I don t think I wrote her back, but I sent a message by my mother what was wrong with her choices. I had a great fondness for her. Also, Madeline Ruthven, the scenario writer that lived on our street, came up and read to me. About a year or two I was flat on my back in this head-to- foot cast, and she came up and read to me. A total stretch of utter boredom. Teiser: [Laughter] Maybe just fortitude. Miles: Oh, what a funny choice. My mother read aloud to us all this time, till we moved to the Wilshire district.
And so my brothers were on this too. It was kind of interesting because they didn t like it anywhere nearly as much as I did, but they did like it. We tended, because of the majority rule, to hear an awful lot of boys books rather than girls. I had hardly any girls books because it was two to one. We had the Treasure Island kind of thing, but I didn t get much of the girls book kind of thing until later. They didn t like poetry, either.
So she mostly read, I guess you d say, classics of the Treasure Island kind. One other thing I should mention because it should not be put aside from my literary history, that I was very eager to be an opera singer, and I wanted to write the opera songs that I sang. My friend Welda Dower, who lived down the street, was a year or so younger than I am.
Welda played the piano, and she had a music book with songs in it like "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Tenting Tonight" and "La Paloma," and we really went to town on those songs.
None of those ever got written down because her mother felt that the words weren t as good as the music, and that I should improve before we wrote them down. But we had an awful lot of fun doing this, and I really wanted to compose words to music. That was my major ambition, not only then but all through even college, with the big bands. You may be glad to know that I was a contributor to the words and lyrics of the big band of Ted Fiorito. He never actually played any of them, but he kept thanking me for sending them. See, Welda gave me the idea of using other, old tunes.
Then we d adapt we d get new words that we thought were more interesting than the old words for the old tunes. Then I would take some of Ted Fiorito s tunes and give them new words. Pretty awfully done, but still, he was a very nice person. He was playing at the Coconut Grove, which was near our house, and the two or three times that I did this, he would write me little notes saying, "These are very nice words.
They don t quite fit our needs, but keep on trying. Love, Ted. Pretty nice, huh? Did you see movies much? You were in a movie environment. On Latona, which was in the backwoods area in South Pasadena, the movies hadn t really hit yet, and we saw very few and they were very crummy.
Indeed, that s when my father felt we should move from there, that it was an area that would not grow and improve, and so indeed it hasn t.
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It s mostly paved over now with the freeway, though the corner store where we bought penny candy is still there. Last month I was going down the hall at Irvine, and to the fellow that was pushing my wheelchair I said, "Where did you grow up? That was this hole-in-the-wall place, a place where Chicano squatters squatted in the river bed, in the dry arroyo.
So it was a very interesting area, and my father was right to leave it and to go to the Wilshire district, but it was a terrible wrench for all of us, just a terrible, terrible wrench. Now suddenly we had no friends, no nothin. You and your brothers were quite companionable? Liked to do the same things in spite of the little gaps in age? There wasn t too much we could do together, but that was the thing we did do together, was go to the movies on Sunday afternoon. And listen to stories, be read to. Oh, that s true.
When we were still on Latona, my father had the boys help him with the yard work. It was always very awful because he always lost his temper. But then as a reward, after dinner, he would take us to Grauman s Egyptian Theater. It was a big event! I remember now.
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In other words, there was no movie near us, but we d go way over to Hollywood. So, yes, the Egyptian and the Chinese Theater were absolutely major events in our lives.
But then more when we went together, just my brothers and I in the Wilshire district. When we were in our teens, we went just to the local theaters. That s just when talking was coming in.
This wasn t the big epics kind of thing, but this was more Clive Brook. Remember Clive Brook? Really neat English comedy. Did the movies influence you in any way? I can t think how. But I don t think I have a very cinematic mind; I don t think I m all that visual. On the other hand, I don t think the movies are very much interested in what would you say? I m curious that you should have picked that up. Well, I suppose perhaps not, in view of your father s ragtime and It was very much my father.
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It was also Welda, my good friend. But she had to practice the piano every day. And the fact that we both thought we had beautiful voices, and we would get together with this book of songs and sing them together. Oh, it must have been a nest of singing birds. They would teach us "do, re me so, fa me so, la so," and that would be the way to read the notes that went with that tune. But I would just learn that immediately, and they didn t know I didn t know what I was reading.
And I never have learned to read music, and it s been a really mental block in my life. So now I should jump ahead and tell you how I didn t learn to read music when I was on sabbatical a few years ago. You don t want me to do that now, do you? Miles: You want to do it now? Well, when I took my sabbatical, since I couldn t go to Europe, I would go onto the campus by another gate, so that nobody would know I was there.
One of my sabbaticals was to learn how to read music. It was very hard to find a course that was easy enough, because I didn t have piano.
That was one big thing the problem that I couldn t play piano. My brothers didn t want to; if we d had a piano around, it would have been nice, but they wanted sports. Finally, the wife of a colleague and I, who were both looking for something very, very easy, found the really depth of simplicity in the whole Music Department, a course for teachers, Music , taught by Jack [John M. He did it by voice. So he would just have the students sing, sight-sing the notes, and sometimes go up to the piano.
He gave a lot of little quizzes, which I faithfully took. The most I ever got was 40 percent, but that was not too bad, considering the mental block I d built up I cannot hear the difference between a high note If I say "do re" I don t know which is higher and At the end, he wanted us to compose a tune to our own words. I had loads of words waiting for tunes, but I d never composed a tune, you see, as I said before.
So I had these words that I was very fond of. I had a kind of tune in my mind, but I didn t know how to get it onto paper. This was one of the most exciting things I ever did it was kind of like Helen Keller [laughing], except it didn t work out so well. All night long I tried to think what would be the right notes for those words, for what I was trying to do. I didn t really believe in tonic and dominant. In the Music Department, people are always saying, "Obviously you can t end there," and I would want to say, "Why can t you obviously end there?
So I decided I d start with three s and I would have a beginning and ending on three instead of on one. I thought it would sort of float. When it came back to me, Jack had marked it in red and said that it was very interesting, and he said, "It has a floating quality. I don t know if you realize that. He said, "It s not really orthodox enough to do much with.