Music Makes the Walter Go 'Round

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met anybody who didn’t like music.

In fact, it seems to me, I’ve only read about one person who said he didn’t like music: Walter Lippman. His name doesn’t come up a lot in casual conversation these days, but he was one of the most respected and influential journalists of the last century. We’ll return to this paragraph in a moment but, first, this:

ATTENTION HISTORIANS: One of you smart people should write a book called “How Three Guys Named Walter Changed the World: Walter Lippman, Walter Winchell, Walter Disney.” You could certainly mention Walter Cronkite, as well. By the way, the more you read the name “Walter” the odder it begins to look. It starts to seem misspelled. Like it’s missing a letter somewhere. Please, get away from this paragraph immediately. Before it begins to affect your perception of reality.

Now, back to our original storyline. In a great book called “Walter Lippman and the American Century,” I’m pretty sure I read that Mr. Lippman was not a big fan of music. He does have a famous quote comparing music to wisdom. But, on a personal level, music didn’t move him. At least that’s how I remember what I read. It has been about 35 years so, maybe, I dreamed it. Dreaming about Walter Lippman is probably another sign of some sort of emotional or mental distress. And, when distressed, I turn to music. (Pretty clever way of getting back to the point of this thing, right?)

My Mom loved music. As a child, she and her Father would travel around Northern Wisconsin to various county fairs and festivals. He would play his fiddle and guitar while she danced on the back of the truck.

She had Shirley Temple curls and a great ear. She never really learned to read music but could play piano and guitar like nobody’s business. As she got older, she got shy about performing but still loved music. She only insisted that my brothers and I do two things: take swimming lessons and take piano lessons. Not at the same time.

For a while I thought I’d play piano for a living. I realized that it was one thing to play piano and sing in the living room with only the dog present. (The dog would leave the room fairly quickly. Although, once, she did make her opinion of my performance known by leaving a tip. I picked it up with a paper towel and sprayed the area with Lysol.) I knew I’d have to get used to playing in front of people. In our little town there was only one place that a group of folks came together on a regular basis, every day. Maplewood Nursing Home at meal times.

When I asked the nurses at Maplewood if I could come over and play the piano for the residents during lunch, they were delighted. So, for a couple of years, once or twice a week, I’d load up my Reader’s Digest Songbooks and head for the nursing home.

I discovered that, based upon my talent, my ideal audience was heavily medicated and only partially ambulatory.

The power of music is an amazing thing. When our oldest son, Alexander, had heart surgery at the age of 11 months, he went into the intensive care unit at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City following the procedure. The angelic nurses there urged me to bring a cassette tape of Alexander’s favorite music to play in his bassinet. I came back with “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” by Frank Sinatra. I explained that this was Alexander’s favorite tape. They’d never played Sinatra in the ICU before.

Alexander was sprawled out with tubes and wires going every which way. His eyes were closed tight. The nurse said he’d hear the music but don’t expect much response just yet. As the first beats of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (seemed like a great song for someone just out of surgery) started, Alexander began to bounce around. Eyes still shut but moving just the same.

Here’s Alexander, not too long after surgery. You can see his “zipper.”

Now, Alexander’s son, Owen, is loving music. He got a ukulele from his talented Uncle Taylor, who is a fine guitarist.

The beat goes on. And, no, I did not write this whole thing just as an excuse to show this adorable photo of our grandson, Owen.

There’s much more that I could write, and probably will at some point, about my family and music. Like our daughter, Samantha’s stirring performance of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” for Kansas City Legend, Bill Grigsby, some years back.

Or, our youngest son, Harrison’s dance career which began and ended with a performance of “One-eyed, one-horned flyin’ purple people eater.”

But, I think I’d better stop.

I have this fear that sleep will bring a nightmare featuring Walter Lippman singing “Purple People Eater,” with backup singers, Walt Disney, Walter Winchell, Walter Cronkite, Walter White (the former KC Chiefs great), Walter White (the guy from “Breaking Bad”), Walter Matthau and Walter Brennan.

Well, at least there will be music in that troubling dream and, as the poet says, “All music is what awakes from you….” Know who said that? Walt Whitman. But his given name was Walter.