Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brian's Song

Posted by Picasa On a Sunday afternoon in 1958, my parents piled their eight kids into their car, (this was before I was born) and drove up to Wallingford to visit my grandmother. After reaching Nana's house, someone noticed that my brother Brian was missing. Being that he was only about four years old at the time, my parents were quite concerned. My father jumped back in the car and sped home to find Brian sitting on his tricycle in the driveway and crying his eyes out.

Ever since that day, Brian has made sure that his presence be known.

When Brian was a teenager (in the early 1970's,) he and his friends used to hang out in a place they named "Flat Rock." Flat Rock was not as bucolic as it sounds, in fact, it was a just a clearing in the brush next to the railroad tracks that ran behind The Armstrong Rubber Factory. Hidden from parents and the local police, the boys would gather here and drink beer (undoubtedly purchased by an older friend or sibling at a minimal profit). With the smell of freshly manufactured tires heavy in the air and their vocals occasionally drowned out by passing trains, each boy would sing their own signature song.

Crow's tune was "Already gone" by the Eagles. All the boys would join in on the chorus:

I'm already gone
And I'm feelin ' strong
I will sing this victory song
Woo hoo hoo
Woo hoo hoo

The boys then sang a misogynist version of the 1950's hit "Duke of Earl":

Puke, Puke, Puke
Puke on girls, girls, girls
Puke on girls, girls, girls
Puke on girls, girls, girls

Soon it was Brian's friend Phil's turn to sing his anthem. He gave new lyrics to the Harry Chapin song "Taxi":

It was raining hard in Flat Rock
I needed one more beer to make my night

But the evening wasn't complete until Brian, or Big Mac as they called him, sang his signature song... "Tobacco Road."

I was born
Bun num! (All bystanders were required to sing this bass line)
In a dump
Bun num!
My mama died
And my daddy got drunk

Although several artists have recorded this song, no one has captured it quite like Edgar Winter did in his 1970 version (click here for sample) . This is the who Big Mac emulated when he sang:

And I love you
Because you're filthy
And I love you cause you're home

The highlight of Brian's song came when he'd hold an impossibly high note for what seemed like an eternity:

And I lo-oo-ooo-oooo-ooooo-ooooo-oooooo-ve you!


When Big Mac held this note, his face turned crimson red and his veins bulged from his temples. Legend has it, that after one such performance he gave himself a hernia and that he had to have surgery shortly afterward.

That's rock and roll baby!

Big Mac performed this song at his high school class night in 1973. At that concert he had all his classmates singing the bun num bass line, and at the end of the song he got a standing ovation. That evening, Brian... and his song, became part of West Haven High School legend.

Shortly after joining the railroad and becoming an engineer, Brian and some friends went on vacation(I forget where). He performed Tobacco Road in a honky tonk bar and the crowd went nuts. Before the night was over, a record executive approached him and gave him his business card. He told Brian that he was a talent agent for a major record label and that he would like to discuss a recording deal. Brian figured that the record executive was as drunk as he was and never made the phone call.

Now that my brother is 52- years old, he finds Tobacco Road's high notes a little too hard to reach. His new signature song is 'Danny Boy."After a few beers and a little prompting (the amount of prompting depends on how many beers he's had) he'll make his way out to the dance floor and sing:

But come ye back when summers in the meadow
Or when the valleys hushed and white with snow
Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Danny boy, Oh Danny boy, I love you so

It's enough to bring smiling Irish eyes to tears.

A couple of years ago, Brian was running a deadhead train (meaning he didn't have passengers on board) from Stamford, CT to Grand Central. (This ride that takes about 45 minutes.) He had no one to keep him company so he kept himself amused by performing a little concert in the engineer's cab. With one hand on the throttle, the other hand was free to pound out a beat on the cab console. Brian sang from Connecticut through Westchester County, The Bronx, and Harlem. When he finally reached the end of the line in Grand Central, Mark, the chief rail traffic controller was waiting for him.

Brian knew something was up so he pulled down the engineer's cab window and asked, "What's up?"

Mark said that he, as well as the rest of the railroad, enjoyed his 45 minute concert but he was going to have to call in the mechanics to repair the stuck "transmit button" on his engineer's cab radio.

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