Tuesday, September 22, 2020

My Serendipitous Meeting of Bo

To tell this story, I have to take us back to the year, 1976.  My parents had let go of a home that we had on Malibu beach which we enjoyed anytime year round, and we had then for the first time rented a summer apartment on Venice Beach as our vacation destination for that year, just behind the speedway (the easement that runs parallel to the beach).  We were just north of Washington Blvd, and south of the large L.A. Lifeguard complex.  

It was a summer of just enjoying the beach front.  Venice had not long before installed a separate cement bike path from the asphalt strand that hugs the houses on the sand.  This bike path, which is the one still in place today, turns every few hundred yards to give the bike rider more esthetic enjoyment rather than riding in a straight line.  

I had a transistor radio that I’d carry around everywhere with me tuned to 93 KHJ (930am), Boss Radio.  The song, “Moonlight Feels Right,” had become popular during this summer.  It felt great on the air waves being a song about love and romance associated with the moon and the tide’s presence.  My friend, David, and I used to listen to the radio while skateboarding on this new bike path.   

We had this competition between us of who could skate a wheelie on our board the longest, measured by the equidistant spacings in the cement that allow for expansion and contraction.  Doing a wheelie for three of four of those large sections of concrete was considered impressive and it took quite a bit of momentum and speed to last that long.  

Anyways, long prelude short, the song. “Moonlight Feels Right,” is marbled and hard baked into that warm summer of skateboards, bodysurfing, and Hobie Cats drifting in with the sunsets.  

And there was something very special to me in this song.  There was an amazing xylophone solo in the middle of it, which to me, still to this day, is worthy of an Oscar Peterson solo on the piano.  The thing about this solo is that it is so heartfelt.  It’s like the player in the song somehow hits every emotional note that could be hit for the underlying feeling of the chords in the song.  

I doubt that other people who enjoy the song think of it like I do, but that they just feel that the solo I’m talking about, along with everything else, brings them back to that year and whatever was going on in their lives during that time.  The song is like an escape to somewhere on a hot, maybe somewhat humid, romantic night by the sea as the moon is there keeping you and yours company.  I really just love this song.

Anyways…flash forward from my ten-year old self to my twenty-five year old self.  I was invited to one of my very good friends’ weddings.  The pluralization of weddings here is appropriate because he was married three times.  No judgement.  He just finally found the right lady after a few attempts at it. It's pretty common. It took me quite a while as well.  He’s happily married now.  His name is Tim, and Tim is truly a good man.  I love him. 

In 1989, for his first wedding, I arrived with a couple of friends of mine who I knew from high school and who were also good friends of the groom.  The wedding for Tim and Marcie, his bride, happened at a ranch in Newhall, which is just north of the San Fernando Valley.  In these years, it wasn’t built up yet.  There were still a lot of horse ranches and open areas, including an off road area called, “Indian Dunes.”  I’ll bet there aren’t a lot of people around who remember Indian Dunes.

Now the reception was happening.  I remember a lot of talking and mingling with people, many of whom were dressed casual formal and ranchy with dressy western shirts and big belt buckles.  There were dances with the bride. Marcie literally looked like a model.  She was blonde, slim, and gorgeous in her wedding dress.  I was the first of my friends to do a dollar dance with her, and I remember being a little nervous dancing with her because she was just so beautiful.

While these activities went on, I sort of wandered off to one of the long food tables that was nearest the ranch house.  They had fruits and deserts there, and there was only one other guy there as I walked up, so I walked to the other side of the table facing him with my back to the house.  

As I was scoping out the food, I said, “Hi” to the guy.  He was older than me, dark-haired and tall.  He wore jeans, boots, a vest of some sort, and a cowboy hat.  I said that my name was Fred, and he said his was, “Bo.”  Our banter about the food moved into him asking about me.  Having just graduated, I’m sure that fact was on my mind a lot, and what I wanted to do for work.  

I said I had just been graduated from university and that I was starting to work in group homes.  He asked what I studied in school.  I told him psychology, along with music and film.  He told me that he was a musician.  I guess when I told him that I had learned some jazz piano from an instructor, Lloyd Hebert, at U.S.C, it caught his attention.  He asked me a bit about the music that I played. Then I asked him, “Do you play in a band?”  Like, do you play in a garage band I was thinking.  

He said that he had played in a lot of bands through the years.  I asked him to name a few, always curious about band names.  My all time favorite band name was one that one of my school mates, Mike Sobieski, was in during his temporary life in Europe during which they moved from gig to gig in an old cargo van.  The name Mike’s band had been, “The Pleasure Fuckers.”  I think that takes the cake for band names.

So Bo said that one of his bands was called, Starbuck.”  I quickly came back with, “That’s funny because there was a band of the same name in the 70’s called Starbuck.  They did a song that I really like called, “Moonlight Feels Right.”’  I honestly had calculated that many, many band names get used many times by larger and smaller bands.

I asked him, “Have you heard of that band and that song?”  He said, “Yeah, that was my band.”  A moment to let that sink in.  Everything had just changed.  I felt a little confused, warm, and even a bit faint.  Trying to keep some semblance of a normal person, I said, “Wow, I just love that song you guys did, “Moonlight Feels Right.”  

Keeping my footing, and maybe trying to look like I was nibbling at the fruit I was holding, I then said, “There is a solo in that song, a xylophone solo, that is one of my favorite moments in music.  Whoever played that was just amazing.”  

Bo replied, “It was actually a marimba solo, and I played it.”  That was it for me.  I’m sure that he saw in my face that had gone white what it meant to me.  Because I didn’t say anything for another few seconds until something like, “Oh my God man, I just love that.”  I really didn’t know what to say.  

I know that music affects people differently.  People are wired differently.  When I like something in music, I love it deeply.  It’s because it speaks to me in a way that language and other things really can’t.  There’s just something about how music weaves and flows that can draw out my emotion like nothing else.  

To tell you the truth, after that moment with Bo Wagner, I don’t recall much except for the fact that I eventually excused myself and ran over to my friends that I had arrived with, John and Dave, and wanted especially to tell John who I had found.  John knew what that solo meant to me, and he was I think ecstatic for me for the fact that this had just happened.  He and Dave went over and spoke to Bo as well to verify my insane claim.  

I eventually made it back to wherever Tim was and I told him who I had met.  Tim said, “Oh, Bo is Marcie’s uncle.”  Again, I was dumbfounded that he had access to such a person, and that he already knew the man.  “You do realize that you now have a god in your family right?”  However, I’m not sure if that information was ever fully digested by Tim.  

Tim and Marcie are long since divorced, and yet, every time since that I’ve mentioned this occurrence to Tim, that I’m still amazed that I met Bo Wagner, he still responds with the same fact as if I’d never heard it before with, “Oh yeah, he was Marcie’s uncle.”  And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I know that, and by the way, he was a god.”  

There is apparently a huge chasm between what this fact meant to Tim at the time and what it still means to me.  I try to reckon with Tim’s distorted view on the subject, and I realize that because of that disparity, we’ll never see Bo in the same way.  I know I’m right though.  I spoke with a musical god that day.  

If you haven’t listened to the song ever or haven’t for a while, Google this live version that they did in 2013. “Starbuck Moonlight Feels Right, Live Chastain Park, Atlanta GA July 2013”  If the link is dead, which eventually happens, then just copy and paste the search phrase in quotes above.

Bo Wagner has since passed away.  I’m just such a lucky person to have blindly wandered into his vicinity, aren’t I?

The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss
To Make The Tide Rise Again


 Image: https://www.hobbydb.com/marketplaces/hobbydb/subjects/bo-wagner-musician