Friday, January 20, 2012

Goodbye to Etta James

When you're young, it seems like all the notes in a good song stick a little tighter to your soul and you end up carrying them with you for the rest of your life. Then, when you hear that song again, the notes kind of pull the old years forward with them--kind of like the memories are stuck on the little stems and flags of those particular notes. When I hear Etta James sing "At Last," the years of the early-sixties in Turlock start to accumulate around me. The most most clearly focused of those years hold a memory of me being baby-sat by my cousin Patsy (closer to the age of an aunt to me than a cousin). Patsy takes over for my mom for awhile while Mom is working some hundred miles away and has to leave my two brothers and me during the week. Somehow in my memory, the boys are barely there--probably in school, and mostly I'm hearing songs--songs playing on a record player, songs from Patsy's record collection.
And this song comes on and it's perfect, because even though the lyrics are about winning her love--at last--there's such a sadness to the music. The lyrics and the music counter each other. Like they should in this song. I don't know . . . it's as if once the loneliness gets into a person, it can never really leave. It becomes part of you--on a cellular level, forever.
It kind of feels like that.
And now Etta James has gone . . . and not exactly. . . because she's in our cells, together with the loneliness and joy and everything else stored up in the years.
I'll be celebrating my birthday this Wednesday--it appears she and I share the same date. This year it'll be a lot like that song.