Monthly Archives: March 2010

RIP – Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, Age 59.

My first memory of hearing the song “The Letter,” is from when I was quite young and musically unsophisticated, to say the least. But I remember hearing that voice and basic melody out of the tiny, tinny speakers of my transistor radio.  And as I sit and think back today, as bad as it must have sounded, to my young ears song sounded like heaven to me.

There were those first few syncopated drum taps…tap…tap…tap, and then the first couple of guitar chords and right into those urgent sounding words….

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain’t got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home,
‘Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.

Oh, how I loved that pop music when I was just a kid. Oh, yeah.  It was pop music, but the vocals by a man who’s name I didn’t know, but now know was Alex Chilton, had a sort of sloppy desperation. How could that be. A pop song with desperation. This was something new. And I sure liked it. It was a paradoxical way of communicating that I still love today.

But this song…”The Letter,” well, it had the hooks and the melody that were essential to me for a song to be truly great song.  And this is a song with a killer bridge…well, actually kind of a double bridge.  In just four lines Alex Chilton gave you all the background you needed to know to understand why he needed to hit the road so fast, so bad…

Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no mo’.
Listen mister can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once a-mo’–anyway…

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there was something about the way Chilton pleaded out the word, anyway…, man, you just knew that this was all the info the character in the song needed to hear to get him on that plane.

It was all there.  All there in that letter.

Alex Chilton would go on to write a ton of other great songs…going from simply pop to power pop, in the same tradition as The Raspberries.

Chilton said when asked one time that he didn’t seek or savor fame and fortune.  He was one of those frontmen who simply had a ton of soul and a love for playing.  That was more than enough.

Thanks Alex


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Memories of my Aunt Joan

My Aunt Joan passed away last week and, although I couldn’t make it to her funeral, I wrote out some memories of her from younger days for her family and friends.  

If I close my eyes, I can still see her face, her radiant smile, her loving eyes. Always those loving eyes and arms wide open. The way the lines curved around her mouth to form a kind of parenthesis when she laughed. Inside those parenthesis was an inner knowledge.  And that knowledge was all you ever had to know.

If I close my eyes,  I can go back to my childhood.  Those lazy days on Old Cape Cod.  I would look forward each year to the arrival of the Munnis clan on Cape Cod.  Time to be entertained by Uncle John; time to hang out with John Jr. and Liz and Jeannie Munnis.  And time to spend in the comfort of the cottage which always felt so welcome because of Aunt Joan.

Aunt Joan had one thing that I admired so much and, to be honest, was a bit in awe of.  She had uncommon grace. It must have come from deep inside her.  Every movement she made seemed graceful.  Every word she said or question she asked (and she always has plenty of questions) were imbued with a quality of grace. To borrow a word from a favorite card trick of Uncle John’s,  I can tell you that Aunt Joan has grace in spades.  Or was it clubs?

And then there was that special laugh.  As a family we were lucky to have such great laughers.  If laughing were an Olympic competition, Nana would always win the gold.  But Aunt Joan would be a very close second, and might even challenge her with her full-throated, rumble of a laugh that was always so contagious.  If Nana and Aunt Joan were both laughing at once, neighbors might wonder exactly what was going on.  It was a thrill to hear and before you knew if, you’d be laughing too.  What had a second earlier been a quiet discussion would erupt into a quake of merriment that might register fairly high on the Richter scale.

I was always fascinated by Aunt Joan’s sheer joy of simply enjoying a moment.  She seemed to love the simplicity of being with her family and friends.  Her personality would bloom whenever the cottage on the Cape was filled to the brim with family and friends.  She didn’t require any special entertainment or attention.  She just loved sitting (or more likely serving) her loved ones and talking.  She was a great talker.  And that is saying something considering the fact she was frequently surrounded by the greatest talkers of all, her husband John and brother-in-law Joe.

Sadly, we grew apart as the years passed us by, but this is the nature of life itself.  It was always a delight whenever we’d have a family reunion.  The one in Loveland was the most special of all.  Aunt Joan hosted the entire Munnis/Bishop/Kelly clan.  And not even the noisy cicadas could drown out her sweet voice. Yes, I loved her voice.  I even loved the cadence with which she would say my name.

There was something truly amazing about how Aunt Joan would make each of the cousins feel special in their own way.  She would show true and legitimate interest in our achievements, regardless of how important or trivial they might have been.  On a personal note, I have my Aunt Joan to thank to the consolation that she provided when I’d return from an afternoon down on the beach Jetty, without a single fish to show for my efforts.  That was the thing about Aunt Joan.  She loved you whether you caught the fish or didn’t.  It was pure, true, and unconditional love and I’ll never, ever forget it.

She may have passed from this sometimes troubled world of ours to wait for us in the next one.  She is now with Nana, Aunt Jean and my sister Elizabeth and all of our other relatives who have made the passage.  And even though I love and cherish each day that God provides, I can’t wait to see her again.  I can’t wait to witness again that remarkable grace.  I can’t wait to be held in her loving arms.  And I can’t wait to hear her wonderful, contagious laugh.   I loved every minute I was around my Aunt Joan.

So close your own eyes for a second and allow those wonderful memories to rush in of Joan Frances Munnis.  Allow yourself to be comforted with those memories filled with wonder and joy. Memories filled with the graceful elegance and warm embrace that we all felt when we were in the her arms.
May God bless her and keep her forever.

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