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The Kaddish For Dick Ackerman...


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I wanted a kaddish in memory of Dick Ackerman, our blues harp player, who died December 29 (his 80th birthday). The kaddish is an old Jewish tradition that, while I’m not Jewish, I’ve always liked. It’s called the “song for the dead,” but it’s not FOR the dead, precisely—the dead are either in a better place or otherwise don’t care—but rather for the living, for those left behind. The idea, as I understand it, is that a person lives on in the ways they have touched other people’s lives, and the kaddish sort of expresses that; it says why that person was important.

I have previously written two kaddishes (kaddishi? I’m not sure what the technical plural is). The passing of Corky “Dawg” Bernard, my first mentor as I explored songwriting online, prompted “Requiem for a Grey Dog,” written for his wife Bobbie. “Crosses by the Roadside” was originally going to be for Carol Ackerman—at the time, Dick was undergoing surgery and chemotherapy for cancer (I guess they didn’t get it all)—but after Dick’s health improved, I dedicated the song instead to fellow songwriter Sharma Kay, who was killed in a car accident this year (and “Crosses” is describing an auto accident, after all). I don’t know if anyone but Bobbie ever heard “Requiem for a Grey Dog”; I know a lot of people have heard “Crosses by the Roadside,” because it’s been performed a lot.

And the kaddish for Carol? I just might have one already. A few years ago—back before “Alice” the ‘puter got the Windows XP upgrade that erased all her document files—I’d worked with a “Christian country” lyricist, Tarra Young, on something she’d written for a friend who was dying of cancer. I musicated it (tweaking the lyrics a bit, as usual), recorded it, and sent it to Tarra—and never heard anything. I found out a little while ago she had a Soundclick page, and the song was on it. (I guess she liked it.) The link, by the way, is http:www.soundclick.com/share?songid=5361727.

I think—tentatively—this is the kaddish for Carol. It’s a bit upbeat (Carol being a good religious person, and knowing Dick has gone to a Better Place); expresses the sadness of missing him while at the same time being happy to have known him; and has that lovely line in the chorus, “You’ll make a real good angel.” And of course, the sentiments are a lot closer to home now than they were then.

It’s not Jewish music, of course—none of my kaddishes (kaddishi?) are. I haven’t written any Jewish music. (I should. One of the items on the 2010 Worklist is to write in different genres.) “Requiem” was bluegrass, and the other two are two-steps. (Yes, you can dance to this.) My guitar playing on the recording on Tarra’s Soundclick page is a bit hesitant; I would not be hesitant now. (I guess that means I have gotten better since whenever-that-was.)

I’ve been practicing singing it; I still can’t get through the song without my voice breaking, but it’s getting better—the trick is to stuff all the emotion into the singing, while remaining unemotional yourself. That’s just hard to do when something hits very close to home. I want to play this the next time I get together with the Friday Night Group (which won’t be for almost two weeks), because all of them knew Dick; it’d be neat if we could all play it for Carol when she gets back. In the same vein, I wonder if the band would be interested in recording it. I’m not sure it should go on the album; if it did, I’d want to dedicate the album to Dick, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing to do. At very least, I’d like to give Carol a copy of the song done by the band he helped make famous.

Music this week Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and maybe Sunday. It’s been a long hiatus.

Joe

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