The first time I heard Michael Franks was after school one day during my final teaching year. Carolyn and I shared a room – she was the mainstream teacher, I was the special educator. After Carolyn left for the day, Howard would slip around the folding wall that separated the rooms. We’d talk about life and marriage. Teaching and children. Books and music. Blacks and Whites.
One day Howard played an album I’d never heard of. I liked it immediately. I don’t remember the song that hooked me, but Howard told me how he and his wife loved the music of the musican, Michael Franks. How they tried to get to his concerts whenever he was in the area. He showed me the album cover – a man’s hands cupped, holding a dragonfly. The album cover was in sepia tones, as are the photographs in the liner notes.
Howard loaned me the album, but after a while I decided to buy one for myself. I liked listening to it in the car on the way home from teaching. It calmed me down before getting home to my own children. My husband thought the music was ok, but he didn’t really like it all that much – typical of his reaction to most music I listened to.
A couple of years later I bought another Michael Franks album and was in for a shock: Michael Franks is white. Michael Franks is not African-American. Michael Franks is not Black. He is white.
See, Howard was African-American. I assumed that his favorite musician would be too. The album cover was ambiguous. It still looks like a Black man’s hands holding the dragonfly.
When I listened to the songs again, after the discovery, they sounded different to me. Isn’t that weird?
Here he is playing Eggplant (which is actually one I don ‘t know)
And wouldn’t you know it – he’s going to be at the Birchmere this weekend!
* obscure reference to Dan Bern’s Different Worlds