Very Best Night of the Year (Instr.)
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1989 Unknown, Edmonds, WA
Producer: Robert Force, Albert d'Ossché
Original Release: Double Dulcimer Magic (GM107)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
“Clothes Make the Man” is a short story by Nunnally Johnson about being stuck in the character of an assumed identity and acting accordingly. Angela Guillory, my HS Honors English teacher, had us read it my senior year. How surprising to find that theme surfacing in my own writing 13 years later. Mrs. Guillory was very formative in my life, introducing me to the writings of Sartre, Camus and especially to Henry Adams whose book, The Education of Henry Adams, started me seeking an examined life.
Janette and I live in what is now considered an “arts community.” Before that it was known as “a beautiful place on the water where there is no work but the houses are cheap.” Consequently, many artists and craftsfolk moved to Port Townsend, WA in the late 70s. We had the time and the inclination to follow the development of our arts and crafts. This isn't to say there weren't always artisans here, but rather, that there was certainly an influx of them (us) in the waning hippie era.
We also had the time it takes to develop community. We created alternative food supply with coops, buying conspiracies and storefronts for whole food stores. We started having kids and began alternative education models in the public schools. It was the “Golden Age of Water Street.” We sang, drew, painted, built boats, stitched sails, planted gardens, fished, ate clams and oysters, had community theater and made up frequent excuses to get together, feed each other and have a fun time.
One such get together took place at Fort Worden's old USO hall, a frequent gathering place. It had a stage, room to dance and ample space to lay out food. Like most things in town at the time, it was also inexpensive to rent. The plan was to have Steve Grimes (guitar), Mike McKinley (drums), and Greg Pecknold (bass) be a 50s rock n' roll dance band. In the weeks prior to the event folks were to get together, work out a couple of songs as an “act” and then sing with the band backing them up.
Being a 50's-themed gathering, we all wanted to dress accordingly. Janette's and my housemate, Ann, lent me her father's tuxedo. Joe had passed away just a short time before. I was honored. He was a classy guy. My hair was pompadoured, I had Joe's elegant tux, and a silver hip flask. It was Valentine's Day, 1979. “I was looking flashy, talking classy-- had a bottle and a boutonniere”
Just as Nunally Johnson described, the clothes I was wearing and the persona I had assumed morphed me into a sullen, James Dean hot rod macho rebel. All of us were posturing, primping and acting out characters most of us probably only knew through an older family member. The majority of us had only been eight or ten years old at best in the real 50s. As Sergio and the Subtlettes, Karolyn Flynn, Janette and I sang Bobby Vinton's, When I Fall in Love-- then Janette and I got back to boppin'.
I realized I no longer wanted to stay in character with the gorgeous lady with whom I was dancing. We had only been married five months. I'd had enough. I didn't want to be in the 50's anymore. I wanted the freedom of my wandering hippie years Adams-esque quest to be authentic, to be able to simply say, “I love you.” As I count on my fingers after 35 years, I realize our son, Dakotah, was born 8 months later. I had been dancing in the glow of beginning motherhood.
When we recorded Very Best Night the first time, Danny Carnahan was a one-man orchestra. He played lush layers of violin and cello to build up a string section. Al and I recut the tune in 1988 as an instrumental. The song title is from a childhood memory I have of my father playing the table-top jukebox at the diner across from Holly's, my Grandmother's trailer park in Seattle. Mario Lanza's 1951 hit, The Loveliest Night of the Year, was still on the playlist. My heart would beat fast when he got to the line, “like a child when his birthday is near.” Birthday! I was four. It was 1950 all over again.