Mike Hamer Stories: One Scene at a Time
Some musings following the publication of my profile of Mike in the Daily Reflector. It includes “One Scene at a Time,” a song Mike wrote in 1994 and which I found in one his journals in the Mike Hamer Papers in Special Collections at Joyner Library, which also include the original manuscripts for his stories “The Old Place Had a Hinge to My Soul,” “The Simple Joys in Life,” and “Tony 2-Tone, Teacher.“
“I was asked to write something. I tried, but couldn’t do it.” A longtime friend of Mike Hamer’s posted this comment after an article was published about Hamer in the local newspaper.
A woman added that a friend read the article aloud to her: “But he choked up and could barely finish. Miss him so.”
And I can understand it. Regardless of theological beliefs and hopes of a better place in the beyond, death means separation, at least for the time being. And that’s hard to take, when you’ve grown accustomed, like his friends had, to Christmas shows at R. A. Fountain and St. Paddy’s Day ensembles at Christy’s Europub. Or “reunion” jaunts in the woods. Or just casual conversation about the latest song written.
But several of Hamer’s close friends were contacted and a good number responded, sharing cherished memories. Still, for every one that was contacted, 10…or perchance 100…were out there, many saying, “Mike was my very best friend.”
Dickens could have used Mike Hamer as an inverse example in A Christmas Carol. A visit to Christmas past would have unleashed throngs of spirits eager to tell their stories of interactions with a remarkable human being.
But the devil is in the details. The actual writing of his story, by the light of day, is easier imagined than done. Who could do it justice? How can one presume to understand the mind of a man who had been through so much?
His closest friends, many who are gifted, creative people themselves, would have the best shot at it. And yet they find themselves paralyzed by the enormity of the undertaking. Or unwilling to entrust personal memories clutched to the breast like a holy shroud to mere words, in all their mortal inadequacy.
And so are Mike Hamer’s words, most personal, very often raw and reflective, to gather dust on the third floor of a library, in the bowels of the university’s special collections? Will his lyrics languish?
His story about the beloved old 5 bedroom house out in the country burning to the ground that he tangibly titled, “The old place had a hinge to my soul”? His recollections of “Tony 2-Tone, Teacher,” his cat who lived to be 100 years old in people years, that Hamer envied due to the cat’s uncanny ability to live in the moment? “The “simple joys in life,” as learned from his Uncle Gerard? His self-admonitions, to allow himself freedom to write bad songs, because some would be good? Proddings to learn to like himself?
In a song he wrote in 1994, Mike seems concerned about story preservation himself. Ostensibly, he’s addressing someone else… “you”…. whose “brittle bones feel so old.” He wrote the song in 1994, so he would have been only 46 then, not old by my standards. He may very well have been talking to his Uncle Roland, the piano player, or his Uncle Gerard, one of his favorites. But some of the verses feel autobiographical…..”a child on a family farm,” “a man playing on a big bandstand…”
He speaks of “lyrics found and melodies that have gone”…exactly the reality of the matter except for the efforts of his friends who don’t just find brittle pages of lyrics in a library but have vivid melodic memories, and keep the songs going.
He encourages us “not to fret,” but affirms “your tale must be told.”
Because “the young ones need to understand.”
And so it is apparent. When Mike Hamer was alive, he needed a little help from his friends, from his caregivers, to get around. To hoist where the wheels wouldn’t roll.
It isn’t our story to write…any of us who have happened along and become mesmerized by it. It’s a story that has already been written by Mike Hamer, himself, but needs excavation. Careful chiseling around prized treasure and dusting off, so it can be put on display for others to learn from and enjoy. And he just needs a little help with that. One scene at a time.
“One Scene at a Time”
by Mike Hamer © 1994
You say the winter winds are so cold
That your brittle bones feel so old
And you don’t have the spark you used to
Come on and spend the day with me
We’ll heat up a pot of tea
You can tell me your history
We’ll take it slow and we’ll go
One scene at a time
Yes, we will show me your story
We’ll do it right and we’ll go
One scene at a time
We’ll see the movie of your life
Here I see you as a child
When you were so lean and wild
Working on your family’s farm
There I see you as a man
Playing on a big bandstand
Ebony and ivories caught in your spell
Now I can hear your song
As the scenes keep rolling on
Lyrics found and melodies that have gone
Now I understand your song
Tell the director not to fret
Call for quiet on the set
Let’s put this one in the can
Your tale must be told
Though the supper’s getting cold
The young ones need to understand.
The three stories Mike Hamer stories included here were transcribed by Donna Davis from Mike’s notebooks