While growing up, my parents traveled between Los Angeles and Nashville three and four times a year. Living in rented houses or apartments, the four of us kids weren’t allowed to have any toys or possessions that wouldn’t fit in the car. Our clothing and bedding would be tied up in sheets and placed in the back seat and trunk of our car. The oldest child, I would often climb up into the back window. There, I would listen to the hum of the engine, make up songs and watch the sky for UFO’s. These things helped take my mind away from the thoughts of emptiness.
One Friday afternoon in late spring of ‘58 in Echo Park, California - at age seven - I was babysitting my younger brother and sister in my father’s sedan while my parents shopped. We were parked behind the Pioneer Market on Sunset Boulevard. As usual I sang songs to pass the time.
On the playground that school year I learned some clapping songs. (For example, a sailor went to sea, sea, sea, etc.) As I made up the lyrics, my mind was on the cute, blonde-haired boy who recently moved next door. Even though he hadn’t shown any interest in me, I had developed a big crush. So, as thoughts of him crept into my clapping rhythms, these words emerged:
“To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him.
Just to see his smile, makes my life worthwhile.”
Then thoughts of his mother inspired me to ensure her that I would be good to her son and that ...
“I’ll be good to him and I’ll bring love to him. Everyone says that there will come a day when I’ll walk along side of him.
Due to the boy's disinterest in me, I sang... “Why can’t he see, how blind can he be?” “Someday he’ll see that he was meant for me.”
After singing it a few times, I dropped the clapping aspect and smoothed it out. The melody and lyrics that I created felt right. I was so pleased with the song that I started beckoning store customers passing by the car to come hear me sing my song. (I was born into a poor family of teenage parents who knew nothing about nurturing a child’s talents or interests. They often told me to stop the “noise” when I would sing in the backseat of the car.)
It started getting late. The sun had just slipped below the horizon when I spotted a young man coming from the store. He walked quickly between the parked cars. I called out just as he was passing my car without any bags. Although he seemed in a hurry, he approached the car and took time to hear me sing.
After I sang to him, he very excitedly began inquiring about where I had gotten the song and if I had heard it on the radio. After convincing him that I had just composed the song and that it was all my idea, he pulled a pen and pad from his pocket and asked me to sing the song repeatedly as he made notes. Before any more was said, my parents approached, pushing their cart toward the car. When he realized the connection between them and me, he walked quickly away. My Dad asked who the young man was but I didn’t know.
The next morning, I went to visit the little boy who moved next door. His mother graciously invited me in. From the foyer, I observed him roughhousing with his younger brother when his mother interrupted. She yelled at him for wetting the bed. Both embarrassed and devastated to learn that about him, my crush on him was over and I went home.
I hadn’t thought about the boy - or the song that I made up about him – for a couple of months when I heard the song on the car radio. I announced to everyone in the car that it was my song. My uncle in the front passenger seat turned back toward me and exclaimed, “That’s not your song. It’s on the radio!” Between the emotions of anger and pain, I felt very confused. I couldn’t put together in my mind how my song ended up on the radio. I seldom spoke or thought about my song again and tried separating any memory of its existence from the rest of my world.
That fall, we moved back to Nashville. My mother gave birth to her fifth child at the end of October.
I never mentioned this experience that took place in the Pioneer parking lot until I was in my twenties. Still – even after all that time - I didn’t know any more about what had happened to my song or how it ended up on the radio. I seldom heard the song and when I did it was the tail end. And whenever I tried to investigate, I turned up nothing. Since I heard only women sing the song, I assumed the stranger in the parking lot had sold it, not realizing the song had launched his career!
When I tried to share the story, no one believed me. I also felt that since so much time had now passed, it was best to forget it ever happened. Or so I thought until I discovered Google on June 13, 2004.
When Phil Spector’s picture came up on the Internet site, I recognized him right away as the young man I encountered in the parking lot decades ago. I was shocked to read that he claimed he authored the song – inspired by the epitaph on his father’s grave stone that appeared to him in a dream.
I have no anger toward Phil. If not for him, the song would have evaporated along with my crush on the boy who ‘peed his bed’. Spector was talented enough to take a child’s song and turn it into a teenage love song that made millions.
What I am grateful for is finally having access to the Internet. It has enabled me to get information that was not previously available. It made it possible for me to tie up loose ends and discover the answer to my greatest childhood mystery: how my song got from the Pioneer parking lot to the radio. It was not until this summer – on the Internet – that I found out that Phil Spector was a major player in the music business producing records for talents including the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner, the Beatles, etc. And for that many years, I had repressed a major event in my childhood because no one in my family (with the exception of my husband, two daughters and my uncle Buster) would acknowledge my talent or even the possibility that I had contributed to the career of Phil Spector! It is a relief now for me to have finally been able to pull all of the facts together – from that day in ’58 - and reclaim that missing part of my life that had been so confusing for so long.
I have written two letters to Phil. All I ever wanted was for him to acknowledge my contribution. As yet, there has been no response.
A few years ago I dreamt that I was sitting with Phil Spector and a group of his friends. Phil sat with his back to me. His friends were trying to encourage him to acknowledge me.
And that’s my story.
The mother of two daughters, Judy Fox is an alumnus of Bentley College. A world traveler, she enjoys learning about cultures, writing music and researching family histories. Encouraged by her family and friends, Ms. Fox has recaptured her interest and passion for writing and composing new music. She is also working with her husband, Charles Fox, to research and write a book about his family's history.
[photography credits: birds on a wire by linh.ngan; school photo courtesy Judy Fox]