[I have a confession: I wrote this as one of the earliest blog-essays, published it, then took it down almost immediately, with misgivings that it simply wasn’t cool enough. Whatever that means. So here it is, in all it’s uncoolness.]
Our five years in South America were cassette years (post-vinyl, pre-CD), pared-down possessions years (so not so many music cassettes either), snail-mail and no such thing as internet- and-download years; and they were also child-rearing years, when it seemed natural to want to fill their little ears with appropriate kiddy songs. You forget how important that is until you have kids yourselves. It’s the only time I’ve written children’s songs, too..
Friends sent us cassettes from the Early Learning Centre – nice collections of Wheels on the Bus and Incy Wincy Spider type things. But I was always on the lookout for more. Most music available from city centre vendors – those mainly on street ‘stalls’ – were shoddily copied knock-offs in from Brazil and Argentina of Latino artists like – oh, I can’t remember – Xuxa? Jon Secada? Legitimately imported cassettes in more upmarket shopping malls were generally exorbitantly priced. So…some thrill, then, to stumble across a store with an eclectic selection of cassettes from North American labels – who must have offloaded huge stocks (in the advent of CDs) onto South American distributors; and they were available for…well, pennies (a mere thousand guarani note?) You’ll see more about this in others of these posts, I think, when we came to think about Bruce Cockburn and me. (see number 12)
All this is a rather-lengthy intro to my chance encounter with some new kids’ cassettes for the girlies, and, in particular, Tom Chapin, a name hitherto unknown to me. The covers of his cassettes contained colourful images of him and his family in that endearing naïf art style a la Grandma Moses. The songs, when we began to play them, we discovered to be lively, imaginative, playful, inventive…in short, a veritable treasure trove of musical fun. There were two albums, ‘Billy the Squid’ and ‘Family Tree’ – we loved them, and we played them to death, the latter, particularly being our favourite, containing two tracks with lovely rounds to sing en famille – one called ‘Rounds’ and one called ‘This Pretty Planet’. I’d forgotten, until I got the cassette out again yesterday, that Judy Collins (yes, how many more times will she get mentioned in these posts? Answer: a lot) makes a guest appearance, adding her vocals to that track, as well as to this track I’m meant to be focusing on right now.
That is, the closing track ‘Together, Tomorrow’. It’s possibly the simplest of the cuts on this sparky collection, and I will forgive if you find it unbearably twee,but in a strange way it touched a chord in me, as the ‘family man’ I clearly felt myself to be then, particularly the sprightlier-spirited me of my thirties and early forties.
How often did I say to Sue, as night came, that sleep seemed a distraction – I was just eager to get on with the next day? (Hard to believe in that same Jeff now?) Something of that here: ‘I don’t want to say goodnight/ Don’t want this day to end/ But we will be happy together tomorrow/ Together tomorrow again’. And of course that sentiment reflects the joy of family: the people you love will still be there in the morning; the ones you’ve said good night to, you can soon say good morning to!
At its best, some our more intense church and community life has also reflected that joy: I can remember late night hugs at the end of some Saturday church-activity, for instance, just glad that we’d be seeing each other again in the morning. So too, and most of all, the joy, the stability, the continuity of marriage, of course – ‘Tonight when I’m sleeping/ I’ll dream of us being/ Together tomorrow again.’ Thanks, Sue. And hey, thanks so much Tom Chapin for composing it and singing it.
[Quirky postscript: saw a clip of a very young Tom Chapin a few years after this, when someone sent me footage of an early 60s hootenanny-folk type TV show : the act preceding a young Joni Anderson (later to become Mitchell) was a trio of fresh-faced young men – The Chapin brothers! Ie the more famous ‘Cats in the Cradle’ Harry, this children’s song aficionado, Tom, and..the other one]