I haven’t thought about Mickey Rooney more than a handful of times since I was in elementary school, but the news of his death yesterday, at 93, brought back memories that I thought were long gone. Though Rooney’s heyday was in the late 1930s and 1940s, his movies were fairly common on network TV in the 1960s, and I can still hear his spunky “Hey! Let’s put on a show!” in my mind’s ear. “Putting on a show” was always what was going to save the day from whatever pickle “those lovable kids” that Mickey ran with had gotten themselves into.
When I was growing up it was my sister Susan, two years older than me, who took on the role of the neighborhood Mickey Rooney. She was forever organizing kids in the neighborhood to put on shows. My sister’s shows weren’t created to deal with any particular crisis, but were rather the product of her immense restless energy, talent, and imagination. It was in one of these shows, put on in the living room of one our neighbors, that I remember making my debut as a musician, banging artfully on the bottom of an overturned trashcan. I was probably 7 or 8. I remember that my sister had convinced me that I had a very important part, so my memory of playing that trashcan is one of intense concentration, mindful that I didn’t want to screw up.
Performing has much the same flavor for me today. To be sure, it’s exhilarating to get out there on stage and strut your stuff, but I still wonder, sometimes, how I let myself get talked into banging the drum in public.