Growing up, Sunday mornings were filled with the sounds of big bands coming from the radio and the sharp smell of sourdough steaming out of the waffle iron. For years, I’ve carried a batch of Mom’s sourdough starter with me wherever I go–OC, Glendale, Yucca Valley, Palm Springs, Montana, Colorado, Washington, and now NoVA. In all those years, I’ve used it occasionally, but in the last two years or so I’ve made a habit of making sourdough waffles every Sunday morning. This is a tradition that Mama has always appreciated, and since we discovered that 3B loves the waffles, it’s one that I don’t believe I can ever give up, although the music has changed a bit since my childhood.
As with the breakfast menu of waffles, our Sunday music choices are increasingly driven by 3B’s desires and tastes. This morning, he was once again rocking out to Van Halen, which got me to thinking about a friend from my freshman year in the dorms, Ken Boudakian, who was the only guy in the dorm with a Marshall amp. Ken put it to good use, cranking out note-for-note covers of every Van Halen song I’d ever heard, and even more that I had never heard. He would often stop in the middle of the song and make one or more points about the song structure or the technique required, which he would also do as we listened in his car, driving through the sterile, stucco OC nights, or back from an overnight Tijuana run.
I remember talking with Mom about Ken, mentioning conversations with him about being Armenian, and how Ken pointed out that anyone whose last name ended in “ian” was likely Armenian, especially in California. Mom, who I’m sure had noted this to me in the past, since she had several Armenian friends from growing up in LA, kindly just confirmed the fact, rather than saying, “Well, yes, that’s what I’ve told you 100 times.” We went on talking about music and Ken’s guitar playing until the conversation drifted on. Similarly, after leaving that dorm, Ken and I drifted on our own separate paths, bumping into each other now and again on campus, but never again after graduation.
But this morning, as I tried to catch my breath on the couch after going through the paces of Hot for Teacher with 3B several times (think of all the onstage antics of David Lee Roth, and then think of doing all of those while carrying/flinging through the air a 30-pound toddler) I thought that maybe Google could shed a little light on where Ken got to. Sure enough, it turned up the details of his membership in Spain, a little band that he formed with Josh Haden. Turns out that on their Blue Moods of Spain album, they included a little song named Spiritual, which begins
I don’t want to die
It was later covered by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny on their beautiful album Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), which makes sense now that I know that Josh is Charlie’s son. I’ve had the album and loved the song for years, ever since I saw Charlie Haden in LA, but I never knew the origins of the song. But, as if to ensure that I don’t forget it, the song has cropped up repeatedly, as other musicians have covered it.
Most notable among these, to me, is Johnny Cash, who covered it on his Unchained album, along with songs by Beck, Petty, and Soundgarden. This was an album that Mom likely gave me; if it wasn’t her who did, it was surely Brother #2 who did, because the three of us would all listen to it repeatedly at Mom’s house, chuckling over one line or another and enjoying the familiar mellow warmth of Cash’s voice. This album contains many songs, and versions of songs, that have become old favorites of mine, including Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea, Southern Accents, and Rowboat, which Mama and I love to sing together.
Unchained also contains Meet Me in Heaven, the lyrics of which we printed in the front of the program for Mom’s memorial service. They begin
We saw houses falling from the sky
Where the mountains lean down to the sand
We saw blackbirds circling ’round an old castle keep
And I stood on the cliff and held your hand
This has led me to, over the last 14 months, listen to this album more often than before. As I have, the spartan beauty of the desperation and sadness in Spiritual has grown on me, and so it was with fascination that I read this morning that Ken Boudakian had played the beautiful and haunting guitar lines on the original version.
And so it is that this man, who I hadn’t seen in over 15 years has had a hand in my recovering from losing my mother, just as it is that the music that once brought he and I together has also brought my son together with me in a ritual that I used to share with my father–less the David Lee Roth antics. And so it is that Mom, who paid for my entire college education, brought me together with this man who would play a prayer that she and I would listen to together, and that would later help me heal myself as I held on after losing her. And so it is that Mom, who missed meeting 3B by just days, helped ensure that 3B’s first year wouldn’t be consumed by the insatiable gnawing hunger and bitterness of loss, but by the redemption of a luminous melody.
And so it is that without any plan or effort from any of us, all of these threads that we each spin through life are all woven together in this unique, imperfect tapestry filled with care and love (to steal a phrase from Anthromama) that ties us all together and wraps us in its warmth.
I don’t want to die
If you hear
My last breath
Don’t leave me here
Left to die a lonely death
I know I have sinned
But lord I’m suffering”
“Can’t be sure of how’s it’s going to be
When we walk into the light across the bar
But I’ll know you and you’ll know me
Out there beyond the stars”