaah, yeah!!!

[Trumpets]

Listen to the voices:

Dum-dumm du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm
Du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm - du-du-du-du-du-dum-dumm

[All:] Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music

Written by Sylvester Stewart • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


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