I wasn’t born in a record store, I wasn’t raised in one, but I was incubated in one.
For nine months, I grew inside my mother, inside the Platter Shop, inside the student union, on the campus of Oklahoma State University. And while many people dismissed the idea that a baby can remember sounds heard in utero, I am completely convinced the first sound I ever heard, were the Beatles. Mom said the first time she felt me move, she was playing Rubber Soul, and after that, I would always let her know when I heard the Beatles.
Because my mother loved music, this nine-month mother daughter musical bonding experience gave me MY lifelong love and deep emotional connection to music.
At one point, mom refused to work in the store when my grandfather was there. A record distributor had convinced him that Ravi Shankar was going to be the next big thing. Now this was the 60s, but it was also Oklahoma, so he was stuck with a whole bunch of sitar albums, and was determined to sell every last one of them. He would play them over and over every time he was in the store, until he eventually sold them all.
He was a brilliant salesman, you’ve heard the old saying: “He could sell ice to Eskimos”
My grandfather could sell Ravi Shankar to Oklahomans.
Still, I’m grateful mom protected me from the Ravi, my life would’ve been very different had I been bombarded with in utero sitar.
I like to think of all the pretentious music snob banter I overheard in that store, all the “this band is better than that band” arguments and the cast of characters that frequent every record store, anywhere.
Two of those characters mom hired to work in the store, Todd and Big Tom, were both gay. And while being gay has never been easy, I can only imagine what it would be like in Oklahoma, in the 60s. Mom said the store provided them some measure of protection and she loved having them around.
Big Tom was even her escort and bodyguard when she went to the airport to pick up the latest Beatles albums…now Big Tom was not only big and gay, but black and exceedingly fond of showtunes. He would play his favorite over and over again in the store, and sing: “OLD MAN RIVER!..”
I think I would’ve liked being born in that record store, and being raised there too, but that was not to be.
February 3rd the music stopped!
And a few minutes after midnight on February 4, 1969, I was pulled ass first, screaming into this world….I even kicked a hole in mom’s uterus on the way out. But she didn’t get to hold, or even see me; I was whisked away by doctors and nurses like an alien baby born in a B-movie. Cause I was a mess!
I had a deformed head, broken collarbone, dislocated hip, a form of a club foot (my left foot was bent up, so my toes were against my shin) and I was jaundice.
While they were tending to mom, a loudmouth nurse came down the hallway and said: “Have you seen that poor baby that was just born with a club foot?”
Mom tried to come out of that bed to find out what was wrong with her baby girl, but my grandfather intervened and he eventually got that loudmouth nurse told in his own quietly intimidating, way. *He could sell Ravi Shankar to Oklahomans, and was a former Marine drill instructor.
So I spent the first six weeks of my life in a hospital, being poked and prodded and bent and reset. They sandbagged my foot back to the proper position, and I spent days with huge light shining on me for the jaundice, while wearing tiny baby sunglasses…at least I looked cool.
And while sickness will surely take the mind, where minds don’t usually go…I’m sure in my confused baby mind, all I wanted to know was…why’s the music stopped?
While I was still in the hospital my father had moved to Texas to take a job at LTV and as soon as I was safe to travel, we moved to Oaks Cliff, 4016 June Drive to be exact,
and I feel that I was happy again, because wherever my family was, there was music and laughter.
**Then on July 16, 1969 all of my father’s rocket testing at OSU, White Sands Missile Base and even in Brazil, came to fruition when three men blasted off to the moon.
Dad had tested rockets that led up to the Apollo 11 mission, and even designed a probe that attached to the landing gear of the lunar excursion module.
Now my father was what I’d like to call a Subversive Nerd. He believed, if you built it, you should be able to put your name on it, but NASA would have none of that.
Still, his subversive streak and wicked sense of humor would find a way to the moon. Before he closed the casing of the probe, he used a metal scribe and etched “Bill Duval K5UGM and his social security number”
***That part of the LEM is still on the moon…
so there is a chunk of metal embedded in the lunar surface with my father’s name on it!
I have NOW won every “my dad is cooler than your dad” contest EVER…so don’t even try.***
I asked my dad once why he wasn’t at mission control on this historic occasion, and he said he wanted to be at home with me, so he could show me what he done. And it didn’t matter that I was only five months old, from July 16 to the 24th, he sat in front of the TV, holding me, every chance he got, he even took time off from work, and explained the whole Apollo 11 mission to me.
This father daughter lunar bonding experience led to our lifelong fascination with the moon.
My dad never talk to me like I was a child, he was always explaining and teaching me strange and wonderful things.
Example: when I was nine years old he snuck me in the back door of Arlington Memorial Hospital, on a Sunday, to teach me how to use a CAT scan…again, I have photos.
When I was 12, my sister Sophie and I spent all weekend helping dad build a 20 foot diameter parabolic dish with aluminum and chicken wire, so he could use his ham radio equipment to bounce signals off the moon.
And we did, and subsequently knocked out every TV in the neighborhood…yes, I have photos of that damn dish as well.
So when I put this together in my head, when I write it down, I can see that I was never meant to lead a normal life, but as an adult, why did I let it get so bad? All the years spent dreaming of being someone else, trying to fit in, pretending to be cool, being the right girl for the guy, being all things to all people, molding myself into what I thought people wanted…. I came to a point in my life, when someone said: ‘Just be yourself.’ I had NO idea who that was.
*Why didn’t I own my weird musical, lunar history, my unconventional experiences, my fascinating upbringing, and wear it like a badge of honor?
Ever since I was a child, I have always found my own way of doing things, but as an adult, I found myself trying to navigate life while drunk/high, so I took many accidental falls or stunning swan dives into Lake Self Sabotage.
I watched others take the road less traveled while I was hopelessly lost in the woods, hacking away with a cocktail and a pair of headphones, locked inside myself, living in my own time, sifting through the music in my head, trying to find the words I wanted to say.
Now I realize, I’ve never been afraid to be different, but I am afraid of the silence.
I kept my life noisy and chaotic, because when things got too quiet, I got scared and little Baby Susan wanted to break shit…property, relationships, myself.
Then breaking an addiction gave me clarity, surviving it gave me strength.
Love brought me the words,
and Mom gave me the chance to build a new life of my own.
In this quiet house, I’ve discovered, there is healing in the silence, and that’s when the words will come.
So at 50 years old I am just now discovering who I really am and writing it down, and here’s what I’ve got so far:
**I am the deformed child of a record store owner and a rocket scientist. My head contains a million songs and I’m filled the insatiable curiosity of somebody shooting for the moon. Buried deep within my genetic code is every Beatles song ever written and abiding love for show tunes and flamboyantly gay men.**
I AM THE ROCK-N-ROLL ROCKET SCIENTIST…and that’s just the beginning of the story.
*February 6, 2019