Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm s'posed to get a raise next week, you know damn well I won't

It's annual review season at NerdCo; don't know if that's exactly why this has been stuck in my head for a week, but so be it: Huey Lewis and the News, Workin' for a Livin'.

I think the original MTV video was so plain, just the band jumping around on a blank white set, that no one has bothered to archive it on YouTube for the ages; you have to make do with Huey live on stage, sweating through his button-down and replicating the same little jogging-in-place dance at the song's big climax that, heaven help me, I remember from the video. (Also excellent: the guitarist's Tewtally 80s!!1! checkerboard guitar strap. I thought that guy was SO CUTE when I was 12.)

My dad got cable t.v. right about the time MTV launched, when Huey and the gang were in heavy rotation...and he became a huge fan, of the band in general and this song in particular. When Sis and I spent alternate weekends at his house--he was still in Seattle then--he used to wake us up with this track, at holy crap o'clock on Saturday morning: carefully dropping the needle into the vinyl groove with the stereo already cranked to 11. If he misjudged it a little there'd be a preliminary boom of static through the speakers, like a distant thunderclap, before you were blasted out of bed by the harmonica. Sixty seconds later he'd pop in the bedroom door, grinning, to see whether Sis had plummeted from the top bunk in alarm and fallen on top of me. Reveille.

Dad spent one afternoon resetting the needle arm again and again, carefully transcribing the lyrics on a yellow legal pad because he was so smitten. He couldn't spell; I remember looking over his shoulder to read Damed if you do, Damed if you don't in scribbly black felt-tip and feeling vaguely embarrassed for us both. (Later, transcription duties fell to me: I had to copy down Ray Stevens's Ahab the Arab from a K-Tel novelty album, for Dad to perform at a friend's bachelor party or some such.)

He could pick his way (haha) around virtually any stringed instrument, but that year, Dad asked for a harmonica for his birthday. He would have been 38. I'm 38. Oh dear god. We presented it to him in the kitchen--probably a Hohner, aren't they all Hohners? and why do I remember that? get me on Jeopardy!--and Dad beamed with delight.

"Okay! What's this?" he asked, and raised it to his lips, emitting an unidentifiable bleat and blur of noise. "Come on, guess," he prodded us, to blank stares. "Don't you recognize it? It's Love Me Do, by the Beatles!" More random squawking.

"Oh," we said, me and Sis and stepmom Kathy, probably in unison. "Oh yeah, it is! It sure is!"

I have no idea what must have happened to the harmonica, after that weekend. It is possible that Kathy lost it, and no jury would convict her. But a quarter-century later, I had to download some Huey Lewis from iTunes...tiny bits and bytes of a song, flying through the air and the invisible futuristic Internets into my computer, my iPod synching up with my brain. I get a check on Friday, but it's already spent, Huey complains, an aspect of adulthood that never occured to me when I was 12. I miss Dad. But the thought of him rattling the windows in their frames with that dopey song, every other Saturday, still makes me laugh. I don't quite leap out of bed, still, in a way that he'd respect...but I'll try harder.

1 comment:

Laurell said...

I heard Huey Lewis Esq. on the radio this week and thought of you and your dad. This is much kmore pleasant than my previous association to "the News", which consisted of playing one of their tunes 5 years too late to be even vaguely cool in band.