Connections

I’m fortunate to have more than 700 Facebook friends. Although I’ve become privy to their whims and ways, I really don’t know many on a personal basis. I’ve never met the majority, or shaken a hand, or chatted over an iced tea. That’s more a regret than a criticism. It’s a sign of the times, I guess. And yet, despite such detachment, there always seems to be a few who will spark a connection to my own sometimes distant whims and ways.

Flashback: July 1970

I’m sitting in one of those little tow tractors used to reposition jets on the flight deck. The jets are gone now so it’s dark out, quiet. We’re on our way back to America after a seven-month deployment. Tomorrow, we’ll dock in Florida. Tomorrow, my enlistment is done.

But this evening, it’s just the stars, my wristwatch…and me. It’s a given there will be no sleep. So a buddy has loaned me a cassette player for company. Good for an hour of his favored 60’s rock. Then what?

It’s 10 PM when I press play:

You were the sunshine, baby, whenever you smiled
But I call you stormy today
All of a sudden that ole rain’s fallin’ down
And my world is cloudy and gray

Huh? Who is this guy with such a smooth, clear voice, a kind of throaty baritone both distinctive and alluring, so different from the current airwaves fare?

The song ends; another begins:

In the cool of the evening
When everything is gettin’ kind of groovy
I call you up and ask you
Would you like to go with me and see a movie
First you say no you’ve got some plans for the night
And then you stop and say…all right
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you

It’s emotional, soulful, mellow. The band is seamless with elements of jazzy sax coupled with soft rock. But it’s that melancholy voice that is so hauntingly magnetic:

Waves…keep rolling out and in
‘Cross the sea and back again
As I watch them I begin,
To dream…

The tape runs out and I check its label. The Classics IV.

The Classics who?

Rewind to start. Play. Rewind. OK, once more. Then again. Again. And again again.

Before I know it…

When the sun comes up in the morning
Till the shadows start to fade
I think about a midnight long ago…

…it is 6 AM.

And someone named Dennis Yost has kept me company all night long.

Fast forward: May 2017

I’ve become Facebook friends with Linda Yost. She describes herself as the “wife/widow” of Dennis Yost. Yes, that Dennis Yost. It is only now that I learn of his death. He fell down a flight of stairs in 2006, suffered a debilitating brain injury, and passed away after spending the next two years in nursing homes.

I should be immune to poignant passings by now. Yet for some reason this news makes me feel very hollow.

The music of The Classics IV has been a constant companion in my life, evolving from cassette and LP to CD. In fact, the songs helped provide the generational inspiration I needed as I sat to write my book.

I never met Dennis Yost, although I would have relished the opportunity if only because of his influence on that dark night at sea. Yet listening to his voice and those Classics sounds always evokes a strange sense of closeness that is difficult to understand let alone convey.

Today, Linda is in charge of the Dennis Yost Severe Brain Trauma Foundation in Ohio.

I naturally must tell her the circumstances surrounding my introduction, as it were, to her husband. I feel silly, an old man recollecting what must seem like a teen-aged groupie story. I guess you had to be there, alone on that flight deck that night, to make sense of it, I say.

“No, I understand,” she replies, and adds how, before she even met Dennis, her family’s new dog had been christened “Spooky.”

“Dennis didn’t seem to realize how much his music meant to people.”

She shares that Dennis, realizing he could no longer perform, entrusted his lead-singer role to friend Tom Garrett. In the final year of his life, Dennis worked closely with Tom to keep the legacy and musical traditions of The Classics IV alive.

“Tom Garrett is a huge admirer of JFK,” Linda informs me, further bridging the connection.

Then, she offers me complimentary tickets to an upcoming show in Pittsburgh, and a rare opportunity of getting together with her and Tom, who has also become a Facebook friend.

“Can’t wait to meet you,” Linda says.

August 5, 2017                                                                                  

I’m watching a 2013 performance of the band recorded on YouTube. It’s the best I can do under the circumstances: the Pittsburgh concert was unexpectedly cancelled at the last moment.

In this video, a backdrop screen shimmers as it displays passing images of Dennis Yost. Tom Garrett walks forward to sing Traces. It was the highest-charting single by The Classics IV back in the heyday:

Faded photographs
Covered now with lines and creases
Tickets torn in half
Memories in bits and pieces

It’s fitting that he offers this particular song with these particular lyrics while those particular snapshots float overhead.

Tom has the admirable habit of doing this.

“I tell people that the place I stand on, on that stage, belongs to Dennis Yost,” he once told an interviewer. “He earned it and he asked me to take care of it for him. So, I’m the caretaker of that place on stage. That’s how I see my role.”

Although an in-person(s) connection was not made, I feel like I’ve come full circle with The Classics IV. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve circled back on myself.

I can picture Dennis Yost standing on a stage, mic in hand, that notable voice singing like he forever will on my overplayed disks. But of course that scene is nothing more than nostalgia talking. And that can be a dangerous dialogue if you aren’t careful enough.

For it is no longer Dennis Yost up there. It is no longer Cobb and Eaton and Wilson behind him. They have become the past. They have become one more regret.

But the passage of life and the evolution of The Classics IV has in no way diminished the quality of their current sound, nor the effectiveness of those enduring — dare I say endearing — lyrics. What you see now is the new Classics IV, still alive and well and doing what they do best. It is what Dennis Yost wanted, strived to make happen in his final days, worked hard to have continue long after his own passage through life.

And the connection to him – even though it’s without him – will always live on.

When the sun comes up in the morning
Till the shadows start to fade
I think about a midnight long ago…

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Connections

  1. Well said, Barry.
    I saw Dennis Yost and the Classics IV live, 90 days before you pushed the button on the cassette player. Those wonderful harmonics and sparkling lyrics live added a dimension that was just wonderful. No mouthing the words, no light show, no overdubbing tracks-just crystal-clear music. I had completely forgotten about that concert, so thanks for the brain jolt. I think much of the music today is so manufactured that kids have no appreciation of a true performance. But even though things change the music surely sings eternal.
    Robert Fitton

  2. mccrguy

    Totally respect ur interest in and life long dedication to the task of jfks death…

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