Seeking the Sound

When I was just 13 years old I saw The Glenn Miller Story. I was at boarding school in New Hampshire and we saw the show in the basement of the dorm. It was the only room big enough to rack all of us up. In that same scenario I had my own opportunities to perform, acting in Harvey, a play about an invisible rabbit. But never mind that. Anyway, I was thrilled by the movie and became a Glenn Miller fan on the spot. This both surprised and pleased my father, what with him being a Miller fan himself. He liked Tommy Dorsey, Red Nichols and the Dukes of Dixieland too. My mother liked Montovani, which my dad and I both considered bland as pablum. But we enjoyed watching mom as she puttered around listening because she would whistle to the music. Mom had a tin ear, and would whistle a single note that more or less tracked the piece she was listening to, which, as you might imagine, would cause not just my dad and I, but my sister as well to giggle surreptitiously.

But the Glenn Miller Story was special to we youthful watchers because Miller effectively disappeared toward the close of World War Two. He was believed killed in the crash of a Norseman airplane because the plane disappeared as well. However, with no wreckage to point to, it left an open question. My best buddies at school and I immediately began to plot a search of England in order to locate the missing bandleader who we thought was probably wandering the countryside with amnesia. Just as the story depicted Miller as seeking a particular sound for his band, we were going to seek him. We went so far as to get a picture of June Allyson to use as a memory jog to help him recall things. She played his wife in the movie, therefore if we showed him the photo, his memory would return and we would have returned an excellent musician to the world of music. By the way, I was a moron leading idiots.

The school lauded our intentions but put the kibosh on our plans by explaining the cost of tickets to the United Kingdom and pointing out it would take about 90 years of our combined allowances to collect the dough. They were kind enough not to humiliate us by explaining that Miller was lost in France, not England. Although I gave up on locating Miller, I still enjoy his music and every time the movie comes around I make it a point to watch it. I like that it never fails to carry me back to my youth, reminding me of a simpler time. The same is true of the movie White Christmas. Every year at yuletide I will get a bit misty during the finale when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing the title song. To me, that movie defines my childhood’s Christmases.

Last night I sat through the Glenn Miller Story, seated upon my brand new desk chair and reminisced about the good old days of boarding school. It struck me that the first time I kissed a girl was at that school. On movie nights they sometimes ferried girls from a nearby school much like ours, but populated by the opposite sex. I have no idea what movie played as I took my first step to manhood, ducking out the minute the lights went down. The deed was planned two weeks earlier when the girl and I proclaimed our affinity for one another, but in the bashfully reticent way of kids, at least back then, we hemmed and hawed too long to actually accomplish the momentous deed as we came to the agreement of mutual attraction. The both of us had looked forward to it for two weeks, and so when the moment came, we rushed to one another behind some trees and impacted so hard we both split our lips mashing them on our teeth.

My children now have children, which makes that embarrassing but cherished memory seem absolutely ancient, but it still warms me to think of it anyway.

James Stewart as Glenn Miller