Over the Rainbow

By Kathy Harlan

A gentle snow fell on the city, turning to ice a few minutes after it landed on solid, gray buildings and imposing monuments. The flakes that floated to the street became part of the icy mud that paralyzed traffic, causing people to lean on their horns or shout at pedestrians. I got close to my destination, then fled the taxi and walked the last few blocks.

For two hours the people inside the auditorium forgot the chaos outside, as a tiny woman with a big voice sang her heart out. Finally, as the lights dimmed, she came to the edge of the stage and sat down with her legs dangling over the bare boards. Everyone there knew it was close to the end of her career; the drugs and diet pills had worked their evil magic on a once magnificent talent. Her voice was raspy and her breathing was heavy as Judy Garland began to sing the words that defined her life. “Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.” She died a few weeks later, and the poignancy of that performance will always remain a part of me.

When music, occasion, and emotions combine to create one of those magical moments it is a treasure never to be forgotten.

Growing up in the ’50s, I enjoyed the beginnings of rock and roll – the “safe” versions. Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill,” even Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was okay. But I was married and raising three children when I heard the song that led me to love Rock ’n Roll with capital Rs. Woodstock was over, and we were in Houston basking in the success of Apollo 11 when I heard a song on the radio that made me stop what I was doing and stand still until it was over – Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” The raw and pure emotion in the voice singing those amazing lyrics was mesmerizing. Then I learned that Janis had died at age 27, before “Bobby McGee” was released. I would never be able to hear her sing it live. So I trekked to Austin, to Threadgills restaurant, where she used to perform. There was a pull-down stage, small and rough, and I imagined the plain, unpopular, unloved child finding herself there, with people eating chicken-fried steak and drinking Shiner Bock and cheering as she wailed “Feelin’ good was good enough for me, Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”

Music has been a highlight of our international travel. We thrilled to Gregorian chants in a tiny church in England built by Charlemagne. We were two of the five people present and the chants echoing off the stone walls were unforgettable. High above Barcelona Spain is the Montserrat Monastery where the world-famous boys choir trains. Hearing the beautiful, clear voices echoing through the mountains was a thrilling experience. The Salt Miners Band, made up of local mine workers around Austria was a treat. And what could be more special than an organ concert in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris?

In Cordoba, Spain, we discovered a small restaurant in the Jewish Section that looked and sounded inviting. We squeezed into a small room filled mostly by a German choir on tour who sang as they ate dinner and for several more hours. Their repertoire included lovely folk music but also many nationalistic and militant songs. The waiters, who were Sephardic (Spanish Jews), may have been uncomfortable but they politely served the raucous group all evening. The only Americans present, we applauded their efforts many times, and obviously enjoyed the evening. They finished by turning to us, bowing, and treating us to their version of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

We had trekked all day in the foothills of Nepal only to find the field where we had intended to camp was totally underwater. It added another half-mile to the day’s challenges. Earlier, we had discovered that the rain had brought out huge piles of purple maggots that we had to navigate around – or across if necessary. Add to that the leeches that had attached themselves to our feet and legs, causing lines of blood to creep across shoes and stockings. After finally getting the tents set up, peeling off the leeches to the amusement of villagers who came to watch, and having dinner in the damp air, we prepared for bed in the tents set up on the soggy ground.

As we lay trying to relax and put aside the thoughts of maggots and leeches, an amazing event began. In the hills above our campsite a Hindu temple was located. At dusk the priests came outside with their primitive instruments to end the day with music. A bamboo flute, violin-like sarangi, and Napalese rhythm instruments combined to create a stunning concert that floated through the gentle hills and eased us to sleep.

It was the best concert of my life.

Everyone there knew it was close to the end of her career;
the drugs and diet pills had worked their evil magic on a once
magnificent talent. Her voice was raspy and her breathing was heavy
as Judy Garland began to sing the words that defined her life. “Somewhere,
over the rainbow, way up high, There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.”
She died a few weeks later, and the poignancy of
that performance will always remain a part of me.

About this writer

  • Kathy Harlan Kathy Harlan lived and loved the space program years with her family in Houston. Now she volunteers and writes for fun.

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