The Days of Johnny
When I was growing up in Houston, tv had its place in the world.
If the evening news was on, it meant the tv was about to be turned off and dinner would be on the table any minute.
It meant we had a special break in our day to huddle together, all the classes of my elementary school, and watch a man walk on the moon. In hushed silence, holding our breath, my entire community felt the enormity of the event.
We were one planet with one common awe.
On Friday nights, it meant the family sat together on the sofa and watched Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore and, our favorite, the Carol Burnet Show.
Saturday mornings, my sister and I would eat Lucky Charms and watch Super Heroes save the world, or laugh hysterically over Road Runner’s antics. We would travel through the human body with miniature scientists or close our eyes when we heard the Sleezstacks coming through a cave. Sunday nights was the Wonderful World of Disney, again, as a family, watching together.
But, in essence, tv was mystical. It was turned on and off with authority (my parents.) It was not an invader that took over our home and sullied our dinner time or told us what to think (although it has always told us what to buy!)
And, before the choice of a million channels and all the noise, there was the King. There was Johnny Carson bringing late night to life.
If, by chance, our parents let us stay up to watch Johnny, it was a complete thrill because it meant we got to be a part of our parent’s world. It meant we were big people, too…And, if we made it through the monologue (it always sounded confusing as children…”why was that funny, mom?”) then we got to see Johnny with exotic animals or see him dress up in outrageous costumes. He, like the man on the moon, brought us together…as families, as communities.
Being able to be on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was nothing short of an honor. Singing to an audience I could barely see, let alone understand, was astounding. But getting to sit on the sofa with the man next to me was a miracle. Here was someone who met, what seemed like, all the most influential people of the world.
My grandparents, the musicians in my family, always amazed me. My grandma, sitting at her Steinway, and my grandfather, bopping along on his saxophone, encouraged me to make music. Sitting next to my grandma on her piano bench was exciting because I, again, got to be in a grownup world, keeping up with their effortless flow of everchanging jazz chords. As I look back now, they must have had great love in their hearts, knowing that I couldn’t really play along at their pace on my guitar, but that I so wanted to be like them.
So, getting to go on Johnny was more than “me.” It was about my family, my legacy. I knew it made my grandparents proud that what they had started I got to complete on their behalf.
At the end of the first show, as the credits were rolling, I felt an incredible urge to give Johnny a gift. I felt like the little drummer boy…”What do I have to give that is fit for a king?”….and the only thing I could think of was my watch. I undid the band and handed it to Johnny. I think he was stunned, of course!, but he graciously accepted it as I hugged him like a little kid with a new puppy. The joy I felt was intense!
I want to say thank you to Johnny again… Bless you for all the joy you brought to millions and millions of people. There will never be another person who changed the face and future of television like you. And thank you for helping this little girl’s dream become a woman’s reality…Bless you on your new journey…