June 2, 2018
Dear Gail and Fred,
This started out as a short thank you note for inviting me to such a warmly celebrated birthday party, a so called decade birthday for a man who celebrates them as if they’re try outs for the real ones. Like a performance of Fandango or The Natural Wonders, the short note started to lift off on its own.
When Fred exclaimed “It’s a lie!” when urged to say a few words after being serenaded, twice, in the birthday song, under a deep cobalt blue sky behind their house in Somerville. We all knew that the 80th part was a lie, one that a guy like Fred can get away with. After all, he was 70 years old for about five years a while back.
What is the gospel truth is that the glue that holds this crowd of celebrants together is music, not any kind of music, but the kind of music that draws as disparate a group of people as you’ll find at any party I’ve ever been to.
Geez, look around. Millennials to old time hippies and boomers. I’m damn certain the party is full of democrats, republicans, atheists, heretics, religious practitioners, every sexual preference, business driven to layabout characters, and all of that is checked at the door. Who comes through the door tonight is a parade of lifetime friends of Fred’s and Gail’s and patrons of their bands from saloons in Cambridge and Somerville to celebrate, the house becoming a benign gospel tent with birthday balloons hanging at the entrance.
Music from Fred-led Fandango and from Gail-led Natural Wonders is life affirming, get up and holler, dance in the aisle, groove in your seat music but that’s only the surface. Underneath, we attend their “church" for an aural salve that feeds our hungry souls, hungry for salvation and relief from an ever escalating parade of toxic media, senseless violence and politics gone awry. I walk into Toad or Sally O'Brien’s dragging the news of the day like lead shackles around my ankles. I leave in a state of euphoria that if it were alcohol would have me arrested for DUI.
“Music calls down the spirit,” Fred says. Oh, brother, does it ever.
“Everything we play is upbeat. There’s not a sad song in our catalogue, “ Gail says.
Can I have an Amen on that?
“So many people have told us over the years that listening to our music makes them feel like they’ve gone to church,” says Gail. Well, if the experience results in feeling uplifted, absolved, bonded together in a universal cloud of non-judgemental acceptance and the earth moving under our feet, what the heck else can you call it?
Forget the pulpit. Naturally wondrous sermons sing out from a bandstand that uplift and offer us the chance to go forth and be better selves, neighbors, partners…to start down the road again.
And every week Prez Susan Sullivan reminds us in an email blast the when and the where of Fandango and The Natural Wonders, when we can get right back on that road.
The location of Fred’s supposed 80th birthday party is not just a lovely home. How about a temple, a shrine to Fred and Gail's beliefs, travels, and lifetime together. When’s the last time you went to a house where they transformed a one-car garage into a “Spirit Room” filled with artifacts inspired by a trip to Cambodia where Gail and Fred found a temple acknowledging and giving equal value to Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and every religion in between. You know darn well why that rang a bell for them.
Just inside the entrance to "The Spirit Room,” right at eye level so you can’t miss it, is a photo Gail took at the temple.
“The truth is one. The paths are many.” Are you getting the idea here?
"Whatever you believe in, you can feel at home inside there,” Gail says. Does that not sound like what it feels like to be Toad or Sally O’Briens during their shows?
Perfect. Fred’s birthday party brings us right back to the source of the river, a metaphor for what’s so special about the music Gail and Fred intentionally create for us. It indeed calls down the spirit and the better natures in all of us.
And don’t think for a minute that these two are in it only as musical evangelists for our benefit.
Look at them on stage. If you can’t see that they’re deep into the spirit themselves, you ain’t paying attention.
Happy Birthday, Fred! I look forward to your next few 80th birthday parties!