THE ABSENCE OF A PHOTOGRAPH
I have decided for this short holiday edition of The Soundtrack Of A Photograph to not actually include any of my photos. This week on Thursday millions of Americans will sit down with their friends and family for Thanksgiving. As it continues to get absorbed into a Christmas season which gets earlier each year, it has become easy to forget the nature of the holiday. It has always been meant as a day of giving thanks, both for family and friends, and life itself. It is a day to look back, and for me that usually means thinking of family both young and old, but I also inevitably find myself looking back at the friendships I have made over the years.
One of the ways we keep our friends in our minds, whether it is due to long distance or even a loss is through a photograph. These days with smart phones and tablets and all the technology at our disposal it seems such an easy thing to do when you are all together. But it was not always so easy when I was growing up. It was not standard issue when I went to college to have a camera, and one must remember, for my era, that those cameras were of course film and not digital. So unless you were into photography, it was “cutting edge” technology like the Kodak Ektralite 10 which I think was handed down to me, having miraculously survived many the Doyle vacation. I recall having to manually advance each exposure by sliding a bar exactly 1 and a half times and see the count move from 8 to 9 for example. If you did it only once the next time you tried to take a picture it would freeze up and not work. So that is the camera I had on hand through my four years at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in my entire time there, I doubt if I took more than a roll of film per year. Photography was not an interest, and I only ever took pictures of friends hanging out. There is however, one picture that has remained absent and elusive all of these years, which I hope will get corrected some day.
I have a lot of great college memories, largely with my roommate for two years Rich, most of which is unprintable, some down right embarrassing, and others cloudy due to consumption of cheap beer. But during sophomore year I began getting involved with Amnesty International, the human rights organization. A lot of college campuses across the nation were starting chapters, inspired by recent concerts such as A Conspiracy Of Hope, which promoted the organization with major acts like Peter Gabriel and U2. By my junior year, I was heading the Assumption chapter, and bolstered by a growing student movement, regional Amnesty offices such as the one in Boston were devoting much time and resources to chapters like ours. It was around that time that the Boston Regional office decided it would be a good thing to group the Worcester area schools together in a consortium, with all the schools with chapters communicating with one another and planning events. That is where I met Tony, who was attending Fitchburg State, and Paula, who was attending Worcester State.
I have to say that owing to a number of factors, but chiefly shyness and social awkwardness, I was never a leader, but always a follower when it came to these group meetings and conferences we attended. Tony was, and remains a tireless crusader and he was responsible for organizing conferences, brainstorming ideas, always with much passion. Paula just went out and got whatever needed to be done with as much passion and dedication to the cause as Tony, which included spending an entire summer in south Texas working with refugees. They both probably did not know it at the time, but now, some 25 years or so later, I can say they really inspired me. Deep down, one of the reasons I am doing this blog is as a way to say thank you guys for inspiring me all those years ago. I remember for one conference that Tony and Paula were instrumental in organizing, how touched I was when I actually got there and saw the program of events for the day, and on the back page were some acknowledgements for people who helped. Right near the top was Robert Doyle, and Assumption College. Now other than maybe saying I was attending, I do not think I did anything special. I did not make coffee, or bring the doughnuts. I did not make signs, or print programs, or book the rooms…none of it. I showed up, maybe helped with some of the workshops we were giving, but that is about it. I know the acknowledgement must have come from Tony, and maybe Paula as well, and I never really forgot about it, and secretly hoped some day that I could thank them for it. Well guys, consider yourselves thanked!
The reason I am building this up is because, after 25 years or so as friends we have all collectively had our share of ups and downs, disappointments and exhilarations. Most people do over that length of time of course, and there is nothing unique to that. Over the years I lost track of both of them over periods of time, but we always managed to find each other again in the end and renew our friendship as if there had been no passage of time. For me that is the nature of a great friendship. But the reason I am writing this and not accompanying it with photos is because….I do not have, nor can I ever recall a picture being taken with all three of us together. In duos with each other sure, but for two people who mean amongst the most to me as anyone else on the planet save for my wife Jennifer, we have never managed to have a photograph of all three of us taken, which in this tech heavy era, seems to be one of the most unlikely possibilities.
You may wonder how this all ties in with what I said at the start about Thanksgiving. Well since I have deprived you of a photograph for this one entry, I will not deny you the second part of what comprises this blog-the music. As I was beginning to develop my friendships with Tony and Paula, as well as getting a sense of the world around me living in my little dorm room in Worcester, I was also diving head first into music of all kinds. It was while on a Thanksgiving break, probably not long after getting to know Tony and Paula that I heard Closer To Fine by the Indigo Girls on a radio station in NY. I remember it clearly, and I remember that part of the reason I liked it was because I knew Tony and Paula would as well. To this day, I have always thought of it as a Thanksgiving song. This is not to deny the annual listening pleasure of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving morning, but this song meant something to us all at that time.
For me some of that was probably down to our activism, and once the cassette (yes, I did say cassette!) was purchased and the notes revealed that among various resources the Indigo Girls included was Amnesty International, the relationship was sealed. It also helped that when they sang “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, I got my paper and I was free,” we were all experiencing it at that exact moment, along with studying Rasputin and the demoralization of having a professor who did not find you so clever after you spent an all-nighter crafting the most brilliant (in your own mind) paper about The Brothers Karamazov. Another thing that stood out for me was the harmonies which have always been a major part of the Indigo Girls sound. The Irish ‘bit’ courtesy of the Hothouse Flowers was another reason. It just came together for me in a way that made it feel written for me alone. Well I was not alone of course, and though the Indigo Girls have gone from strength to strength in the years since, with a never ending well of great songs, you never really forget what and how you heard things for the first time.
Suddenly as I write this I just recalled another moment involving the Indigo Girls, Tony and Paula. There was an all day rally somewhere in Boston one chilly April day, with music and speakers planned. In my head I think there was a good turnout, though I remember being poorly dressed to stand outside all day long on an unseasonably cool day. Somewhere a rumor sprang up that the Indigo Girls had either just played Boston the night before, or were playing later that night, and attempts had been made to have them swing by the rally. Probably a Tony idea or maybe it was a collaborative one, but alas, it never happened. But the possibility of it was exciting in any event.
So this Soundtrack Of No Photograph in this case is all about my friendship with two great people, the stirrings of political consciousness between the three of us, and the beginnings of an exploration of music that grows deeper, not shallower by the year for me. To this day, it always reminds me of Thanksgiving, and about friends met along the journey, especially my friends Tony and Paula. Thanking you both for your friendship on this Thanksgiving guys.
Maybe someday Tony, Paula and I will get that photograph taken of the three of us together. I sure hope so. Until then, I urge whoever is reading this, to make sure you take a photograph this Thanksgiving and holiday season. Take lots of them. Take every combination of people that sits for dinner wherever you are having it. Remember to not just be the photographer, but get in there yourself to remember those great moments years later, a mistake I have made many times because you never know when you may have the chance to do it again.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
POSTSCRIPT-June 23, 2014
When I originally posted this installment back in November around Thanksgiving time both Paula and Tony let me know after reading it that we HAD to make this photograph of us missing for all these years a reality. It took some coordinating, but it was determined that June would be a mutually agreeable time for us all to meet. I am happy to say that I have just come back from that reunion. It was a beautiful day, both for the weather and the joy that is friendship. We all met at Paula’s house in Connecticut, and shared wine and cheese (and fabulous swordfish steaks) along with Paula’s husband Greg and Tony. As Paula and Greg’s kids ran around the yard and swam in the pool at an exhausting pace, we all had hours of engaging and stimulating conversation in the back sun room. Tony, Paula and I tried remembering as many conferences and workshops we attended back in the day, all the while laughing and sharing stories about life in general with each other. At some point Tony reminded us-I think its time to take that photo now. So I am pleased to share this photo of three friends, finally all together in the same place after a very long time-
It was a very special day. When we parted and I got back in the car to drive back to New York, I made a wrong turn and wound up driving down a beautiful winding country road. I knew almost right away that I had made a mistake, and I knew exactly what I had to do to put myself right again, but it was such a beautiful evening with the sun filtering down between the trees, lush green grass, clear ponds, and even the occasional farm that I decided to keep going for just a little bit. I wanted to enjoy the moment. It was such a special day for me to have us all together again that I was in no immediate rush. Because I had to make a number of quick changes on various roads to get back on the highway, I had no music on the stereo in order to concentrate better, but when I decided that I really should get going, as I turned around in the dusty driveway of a farmhouse on a hill, I thought this was the moment to play a song I had packed in the cd case for the occasion. Not Closer To Fine, but another song by the Indigo Girls-Hey Kind Friend. As it happens sometimes, you can miss the point of some songs for years until they smack you in the face one day. Such was the case with this song and a few years ago it really got to me, and it is a poignant reminder to me of how precious ones friends are. Thank you Tony, and thank you Paula for making this day a reality and for us all now having a tangible reminder of days gone by, and days to come. Love you both.
“Hey Kind Friend, don’t know when I’ll see you again.
It’s Ok Friend.
Closer To Fine-Music and Lyrics by Emily Saliers
Hey Kind Friend-Music and Lyrics by Amy Ray
All Photographs in The Soundtrack Of A Photograph blog by Robert Doyle