Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dread Tamales

My friend Pascal and I were in the fifth grade together, back when there were no computers, no e-mails, no music videos.  Imagine.  Or remember.  Whichever.  These days Pascal and I attach music videos to e-mails we exchange on the internet.  Before Christmas, he sent me a YouTube from Gounod’s opera Faust Pascal and I have been planning to attend the encore showing at the North I-85 Regal Hollywood 24 of the Met Live in HD production.  I e-mailed Pascal a link to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard singing Pancho and Lefty. 

"All the Federales say
They could have had him any day."

Did they say, “dread tamales?”   Sometimes, due to my hearing loss and subsequent cochlear implant, everything sounds to me like Alvin and the Chipmunks announcing the subway stops at the Atlanta airport.  I wished I could have heard Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard even that well, but it made me happy just to watch these two old geezers, both great artists, and remember their beautiful voices.

On Christmas day, my wife Annette and I visited daughter Heidi and her husband Buke and children Ava and Evan in Camp Hill, Ala., near Auburn.  We were invited to Christmas brunch with Heidi’s in-laws.  Deafness is as much a social problem for me as it is a disability.  I try to head off at the pass the usual discomfort and embarrassment by describing why I do not hear or understand a word anybody says in group conversations.  I mention Alvin and the Chipmunks and describe the hardware and electronics of my cochlear implant to exceed anybody’s interest.  I say that my cochlear implant is a medical miracle but technologically inferior to any $40 cell phone at Wal-Mart.  For good measure, I explain my difficulty in distinguishing the difference between social conversation and rumbling from the dishwasher. Heidi’s father-in-law Chester, a retired professor of electrical engineering, is listed on the internet as a certified founding father of computer electronics, holder of patents, and plaintiff in lawsuits against giant corporate infringers.   Heidi’s father-in-law volunteers, “You need a noise filter.”

That is what I’ve been trying to tell the cochlear implant professionals for five years.  They know more about the practice of medicine and collection of insurance payments than I do, but I have seen no evidence they know as much about audio electronics as an AT&T telephone technician or anybody sitting behind a mixing board at a Nashville recording studio.  I told Chester I had worked in telecommunications for three decades, because the army made me a radio teletype operator.  He said, “I want to show you something.”  He left the room for a few minutes and returned with his graduation certificate from the U.S. Army Southeastern Signal Corps School, Camp Gordon, Ga., named Ft. Gordon by the time I also became an alumnus.  Later that afternoon, as I sat snoring in an easy chair back at Heidi's house, Chester came by with a pair of earmuff headphones for listening to things on the computer.  He suggested that I cup them over my cochlear implant earpiece for their strong noise filtering capability.  My first try at this was encouraging, so I bought a $24.95 GE computer headset with adjustable volume control, telephone adapters included.

Pancho and Lefty has never been a song that meant much to me, although Emmy Lou Harris sang it like an angel, and the Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard duet turned it into a number one hit.  The song was written by Townes Van Zandt with minor chords and haunting rhymes and reasons, as happens when you just can’t help it and the fever takes hold.  I rang in the New Year 2012 listening to Faust through my new headset, and I enjoyed it so much I gave the Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard YouTube another try.  I heard Merle Haggard clearly enough dedicate Pancho and Lefty  “to all the folks out there who make their livings on the road like we do.  All the drivers.  All the musicians….”  I played the Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard music video so many times I forgot to count.  Again and again, the old geezer trio, sang:

“Living on the road, my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean.
Now you wear your skin like iron, breath as hard as kerosene...."

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