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Music Minus One

ISSUE:  Winter 1997

”. . . Music minus the solo melody partwith the tapes or
records providing the background music, you can play an
instrument or sing along with the band, try your hand at Grand
Opera, or even perform a concerto, surrounded by a full
symphony orchestra.”

-From the Music Minus One Catalogue

Sunday afternoons, my father practiced
flute in the family room.
He warmed up, playing scales
while my mother worked the crossword puzzle
in her wing chair, like a throne.
Three o’clock and she was still
wearing her nightgown and slippers.
Our store downstairs was closed.
She was sick of looking at dresses all week.
Sunday was her day of rest.

I sprawled on the floor with my homework.
Each in our little orbit.
My father gave it all up when he married her.
Abdicated, like the Duke of Windsor.

Music was no life for a family man.
During the War, he had led the band
in the Marine Corps, in the South Pacific.
In the photo, each man poses with his instrument
except my father, holding a baton;
clarinets and saxophones leaning against their chests,
like rifles at port arms.

It was my job to start the record over.
The sheet music, stapled to the album cover,
was propped on the music stand.
The needle skated its single blade

in smaller and smaller circles on black ice.
The needle skipped. He was a little rusty.
When he lost his place, it left a hole in the music,
like silence in a conversation.

You had to imagine his life before the War.
At fifteen, on the Lower East Side, he played weddings
and bar mitzvahs;
at sixteen, he toured with the Big Bands.
You had to imagine him before
he changed his name from Joseph Sharfglass
to George Shore; you had to imagine him
handsome in his baby blue tuxedo
when he played with Clyde McCoy’s orchestra
lighting up hotel ballrooms from New York to California
and all the road stops in between.
One enchanted evening in Connecticut,
he saw my mother.
A week later, he shipped off to the War.

You had to imagine his life before the War—
the one-night stands, the boys on the bus,
and in its wake the girls
with plucked eyebrows and strapless dresses
surrounding him like the mannequins
as he stood behind the counter
of his store, waiting for customers,
in New Jersey on the Palisades.

You had to imagine him occupying the uniform
now folded neatly in his footlocker
under the telescope pocked with rust—or bloodstains—
a souvenir from the War.
The record spun. He caught his breath.
The music raced on without him.


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