THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT (April 26, 2021)
Why do I save seemingly useless things? Shortly before the pandemic hit, I was writing a song entitled “A Dead Man’s Clothes”. I remember that I completed it shortly after the first lockdown. When the pandemic struck, we were concerned that (Martini Music) ET’s caregiver, reliant on public transportation, might not feel safe travelling to work every day. While ET is fiercely independent and generally capable, we insist that she continue to have some assistance while in her own home.
I drove down to Toronto to bring Shauna Leigh’s Mom “ET” back up north to our house to keep her isolated and safe until things settled down. We didn’t know then how serious things would get. We could not risk the very real possibility that ET would be alone with no caregiver during an extended lockdown. I finished the above-mentioned song and performed it live on Facebook while ET was still up here, sitting in the room listening. I will always remember that performance. ET ended up staying with us for several months, and she was here up until the day Shauna and I brought our brand new puppy, Sydney, home to live with us.
As I’ve said before, songs are milestones for me. I remember most of the circumstances that influenced the writing of my songs. As the days pour into months and the months spill into years, those songs are fixed markers that remind me of my personal history. Sometimes, when I am on shaky ground, writing those songs centers me. Yesterday, I was out of sorts, to put it mildly. Anxiousness got the better of me, and it seems that my low ebb often coincides with the arrival of a full moon. For some reason, I tend to feel the effects of a full moon a day or two before the actual event. Tonight, marks the rise of the full “pink super moon”. It seems like only yesterday that I remember learning about that pink full moon back in 2020. It was about the time I completed that song.
Why is it that I can’t discard certain mementos? In the burn basket next to our fireplace is a Buffalo street guide booklet that I must have saved 7 or 8 years ago when I was cleaning out my parents’ house to be sold. The guide was in a drawer in my father’s desk. I’ve been meaning to burn it, but every time I look at the old Buffalo ads printed in it, I end up throwing it back in the burn basket. Judging from those ads, it was likely printed in the late 50's or early 60's, at the beginning of my life in Buffalo. We sold so much of what was, for 60 years, a part of our Buffalo family home, but we did keep some furniture and mementos. I suppose that old street guide is just one more reminder of my distant past. I just can’t find it within myself to get rid of it. Also found in my father’s desk, probably dating back to the 1940's, was an old theatre program from an opera company. It had my dad’s handwriting on it. I feel the same sentimental attachment to that as I do about the guide. That program keeps resurfacing as well. I'll never know why he kept that program. While it may not make sense to others, I’ve kept it because for some reason, it was meaningful to him.
It was the death of my friend James Carroll that prompted me to write “A Dead Man’s Clothes”. The song is about what we leave behind when we die. As songwriter Jon Brooks reminds us, “... if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go.” Shauna and I have collected so many vestiges of lives passed, so many mementos of happy times, and as we age, the collection grows. I have shirts and jackets that belonged to James, an old cowboy hat that my dad used to wear, concert tee shirts that belonged to my late brother-in-law, and a watch my mother gave me. I walk around our house, and everywhere, there are photos and knickknacks that belonged to loved ones long gone. In our log home, built on the site of the old Taylor family cottage, we incorporated many of the windows, doors, and other architectural features from the old cottage into the construction of our new home. We even converted the old Guelph wood stove that used to heat that cottage into a wet sink for our guest bathroom. Every time I look at it or use it to wash my hands, I smile and remember the cold winter nights we used it for warmth while we designed our new home. Who is to say what is valuable to a person, or what will be meaningful to him or her when we are gone? That is what my song is about.
“My dad had a cowboy hat he wore out west
I kept that hat and gave away all the rest
I put it on sometimes, then I’m up on his horse
Looking down the mountain at the desert below.
A coat, a hat to make the memories last
I guess I just can’t let go of the past
Watching my life pour through the hourglass
Will anyone wear my clothes, when no shadow do I cast?”
Written by Jamie Oppenheimer ©2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED