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Michael McNevin: Music

Mr. Mayes (cassette demo off "Napkin Literature" bootleg tape, circa 1995

(Michael McNevin)
February 25, 2014

I wanna tell a birthday story to go with this song, since today is my birthday, Feb 25th. First of all, I am now two years older than Mean Old Mr. Mayes was in the song when I wrote it 20 years ago about the guy. Holy crap. Non-sequiter, I dig having the same Bday as George Harrison, my favorite BEATLE. For life's history and synchronicity and reflection though, there is another musician I share a birthday with, and how we met is quite cool. My sister from another Mother, Jan Easterday Chamberlain, and I, became friends in the strangest way possible. (Pardon improper past/present tense uses, and the 3rd person POV... artistic license... ). With No Further ado: The Story of Jan and Mike. Mike was living in the mountains at the time, up in Arnold, CA, and touring a lot. And he got to thinking about Old Mr. Mayes, who lived on Ila Ct (a cul de sac.) in Niles, CA, a few houses down from Mike's old childhood home on Washburn Dr. In 1966, when Mike was a tyke, Mr. Mayes and Mike became friends, because Mr. Mayes, for some reason, didn't get as pissed at Mike when he was with his brothers and other local kids chucking dirt clods all over Mr. Mayes' court. Instead, Mr. Mayes befriends Mike, lets him hang in the court, offers him gum, asks him if he can do his ABC's, asks about mike's Mom and Dad, things like that. Four-year-old Mike and Old Mr. Mayes are pals. Fast forward about 30 years to the mid 1990s, Mike goes back to Niles to find old Mr. Mayes and thank him for the kindness and the gum, to maybe take him to dinner. But Mr. Mayes has passed away. Sadness. Mike really wanted to see the old guy and talk old times. So a few months later Mike writes a song about Mr. Mayes, en route from El Paso To Phoenix, to honor his memory and kindness. Mike gets back to his cabin in the central Sierra, and records a rough tape cassette version of the song for posterity. The next time Mike passes by Niles, CA, he stops in and manages to find Mrs. Mayes, who was still alive at the time, living in a nice little trailer park at the mouth of Niles canyon. Through her, he also meets their son Jon Mayes, who is the exact same age as Jan from St. Louis. At that time back in '66, Mike is four years old, little Jan Easterday is 10 years old, and the Mayes's son Jon is also 10 years old. Coincidence? We'll see. About 4 houses around the corner from Ila Ct, the McNevin brothers have moved in on Washburn Dr. We now Fast Forward about 30 years of Jan's life, to 1995 or 1996, when Jan hears a song on the radio in St. Louis while she's outside gardening on a sunny Sunday morn. She hears the lyrics, and thinks, what? Does she actually know this character Mr. Mayes in the song? Did she just hear the street name where she lived, when she lived in a little CA town as a girl back in the '60s? Is that a song about her neighbor on Ila Ct.? Could this little bootleg cassette Jan hears, the only one in the hands of any DJ in the U.S., be mentioning her old home and neighbor (btw - In the studio CD version, Ila ct got written out of the lyric, more dumb luck for Jan's ear to catch the street name while she's gardening). You see, in 1966, Mike and Jan didn't know each other, because Jan's mom warned her about the the McNevin boys, and, two years later in 1968, Jan moved to St. Louis at age 12, and all contact was lost forever. Or was it. SO - Jan writes Mike the songwriter a postcard to ask "is it possible that this song is about her old street and her old neighbor, Mr. Mayes, circa 1960-1968 when she was a kid?" Yes it is. Now it gets interesting. Mike had just played in Niles The VERY NIGHT BEFORE he got that post card from Jan. For the first time ever, since growing up, Mike returned to Niles to do a kind of homecoming & benefit concert in the Niles School auditorium to raise dough for the 6th grade science camp. He's been living in the Mtns and other points east, so this particular concert day rekindles many memories. Mike runs into old friends, including a few of his old elementary teachers who are thrilled to know Mike didn't end up in Jail. BUT more important and bizarre, he runs into a woman he knew pretty well as a kid - Lisa Goudy; the first girl he ever kissed playing "spin the bottle" at the side of his pal Gary Teague's house on D st, about 10 houses over. But it is ALSO a fact that Lisa grew up on Ila Court, same court as Jan from St. Louis, and they both knew old Mr. Mayes. Lisa lived just three doors down from Mr. Mayes. Mike hadn't seen Lisa since about 1978, 20 years earlier. Crazy then to run into Lisa after 20 years, crazier still to get a postcard the VERY NEXT DAY day from Jan in St. Louis, asking about the song she thinks might be about her old neighbor from 30 years prior. RECAP: Jan hears the song while she's gardening, on a radio station in St. Louis, on the only radio show anywhere that had that song, in cassette form no less, a bootleg that was gotten at a festival in Texas by DJ Larry Weir, who's Sunday show is on KDHX in St. Louis and who will actually play a cassette on a radio show, which DJs simply don't do no more. Jan writes to Mike, and Jan's letter arrives the very day after Mike's first time playing music in Niles since he was 17, where the girl Mike knew back in the 60s and 70s is also at that concert, the first girl he ever kissed, Mike's first childhood sweetheart, who he hasn't seen in 20 years, who also lived on Ila Ct. and who knew Mr. Mayes, and who knew Jon Mayes, the Mayes' son, who has been missing his old childhood sweetheart Jan for 30 years. -- This is All an amazing woven bit of thread. BUT - that's just the half of it. So Mike calls Lisa the day after the concert, after getting Jan's post card in the mail, and says, "Lisa, you won't believe this. I see you after all these 20 years, and the next day I get this post card from a woman named Jan in St. Louis, who lived on Ila Court too, from 1960-1968, 30 years ago! Ain't that crazy? Some DJ got my song in Texas, about Mr. Mayes, on a cassette, and this woman actually heard the damn thing on the radio while she was gardening? and Knows Mr. Mayes, LIVED on your court! Crazzzzzy!!" Then Mike reads the house address in the postcard to Lisa, that Jan says was her exact old house address on Ila Ct., and Lisa says "Mike! that was MY HOUSE!" Shut the Front Door. That's Right - Jan lived in the exact same house as Lisa; Lisa moved in, when Jan moved out. And that ain't the half of it either. Mike is able to find wife Mrs. Mayes, then meets Jon Mayes, their son. Well, readers, as you know, Mr. Mayes' son Jon has been pining for Jan all these 30 years, wondering where his little neighborhood girlfriend had gone. They now reunite. Jan's married with kids, but hell, a few friendly emails doesn't hurt right? . More Recap: Mike's old sweetheart Lisa, moves into Jon's old sweetheart's house, and they all become friends again through a series of haystacks and needles. Once it all unfolds, it is easy to set up a reunion. Within a year, Jon and Jan and Mike all meet in the old Niles neighborhood together, walk by the old houses on Ila Ct. and Washburn Dr., where Lisa still lives, and they all bask in the history and synchronicity. BUT IS that ALL? Of course not! During subsequent concert tours to St. Louis, the Kerrville Folk Fest in TX, and elsewhere, Jan and Mike get to hang out and they find out they have a LOT MORE in common. Both are songwriters. Both play Alvarez guitars. In 1966, when Jan is watching the McNevin boys wreck her court with rocks, four-year-old Mike is also enrolled in "Indian Guides" with his dad (kinda like boy scouts), and Mike's honorary Indian Guide name is "Running Wolf". Well, Jan's music publishing name all these years is Running Wolf Music. Get OUT! And, the kicker - Jan and Mike have the same birthday too - Feb 25th. Uh huh, that's right. Sooooo - Happy birthday Jan Easterday Chamberlain, best to you. Love Mike, your little brother from another mother. RIP Mr. Mayes. RIP George Harrison. 

Post Post Note: I just now found the original copy of the mountain cabin rough of Mr. Mayes, it's in digital form - the same version off that old bootleg cassette I was selling of myself that the DJ had in St. Louis. You can hear all the tape hiss, the crappy mic, and crappy quality. My friend Joe Gallegos burned it for me a long time ago to preserve it digitally. The whole bootleg cassette was called "Napkin Literature - Stories From The Road" - created one by one on a dubbing deck as I drove town to town in my 4Runner. I eventually had 500 mass produced, and sold those before ending the run. Larry the DJ bought one of the first batch, about 20 cassettes I dubbed while driving from CA to TX, which is how it got played in St. Louis that fateful day. I could release it on disc someday, clean it up maybe... so much tape hiss, half of it was live radio interview board tapes, some from my 4 track recorder up at my cabin in Arnold, and some tracks from live concert tape copies I got after shows in the midwest and elsewhere. I'll try to figure out how to at least post the cassette version of Mr. Mayes version with the Ila Court line, it'll be on my website for downloading. Yup, I'm marketing the song i guess, but it's free. Look there sometime soon in my music section at www.michaelmcnevin.com. Thanks for readin' the rambles of a mean old man on his birthday. 

MR. MAYES

He was fifty, I was four. 
Mr. Mayes lived around the corner.
It was a prime location for neighborhood sports, 
dirtclod fights on summer days; 
it was a place for us to gather.

Well, he'd get fed up with all the noise, 
and he'd freeze our blood with his voice.
"Hey, you kids, get out of here!" 
We'd run, some wet their pants in fear.
The kids would scream and scatter.

(Chorus) Well, they'd drop their rocks and run away.
Here comes mean old Mr. Mayes.

But I was slow, and just too young 
to know what wrong I might've done.
I'd stay behind, and out he'd come 
with a gentle smile and a stick of gum.
Up close his voice was nicer.

We'd stand a while and chew the fat. 
"Which one are you - John, Danny, or Pat?"
I'd say, "Mike," and he'd tip his cap, 
and give his head a thoughtful scratch, 
and it made my answer matter.

"how old are you?", he'd always ask. 
I'd show him 4 fingers. "Well imagine that,
you' learned to count. want more gum?" 
I'd nod my head and he'd start to laugh, 
and say, "You look just like your brothers." 

......(Chorus)

He'd say, "I bet you know your ABC's." 
I'd leave a few out but I'd get to Z.
"Good young man, that was better than me. 
who knows what you'll grow up to be - a pitcher or a batter."

"Well, it sure is nice outside today. 
Little buddy, why don't you go play.
But you come by here any day. 
And you say 'Hi' from Mr. Mayes 
to your Mommy and your Daddy." 

......(Chorus)

Well, I went back to say hello, 
but he passed on ten years ago.
Too late now, but I wish I'd known. 
I wanna hear him say how much I've grown.
I wanna take him out to dinner.

© 1995 Michael McNevin

NOTE: My CDBaby Website Music functions doesn't allow me to offer up the 'release date' of songs for years before 2000, not sure why. So, while it says today is the release date, it just means I'm posting the song today, Feb 25th, 2014, but this rough cassette demo recording of Mr. Mayes was recorded in a cabin on a cassette recorder, back in 1995. It is just an old version of the song, for posterity. Not produced, quality is what it is, hiss and fidelity and mixing being straight into a tape deck using a low end vocal mic (probably a Shure SM58). Enjoy :-)