What's in a name? 


Well, my mother named me Melvyn... evidently after the actor Melvyn Douglas, who was quite the heart throb in the late 30s, 40s and on into the 50s... I know, she dragged me along to many of his movies.  

My mother Rose, (given name Becky) loved movies, and I do too. During my early years I was taken to many movies by my parents. I squirmed through romances and many love scenes. I writhed with mirth during many comedies. I sulked through Astaire and MacDonald Dance epics, and I was transfixed by cowboy and action movies.... featuring stars named Buck, Hopalong, Roy, Gene, Durango and Billy. (Why didn't my parents name me one of those amazing cool names? I could've held my head up high with a name like that, but no, Melvyn it remained. Heck, in retrospect, I might have been named Melvin! (I am often abused in this way by people who don't know about the alternate spelling!)

Then, a cousin of mine, Lenore Leader, the eldest of all my paternal family cousins, thought I was a really cute little kid, and from then on named me Mel (thanks Lenore, sincerely!) From then on I had to struggle to be called Mel, but until I grew into myself at age 18 or so, it was not to be, as evidenced by the strident, elongated come-to-supper calls by my mom.

I was also named after my late maternal grandfather, Motelchai Katz.... and thus my Hebrew name is Mordecai...  During the late 60s, I auditioned for the role of Motel the Tailor, when "Fiddler on the Roof" was produced in Johannesburg in 1969. I didn't get the part. Although a tall dark haired Christian guy named Tom McSomething did!

Then in 1963 I transferred to the Johannesburg School of Art, where I soon met Mel Miller, with whom I started a folk duo, at first called Melvyn & Melvyn (yes, his mother also loved Melvyn Douglas, the film idol!) This name for an up-and-coming folk duo was decidedly uncool, so we changed it to Mel &Mel... and when Julian Laxton joined, it was tempered somewhat to Mel, Mel & Julian.

Mel Miller was  much taller than moi, and both being fair haired, slim, blue-eyed, goyishe-looking Jewish boys, helped the name stick. Although at times, in my mind's eye I saw myself as a Woody Allen type, while he was of the well-built Charles Atlas variety. Like a typical "before and after", you know?

Anyhow, now that I am in my 60s, I don't really care about names, I like myself... and I've achieved a lot, made quite a few of my dreams come true...and I am so happy that I was not named something else... When I get the chance, let me introduce you to my (beloved) cousins, Selwyn, Wilfred, Max, Ivan and Errol...

They will all attest that, based on their considerable achievements, they don't think that names matter at all either.

Surprise, nerves... and memory!

I dropped in at an Open Mic the other evening to catch good friends doing their feature. As luck and time would have it, I arrived later than I'd have liked to, due to late dinner and other obligations.  

My other good friend who runs this really special venue in Lincoln saw me coming in and told his wife that he wanted me to do a song... how could I refuse? OK... I processed that and began to mentally figure out which song to sing. 

These days I admit that I prefer to sing with backing musicians, if only for the reassurance that they might cover my flubs, and also because they really enhance my vocal and guitar playing. 

I had not brought a guitar along because I did not register for the open mic (required by noon of the same day latest) and so I did not expect to sing, and that was really fine by me... so, imagine my surprise when I had just found a seat minutes after my arrival, when the host announced that I would be the next performer!

Instant yikes! Moisture in the armpits where there had been none before! I freaked... when I really should have taken a very deep breath instead... a friend sitting in the seat immediately in front of me offered to lend me her guitar, so she and I rushed into the "green room" where she unpacked her beautiful guitar from her gig bag... and I then went back out into the main performance room... obviously because I was not ready,the host had already put someone me else on in my stead to keep the "show" flowing smoothly.

This is where the nerves really kicked in... the performer was doing a song about the seasons, so I thought, "good idea"... I can do my song about the seasons which would be a brilliant segue. 

The host generously introduced me., paying me all sorts of wonderful compliments ("one of my favorite performers and songwriters, always a pleasure to have at the venue etc. blah, blah etc.") Now I am really sweating!
I began the tune and would'ja believe it (yes you would!) I forgot the lyrics, then I remembered the first line, launched into a beautiful vocal, playing this gorgeous guitar, and again my memory failed me as I then began to make up the words as I went along, bad rhymes and all! 

(My memory ain't what it used to be and I've performed this song countless times, as it is one of my earliest compositions... and once I had finished and after some appreciative applause (I had performed the song convincingly according to comments and compliments afterwards).

I realize that I should really play and practice these tunes if only to have them memorized when such a rare occasion arose again.

Yes indeed, surprise, combined with nerves, really do combine to screw up one's memory. Next time I'll do better... I hope!


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