“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The scene is gold light in my memory. Other scenes for my childhood aren’t as warm, aren’t flaked with mica and silacarb. Other memories are filled with sadness, or fear. But this one is like when you hold a negative to the light and everything is coated in honeyed tones and a little blurred.
I caught my father’s eye and he gave me my cue. When we were here, with the music, he was patient. At other times, he would cut me off mercilessly if I chattered or asked for food or bathroom breaks. If I wanted to do anything that wasn’t on his to-do list—kids’ things, like skip around the parking lot, or have a shave ice on a hot day, maybe watch a hibiscus flower surf down the storm drain—anything that interrupted his focus, I would be spanked with whatever was handy and ordered not to cry. Not where anyone could see, of course. He never wanted anyone to see how furious he would get when he was interrupted, when he was talked back to. And he had a knack for being able to find a ruler or whip off a belt—quick, before anyone saw. The sharp sting of six, twelve, more thwacks made sure I stopped interrupting. If I called out, his huge hand would wrap around my mouth, cutting off my scream, my cry of pain, my breath. The hand would stay there until I looked “calmed-down”—his words. There were times the hand stayed there until I went limp, fell over, passed out.
I got excellent at not asking for anything, and especially at not crying. Crying was never allowed.
But with the music, he was patient. You couldn’t hurry music.
His beautiful tenor voice came over the PA system. “Take up that mic, Kas, and sing something.”
This was the best part of music—just before the singing. The crowd in my imagination, waiting, expectant. My father in the recording booth; he was my only real audience. It was the first time, the first Saturday, of what would become weeks of Saturdays, when I went with my father to the music studio.
He smiled, a winning, joyful smile that said “Hey, hey, let’s have some fun.”
I smiled back, my face stretched tight.
Edward George Kiefer, my father, sat with his thick, black-framed, military-issued readers low on his nose and a sharpened number two pencil behind his ear. Through the lenses, pale blue eyes focused on the dials and gauges in his new recording studio at Hickam Air Force Base, in Hawaii, on the island affectionately known as The Gathering Place. He was a handsome man, friendly looking, with sandy-blonde hair, and features that some might have considered delicate. He was slight, only 5’9”. In his band days he had a lot of nicknames: Whitey, Kief, Sarge, Crooner, Bass Man, but “The Kid” was one of his favorites.
The nickname started in Atlantic City, when, at fourteen, he played bass guitar backup for strippers in so-called gentleman’s clubs. The Kid was the kind of nickname that disarmed people. Relaxed them. He liked that. He encouraged the name. It let him seem harmless, just a great musician wanting to play music.
He told me once, “It doesn’t matter if people like you, but it does make things easier.”
How people saw him helped later when he joined the Black Musicians’ Union in Washington, D.C. It was the mid-1950s. My father was the bass player in a mixed-race band. They played mostly jazz, but also radio hits.
He would always say, “My guys, they were the best musicians in D.C. Even better than Billy Eckstine’s band. But don’t tell Billy I said that.”
Because it was a mixed-race band, though, they couldn’t play whites-only clubs. My father also couldn’t join the White Musicians’ Union. So he joined the Black Musicians’ Union instead. That meant he could play at any of the jazz, bebop, and cabaret clubs on U Street in the North Central district. He could also play in the dimly lit, wood paneled taverns in the area known as “The Hub.”
He genuinely loved those smoke-filled clubs. Only there could he hear musicians like The Clovers, The Moonglows, Sarah Vaughn, Charlie Byrd. Once, the owner of one jazz club worried about the pale, tow-headed bassist, The Kid, playing that night. There were rumors of agitators—men who didn’t want segregation to end—going around the district, damaging bars and roughing-up tourists and even locals. Before the gig started, that club owner had my father and his bandmates pull jackets up over their heads. The waiters smuggled them into the club through the kitchen off a back alley.
He said “I didn’t mind hanging out in the alley with the garbage, waiting for them to get us inside, because it was about the music. What’s a little garbage?”
You can read that story a few different ways, of course.
My father was no revolutionary. Maybe he saw the black musicians as trash, but he “didn’t mind” working with them. This interpretation might be borne out by other things he’d said throughout my life.
When I was twelve and brought home my first real boyfriend—Frank, middle school football hero; tall, broad-shouldered, and black—my father literally showed him the door. When I spent hours on the phone with my next boyfriend, Mike, my father pointedly asked me if he was white. Mike was a poet, and his family had recently moved to the US from Puerto Rico. I was forbidden to speak to Mike again.
But he might not have meant the black musicians were trash. Musicians, he was wont to say, are a different category of human: not a gendered or racial thing, something other. Something unique and unusual and precious. In direct contrast, non-musicians were limited to easily classified groupings.
Alternatively, when I was growing up, whenever I had an argument with a classmate, he would tell me to “Be like a duck, let it roll off your back.” And then he would swoop his hand over his head and wink at me. It was years before I realized he was suggesting something else. My mother would shake her head and say, “Ed, stop being such a damned elitist.” Further confusing me.
I don’t know that he could help himself, though. His mother, Mary Willhemina Buck, was a shy, soft-spoken young woman who sewed her own party dresses for the German-only dances she was required to attend. His father, Emil Kiefer, was a huge man who didn’t waste time softening his gruff, blunt nature. My father internalized Emil’s elitism and Mary’s nationalism. He also internalized his parents’ infatuation with education, which later led to him encouraging me to go to college.
But I’m not sure that was what my father meant about being out in the back alley with the trash. Again, he was no revolutionary.
Once, my dad met Herb Alpert. Alpert was recording a new Tijuana Brass album, even though the group had disbanded. This was in 1969, 1970. Through some magic of being in the right place at the right time, my father played and sang backup on several of Alpert’s records.
My sister Maryellen never believed my father was on those recordings because he didn’t get liner credits. I asked about that once, and he said, “There were a couple of weeks when the Nomads were recording for the Air Force. Herbie needed some guys to fill out the sound. We weren’t actually allowed to be there, you see. Not in any official capacity. So they couldn’t give us public credit. And we couldn’t take any money for it, either. But my guys, they didn’t mind. It was a gas to hang out with Herbie and his band.”
No liner credits—no problem. No union pay—no problem. It was always about the music for my father.
In Hawaii my father played off-duty gigs almost every night.
Because of the booming tourist industry, there was a lot of work. Waikiki was a favorite vacation spot; people came for the tropical beaches, and to see where the television show, Hawaii Five-O, was filmed. The clubs, particularly those that catered to tourists, were busy, offering live music. After work on weekdays, my father would spend hours on the phone, leaning against the doorframe in the space between the dining room and the kitchen, usually still in his uniform. The receiver cradled against his ear, a stack of bar napkins with names and phone numbers spread out on the counter in front of him, while he tried to help a favorite bar owner find another bassist, drummer, singer.
He would say it was about helping guys get jobs.
And my mother would say, “Ed, you’re just trying to make sure everyone likes you. Everyone already does. Stop performing.”
He would hang up the phone, smiling and pleased with himself.
She would make a small, unhappy gesture. Maybe sigh, maybe cluck her tongue.
A fight would often ensue. I hated when they fought.
One time, he was wheeling and dealing on the phone, laughing too loud, telling one or two bawdy jokes, off-color humor that had my mother cutting her eyes to me and straightening her back.
As usual, a book was open in front of her. She sat with her back to my father. She did the tongue cluck and a shiver prickled my neck. The air slowed, and I waited for the shouting.
He hung up and said, “What is it, Ruth?”
Without looking at him, she ashed her cigarette. She said, “Why do you need to act like everyone else’s manager?”
His ankles were crossed, but he was sparking with energy. I could feel it from across the room where I was lying on my stomach on the Lanai, pretending to watch cartoons. I had Barbies around me and a coloring book and crayons. The sliding glass door was open to the backyard and the entire room smelled of roses, mangoes, and plumeria trees. I wanted to leave before it got combustive, but I was afraid the movement would focus their attention on me.
He came around so he could make eye contact. Two things my father loved when he was talking to someone: saying their name and making eye contact. He tried to flatter her first. “They don’t have a great manager like you, so I’m helping them out.”
She sipped her can of Fresca, but didn’t respond.
“Look,” he said. “I can’t be in two places at once and if Joe needs a bass player, Charlie’s a good one.”
“He’s not as good as you.”
“But I’m busy.”
“I don’t know why you have to be the one to make it happen for Charlie, or whoever.” She stood up, fingers holding her place in the book, and left the room.
My father looked at me and said, “Your mother doesn’t get it.” He walked across the dining room and out onto the Lanai.
I held my breath.
Hands on the knees of his pressed slacks, he said, “Charlie is almost as good as me, which makes me look like a good guy because I helped Joe find a bass player, but the bass player isn’t me.” He winked at me. “You get it, Kas, don’t you?”
I don’t know that I got it, but there had been no battle. Better, my father looked at me like we were compatriots. When my father looked at me like that, like he and I had a special knowing about music (which was a capital “M” music when my father used the word) it was like the sun had come out and I wanted to keep the warmth on me.
I smiled and nodded.
He said, “I knew you’d get it.” He ruffled my hair, stood up and left the room.
One gig my father never turned down was playing as bassist and sideman with The Aliis. Rudy Aquino—Uncle Rudy to me—was the lead singer for this band he’d formed with four of his friends, Benny Chong, Joe Mundo, Al Akana, and Manny Lagodlagod, My father had met Uncle Rudy and the guys around 1960 or 1961. At the time, he was the A&R and PR man for the Hickam Air Force Band. He recruited Uncle Rudy and the others, and eventually they toured the mainland as a novelty act for the AF. By the mid-1960s, the Aliis were civilians again, recording albums and packing clubs in Waikiki. For a brief time, they were Don Ho’s backup band, and recorded “Tiny Bubbles” with him. They appeared on The Tonight Show and played for Jackie Kennedy.
My father loved gigging with the Aliis. They had a fun stage patter, joking and teasing about how my father—with his blonde hair and blue eyes—was the palest Hawaiian ever. He would sing “Tiny Bubbles” like Bing Crosby and the regulars ate it up. He was the quintessential sideman. As a sideman, he needed to adapt to different musical styles; he needed to be able to play whatever instrument was called for, and play it well. His gig bag was always magical to me. At any time, he could pull out a shenhai, a didgeridoo, tambourines homemade and in crazy shapes, two kinds of ukulele, some wooden and bone flutes, a mbira, chimes, other things—noisemakers, he called them. During a bass run, he’d pull out one of his noisemakers for an impromptu vamp or fill, or he’d play a harmony. My mother would shake her head with something like disdain at the gig bag. One time, though, years after we’d left Hawaii, she told a friend, “I’ll never forget the sound of Rudy on the vibes and Ed on that silly little soprano ukulele, playing The Hawaiian Lullaby. It was so beautiful.”
There was no gig bag in his studio that first Saturday when I was nine. It was just me and the mic-stand and the sound equipment he was testing with his buddy. He signaled me from the booth toward the middle of the room. The mic-stand was a beacon, or maybe a sentry. He said, “It doesn’t matter what you sing.”
I took a second to plant my feet the way I’d seen Susan Dey do on The Partridge Family. I smoothed the sparkling gown I imagined I was wearing and I flung my long hair first over my left shoulder and then over my right, because now I was Cher. I held the mic up, lifted my chin, and half-closed my eyes. The crowd hushed in anticipation. It was my first single; I was about to be famous. I came alive on stage.
Everyone in the darkened, imaginary audience saw me, and they loved me. They cheered for me to sing.
From behind the tempered glass, he grinned. He said to the man in the booth with him, “Look at my Kas. She knows who she is on stage.”
And that man said, “You can’t fake that, Sarge. You sure can’t.”
Then he was ready. He nodded and I nodded back.
I cleared my throat away from the mic, as I’d been taught. Then I sang “Smile,” the Nat King Cole version. It was my father’s favorite version.
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.
It was an odd choice for a nine year old. It’s a sad song; about longing and pretending. At the time, I only chose it because I knew all the words. When I hear the song now, I can feel how sad and lonely I was, desperate for my father’s approval. And all I can think of is how much I wanted my father to turn to that other man in the booth and say, “Doesn’t my Kas have a beautiful voice? She’s going to be one of the greats.”
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.
He didn’t say that.
The PA squealed but it was that awful, rough-sounding “Fffuh-fffuh” of moist breath from a mouth about to speak into the mic that made me stop singing.
My father said, “That’s great, Kas,” from the control room.
Weekends weren’t technically on-duty. Normally, my father would be in his starched Air Force uniform. But Saturday, he could wear one of his Hawaiian print shirts and casual pants. I can’t remember if my father had a cigarette—that might have not been allowed on base, even then.
I can remember that the studio smelled like spray starch and new carpets. Electronic equipment has a faint, pungent quality—crisp ozone tang, a little like watered-down bleach.
People would tell my father how well-behaved I was. I kept occupied, never made trouble. I wouldn’t speak out of turn. It would not have occurred to me to run off down the halls, to shout, to do cartwheels or headstands. I didn’t fidget. I didn’t whine. When my father was angry the world erupted. At our house we worked to keep that from ever happening.
In the studio, I took off my aqua-green flip-flops and twirled in the center of the room, listening to my bare feet slap the speckled linoleum floor. Construction dust mounded in the corners; I twirled and turned; the dust coated my toes and heels. Beige acoustic tiles ran up most of the walls and covered the ceiling. The holes that buffered sound seemed to make up patterns. I counted the holes over and over again, wondering what the patterns meant. The walls around the tiles were also painted industrial-grade beige. The floor was patterned beige and tan, with a raised dais covered in heavy gray felt that was rough on my bare feet. It felt like being inside a marshmallow.
My father made this his dream studio, although what I didn’t know on those many Saturdays was that my father brought me with him as an end-run around my mother.
Mother was the gate-keeper on Saturdays.
Saturdays were for going to Nimitz Beach and making teriyaki chicken on the hibachi. Saturdays were for visiting with Uncle Rudy and Auntie Jackie on the other side of the island. They weren’t for work unless there was a gig on Saturday night.
I don’t really remember how I ended up with him that first Saturday when he wanted to head back to the studio, to make sure the sound was just right for the upcoming inspection, to tinker with his mixing console for blissful hours. I’m sure my mother sat at the dining room table having her cup of coffee.
It might have happened like this.
My father would have already been dressed. He was a morning person, even after a late-night gig.
She wouldn’t have looked at him. Instead, she would have very slowly and deliberately lit her cigarette, inhaling with a loud hiss, then exhaling a cloud of grey as if the world was never in any hurry.
Her voice measured, she’d have asked, “Where are you going?”
“I need to get to the base.” He’d say it like it was already planned; like they’d been talking about it for days now.
Another long pause, Mother tapping her cigarette into the bowling trophy ash tray that weighed down the end of the table. “Why? You were there all week. This is family time, Ed.”
“I’ll take Kas with me.” He would have turned to me. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
And here, I would have jumped up. Bouncing over to my mother like I had springs on my feet to beg, “Please can I go? Please? I’ll be good. I promise.”
She would have given her cold stare and I knew not to lay any more pleading on top. I’d have made my best comically-hopeful face—eyes wide, mouth stretched in a jack-o-lantern grin, eyebrows up.
On a good day I could get her to crack a smile.
The goal, though, was for her to say the magic words: “I suppose.”
That first Saturday he would’ve said, “I’ll take Maryellen, too.”
My sister was fourteen and defiant; long, brown hair ruffled from endless hours of weed-induced or depression-related sleeping; a crease on her cheek.
“You wanna come with Kas and me to the studio? You wanna sing for me today?” In his mind this was a treat, an adventure. Of course she’d be excited. I was excited, wasn’t I?
But in my memory, I am sure Maryellen rolled her eyes. “Why?” She did it to make a point of running her disdain right up to the line of tolerated with my father. Once her tone hit that line, she’d rock it just past, eager, ready for the fight, and see if he’d bite. That’s how we three girls grew up—always ready for the fight.
If he shouted at her, lost his barely-contained temper even a little, then she won. They played this game every time they were in the room together.
I would hold my breath, waiting to see if she’d crossed the line. My mother’s eyes narrowed in referee anticipation.
But this was important. My father would fight for patience, “I need to do sound checks, inspection is coming.” He didn’t take the bait.
“Why do I have to go?” Maryellen wouldn’t have waited for an answer, instead looking at my mother and complaining, “Do I have to? I wanted to finish that dress.”
Mother let out her breath and ruled that, no, Maryellen didn’t have to go.
There was no exultation. My sister wasn’t a poor winner. After that moment, Maryellen would have slipped back down the hall, a relieved shadow, happy she wasn’t stuck watching me on a Saturday while my father worked. My mother would turn back to her book, and add, under her breath, in my general direction, “But it won’t be any fun for you.”
That was a standard phrase she would say to me. She was right and wrong. Long, tedious hours spread out in front of me. But I remember loving those sound checks with my father. I would sing on command, standing for as long as it took waiting for him to tell me, “Okay, again, Kas. Until I say stop.”
There were other times, sometimes Saturdays, when we weren’t in the studio. We might be at the Waikiki Shell, in Kapiolani Park near Diamond Head, or maybe at Duke’s, or the Kama’aina Room at the Ala Moana Hotel, or even the Pearl City Tavern. I got to ride shotgun with my father all over O’ahu because my oldest sister Eva was off having her own adventures. She was eighteen; just graduated from Aiea High School and engaged.
Eva had been the first Kiefer girl to shine on stage. She started singing in fifth or sixth grade. By the time she was in high school, she was in a Trio called We Three. I have no idea if they were good, or even if they had any paying gigs. I just remember that whenever she had her guitar out—an acoustic guitar, blonde wood with a handmade guitar strap—she would pull me over to sing with her. Me, not Maryellen. I always felt like I was specially chosen over Maryellen. But really it was that Maryellen and Eva were locked into a death-match that I didn’t understand until many years later.
With Eva gone, I was my father’s sound check girl.
And yet, I hadn’t always been so eager to perform. The year before, when I was eight, my mother decided I’d take hula lessons to help with shyness. It was summer and the classes were four days a week, early in the mornings. I had to get up and walk the mile to the recreation center, but I liked being busy, and I was a morning person. Besides, I knew the drill—wash your face, brush your hair, put on clean clothes, eat breakfast—and don’t forget your shoes. I’d been getting myself ready for school since I’d started going to school.
I wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the top cabinets where the Quaker Oatmeal lived, but swinging up onto the counter was no problem. I could boil water like a pro. I’d slurp down a bowl of maple and brown sugar while I watched early cartoons. I had the house to myself; it was quiet, calm. I would wash out my bowl in the sink and climb back up to put it away, still wet. I loved the house in the mornings—it felt like it belonged to me alone.
After breakfast, I would run out the screen door and down Kaamilo Street. I have no natural talent with dancing or even moving in any way that comes close to graceful; but I was excited to perform for Governor John Burns’ wife, Beatrice “Bea” Burns. It was a very special honor and all of us “hula girls” were appropriately thrilled.
When third grade began, my school announced a variety show. My mother asked if I would do a hula. She was a little disappointed when I said no, but then she suggested I perform the poem “I Know an Old Lady.” I’d always done impressions, and imitating my Great Grandmother Sally Tillman was something my parents would ask me to do at parties. I decided to perform the poem in my “Great Grandmother” voice. My mother found an old dress with a high collar made of crocheted lace, and long sleeves with button cuffs. I practiced for weeks, and on the day of the show both my parents watched me at the microphone, a spotlight blinding me.
I got a standing ovation.
When I was singing for my father at the studio a year later, I heard that same audience in my head, roaring, cheering.
My father’s voice came again over the speakers, “Okay, Kas. You know what to do. Sing until I say stop.”
I grabbed the mic, put my fingers against my ear so I could hear myself, and performed for my imagined audience on The Carol Burnett Show. “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Joy to the World,” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
On The Ken Berry “Wow” Show, I sang “Everything is Beautiful,” and “The House I Live In.”
I was on The Merv Griffin Show and dedicated “Unchained Melody” to my mother.
There were long gaps between songs. I gave interviews to Johnny Carson about how tough it was to travel so much, but it was worth it to be there for my fans. We stayed all day at the studio with no breaks.
That first Saturday, my father wanted a drink before heading home. He was in a great mood, the sound checks had gone well and he felt the inspection would be a success. We stopped at the Noncommissioned Officers’ Club.
The bar was dark, murky with smoke and leftover liquor. Beyond that, it’s a blank. Maybe it was decorated with gold flocked wallpaper and wood panels. I know some club somewhere looked like that. Maybe it was done in generic burnt orange and goldenrod swirly patterns, mixed together with the ferocity of the 1970s. I did find a photo on the internet of the historic Hickam NCO Stag Bar, circa 1959. It could have been from the set of Gidget. Tiki masks hung on the wall behind the red vinyl bumpered bar rail. A huge brass chandelier hung low.
That day at the NCO club, the bartender was likely in uniform, but in my memory he’s dressed like Stanley Kubrick’s bartender in The Shining. He called me little lady and mixed me a Roy Rogers, with extra cherries. A bowl of greasy peanuts, my lunch.
My father ordered a martini, or maybe a Manhattan.
He had on his public face and winked at the bartender. To me, he said, “You behave, now, Kas. I have some business with these guys. You stay here, and don’t be a bug.”
I nodded to him and I sat there as ordered. I sat for minutes, that stretched into a half hour, and then an hour. The bartender slid a box of toothpicks at me, and I tried to make a little house. When it crashed down on the bar, toothpicks went flying, and I looked over at my dad in terror. But he was still busy. He was talking to some guys in khakis, not civvies, who looked like they were in charge. My father’s laugh filled the club.
The bartender helped me clean up the toothpicks. Then he mixed me another Roy Rogers. I slurped with joy, at first.
When I finished, the bartender asked, “You want something different? Maybe a Shirley Temple this time?”
I nodded hard, my head jiggly with sugar on an empty stomach.
But drinks meant that I would have to go to the bathroom and I was afraid to ask where it was. I was more afraid to leave the stool my father had ordered me to stay on. Time slowed down. My stomach ached from drinking so much. I jiggled my legs and hummed, trying to think about anything other than the bathroom. I didn’t want to pee my pants. Or, as my mother would say, “wet myself.” But it happened almost every time I was out with my father. It was such a common occurrence that I came home in urine-soaked shorts that no one said anything about it; not the men talking to my father or working with him, not my mother (although she did my laundry), not even my sisters, at least not to me. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I skipped over to my father and as politely as I could, I asked to be allowed to find a bathroom.
That day he didn’t scold me for getting off the stool, he didn’t shout at me for interrupting him. That day, he introduced me to the men in khaki pants and perfectly pressed white shirts.
“This is my youngest girl, Kas. She’s my musician.”
I shook each hand with my biggest smile and said, “Howdee-do,” to each one, like I’d seen Shirley Temple do in a movie. As hoped, they laughed and congratulated my father on having such a good little girl. He let me run off to find the ladies’ room. Who knows, maybe that day I hadn’t wet myself. Maybe.
My real reward for behaving, for “being patient,” for not complaining, was that sometimes my father recorded me. This was the only reward that mattered to me.
The familiar breathy “Fffuh-fffuh” of the booth microphone told me to look over at my father.
He said, “Kas, you want to hear your playback?”
I jumped up and down. “You bet.”
He held up his index finger up and I knew that meant “stay there, and listen.” So I did.
It’s actually cringe-worthy, hearing your own voice fill that kind of space where there are no echoes. The voice sounds close, like it’s right behind you. When I was singing, I thought I sounded like Karen Carpenter, Carol King, and Linda Ronstadt, but on playback I sounded like a nine year old pretending to be a famous singer.
He started and stopped it several times. Each had me wincing.
He said to the man in the booth, “There’s reverb on the back monitor when she sharps.”
I could tell by the frown-line between my father’s brows that I’d done something wrong.
The man responded, “I heard that, yeah.” Then he busied himself with the octopus of cables coming through the wall. Adjustments to the equipment in the booth were made and the other man came out to fiddle with the big, black speaker behind me.
Even then I had an idea what a sharp was. Sharping happens when the singer—me—overshoots the pitch. I rarely went flat; it was almost always sharp.
I waited for what felt like ages. Neither of them said anything to me for a very long time. I sat on the ground and drew pictures of castles between my legs. They went in and out of the booth, fidgeting with the speakers and the cables.
Looking back, I realize it had nothing to do with my vocals—he wasn’t angry with me, probably had forgotten I was even there. I was invisible once I wasn’t useful. In the moment, though, I was convinced I’d ruined this very special adventure and my fear of that has forever coated the memory of the day.
Toward the end of that first Saturday, he let me into the control room and showed me the sliding knobs. He explained what each did. He used terms like tweaking, equalizing, mid-range. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Several decades later, my daughter, who studied sound design, would try to tell me about compression and other things having to do with sound work, while I thought of my father in that studio.
For my father, only the music mattered. I think Maryellen knew that then and that’s why after Eva left, it was just me and my dad. Maryellen was an old soul at fourteen and had a knack for spotting when our father wanted to use us to sneak past our mother’s family time rules, or when he was just so focused on his music that the family was forgotten. I didn’t have that kind of protective skin back then; I barely have it now.
About the writer:
Katherine Kiefer-Newman Kat Kiefer-Newman lives in the dusty little valley of San Jacinto, California. It’s all dairies and melon farms, which tend find their way into both her fiction and personal essays. When she isn’t writing, Kat is a lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino. She holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside/Palm Desert and an MA and PhD from The Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her recent publications include “Tourist Rules” published in the Beautiful Losers Magazine Online; she is content editor for OpenIvoryTower blog and podcast; and from 2009 thru 2012 a regular blog for AdjunctNation.
Image: Manyoly (@manyoly) & Elseñordelospescaos (@pezespolla). Street artists in Barcelona. Photographs by Tom Williams @theskreets