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Penkava: Never dance near a picture window

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I love music, but I didn’t always. Back in the day in grade school, we had music class once a week … not enough to help me love music, but just enough to make me hate it.

Class usually consisted of the girls singing and the boys listening as their collective eyes rolled. I must admit that I liked “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” but I got really confused with the part when someone named Dinah was blowing her horn and then suddenly she’s in the kitchen with a banjo player. And what does “fee, fie, fiddly-i-o” mean, anyway?

Nevertheless, despite Dinah, a darling named Clementine, and an old lady who ate flies, I actually did grow up appreciating music. The first record I ever got was Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack.” I played it over and over until my dad told me that if I didn’t stop playing it then I would have to hit the road. I couldn’t play it no more, no more, no more, no more.

As a teenager, my music appreciation blossomed into a passion. I bought an old, used guitar, but quickly discovered that a left-hander with a right-handed guitar was like Michael without a boat to row ashore. But with a little string rearrangement and some practice, I was singing Polly Wolly Doodle all the day.

I went through various musical phases as the years went by. For a while, I was Bob Dylan, but the times were a-changin’, so then I became Simon without a Garfunkel, but still was feelin’ groovy. One day when morning had broken, I found myself playing like Cat Stevens, but by sundown I was Gordon Lightfoot, followed by Don McLean under a starry, starry night.

As the years passed by, I picked and grinned my way through a multitude of other musical chapters, from Chapin to Croce, to Donovan to Denver, to Guthrie to Goodman. But from pretty much the ’80s onward, I tuned out current popular music. Grunge was too grungy, Heavy Metal was too heavy, New Wave was too wavy, and Techno was too technical. I did get into Indian Pop music for a while, with a fascination for Bollywood dancing, but I got tired of hearing my wife telling me not to dance near the picture window where the neighbors could see me, so I lost interest.

After that, I just recycled myself through my favorite oldies … until recently. One evening I was surfing through my Netflix choices under the “Rock and Pop Concerts” section. I thought I had clicked on Jackson Brown, but up popped someone named Taylor Swift. I was really tired and running on empty, so I just sat there and started watching her concert. And guess what? I got hooked.

I turned up the volume of the TV. My head started bobbing and my toes started tapping. Before I knew it, I had listened to the whole concert. I even found myself going upstairs to my office, grabbing my vintage 1968 Martin D-18 acoustic guitar, and figuring out the chords to “Today Was a Fairytale.” I admit it was not as weighty as “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” but then again, when was the last time I got a chance to sing about being a damsel in distress?

So maybe I’m not too old to get into a new genre of music. Sure, like my wife says, it’s just another phase, like the Bollywood dancing. But it was George Carlin who quoted some anonymous smart person who once said, “Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.”

So I’ll just keep on hearing my music and dancing to it. And if I’ve become a Swiftie, so be it. Only I’ll try to stay away from the windows.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently accompanying his wife as she shops for mini-blinds. He can be reached at  

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