When I was in high school, my Mom and Stepdad decided to try their entrepreneurial hand in Dallas, Texas, which left me and our hapless German Shepherd Freeway alone in a large house in Coach Hill. Sensing imminent mischief, my folks asked my older brother Jim to move into the house while they were in the U.S.
This was good timing, as Jimmy was making life adjustments after coming out of a relationship, and, as typically happens after coming out of a relationship, he was entering that raw period of uncertain freedom and growth, where one sheds the carapace of the past and emerges, naked, into a novel world of self-reclamation and discovery.
On one level this meant there wasn’t a single night during my parents’ extended leave that both my brother and I were home sober. Either Jim would come home after his night shift running the kitchen at Wellington’s, only to find me passed out drunk on the floor with the dog; or I would come home from whatever bar I had snuck into, only to find Jim hammering the keys of his piano, a small troupe of empty Budweisers dancing little jitters on top.
One night in early July my bro comes home, makes us a couple fried-egg sandwiches, cracks a couple beers, and then sits down with me and Freeway in the family room. As I tuck into my “dinner”, he pulls a cassette tape out of his western-shirt pocket. “I was down at the grounds today,” he says, then walks over to our folks’ stereo. “They had this truck on the midway called Singing in the Shower,” he says, his fingers working the necessary buttons and levers to get the tape deck ready to play. “You pick a song to do, and then you go into this little studio and sing the words to the song while they play the instrumental track. They record the whole thing and then at the end of it they give you a tape of the recording.”
“That’s neat,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says, “and at the end of the day they take their favourite and play it on CJAY-92.”
“They picked mine,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, I did Cracklin’ Rosie,” he says as he depresses the “Play” button on the tape deck. “Listen.”
The song starts with the familiar intro, and I think I’m about to hear Neil Diamond say “Cracklin’ Rosie get on board,” but then it’s my brother’s voice, and damn if he doesn’t sound good. “Holy shit man! That’s you!” I say.
“Do you like it?”
I’ll always remember that July night because it was the first time I saw my big brother, to paraphrase the great Joseph Campbell, “follow his bliss.” He began entering (and winning) singing contests held in bars all over town (karaoke wasn’t even a thing yet). He started acting. He joined community theatre (where he met the love of his life). He’s done Rogers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Gilbert and Sullivan, Andrew Lloyd Webber. He’s been in commercials, TV shows, movies. He’s done more voiceover work than even he probably remembers. And here he is last March doing Mayer Hawthorne’s revivalist soul classic The Walk.
I’m so fuckin’ proud of him.