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You Send Me: Mom, Steve Miller and Sam Cooke

May 14, 2016

I didn’t know who this guy was and I certainly had no interest in being forced to extend feigned cordiality to his interloping ass.  My recently divorced mother had been set up with him by friends and had apparently found much to like.  He was someone with whom she thought there could be a deeper connection and so for this, his first visit to our house to pick Mom up for dinner and a movie, she hoped for a mutually positive first impression with us kids.  Before he came, Mom took 14-year-old me aside – possibly doing the same with my 12-year-old sister – and admitted to liking the gentleman, expressing her wish that I would like him too.  Regardless, she asked me to be polite when he arrived.

With a surly attitude attributable to normal adolescent contrarianism but exacerbated by the then personally unrecognized yet nonetheless real hurt and jealousy roiling within a confused child of a breaking home, it was all I could do to stand there and shake the 30-something intruder’s hand and mumble a “Nice to meet you too.”  Having complied with the letter, if most certainly not the spirit of my mother’s request, I quickly exited the uncomfortable scene for the reassuring refuge of my room and my music.  I placed side two of Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle LP on the turntable and sought to escape from whatever incomprehensible bullshit was occurring upstairs.

Two songs in and after six or seven minutes of much friendlier exchange with my 8-year-old youngest sister and her visiting playmate, Mom came downstairs to open my door and say they were headed out.  I don’t recall my exact response but am sure that today’s teenage equivalent would be along the lines of, “Fine, whatever.”   As she headed back upstairs leaving my bedroom door open, Steve Miller’s version of “You Send Me” drifted out of the speakers.  Just before they left, I overheard the stranger say something to my mom like “Do you think he has any idea where that song comes from?”  As the front door closed, I heard Mom reply in a tone of sincere pride, “Oh, he knows.  He knows everything there is to know about music.”

Nearly 40 years later I still remember the feeling Mom’s words spurred in me as if it were happening right now.  My mommy understood me, was proud of me, and was not leaving me.  I don’t know how I would have described it then but the sense of relief flowed over me like a warm wave.  I may have even shed a few tears.  Somehow in those few words offered to someone else, Mom had managed to reassure me that she would remain my protector and advocate even as our lives changed drastically and against my will.  There would still be plenty of rocky road ahead to traverse, but from that fleeting moment forward, I never doubted that Mom would be there to support me through it.



Now, the dark, hidden truth about the above is that I actually had no freaking idea where “You Send Me” came from.  To the extent I thought about it at all, I figured it for a Steve Miller original.  Oops.

There was no question that I needed to make Mom’s words true post-haste.  Even in those pre-cellular, pre-internet days, it didn’t take long to uncover that Sam Cooke had composed and first recorded the song back in the late 50s.  So, when just a few weeks later I spotted a used copy of the Cooke’s Tour album at a local thrift store, I enthusiastically handed over my 25 cents.  The record didn’t include “You Send Me” but I felt confident that my owning it would forever preclude any doubt about my musical knowledge should I be tested on my mother’s matter-of-fact assertion.

In the end, no such challenge ever came.  The interloper became my step-father before the year was out, staggeringly within one day of another invader, this one allowed in by my father, being declared my new step-mother.  In hindsight, I can happily affirm that, for all the bumps, things turned out well.  In fact, where most poor buggers have to make do with at best two parents to assist, love, and guide them into adulthood, I was blessed with four.  And throughout all of it, music continued, and continues, to magically provide escape, embrace, and enlightenment just when I most need it.




A quick note on Fly Like an Eagle:  The cover of this excellent album from 1976 has to be among the most misleading ever when it comes to giving a sense of what’s inside.  The gale-force electric guitar histrionics promised by the cover photo of Mr. Miller are nowhere to be found on the LP.  Instead, Steve’s brilliance is demonstrated mainly in acoustic – and acoustic-style electric – playing on a set of grooving rockers, spacey interludes and emotive ballads, all of which evoke a warm, breezy California feeling for me.  To be honest, the somewhat vanilla version of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” is probably the album’s least-impressive moment, although the acoustic guitar accompaniment still rates it a winner in my book.  As the big hits “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Take the Money and Run,” and “Rock’n Me” are well known and widely loved, I’d draw new listeners’ attention to “Serenade,” an acoustic-driven, mid-tempo melodic rocker with unique harmonized vocals that conjures a campfire-lit beach under a vast, star-filled sky.

Steve Miller Band – Serenade




A quick note on Cooke’s Tour:  Sam’s first record for RCA Victor after a string of solo hits on Keen Records, this 1960 album has much more of a 1940s Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole traditional pop/orchestral feel than the soul/R&B of his late 50s hits.  Marketed as an “adventurous travelogue,” the LP offers the singer’s take on a series of “international” songs such as “Under Paris Skies,” “Bali Ha’i,” “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way),” and “Galway Bay.”  Despite the shift in style, there’s no mistaking Sam’s stunningly beautiful voice as he makes these far-flung songs very much his own.  I’m especially fond of “Jamaica Farewell” with its softened (diluted?) Caribbean rhythm and Sam’s lilting vocal, which together wonderfully evince longing for a lost love.  Best of all however is the album’s American offering, “The House I Live In,” which carries a message we statesiders would do well to remember in this divisive electoral year:

The house I live in
A plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
And the people that I meet
The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races, all religions
That’s America to me

The place I work in
The worker at my side
The little town or city
Where my people lived and died
The howdy and the handshake
The air of feeling free
The right to speak my mind out
That’s America to me

Sam Cooke – The House I Live In

From → Family, Music

  1. Lovely story, Vic. Although my parents stayed unhappily attached until soon after my father retired, I have, since then, seen such partner transitions at quite close range. The experience of having your parent-count double in a couple of days must have been a mind-blowing one! Can we expect an ‘I was a teenage groomsman’ piece sometime?

    As for Steve Miller, while preferring the earlier material, I do have a soft spot for those ubiquitous hits, partially due to his deft deployment of synthesisers. I saw Steve live in the early 90s in Melbourne. Initially a reluctant attendee, the concert performance converted me. His playing and singing were both exceptional.

    The heart of the post resides in the heart of a loving parent, doesn’t it? I so want to convey, directly and indirectly, something unfamiliar from my own childhood: unconditional acceptance and cherishing. Its a goal even when he’s driving me crazy… an art-form developing almost as fast as his pre-teen lankiness.

    Finally, thanks for the Sam Cooke benediction. Both our populations (we have an election pending too) would do well to inhabit that lyric. Insert your own country here _________ .

    • Much appreciate the thoughtful comment(s), VC. Broken and breaking families are no fun no matter the length of the process or the age at which they come, but that does not mean that the ultimate outcome is doomed to be bad. May have been luck, but my situation spurred a positive result. Re aspirations in your own parenting, the nice thing is that unconditional acceptance and cherishing, when they’re in there, tend to convey themselves independently of the “want.” This story is an example; Mom likely was making no particular effort to demonstrate anything to me, but because of her “heart,” as you say, I came away feeling cherished. (Geez man, I’m going right to the Cannibal Corpse and the Rage Against the Machine after typing this. Feels like I should bathe in goat’s blood asap to wash away the schmaltz.)

      As for Mr. Miller, I’m sorry to say this LP and Greatest Hits 1974-1978 are all I have. I’m envious of your live Steve experience though. As to the “benediction,” I offer a heartfelt Amen.

  2. I managed to miss this one somehow – sorry.

    As always I think you write rather wonderfully about personal stuff and in this one you tie it into an LP that means a lot to me. My parents played this and Jackson Browne’s ‘Pretender’ all the time – I know every note on this LP and love every single one too. All I have to do is hear the title track and I just get transprted back into being 8 years old again.

    Funnily enough, I’ve never bought it – without sounding morbid, I know the copy I want one day in the (hopefuly) very far off future.

    And I had no idea whatsoever about the Sam Cooke connection.

    • Music is wonderful; music which immediately calls to mind happy memories of time with loved ones is priceless. Here’s hoping your inherited copy comes only eons from now when the alien robot overlords will have gifted each of us sweet home stereo systems.

      • My grandparents local paper was called the Bridgwater Mercury, so when Steve Miller sang the track about ‘gonna get me a Mercury’ my 9-year old self knew exactly what he was singing about – a small local paper from Somerset. True story.

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