Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cash’

When Russ was in the mood, he liked to talk about these wild theories he had. Most are very interesting (though probably amount to pop psychology at best), but I think he liked them because they added to this aura of mysticism about him. Anyway, one day we were sitting in his studio – I think it was after a lesson – and he was talking about people.

Russ: You know, gang, I think there’s two sides to everyone.

Me: Oh, really?

Russ: Yep. Everyone has a bad side and a good side, and they’re equal.

Me: Interesting.

Russ: Separate but equal!

He chuckled at his own joke. Mom and I laughed.
He got up from the piano bench, his 60’s style black shoes making shuffling noises on the carpet.

Russ: I’ll show you!

He grabbed a piece of sheet music and ran over to his wall.

The wall of his studio was covered – nearly every inch of it – with headshots of students (the more notable ones, at least). He ran up to one and placed the sheet music evenly over their face, dividing it in half.

Russ: See?

Me: Huh. Looks normal.

Russ: Right! Now…

He moved the sheet music to the other side.

Russ: What do you see?

Me: Huh. Kind of creepy looking. A little evil, maybe.

Russ laughed.

Russ: Wild, huh?

Mom and I agreed, and he ran around the studio doing the same thing to many of the headshots. He finally made it over to mine. A picture of Joey Lawrence with Johnny Carson stared down above me.

Russ: Even you, I bet. Look.

I looked. He was right.

Me: Huh. Interesting.

Russ: I know, man, I know!

He started talking a little bit about Freudian psychology – how one side of us is the “higher self” and the other side is the “lower self”. He called the lower self the Ud Factor, for some reason, and thought this was pretty amusing. Thereafter, Mom announced that this was a different “Russ” and she called him “Mr. Ud Factor” (or “Mr Ud”). The talk of psychology, along with the fact that his hair was several shades lighter, got her convinced that this was a totally new person dressed up as Russ. I actually noted myself that his hair was more blonde than usual – almost a white, really – and filed that information away for later examination. What I determined was that he was dying his hair, which accounted for the shade difference – a fact she flatly rejected.

Mom: No, no. It’s a different Russ. It’s a different personality and everything.

Me: Mom, I don’t think so. Honestly. He’s just dying his hair.

Mom: Well, don’t you remember when Johnny Cash came to teach you?

I was quiet.

Mom: And Ross Perot? And Gaffe?

I held my tongue and my breath. I had strayed a little too far into unknown territory. I had never outright challenged her perceptions before – at least, not in any direct way. She looked thoughtful for a moment, then got that thousand yard stare. She started mumbling to herself just under her breath – having what appeared to be conversations. I sighed.

Mr. Ud would only appear a couple times – usually whenever Russ was due to dye his hair again, or was in a bad mood. But Mr. Ud didn’t interest her as much as the others – Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, Andre the Giant – all the celebrities who supposedly dressed up as my music teacher and came to teach me. When I pressed her on why exactly they were doing this, Mom insisted they were “scouting talent”.

Me: That doesn’t even make any sense. Why would they do that?

Mom: Because it’s an easy way to do it. They can see how people are when they’re not starstruck or intimidated.

Me: And how is this related to the Mafia?

Mom: Because they’re laundering money through there. It’s a front.

I didn’t really see the logic in this, and told her. She got extremely edgy.

Mom: Dammit, Danny. Just stop. I know what I know, okay?

I stopped.

 

 

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1992, driving in mom’s brown Chrysler. For some reason, this song was playing a lot on the oldies station we listened to that fall and winter. Listening to it, I think immediately of TJ Cinnamon’s, Russ, and waiting endless hours outside his studio.¬† I grew up believing a lot of things, most of which turned out to be not true. Worse, completely insane. Not knowing at age 10 that my mom had serious mental problems, when she told me we were being pursued by mafia hitmen in black cars I believed her. She saw “signs” everywhere – from the kinds of license plates that drove by us on the PA Turnpike to marquees put up by storage lots. She would read something like “A Friend In Need is a Friend Indeed”, and she would look thoughtfully out the windshield.

Mom: They’re sending me a message, Danny.

Me: What are they saying?

Mom: They’re saying they want to be friends with us, and that they’re going to test me.

Some years prior, I had gotten onto a morning variety show that aired on local TV. I got to sing and tell jokes with a lot of other kids, and I loved that. I had to wear a tux, and I didn’t like that so much. But the show necessitated lessons, and the best lessons were from Russ. He was a bit of a local legend, a famous writer and player, and dozens – maybe hundreds – of stars were spawned in his studio. Russ took a special interest in me for some reason – he taught me piano, guitar, and songwriting. And mom, in turn, took a special interest in him. She began to insist to me that different people dressed up as Russ – that they put on a mask or makeup and taught out of his studio. Supposedly, these were all people related to the mafia in some way. Many were famous. I was taught by Elton John, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Roy Orbison (to name just a few). I’d love to be able to say that I knew this was completely nuts even as a kid. I can’t. She always told me if we said anything, we’d be killed by mafia hitmen (who, incidentally, were always watching us and tapping our phones). So I said nothing, and lived in apprehension of doing something that would trigger the inevitable murder of my entire family.

I always wondered if Russ egged it on a little, too – he had an odd sense of humor. Once, when she was writing out a check she decided to get cute. “Who should I make this check out to,” she said slyly. I think she was hoping to get some sort of response – she had indicated to me in the waiting room that today we were being taught by a “different Russ”. This one was tall and skinny and the “real Russ” was shorter and had a pot belly. I tried to convince myself I saw a difference, but held my tongue regardless. When asked, Russ chuckled and said “Johnny Cash.” This was his roundabout way of asking for cash instead of a check (like I said, he had an odd sense of humor). She interpreted it to mean that he was actually Johnny Cash dressed up as Russ. So Johnny Cash was secretly involved with the mafia and dressed up as a music teacher from Philly. You heard it here first.

Anyway, during that year it was determined (by mom) that Russ liked TJ Cinnamon’s. This was a chain that had awesome cinnamon buns – I mean, this stuff was to die for. If I could have drank their frosting right out of the pitchers I would have died in a diabetic coma – but I would have died happy. It was further determined that one of the Russes (my God, that looks weird to write it out like that) liked nuts on his cinnamon bun and another one just liked icing. This became one of her “tests” to see who was teaching that day. She wanted to see if Russ would eat the one with nuts, or put it away. If he put it away, he was going to give it to the one who liked the nuts. I realize this sounds completely insane, but my mom believed it with the religious fervor of a street corner preacher.

We waited hours outside the studio, too. If my lesson was at 8, we’d show up at 3 or 4 just to sit out there and wait. I think she was trying to catch them “changing”, which she thought they did in a secret room somewhere on the premises. First, it was the garage in back of the lot. When it became apparent that it was mostly disused, she began thinking he changed in one of the rooms in the studio. I remember sitting in the waiting room while he was giving a lesson, and she nudged me.

Mom: Go open that door over there.

Me: What? Why?

Mom: Just do it. Right now.

I walked over and pushed the door open – it was clearly a storage room. Extra pianos, books, and equipment was piled high in there. Mom’s eyes glazed over with a thousand yard stare. This was a common occurrence – she’d drift off, dreamy-eyed, and whisper to herself. If I broke her out of her reverie, she became really irritated. I usually didn’t.

Days like today – cold, clear days, get me thinking of that time period. I grew up in a world of fantasy and intrigue. In a truly fucked up way, it was kind of exciting.