Music has always played a role in my life, and once upon my hippie journey, Chicago even colored my world. There wasn’t a time my trusty Panasonic yellow cassette recorder, or uniquely shaped, turquoise AM/FM radio wasn’t by my side. There was also a cool 8-track player in my room, one that had removable speakers, and of course the Wildcat hi-fi, which turned 45’s, allowing Steely Dan to reel in the years and Sinatra to visit New York, from a thick 78, that had once been my father’s. The diversity of my musical tastes was and still is, every bit as overloaded as the buffet restaurants where I love to eat. However, in the 60’s and 70’s, life just seemed to have spun better.
When I entered Junior High, my buffet of acquaintances also changed. Students from all around the city now met at one school, far different from the neighborhood clique of our elementary days. We shared everything from arts to dreams…some shared smokes or worse, and others having discovered puberty, shared their tongues. Life had become a festival of discovery, and around that same year, I discovered love was blue.
Elevator music was also very real in those days, and that meant instrumental, dreamy and corny renditions of any song you could imagine, was offered by anyone from Lawrence Welk to Ray Conniff (Google if you must.) One such song, “L’amour est bleu” (“Love Is Blue“) was composed by André Popp, lyrics by Pierre Cour, in 1967. The glory of this syrup-sweet song, were the alternating verses in French, which made me feel like I was more than a bespeckled fourteen year-old girl, a few miles North of Denver, Colorado. I must have listened to it every day, practicing those delicate words, as if they were pink cotton candy, and I refused to let them melt in my mouth. Then I sat next to a new boy in class, and saw his French book.
Jay, was one of those new appetizers on my learning buffet. He had come from a school several miles away, and was a gentle giant. Standing next to me we could have made another person, between my height and his bulk. Looking through our respective thick glasses, we also saw life in a special way. Our friendship continued, probably due to the fact that we were nerdy outcasts, happily meeting in our Assistant Period, where we delivered movie and film strip projectors from the Audio Visual department. It was then, that I also learned his dream was to build a Harpsichord, and thinking lovingly of Lurch in the Addams Family, it was a perfect fit for Jay’s eclectic aura and size, along with his incredible talent to draw anything. All that aside, he was still learning French!
One day I mentioned my love of the song, and my inability to accurately pronounce the words. You see, I had taken the verbal street of Spanish, and although el amor es azul may have sounded exotic, it was romance I wanted…and shit, I still do…but I digress. I remember now, how Jay laughed at my request…I’m sure it sounded like some crazy chick thing, which young men don’t get until it is too late. Nevertheless, the following day when I went into class, Jay asked me go with him to the music room. Never before had a room been more appropriately named…not for the instruments it housed, but for the chalkboard it contained…one displaying the phonically written lyrics to Love is Blue.
If that had happened today, like anyone else, I would whip-out my always present cell phone, and take a photo of Jay’s painstakingly perfect work, to save and print later. However, back then, it was a number two pencil and spiral notebook, and I wrote those words as if they were a letter to God. After I finished, Jay sang the song for me in his own oddly feminine voice, pronouncing each word, making sure I had understood his odd, but literal breakdown of sound and syllable. In that moment, I felt beautiful, and prayed to someday get to Paris. I also loved my friend and his unexpected gesture, one that had gone straight to my heart.
As years passed, we drifted into different classes and circles, and then to High School, where the process of re-assimilation started all over again. That was about the time I lost track of Jay, and traveled to Spain as an exchange student. It was there, in 1977 as I stood in a loud outdated discotheque, that a burly Spaniard, flirtatiously whispered the words to “Michelle” by the Beatles in my ear. Caught off guard, I realized he only spoke Spanish and had apparently taken great pains to memorize the French lyrics of:
Michelle, ma belle
Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble
Tres bien ensemble
An ocean and several years apart, suddenly I was with Jay, the sweet boy who had cared enough for his friend to grant an odd adolescent wish. The rest of my trip I didn’t feel as alone, because I knew I had an overweight, somewhat unpopular guardian angel watching over me.
It wasn’t until my five year class reunion, that I learned a very sad, albeit sobering fact. My dear friend Jay, who had colored the lyrical linguistics of my life, and shaded beautiful drawings on my notebooks, had died. I suppose it could have just been one of those marks on the path of maturity we have to make, loosing friends along the way and growing from what we shared. However, Jay’s untimely passing before we turned twenty-five, before an unseen health crisis of life changing proportions was different…Jay had been gay…and Jay had died from AIDS.
Talking to a mutual friend at the reunion, I learned the horror that had befallen the gentle boy I once loved as a kindred spirit, while we survived the caste system of education. The tears I cried that night, were as fresh and real, as if I had been at his wake. The world lost a remarkable soul, and then, no one knew why…worse yet, they didn’t know all he could have been.
Love is Blue was one of the first MP3 files I burned to a CD, and later transferred into a playlist. I still get emotional listening to the pink cotton candy words, all of which I can still pronounce. But now, their love is a little more blue, as I also remember a dog eared French book, a blackboard and a heart that knew compassion. It may be decades later, but yes, even then Love Wins.
Thank you Jay for being my champion of life, long before I knew I needed one, and for confirming humanity and compassion for another person is the only way to live, words I will keep in my heart until I die.