Life… A Full Circle Celebration

Posted by Ernie Cefalu on 15 May, 2010

I heard a Peter, Paul & Mary song today that I knew very well. “Blowing In The Wind” was a song that I first heard a long time ago, yet it seemed just like yesterday, that I sang along, knowing every word. I remembered the first time I heard it at seventeen; my brother Ron and I were into a hot and heavy game of spin-the-bottle with the Catagan sisters, Sharon and Jackie, our next-door summertime neighbors.

The girls spent every summer with their grandmother, her son, their uncle Dominick, and us. Dominick was very cool – he was 28, smoked, drank and drove a Cadillac. Some times he would let us all ride around with him. He always had the radio on and Rock N’ Roll music quickly became our whole world, along with knowing with great certainty how cool it was going to be when we were his age and able to do all the stuff Dominick was able to do. I just couldn’t wait!

Now, what seems like just 10 winks and 48 years later I’m turning 65 and when I am not wondering where it all went, I take stock of the things that I have to show for time spent, there are a few learning’s that I know for certain:

First: I know that my life is not measured by the number of breaths that I take, but rather the moments that take my breath away.

Second: I know that if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken much better care of myself (no drinking, no smoking cigarettes) from my 20’s to my 40’s.

Third: I know that Mary Travers once shared with me some words of wisdom about how fast life slips by and how very hard it has been to say goodbye! Whether it’s to a loved family member or a good friend, for a few minutes, a couple of hours, the day, or forever, saying goodbye… will never be easy.

She continued by explaining how the first words we hear and emotion we feel coming into the world are “hello,” and “welcome.” It’s there; she said that the line of our life circle starts. As we start our lives the line continues traveling out in front of us, sometimes just a step or two ahead, as if leading the way and documenting in time, our life experiences and personal plateaus for our memory banks.

You see, Mary said, our circle line continues throughout our lives as if on a track knowing its direction, unwavering always with one focus, purpose and goal, to reconnect to its other end… where it all began. The circle is perfection; it’s final purpose, pure. Its destiny, to say goodbye and then hello again and again and again!

When I was young and trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life, I spent all my time living in a “hello” space never spending any time at all contemplating the true meaning of “good-bye” or what it might be like to have to say it to a loved one… maybe forever.

Forever was a word that always seemed very doable and so far away. But as I got older, life, with its difficulties, obligations, pains and pleasures took its toll. “Forever” takes on a whole new meaning with newly found respect. Yes indeed, forever quickly shifts from out of sight, out of mind to omnipresent, never boring or dull and rapidly, constantly closing in! It’s unstoppable, inevitable, irreversible and for me, back then in my late teens… unthinkable!

Growing up, I had a normal Italian childhood an awesome brother (even though back then he was a me-too, tag-along pain in the ass) a huge family of aunts, uncles and cousins. But most of all quite honestly, I had the best parents anyone could ever wish for.

I do consider myself very blessed in that the first time “forever” was served up, it was quick and straight through the heart, five years ago when I lost my Mother, then again two years ago when I lost my Father (I prefer “lost” to “passed” because it sounds so much more hopeful of finding the ones that I’ve lost… again). They had been together for 64 years, had led great lives filled with happiness, loving family and best and most important of all… each other.

I must admit that losing both of them, was then and continues to be extremely difficult. As I have lost loved ones before and after them, I’ve noticed that each one creates a separate hole in my heart. These holes evoke emptiness that can only, in part be refilled with my memories and never ending love for them all.

No matter how much I’ve tried to repair these holes, there always seems to be an empty space left. Each time I was certain that my heart would never be able to handle another or ever be the same again. In time the holes become more bearable and after a bit more time a whole lot more celebratory. Now here’s the really “great news” and why, the celebration part will be “forever!” As soon as our life circle ends reconnect, well it’s “hello and welcome, once again, and again, and again!”

In August of 2008, just after I lost my good friend George Carlin two months earlier in June, I remember sitting there with Bonnie. We we’re stunned, and dazed, as we tried to figure out how long it had been since we had gotten together with George. It seemed as though it couldn’t have been more than a few years, when in fact it turned out to be well over nine years. Unbelievable!

I never liked English much, it was always a personal weakness, so the last thing that I wanted to do was something outside my “comfort level.” Short of headlines and tag lines I had never written anything before, especially a story. Because I had done so many albums for George and we had become such tight friends, and with all the crazy shit we did together, I felt compelled to write something. However it took me quite some time to build up enough self confidence to even start thinking about writing anything other than my name let alone… this story. Impossible!

That being said, it wasn’t until the middle of November 2008 that the first pages and structure of George’s story started to take shape. However, shortly after starting to formulate the story my attentions were diverted elsewhere as my consulting business went through the roof and I wasn’t able to revisit the story idea until early June of 2009.

No sooner had I started back writing again when I received the news that I had lost one of my best friends ever, Kenny Rankin. I was devastated and emotionally drained. In 1973 George, Kenny and I had quickly become like “The Three Musketeers!” when Pacific Eye & Ear became Little David Records Agency. For over a decade the three of us hung out a lot, and partied hard. We did some “crazy ass” stuff and creatively worked together side by side on a slew of great albums, in-store POS and merchandising for them both.

I still have a very difficult time accepting that I won’t get a call from Kenny, saying he was coming over at 3:00 a.m. to play us a new song, or that George won’t be over to test out a new bit or his latest bunch of personal awareness as they both had done so many, many times before. Bonnie and I would get our own private face-to-face performances… that as they say, was truly “priceless!”

I still can’t believe they’re gone.

Now it’s the middle of September and my story idea has evolved to encompass Kenny as well, as it seemed to be the right thing to do. Also by this time I had started building self-confidence by writing a story about designing The Jesus Christ Superstar Album Cover and had received lots of great reviews from readers.

So with a story under my belt I was feeling much more certain of myself, my story telling abilities and that there were lots of people that are interested in reading “Back Stories.” Once again, just as I was getting the story re-structuring straight in my head as to what I wanted to write about, I got the news that we had lost Mary Travers.

Both Bonnie and I had become very close with Mary in a very short time, during the two months she was here in Los Angeles finishing up her new rightfully titled solo album “Circles”. Mary loved hanging out with us at Pacific Eye & Ear as well as in our home. I would be kidding myself if I didn’t tell you that Bonnie and I we’re devastated, in denial and rubbery numb all at the same time. It’s a very strange and removed feeling to say the least.

Mary Travers was a beautiful woman with a incredible free spirit and an iconic voice. She was strong, independent and knew exactly what she wanted in this life. I was a big fan of Folk Music early on, with artists like Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, and Bob Dylan. I can remember hearing Peter, Paul & Mary in the early sixties with songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowing In The Wind.” They opened my eyes and changed me as a person forever.

I loved Peter, Paul & Mary right from the start, especially Mary. But it wasn’t until our paths crossed over two decades later in the early 80’s that I really got to tell her how much. I spent a lot of “quality time” with her in the studio and in my life, and as we shared stories, we quickly realized how much we really had in common. I learned to appreciate Peter, Paul & Mary as a group more than I already had, and better understood the multi-talented amazingly versatile and unforgettable Mary Travers. I also better understood her new albums title

Its now February 2010, I’ve stopped, started and reconfigured this story for the last 12 months. Meanwhile I have even written a total of six other “Back Stories” since I started this one. There is no doubt in my mind that these next three “Back Stories” are sure to be the hardest and most personally rewarding celebrations of all the stories I have written to date.

I have always been a firm believer that all things, whether big or small, good or bad, happen for a reason. In the end we all have to step up on-to that thin line between now and forever, between life and death, face our maker and own what we have done or not done to each other and with our lives.

The bad thing is most certainly that we’ve lost George, Kenny and Mary, the good thing is that, now I am ready to celebrate each of them and the special meaning that they have had in my life. By writing these next three stories, I can, through them, once again say hello and welcome them into my heart… forever!

“Mary Travers… Her Circle Will Remain Forever Unbroken”

Mary Travers was a beautiful lady with an amazing voice, an icon, the third member of the ground breaking group, Peter, Paul & Mary and one of Bonnie and my very dear friends. The trio was born from the rich soil of Folk Music legions such as Bob Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Raised alongside contemporaries, like poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, Peter, Paul & Mary rose to superstar status and became a powerful voice, uniting force demanding change.

On the West coast, Peter, Paul & Mary helped usher in the transition from the North Beach Beat Nicks to The Height/Ashbury Hippies, existential poetry to Rock & Roll, and from the “Winter Of Discontent” to “The Summer Of Love.” The baton had been passed and they were the early voice at the dawn of a new generation.

I remember exactly when and where I heard them for the very first time. It was in the summer of 1962 and I would soon be a high school senior. I grew up in Northern California, moving there from Florida, in 1950. San Jose was a small, sleepy town of twenty five thousand people, most of whom were Italian farmers, as agriculture was the local big business.

The movie “American Graffiti” with all the teenagers cruising in their cars and hot rods, fit San Jose to a tee. The teenagers owned a dedicated 10 block stretch on Main Street that we would religiously populate every Friday and Saturday night. We called it “Dragging The Main” and it was a ritual that started in the late 40’s. It is what we all did to socialize! “Dragging The Main” was our version of the internet, with chrome wheels, levis and a DA (Ducks Ass) haircut!

It was a Friday night, me and my “Buds” were cruising in my 57 Chevy 2-door hard top, blasting the radio to some cool early Rock N’ Roll when the DJ said that he just got his hands on a really great new single from Peter, Paul & Mary. I remember saying to my best friend, John Borch, (who always rode shotgun) that I had recently had been in San Francisco’s North Beach and saw posters featuring them up everywhere.

I had never heard them but the buzz on the street was that they were the hot new thing. The DJ played “Blowing In The Wind” and at that instant I fell in love with Mary Travers. I went right out the next day and bought the new single and the album. I bought both because I had a 45 record player in my car that didn’t play albums.

Over the next two years I acquired every album that the group put out. Their sound and message transcended all other music trends and was consistently at the front of the growing revolution, like in 1963 when they performed “If I Had A Hammer” at the March on Washington. It was at that march that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. The very first time I saw them perform was on the Jack Benny Television Show where they sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowin In The Wind!”

When I entered the army in 1963 after graduating High School, I took Mary with me right alongside this new English band called The Beatles, and of course Lenny Bruce (I memorized every one of his albums) and Jimmy Hendrix. At the start of my freshman year at California College Of Arts And Crafts, Peter, Paul & Mary were there with me, as well as Johnny Mathis, West Montgomery Glenn Yarborough, Yusuf Lateef and Thelonious Monk.

Mary kept me company for the next 5 years through a lot of those art school “all nighters” and cramming sessions. At the end of summer 1969 we were all “Leaving On A Jet Plane” – I, setting out for New York and Madison Avenue to seek my fortune, and they to accept their first and only #1 hit single. I really loved the group and had from the start felt an affinity with Mary, most likely because she was the prettiest of the three.

After a head swirling, career building whirl wind 3 1/2  years in New York, some amazing experiences and seized opportunities, I found myself back out on the West Coast as a Creative Director opening up a West Coast office for a guy I was rapidly growing to greatly dislike!

By the end of 1971 Peter, Paul & Mary had broken up to pursue solo careers and so did I. When I started Pacific Eye & Ear at the beginning of 1972 Mary was right there with her second solo album “All My Choices.” She told me later that this album was conceived as she was taking stock of herself and where she was at that point in her career, and oddly enough at that same exact time… so was I. Sometimes life is like that.

It was 1 year later, in 1973, that I was in the PEE art department after everyone had left for the night, “burn’in a fatty” and listening to rough working tracks from Alice Cooper’s new album “Billion Dollar Babies.” No sooner was I well into both than the phone rings. I answered in my best professional voice “Good evening Pacific Eye & Ear, how may I help you?” After a brief pause, a female voice said “yes with whom I speaking?”

At first, I thought the voice on the other end sounded very familiar and was someone I knew. Then I wasn’t sure. I responded with “this is Ernie and I am in the art department, can I help you?”

“Great” the voice said, “that is exactly where I need to be and you are exactly who I need to speak with.” The woman proceeded to tell me that the she was calling because for the longest time it seemed as though every album she liked, and that got her attention had always been done by the same people… us. As she continued naming some of the covers that had caught her eye, I was still trying to figure out how I knew that voice, and at this point, too embarrassed to ask her name!

As we talked about other covers we had done, my lettering and the variety of styles our staff illustrators, Drew Struzan, Bill Garland and Carl Ramsey could provide, she seemed convinced that we were the right choice for her.

By this time her voice sounded so familiar I finally had to ask, “do I know you?” I didn’t want to seem rude but she caught me with my mind in a totally other place, as I still needed to do a half a dozen concepts for the next days art department “brain storming” session on Alice’s new album, so I needed to cut to the chase.

She responded with “no, I don’t think so, but now I know that I want to meet with you, so can I drop by your offices tomorrow?” I was quick to reply “sure,” she said “good, I will see you then, Ernie.” She hung up without giving her name. It wasn’t unusual getting a phone call like that, and most of them never become anything. By this time I was certain that I was tripping, I didn’t know who it was, and I went back to work.

The next day was crazy right from the start when I received a 6:00 am wake-up call for an unexpected press check at Ivy Hill Litho. It never fails that printers schedule all press checks at the worst times of day or night in hopes that I would just say print it. That never happens, not once. I always show up. I was even sent to Canada by Burton Cumming for a two hour press check on his “Plus Signs” album. He wanted to ensure that the albums Blue background would be perfect. I flew back that same day.

You see, most people make the mistake of thinking that printers are artists… they are not! They are “producers of art” – a very big difference. Printers hate when artists do press checks, because of the time spent (sometimes hours) perfecting the registration and color. They consider it as eating into their press production time. Printers want to put the job on press do a few tweaks, if that, and let it run!

It wasn’t till I was on the way back from the press check that I had a moment, while stuck in Los Angeles commuter traffic, to think about the phone call from the night before. The woman’s voice sounded so familiar. I should have asked her name. funny how the mind works.

I got back to the office around 10:00 and the art department was buzzing. I shared the press proofs with Bill, Drew and Carl, as we quickly got a sheet up on the wall. Every square inch of our art department’s walls were covered with press proofs of our work. Taking pride in ones work is truly the highest form of acknowledgement. With us, it wasn’t always just about the Benjamins!

The guys were playing the rough tracks of Alice’s new single “Billion Dollar Babies” with Donavan doing backup vocals as I checked my messages and started back to work on the logo lettering sketches from the night before. I was working on two logo lettering designs at the same time, one rough for Alice and a finish on The Black Sabbath “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album, a great looking logo that I based on an Old English type font.

When I get into designing, especially lettering, I tend to tune out everything else around me and lose myself in the letterforms. The deeper I get into what I’m doing, the way shapes relate to each other, as well as the space between and around them all falls into place and takes on a life, all its own. For me it’s always worked that way. I loved what I was doing and the people that I was doing it with!

The next thing that I remember was hearing a familiar female voice from behind me say: “That’s some really cool lettering you’re doing there, Ernie.” Since Bonnie was the only woman in our office that day, I turned, looked up to reply, and was immediately frozen solid with my mouth dropped open. There stood Mary Travers. It was really her, standing right there. To this day I still can’t believe it… it was certainly one of those moments that took my breath away… and I will never forget it!

Bonnie was our bookkeeper at Pacific Eye & Ear from day one, but today she was filling in for our secretary, Sally Taylor. Sally was the mother of Skip and Jim Taylor, managers of Canned Heat. Drew was currently working on the finish for their new album “One More River To Cross”. Sometimes we were working on 6 to 8 album covers a month, but never more than we could feel comfortable with.

So Bonnie was the one who had brought Mary quietly into the art department and placed her right behind my design table. She later told me that as soon as she saw Mary Travers, knowing what an important roll that Peter, Paul & Mary had played in my life, she got the idea to surprise me and Mary was game. I realized at that moment it was her voice that I couldn’t place… what a rush!

What seemed like minutes of flashing fast forward from that night in my 57 Chevy to that very instant. I then said one of the most brilliant things that I’ve ever said in my life: “You’re Mary Travers” to which she replied: “Thanks for clearing that up for me, because when I walked in I wasn’t quite sure, and now with your confirmation, I am.” Then she smiled that amazing smile and in that moment, I just knew we were all destined to be great friends.

Mary explained how she was in and out of town for the next couple of months finishing up her new solo album “Circles” and wanted to talk to us about doing the cover. She hadn’t eaten yet so we ordered lunch in and continued showing her our work and getting to know each other.

She repeated what she had told me on the phone, that she loved our work, and that over the last year or so, every cover that she liked seemed to have been done by us. Knowing that she was going to finish the album out here on the West Coast, she had made a commitment to look us up… and check us out.

I was still reeling from her being there, and “buzzed” (Northern Cal’s Finest Pac-ka-Lo-Lo) thanks to my ride back from the printer, so all I did for the first ten minutes was to, nod stare and listen. Mary had a great sense of humor and a very quick wit, was well informed on current events, and extremely smart. With her thick, long blond hair and blue eyes she was bigger than life and beautifully stunning.

For the rest of the day Mary hung out with us in the art department watching us work and playing some tracks from the new album. She explained to us, how important this project was to her, the meaning of the title “Circles” and how her “life’s circle” had led her to this point in her career and to us.

I kept noticing as we talked throughout the day she was enamored by Drew and marveled at his amazing talent. He was a trip to watch because of his ability to expend no wasted effort or uncertainty, ever. Drew was fast, aggressively accurate and unbelievable. At one point Mary asked if he had ever done any watercolor paintings. Drew was quick to reply that he had not, but if that were what she wanted, he would give it his best shot.

I must say one thing about our art department; we were always pushing the limits, looking for a challenge to our comfort level, never resting on what was already accomplished. Together we all grew a lot in those early years. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and a total high for us all!

Watercolor paintings were Mary’s favorite, as well as Art Nouveau artists like Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley and Gustav Klimt. “Watercolor painters,” she said… “or at least the most successful ones, say the most by using the least.” She really loved the subtle usage of color and the tricky balance of white space.

That’s when it dawned on me, roll everything into one really cool watercolor painting done in an Art Nouveau illustration style, and Drew would do it. Mary said “YES” and the rest, as they say is… music and art history.

That night we all went to dinner together and planed out the next few weeks, as well as the conceptual design and style structure of the album. She defiantly wanted me to design her logo and Drew to try his hand at a first time watercolor piece. Mary was as excited as were we and really looking forward to getting started.

We did a lot of listening, laughing and bonding as Mary spoke of the early days and her life on the road with the trio. I remember how she got all warm and fuzzy as she spoke of her new marriage to husband Jerry Taylor, who was at that time publisher of National Lampoon Magazine. But mostly she spoke about why she really needed to try her hand again as a solo artist and how both Peter and Paul understood and were OK with it. We also scheduled studio time for me to sit-in-on several recording “sweetening” sessions. Awesome!

So over the next two months we were welcomed into Mary’s life. We did a lot together from recording sessions, lunches, rides to and from LAX or just hanging out. It was safe to say that she was bigger in real life than she was a musical artist. Mary’s Pete Segar, and partying with the Smothers Brothers stories were the best ever!

Mary was at Pacific Eye & Ear a lot during that time and everyone was really enjoying her input. She oversaw the creation of her cover first hand, from concept to design, lettering to final painting. All along the way adding suggestions that made the finished results even more personal, for her and us.

The time flew bye and as in all great things and times, everything comes to an end. Before we knew it Mary was gone. We stayed in touch all the time, at first, to just around the holidays, then as life has a way of doing, we just lost touch.

Mary was warm, honest and true to who she was. She was an incredible person and we will never forget, or stop loving her. Bonnie and I are so pleased that our life’s circles were able to overlap with Mary’s, even if for the briefest of moments. Because of that, they will never be broken!

It’s very hard to say good-bye but much easier to celebrate her by saying… hello and “God bless you Mary, may you reside in God’s light and love forever.”

The “Circles” album came out in 1974 and did great with hit singles “Circles” and “House At Pooh Corner.” Drew’s finished painting was absolutely beautiful and to this day is the only watercolor painting that he has ever done.

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