This post is dedicated to Charles and Gloria Jean Boddie…
Please listen to “The Carriage of the Spirits” (by Ennio Morricone from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack) before reading this post.
I stumbled across this song (via phonograph) in 1995, rummaging through my mom’s record collection.
Music runs in the family.
Amidst the Commodores, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Whitney Houston records, I find Ennio Morricone’s Soundtrack to the Spaghetti Western classic, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”
“Ma,” I called out, “where’d you get this?”
I can still see my mom’s face. It’s hard losing a loved one, and though her brother had been gone for 22 years, I saw the patchwork of love, trauma, remembrance, and joy stitched on her countenance.
“That was Charles’… He let me have it when he came home from ‘skeegee [Tuskeegee]. He was a drum major and he played in the band. They played the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in one of their shows. I was in the band in high school, and he gave it to me.”
Nothing more was said. My mom left the room and I proceeded to dub the record on a tape for my Walkman (with Auto Reverse and an equalizer). That Walkman was the truth. But here’s the Truth: The 70s was hard on my mother’s side of the family. Charles passed away in ’73 and my mom’s oldest sister, Jean, passed away in ’79.
Jean… I used to sit at a piano in my maternal grandparents’ house and play “Heart and Soul” and “Don’t You Chew That Monka Chonka” (that name was bequeathed by Robert Jr). I also used to just tinker and freestyle on those chipped and well-worn keys. My mom, Gran’mama, Granddaddy and other family folk would tell me that I was sitting at Jean’s piano and that my late aunt was a musical genius.
Drum major. Musical creative genius. My uncle and aunt. I never knew them personally and yet….
It’s not easy to lose a loved one. My mom’s immediate family lost 2 in 6 years before either was 40. The 70s was hard on my family. I still wonder if we got over that collective trauma…
But I wonder and wander too much.
I should get back to the story… That’s what we humans do, right? Get back to things and not deal… Individually and collectively, we try to get back to the larger narrative…
Starting in ’92, my homeboy, Sean, and I used to wait for his or my mom to pick us up from band practice. Marching band in the fall and concert band in the spring. For three years, we’d sometimes wait until 6 or 7 in the evening to get picked up because my mom (and Sean’s) normally had to work late. Hazel Green High was over 15 miles north of our neighborhood and our moms worked 15 miles south of our neighborhood.
So for three years, my mom would drive about 45 miles to support me being in the band. But she was doing more than that. Every day, she (and Sean’s mom) was keeping something alive in me that burned in my Uncle Charles and my Aunt Jean. She allowed the spirit of music that she and her siblings possessed to be carried over into me. This was a carriage of spirits that covered time and miles, generations and school districts, life and death, records and Walkmans. This is a link between the mundane and the extraordinary.
I write music today because of Uncle Charles giving his little sister the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack the way my eldest brother gave me Uncanny X-Men #275. The way my Aunt Jean spent time in front of a piano is the way I spend time in front of FL Studio and Microphones. Though I never met them, somehow through my mom’s mundane carpooling, my stumbling across the movie’s soundtrack, the carriage of my ancestors’ spirits–melancholy and beautiful do they sound–all these things coupled with a God of love and life allowed me to experience the ineffable amidst the everyday.
… Didn’t understand about the carriage of spirits when I became drum major in high school. Didn’t fully comprehend how ancestral spirits stay with you even as I was up at 3am in the morning trying to create my first song on Playstation’s MTV Music Generator when I was in undergrad… What is burning inside of me? What am I carrying at 36 that I just can’t put down no matter how hard I’ve tried? What winds/spirits are pushing me?
I can only come to this conclusion.
There’d be no Jolowmight(x) Cervantes without my Uncle Charles and Aunt Jean.
Some would call this a stretch, a human attempt to make meaning in the midst of loss and trauma. But the people who do so underestimate the power of the mundane. I didn’t have a miraculous vision of my uncle and aunt bidding me to pursue music. No. My everyday mundane acts allowed me to be receptive of their musical sides. By living life, by being raised with and around my aunt and uncle’s children–cousins whom I love very DEARLY–by listening to family history, by being attentive and reflecting on the world around me, I was able to perceive a world beyond me. This world beyond is in radical connection to the world around. But “beyond” and “around” should not be ranked in order of importance. They should be held in tension, difficult though this might be.
This is about as judgmental as I’ll ever get, but… folks who reduce religion and faith to the miraculous and the transcendent do themselves a disservice. But that’s another post…
In life, the good, the bad, and the ugly (and beautiful) collide. I’m trying maintain a faith, hope, and love that can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I’m trying to maintain a spirituality that can mourn and allow my face to be ugly at the sight of loss, death, and injustice while still allowing for the glorious carriage of spirits in our lives. I’m not trying to reconcile the two because life is a paradox, resilient and precarious, mundane and extraordinary, absurd and meaningful. That’s why life and love should be treasured above all else. Life is best lived in the balance, and loving love is the great stabilizer. Loving Love will allow you to cry with those who are hurting and loving Love will allow you to reach for a brighter day.
“The Carriage of Spirits” is beautiful and melancholy and ends with “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” theme. Sonically, the song performs what my words limp after. Aunt Jean and Uncle Charles, I don’t remember you, yet my heart mourns when I think about you. And somehow, through music, my family, & the mundane, you’ve spoken and you continue to speak to me and inspire me deeply. And for that, I am thankful.
To my mother who kept that channel open through picking me up from band practice, holding on to that phonograph, telling me about the significance of that piano, encouraging me to try out for drum major, listening to almost every song I’ve created… Thank you. The musical connection you had with your siblings was transferred to me.
This is not a secret. I love my mama. And this particular post could not have been possible without her and the God-reality she opened me up to through her everyday acts of love and support.
My mom and my dad inspire me greatly, but they’ve always done so as human beings–not as mini-gods. They are humans struggling with their flaws yet still trying to live as best they can. In their mundane acts of self-critique, realization, and transformation, I’ve seen the power of the holy.
As a parent of two, I’ve come to understand the importance of the mundane in shaping our experiences of ultimacy.
These days, it’s not unlikely to hear my oldest daughter ask for “Da Good, the Bad, and da Ughly.” She loves “The Carriage of Spirits.” I also give my daughters the opportunity to peck and smack my electronic piano… Carry on spirits… Journey on…
Love love, have faith in love, and hope for love.
©2016 M. J. Sales