My friend Debbie Hunkele died a few days ago. She'd had cancer
for quite a while. I never felt close enough to her to feel I
could ask her about her health, other than the usual how-are-you's
which people traditionally answer with "fine" and then you move on,
but of course with friends you don't move on, so I'm being presumptuous
by saying she was my friend. She certainly treated me like one, on
occasion, though; for instance, I stayed with her and her husband in
Oakland for a week or so when I had one of my very isolated gigs there
about fifteen years ago. We had one good conversation but in general
I felt like it was important for me to not take up her time in her
own home. She had the bearing of someone who had stuff on her mind.
Debbie and I were classmates at Passaic Valley Regional High School
in Little Falls, New Jersey, class of '59. The year Grease
was about. I loved Passaic Valley.
My first picture of Debbie Hunkele is at football games, she did that
drum majorette thing with style and grace and a great smile, and there
might be something to be said for the notion that pictures like that
are evidence that I've kind of frozen her in time. But you know at
fifteen or so the hormones are little flaming rivulets cutting courses
through your body that possibly never disappear. And certain things just
stick. I hasten to say I wasn't in love with her or any of that stuff,
it may just that I was walking around while percolating and all my stars
of that beautiful year are kind of emblazoned forever. Anyway, I think
she became a symbol for me, of a very difficult nature to define; and I
think I never really saw her clearly after that, she'd become such an
archetype, like Ricky Nelson or Archie and Jughead or Betty and Veronica.
The popular girl, the hip and pretty one, the girl always on top of things
and off-handed and light-hearted about it. The one you think of as coolest
at your school, the one who symbolizes some sort of place and time and
attitude and feeling that only exists for a while, in the minds of
innocent dreaming teenagers. My cool friend Dave Jeffreys was pretty tight
with Debbie through the years, and might even have arranged with her that
I got to stay with them out there in Oakland. Dave has a quality that
endears him immediately to everyone and for years I've gotten the benefit
of the coolness of his wide sphere of admirers.
So, it's late September and I am back at school, though just in my
head, and thinking every day about Debbie Hunkele, whose easy way and smile
and charm and grace from the age of fifteen I see so surely in my mind's eye,
but just as surely can not communicate; I'm afraid she needs somebody closer
to F.Scott to get her effect across. It has something to do with autumn, too,
and the unreachably far Eden of youth. You get the privilege of remembering
some beautiful and poignant moments, and they stay with you forever. They
kind of are you. Man, I remember Debbie Hunkele, a Saturday afternoon
in September, in her drum majorette outfit, the curly blond hair, that
sunny-great smile, under a tree full of red leaves, waiting in line to get
a soda. And I'm working the stand, reaching into the ice cubes. I've carried
this picture around for almost sixty years, it's always been here inside and
in some way these pictures fuel everything I do in music. Still I can't get
my feeling about Debbie across; but maybe a few words from Dave can. He sent
me an email: "Debbie Hunkele died---that fabulous girl!"
Songs. Done. Write.
Michael Smith's Songwriting Workshops
For the Adventurous Mind
Michael Smith, the internationally celebrated songwriter and performer now offers
in addition to - and in conjunction with - musical concerts.
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"AND THE POET SANG" - Poems as Lyrics
New Program from Michael Smith and Jamie O'Reilly!
Debuted at The Poetry Foundation
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