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Odes to “Perpetual Childishness”


Jon Gailmor C’70 stands on a makeshift stage in the small gym of a rural elementary school in northern Vermont. This is familiar territory for the singer-songwriter, and both he and his songs are well known and loved. The audience for this early evening concert is typical, ranging from pre-schoolers to their grandparents.
    After finishing a beautiful song about his father, Gailmor pauses to ask for requests. Twelve hands go up, but before he can call on one of them a second-grader yells out, “The one about the mudpie!” “You’ll have to help me with this one,” he
says, putting down the guitar. Unaccompanied, he begins:

Normal kids go for the G.I. Joe games. I never went for green
Then there’s those a-sliding into snow games, cold and a little too clean
Me, I’m working out in a big old sandbox, getting my sculpture done
Michelangelo might’ve made more money, but he never had this much fun,

    Without a cue, the kids join in at full volume while Gailmor improvises a harmony:

Dirt! I can rock and roll around in
Dirt! Mud pie a la mode
Dirt! All covered by sundown. I’m a day crawler.

    “I feel incredibly fortunate to have carved out a living doing something I love,” Gailmor reveals during a recent interview. “A lot of people are under the misconception that performers have a glamorous, easy, stress-free occupation. That’s rarely the reality. I’ve had to accept that my musical life comes without financial security, and frankly the worst part is the uncertainty of whether I’ll have enough work over the next year. Luckily, its worked out so far.”
    Since settling in Vermont more than 20 years ago, he has been ever-present in all four corners of his adopted state. In addition to maintaining a busy concert schedule, he is very active in the schools, where he leads songwriting workshops as a resident artist and produces a weekly radio show featuring community kids. He has six albums to his credit, numerous awards, and was selected as Vermont’s representative to perform during the 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
    Despite the competing demands for his time, Gailmor remains a one-man business. A 12 by 16 foot outbuilding nestled in the woods adjacent to his home serves as his office, production studio, warehouse and writing retreat. He acts as his own booking agent, publicist, distributor, “roadie” and manager. He also makes his own coffee.
    In many ways, Gailmor was destined to have a life intertwined with music, though no one could have predicted it would take the turns it did. His high school singing group toured the U.S. Virgin Islands, and despite early academic probation, he sang his way through Penn, touring the United States and South America with the Glee Club (president, 1969-70), the 12-man a cappella Penn Pipers and the Pennifore barbershop quartet.
    By the early 70s, he and his partner, Rob Carlson, were on track to be the next big acoustic duo on the heels of Seals and Croft or Loggins and Messina. Following the release of their first LP, Peaceable Kingdom, Polydor Records sent them on the road.
    “I hated it,” Gailmor recalls. “Singing together was great, but I despised the management and big-company brass making decisions that we had to answer to. The art meant nothing to them, only ‘Will it sell?’ I knew I was abandoning my chance at the golden ring, but I left for Europe, completely disenchanted with America and the music business.”
    Over the next two years Gailmor picked grapes in France, washed dishes and ironed sheets in Athens, harvested tomatoes on Crete, and waited tables in London. His musical life was on hold.
    In mid-winter of 1977, he was ready to try a solo career, and moved to Vermont. “I began knocking on doors, playing lots of gigs for very little money in order to get established. Before long, I was making a living on the Vermont bar circuit, but it still didn’t feel right. The crowds wanted to hear covers of pop tunes, but I found if I couldn’t relate to these songs on a personal level, I couldn’t perform them very well.
    “One night when I was being particularly silly on stage, a woman asked me if I would consider singing for kids. She set me up for a summer series of library concerts and the kids loved it as much as I did. I discovered my soulmates.”

I’m getting bored with Barbies, I hate my tiny toys.
I just want to dig a hole and make a lot of noise

So, fit me with a hardhat and drive me to the site.
Once I’m pulling levers, it’ll be alright

Backhoe girl, I want to be a backhoe girl,
swinging, swaying and digging the world

I gotta do what moves me,
and so it sure behooves me to be a backhoe girl

     The concerts soon led to longer visits in schools for songwriting workshops. “It’s amazing to work with a group and try to be the catalyst in this creative process,” he says. “The students get a powerful feeling of ownership, knowing the lyrics belong to them. I still get goosebumps watching the classes perform their songs for the community and seeing the singers swell with pride.”
    Meanwhile, his Just Kidding radio show provided a new outlet for the talent he encouraged in all the students. Since 1979 he’s been traveling with his cassette recorder and inviting school kids to step up to the microphone to perform.
    “The more I sing and work with children, the greater I see the need for kids to really act their age. There is nothing sadder than the kid who hasn’t had a childhood. We’ve got to squash this desire of kids to hurry up and be grown-up, and the nasty habit some adults have, of facilitating it. The show’s theme song is my ode to perpetual childishness and immaturity!”

I think I’ll go for a stroll with my favorite troll
Take a ride on the back of my dinosaur, Jack
It’s such a fine day to fly, I guess I’ll be a jet plane
And if a grown-up person asks me what I’m doing, I’ll explain

Just kidding, just being a kid
Just kidding, from Montpelier to Madrid
So good to be kidding. What a world we’re all in
Don’t know how we’ll grow up, but what a way to begin.

    Gailmor’s career continues to straddle the generations. His performances at weddings, festivals and retreats draw tears, laughter and energetic audience participation.
    “I love it when 20- or 30-year olds come up to me and tell how they remember me being in their school or their being on the show,” Gailmor says. “It’s bliss to know I’ve made a positive impression. Making a difference while we’re here is what it’s all about.”

—Michael Levine C’73

Information about Gailmor’s recordings, including “Dirt ” (Dirt),”Backhoe Girl,”(Childish Eyes), and “Just Kidding,” (Gonna Die With a Smile if It Kills Me), is available at (www.jongailmor.com).


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