Classical Deja Vu

Tom C. Erb

© Copyright 2018 by Tom C. Erb

Photo of the Smothers Brothers.

 I've got all kinds of music that resonates with me when I hear it. Sometimes I sing out loud to the radio as I’m driving down the road, or it brings a smile or a tear because it reminds me of special moments. However, there is one song that has visited me and created several musical meanings and memories each time it revisited me. As a matter fact, this is one of those songs that always brings me a smile.

The first time I ever hear this song was on one of my favorite variety show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It was a fun show and when they introduced Mason Williams playing “Classical Gas” I was amazed how cool it was and how good Williams played it. 

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour aired from 1967-1969 and they would have Mason Williams play this acoustic classical song many times on the show. This song became one of those songs you hear on the radio occasionally, and you would turn it up a little louder to remember sitting on the floor watching Dick and Tommy Smothers make you laugh. That memory alone would have been enough for me. However, in high school in 1972 this song would make a comeback into my life. 

I was a junior at Middletown High School in Middletown, Rhode Island. Our Junior Class was producing the play “Thurber’s Carnival” by James Thurber. Thurber’s play is a series of skits that has a Saturday Night Live feel to it. Our director incorporated music of the time and blended it all together to have a feel of “Laugh In” and “SNL”.

Some of the skits titles were: "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox", "The Wolf at the Door", "The Last Flower", and “The Pet Department”. I was in several the skits. One of the big hits of the show was when all of the cast danced in a “Laugh In” style dance freeze. I believe the song we dance to was “Schools Out” by Alice Cooper. 

We would all dance around with each other in all kind of costumes and when the music would stop everyone would freeze, except one person or one couple, and then they would tell a joke or make a statement. This repeated many times. 

In the finale our director decided that we would dance off of the stage into the audience and back up for curtain calls to this song “Classical Gas”, Enter moment and memory number two. This second appearance of this song was a powerful one for me, which even got better when we got the opportunity to take it to Rogers High School in Newport.

Now this was an interesting situation because Rogers High School has an auditorium with a much larger stage that made our little postage stamp stage in our cafeteria seem so small. At least for me it was like we went from Off Broadway to Lincoln Center. 

We pulled it off and had a large receptive audience. Enter moment and memory number three. The finale and running through this large playhouse just solidify what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. For the most part, I have always stayed true to having theatre in my life, in one shape or form. Most would think, including myself this would be the last Classical Gas memory for me. But we would be wrong. The best was yet to come.

Fast-forward almost twenty years. I had just moved to Florida and I was hired to be the Fitness Director at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. This was a fun job because many big stars lived and played at this Wellington, Florida community. My job was to manage the Pro Shop, Fitness Center, teach aerobic classes and do private classes. 

At first it took some getting used to walking into an aerobics class, fitness center or the pro shop and seeing, Fred Couples, Dustin Hoffman, Calvin Klein, The Gabor sisters, Sylvester Stallone and mother just to name a few. And as fate would have it, one morning Dick Smothers walked through the door to take a class. 

He asked me after the class if I taught private classes and would I do walking in the early morning. I told him to schedule a session with the consigliore, which in most cases was how I schedule my day. To my surprise he scheduled a session for the next day at six o’clock in the morning. 

That next morning I was waiting at the consigliores’ desk dressed to walk and he was very punctual. He told me had a route he likes to walk but just needed to have someone make him pick up the pace. I just encouraged him to just walk his route and let’s see what happens.

He took me on a beautiful morning walk through Palm Beach Polo and Country Club world acclaimed golf courses. I pushed him pretty hard and wasn’t sure when we were done, if I pushed him to hard. At any rate we had the chance to talk and get know each other. He told me stories about him and his brother growing up and I told him about the watching The Smothers Brothers and how much I enjoyed watching it, and my “Classical Gas” connections. He proceeded to tell me some great stories about Mason Williams.

He must have enjoyed our walk because he scheduled a twice a week routine for the remained of the winter season. Our talks included every subject under the sun. One morning during our walk he told me that Tommy and he were doing a show in Fort Lauderdale and Mason Williams would be there. He said, “If you want I can leave you a couple of tickets at Will Call to see the show”.

Of course I accepted. It wasn’t just a couple of tickets it was an evening of backstage pass, meeting Tommy, Pat Paulsen and Mason Williams. If all of that wasn’t enough, watching “Classical Gas” performed by Mason Williams live just thirty feet away made for a grand memory, made grand by all.

I often think about the time I spent with Dick Smothers. I now live less than twenty miles from him and maybe someday we will run into each other again. He probably won’t remember me at first, but once I refresh his aging memory we can pick up where we left off.

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