Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New Customers Only/Existing Customers: Get Screwed

In Business 101 at the University of Maryland, one of the first rules covered was it is far easier and cheaper for a business to keep a customer rather than having to find a replacement or new customer. The concept seems somewhat common sense:  if you've already got a customer you need to do what you can to keep him, and you won't have to spend money find someone new. Therefore, I'm left to wonder what school the current crop of business leaders attended which failed to teach them this fundamental concept.

Since 2006, I have used DirecTV for satellite service. Except for one equipment upgrade a few years ago, I've been delighted with what they provided. Anytime I had an issue, question, or needed assistance they were all over it from the minute I dialed the phone. I admit being nervous when AT&T bought them out, but such things happen, and as long as I was getting the same level of service I would hang around. Then, almost a year after the buyout, the price for service was raised by about 35%.

After receiving the bill, I went to their website and looked around to see if I should just downgrade my package a bit to get my old price back, after all, sometimes prices go up. Then I noticed they were offering new customers the exact package I had subscribed been maintaining for the last 12 years, for the exact price I had been paying before the increase.  So, I called them up and told them if they wanted to keep me as a customer they needed to match the same deal they're willing to give a new customer. They balked and said the deal was for new customers only and there were no current discounts for which I was eligible. Having been through something similar with another company, I tried to call back later to see if I would get a better answer but I received the same response.

While considering my next move, I started to look at other alternatives which were available in the marketplace. I discovered if I added an attic antenna for local channels and a streaming service for things like Discovery and NatGeo I could match all of the channels I had previously been getting. Of course, I would need to raise my Internet speed to guarantee no lagging, but even so, I would save 50% over what I had been paying prior. The bottom line was rather than facing a 35% increase I was going to say 50% and maintain the same channel selection. Even with the minor upfront cost of the antenna and a few other odds and ends to make it all work; I came oput ahead very quickly.

I'm not sure if it was out of some misplaced sense of loyalty, or maybe just a bit of insanity, I decided to give DirecTV one more chance to make things right before I bought the necessary hardware and got on with the transition. When I called them back this time, I started by having them first look up how long I'd been a customer. I wanted the representative to be aware of how long I had been with them before we started discussing the actual problem. The answer remained the same, even though I added the logic there was no extra cost to them for me to maintain status quo since I already had all the equipment versus the costs of bringing in new customer online.  Rather than keeping a decade's old customer relationship, they chose to throw it away, and offer a better deal to an unknown prospective customer which will cost the company a few hundred dollars in equipment and setup costs. This way of doing business is completely abzocky -- or maybe they are having a flashback to when they were a monopoly and there were no alternatives.  If I was a stockholder, I would sell as this business model is not sustainable.

So, a month after cutting the cable. I have full DVR capability for both local channels and my streaming service which costs me zero and is only limited by my own available hard drive space. I am now using a fantastic piece of media management software called Plex which combines all of my available entertainment choices (music, video, streaming, photos, and more) in one easy to use interface. Plus it is costing me 50% less than what I was paying initially.

Last night, I made the mistake of answering a call before I looked at the Caller ID and I was confronted by a sales agent for DirecTV. Before I could say I wasn't interested, the agent launched into a spiel offering me a fantastic deal to come back into the fold.  Interestingly enough, the deal was still more than what they were offering a new customer. I hung up without saying a word.

These people genuinely don't understand the sustainability of a business is based on keeping customers, not continually recruiting new ones while kicking the old ones to the curb in such a way they will never return.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Then Came a Hero That Looked Like Me

As Ashley cut my hair, she started talking about how her own hair changed as she grew up, going from dark to the honey blonde color it is today.  It caused me to reflect on my experience with hair color which changed as I grew up.   At age 5, my earliest recollection of such things, my hair was light blonde and then turned to dirty blonde around 7th grade before eventually setting on a golden brown in 11th grade.

I recall being upset as I grew up because none of my heroes from TV looked like me:  Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the Green Hornet,  and Kato, Rowdy Yates, the guys on Time Tunnel, the GIs on Rat Patrol and Admiral Nelson on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. All of them had dark hair. In some cases (Batman) it might have been lighter but due to B&W TV, it all looked dark to me.  The only superhero of that age with blonde hair was Thor -- and I was not a fan.  

Then came The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In brief, the story was about two secret agents, one American and one Russian who worked for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement and they had the mission to save the world on a weekly basis.  U.N.C.L.E.'s arch nemesis was THRUSH, Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.  The show focused on two agents, a dark-haired American, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and a blonde Russian, Illya Kuryakin (David McCullum).  

Putting aside how bold it was to have an American and Russian working together during the middle of the Cold War, it was a turning point for me.  Kuryakin did cool things.  He was bold and saved the world -- he got the girl and didn't require a magic hammer to do it.  Most of all he was a hero I thought looked like me.

Every kid deserves to have a hero they think looks like them so they can identify with them some level. Therefore, it is essential a variety of people be seen as heroes.  By the way, it is not always about race -- it could be about something as simple as right vs. left-handedness, a specific physical characteristic or uniqueness, accent, faith or even something as simple as hair color.

When I was in college, I spoke to a CIA recruiter who visited campus.  They were looking for analysts -- since I wanted to be a secret agent, it never went any further.  Even though my career took me into technology, I can so with absolute certainty I was not part of THRUSH either.  But as I said, my hair turned darker as I grew up leaving me with many choices for how I could fight evil.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My Year In Live Music 2018, Act III: The Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton – Rockin’ Me with a Little Blues Too

Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions presented are truly free of influence.

This concert was very different, in that the tickets were provided to me as a result of my being a veteran and by someone other than the act being reviewed.  Therefore, I will explain a little bit about Vet Tix before I talk about the concert itself.

Vet Tix

Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life. We support our troops by honoring their service and providing positive family and life experiences, during and after their years of service to our country.

There are too many details as to how all this works to get into here, but if you are a veteran, I would recommend you check it out and sign up.    Short version:  They go out and seek donations (and ask that you help), they have a fair way to make sure every Veteran gets a chance at what tickets are available and the manage the administration of the distribution of the tickets very well.

As a Cold War Veteran, it is nice to be included in this recognition, especially since (even though we won) we got no parades, medals, or veteran’s hiring preference.

Peter Frampton

I'm not entirely sure if you would if the performer listed as "with" on a concert poster is considered an opening act or not. But in my mind, if they are the first ones to appear on stage, they are indeed the opening act. I almost saw Peter Frampton two years ago when he was touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd. However, it was the year Skynyrd canceled and rather than attending a concert with just Peter Frampton, I opted to return my tickets. Frampton did the show anyway and I heard he put on an excellent performance and even did covers of several Skynyrd tunes.

Having seen a lot of groups from the 70s and 80s, I've come to except some slight degradations of talents and skills, but I have a feeling the show Frampton put on at this concert was very close to what I would've seen from him in the 70s.

He opened the show with Something's Happening and then immediately moved on to Lying.  It was evident he was having a good time; his face was an expression of pure joy as he performed. His voice was excellent and is playing matched it as well. The temperature in the pavilion was over 90°, and it played against him getting the crowd fired up – – but he wiped the sweat off his face and kept playing to an appreciative audience and brought us all to point when we were ready to rock.

Of course, he played all my favorites:  Lines on My Face, Show Me the Way, Baby, I Love Your Way,  and Do You Feel Like We Do. The tunes brought back great memories and took me back to when I first heard the Frampton Comes Alive album. Frampton indeed came alive and gave one of the best live performances I've ever seen. He is indeed a master, and he enjoys giving the crowd exactly what they want.

Steve Miller Band

Seeing a band perform or than once live, can sometimes be disappointing because you tend to compare one performance to the other. Also, having heard a set list once you really want to listen to it again? If the act is the Steve Miller Band, the answer is Yes you want to hear the setlist again – – every song is a winner. But even with the setlist being the same, they are not identical and Steve the band makes every performance unique, so it is impossible to simply compare two different concerts.

I won't bore you with a list of the tunes he played which I liked, take a look at the song list on their greatest hits album and you know what I heard.

One part of the concert I considered unique, in addition to at least three dynamite solo performances
by Joseph Wooten on keyboards, was a brief lesson Steve Miller gave about the triangle evolution of the blues. His theory was as the performers moved, the blues evolved-- forming a triangle from Mississippi Delta to Chicago (along with Detroit) and finally Texas. Having heard great blues from all those places and following his logic of the way employment drew the performers – – I agree with him. 

After the lesson, Peter Frampton came out, and the two of them performed a Freddie King cover of Same Old Blues which was awesome and only outdone by their duet on an Elmore James tune, Stranger Blues.  I like Steve Miller for the SMB music I have come to love, and I like Peter Frampton for his mouth guitar music and dynamite guitar solos. But now having heard the two of them play the blues together, I want to know when they're going to release a blues album together.

My favorite two songs tonight were The Joker and Fly Like an Eagle. Both songs allowed for featured solos from various members of the band but also took me on a mental journey back to the first time I heard each. The magic of music is when it is at its best when it can take you on an emotional and spiritual journey every single time you listen to it.

The night ended with a two-song encore: Jungle Love and Jet Airliner, which both featured great solos and were a great way to end the night.

The Steve Miller Band will always be one of my favorites, and I will try to see them every time they come to town, but now I have to add Peter Frampton to the list of bands I'm willing to see more than once because once is just not enough. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Year In Live Music 2018, Act II: Paul Simon -- Tell Me That Crazy Story One Last Time


In the late 70s, Ann Waggoner, my high school the guitar teacher, selected a grouping of Paul Simon composed music to be presented at the annual spring concert.  That bit of chance caused me to learn how to play half a dozen or so songs made famous by Simon & Garfunkel. These were older songs, but Paul Simon had recently started his second career as a solo act, releasing his Still Crazy After All These Years album (and making a lot of appearances on Saturday Night Live).  Songs from that period served to provide the soundtrack for the last of my high school years as well as my time in college and a few years beyond. 

As time went by, Simon's music changed as he welcomed other musical influences into what he was composing affecting the types of songs and rhythms he produced. It was somewhere between the albums Graceland and The Rhythm of The Saints that Paul and I parted ways. My admiration for him was more as a songwriter than a performer, and I didn't relate to the newer music the same way. It was an amicable breakup because his songs remain a significant part of the soundtrack of my life.  He was and is a great storyteller.

Recently, when he announced his farewell tour, Homeward Bound, my attendance became a must. However, three minutes after tickets went on sale I was utterly heartbroken when I went online to find the better tickets were entirely gone. What upset me wasn’t their prior sale but those choice tickets were already back online for sale at three times the face value. So much for Ticketmaster's goal of making sure fans and not scalpers got a fair shot at tickets. Pissed off, I gave up and closed my laptop after typing up a blistering review of the ticket selling process. A few days later I was contacted by someone who had read what I wrote offering to sell me her tickets for the now all but sold out show.  She wasn’t going to be able to attend and offered me her tickets at the face price – fan to fan. I quickly obliged with much gratitude.

Homeward Bound, The Farewell Tour

This was my first concert of the 2018 season at DTE Energy Music Theatre.  I didn’t notice any massive changes to any of the facilities inside the venue, but this is also the largest crowd I’ve ever been part of at the facility. 15,000 seats is a lot of people.  I didn’t have the best seats, or actually any seat, as the tickets were for the hilltop and not under the pavilion. The hill is not a bad place to see a concert there is generally more room than in the pavilion seats, on the hotter evening’s there’s a cool breeze, and once you get beyond the first 50 or 60 rows, you are watching the big screens and not the stage anyway. I placed my chairs on the last strip of grass the concrete walkway, but before the concert, there were three more rows of folks behind me.  It was a full house.

There was no opening act, but there was no need for one. The crowd was ready to listen, Paul was prepared to play, and the band was tight and ready to be heard. He started with America putting the audience on notice that his voice was better than ever and he was there to give a memorable show. He moved on to 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Realistically, both songs could be seen as a low-key way to open a show, but then this was a Paul Simon show, so they were perfect choices.

Paul shifted gears and decades performing The Boy in the Bubble, Dazzling Blue, and That Was Your Mother.  I admit I was unfamiliar with all three songs but found them enjoyable. He played Rewrite next, and in it, as an author, I found some new music and a story I could easily love.

The rhythms picked up as he gave great performances of both Mother and Child Reunion and Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.  I said before that I thought his voice sounded as strong as ever, and indeed it did throughout the show. He, like many other performers who are getting up in years, has started to morph some of the ways he sings to ensure he does not come off sounding bad.

His song Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War has to have the most unusual title of any, having stolen it from a photograph.  While still in the smaller tableau of musicians, he sang a semi-reggae version of Bridge Over Troubled Water which he said was the first time he had performed the song during the tour.  

I’d heard the story behind Wristband before hearing him perform it live.  Love the story behind the song, I can only imagine what the bouncer feels like being immortalized for having locked the star out of his own concert for lack of a wristband (my man). 

The next four songs were more titles I was not familiar with, having been featured on albums I’d never heard. I really don’t think it’s a bad thing to walk into a concert and not know all the music, it gave me a chance to discover something new some of which I liked some of which I didn’t.  

It was somewhere in here Paul took a moment to talk about Dr. E.O. Wilson, his foundation, and book Half Earth.   He spent all of 30 seconds and suggested people check out the book and its author. As activist statements during the middle of performances become more the norm, I am glad Paul was classy, civilized, and professional enough to keep it minimal and nonconfrontational.  

Paul moved back into more familiar music with the performance of You Can Call Me Al and Graceland.  Many of his songs are favorites but the next two he performed, Still Crazy After All These Years and Late in the Evening, are both part of my life’s soundtrack that accent treasured memories. There can be nothing more satisfying than hearing music like that live for the first time.

The first song of the encore was Homeward Bound, one that any former military member who has deployed can appreciate.  From there he moved on to the only song I’m aware of which is also a trademark for a consumer product: Kodachrome.  The Boxer, American Tune and The Sound of Silence rounded out the rest of the encore for what was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

Paul had stated publicly he had mixed emotions about doing his final tour when he was still giving great performances. Having recently retired myself, I understand the feeling. Even though this may be the last live performance we see from the man, I think we will continue to hear new music from him for years to come. I hope so. If this tour comes to your city. GO!


In the mid-80s, and I was deployed to Egypt working in cargo and passenger operations for the Air Force. Late one night I was sitting out on the flightline with a friend of mine waiting for cargo to be brought out so we could load a plane. I’m still unsure of why, but both of us had our guitars in the government vehicle, and when the loading operation was delayed, rather than going back into the ready area we remained at the darkened aircraft and took advantage of the time.

Taking out our guitars, we sat on the end of the cargo deck of a C141 and started playing songs we usually performed when together. The overall feeling eerie, because most of the lights on the flightline were off for security reasons and with nothing going on, it was very still and quiet. After playing a bit, I asked my friend to teach me to play the instrumental opening to the song Homeward Bound, which I had heard him play before. After we practiced it several times together, he let me take the lead, and after I played those opening notes, we continued to play the rest, singing it in two-part harmony. It was a total blues moment feeling the pain of being away and wishing you were headed home.
When we finished the song and the last note was still ringing -- the silence was broken by the sound of one-person clapping from down the flightline. It was quickly joined by several others and then a few cheers. Even though the flightline was empty of activity, there were still many Security Forces troops out there with us – sitting in the dark and feeling the melancholy of the song. It’s a memory I will always carry with me – – one which was possible only because of the master storyteller and songwriter Paul Simon.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Not To Hell and Not In A Handbasket

Looking at the date of my last entry, I realize how long it has been since I've written and posted something here. Usually, if there is any sort of pause, there is a valid reason. Last year, I reran several older postings while I was working on the final editing of From Within the Firebird's Nest. Earlier this year, I was dealing with care for an aging parent; the same issue a lot of people at my age are starting to encounter. But this last bit of silence had no basis in an outside cause, it was entirely internal. I do take the term depression lightly, so I will just say that I was feeling down about what I was seeing around me and it was causing me to lose faith.

Without getting into an exact start date, because even that is politically charged, I am saddened by the ever-increasing divisiveness, racial discord, extreme ideological differences, or whatever you want to call it in our country. A large part of my reaction to this is because I can't personally identify with the situations being used as a basis for rationalizing the behavior. I was raised as a military brat, as with a vast majority of fellow military brats, the environment I was lived in was fully integrated on every level. 

That didn't mean we were just all thrown together for bits of time during the day-- we were fully immersed in a diverse culture as the norm rather than the exception. The person living on the other side of the wall in your government assigned duplex was more often than not a person of a different race, origin, religion, and background than you were. This forced closeness caused one remarkable thing to happen – – you were forced to get along with others because you were always in contact with others who differed from you. Tolerance was not something demanded it was required for social survival. All of this was long before the use of such terms as diversity and tolerance. To us, it was just the way we lived.

As a result of this type of upbringing, and the many moves which occurred over the course of a lifetime, military brats are often the most adaptive people you could ever meet and also the least judgmental. The first time I became aware of differences in race was when I was required to go to a school off-base for the first time in Oklahoma. On the very first day of school, I was challenged by a group of local kids because the person I was hanging out with was of a different race and our friendship wasn't considered proper for their society. Too damn bad, he remained my best friend until I moved just before the ninth grade.

After completing high school, and a couple years of college, I went into the Air Force which was another fully integrated society. In the Air Force, you didn't judge a person based on trivial crap like race or religion – you judged a person based on their abilities and those you felt could be relied upon. Because of the time, I went into the military, the 80s, it was not unusual to know someone in your unit or even in your dorm who had a different sexual preference. Even though it was against regulation, it was not a factor upon which most people judged others. If the person did their job well and was reliable, that was all you needed to accept them.

Once I transitioned to the Reserve, I started to work for Civil Service and entered my third fully integrated society. There were some cracks in the structure of this one because some of the fellow civilians I worked with had never moved beyond the city in which they were born. As a result, they carried with them any prejudices they were raised with. But they were not allowed to bring those prejudices into the workplace. Not a perfect solution but it kept things running.

I tell this bit of backstory because to understand where I am, you have to know where I came from. It is because of my personal history that I find much of what exists in the news to be thoroughly depressing. A side note: I do not rely on a single news source but require myself to use five different sources when developing my opinions. Purposely, I have chosen two of the news sources I disagree with, one from overseas, and two which are more in line with my own beliefs. This helps provide much-needed balance to what I take in, I am also careful to segregate news from opinion-based reporting. 

If you've checked out current news stories, you would be led to believe all of America is at each other's throats and we are on the verge of a violent internal Civil War for control of our nation's future.  Everyone seems to be accusing anyone who disagrees of being a something-ist or filled with something-ism.  Words are being weaponized and vocabulary condemned or forbidden regardless of the user’s intent, meaning or context.  Every speaker has a death grip on their viewpoint as being protected by the First Amendment while they usually have no idea what the amendment actually says.   Freedom of expression does not free you from responsibility for what you said or the right of another person to dissent.  While I have enough remaining optimism to believe no news reporting agency is reporting falsehoods purposely, I do think some agencies are guilty of intentionally slanting stories to a particular viewpoint and omitting stories that make the other side look good. Even with my attempt at balance, every day appeared to me to be of more and more concern for my nation's future.

Hope:  Without visible support going to a destination unseen.
Then about two weeks ago, I had to take a trip down to check on my Dad, and as a result, I got out of my own sphere and into America itself. I drove across Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee and even though it isn't everywhere in the country, it was a pretty good sampling. What I saw brought back my optimism.

At several of the gas stations where I stopped, people held the door and greeted one another. Seems minor doesn't it? The action is – but the meaning behind it isn't. That deeper meaning was that both people saw each other as human beings and worthy of common courtesy. Isn't that the basis of society? Accepting another person as a fellow human being and therefore worthy of your best? In restaurants, I encountered people of differing races treating each other politely regardless of which side of the dinner table they were on. Sure, people can be paid to be polite, but it always shows through as the basis for their action. I observed people earnestly treating each other decently.

A few times, I saw people pulled off to the side of the road due to vehicle breakdown. In every instance, someone else had stopped to help them. This is someone going out of their way to help someone they don't know and someone they will probably never encounter again.  Being selfless – – the very essence of what allows communities to thrive and prosper.  I also saw law enforcement protecting our populace.  Even though they occasionally had pulled a car over for some infraction, at no point in time did I hear about the officer or the person who got a ticket attempting to be violent to each other.  Mutual respect for the law, isn't that also a basis of society?

Aside from observing, I also participated. I greeted and smiled at people when I encountered them and received the same friendliness in return. I acted respectfully to those behind the counter and those serving me -- and received same. While stuck in a waiting room, I had a lengthy conversation with a gentleman who was of a different race but who was sharing the waiting experience with me.  We became compatriots of the shared experience even if just a little while.  

My point is that the divisions which are being screamed about on a daily basis are not as cavernous or universal as the media would have us believe.  There are opposing sides out there, and there are people who are being mistreated and have a valid claim about mistreatment. But for the most part, I don't think things are as sad or as hopeless as are being presented.  

Finally, I was blessed with the birth of my 10th grandchild. She is healthy and beautiful. -- and another contributor to the return of my optimism about the future.

So, I am back at work on my latest novel, and I am again writing my blog. To paraphrase John Steinbeck, my world is once again spinning in greased grooves.


Monday, April 16, 2018

My Year In Live Music 2018, Act I: Three Dog Night

Among the first three LPs I ever bought, was Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits.  I say among the first three because I really don’t recall which of them came first.  I bought the album because of the title cut, but by the time I listened to the whole record for the first time, I discovered several other songs I was familiar with and developed an appreciation for the remainder. When I saw the band was coming in concert to my favorite venue, I made sure I was first in line to get tickets.

Out of Favor Boys 

Like a majority of the backup bands, I was unfamiliar with them before this performance. However, like all backup bands, I paid attention to them. They were excellent, playing a mix of cover and original blues tunes. The full band consists of five pieces, but tonight it was just a duo. I will apologize here for not calling the two musicians by their names but try as I might I can’t find any information on their website or anywhere else that will let me tie these two very talented gentlemen to the names provided for the band’s personnel.

I am a fan of the blues, and these guys provided some great music. The sax player also performed a majority the vocals, and the quality of his voice was perfect for what they were playing. The guitarist, for a few songs, showed off his great talent for using a slide across the strings – – to me, slide guitar is something that just can’t be faked and when it is this good it is excellent.

Yeah, playing two saxes at once is kinda kitschy – but doing it well is talent.

NOTE:  After publication, I heard from the band and they provided the names of the sax player, Tony "T-Bone" Sproul, and the guitarist, Danny Ouellette.

Three Dog Night

Ever since the disappointments of America and The Marshall Tucker Band I’ve guarded myself against getting overly optimistic at going to see the great bands from my youth in concert.

The stage was set, and as I saw the musicians walk out onto it – – I took a deep breath. Then the first few notes of The Family of Man began to play. Then I exhaled and sat back for the next hour or so and enjoyed a positively enjoyable experience. Danny Hutton’s (founder) voice was not only strong enough to hit all the notes for all the songs, but he was also still putting his own spin on each one of them. The same could be said of David Morgan when he started singing Black and White. The real treat was when the two of them harmonized, it was magic.

The setlist included everything from the album I mentioned above, with two notable exceptions: The Show Must Go On and Pieces of April.   I always wonder why artists leave out specific songs from the repertoire when they seem to play all their other hits, but then I guess they have their own reasons.  Of course, the had 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, so they did have a lot to choose from.

Aside from the opener, they also played two other Paul Williams’ Out In The Country and An Old Fashioned Love Song. The full band harmonies on these two were delightful but what I still want to know is how Michael Allsup got the guitar to sound like a banjo on An Old Fashioned Love Song.  A concert mystery.

I’ve previously talked about how my musical taste evolved starting while I was in Junior High. At about the same time, I became aware of Paul Williams. Paul’s talent wasn’t in performing (sorry Paul) but in songwriting. Over the course of his career, he wrote songs for a variety of performers like Three Dog Night, David Bowie, The Carpenters and many others. What Paul did for me was to bring about an epiphany in my music development:  The performer is not always the songwriter. Up to this point, I thought bands all authored their own music. By becoming aware of his existence, Paul Williams caused me to see it differently and to sometimes seek music based on the songwriter and not the band.  Most of his songs are ballads and has sentimental lyrics. That blend of storytelling is my kind of song.

At about the same time my appreciation of music came about, I started to develop my tastes in cinema. My tastes run far and wide, in fact, the only thing I avoid is one-sided, preachy, political tomes. Aside from his talents as a songwriter for other musicians, Paul wrote the score and started in Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.  

The movie is basically a retelling of Faust mixed with Phantom of the Opera.  The exceptions are that it is set to modern music and the hero sells his soul to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even though it is a simple story of good vs. evil, it is still very entertaining. The movie would’ve gained more attention and a wider audience if not for the release of a historic rock opera at about the same time: Tommy.

The one disappointment of the night was not caused by the band, but by the sound engineer. The song One featured vocals by the bass player Paul Kingery, but for some reason, his mic which had been fine when he was singing backup was turned completely down. What made this more aggravating was everyone else in the band had their microphones adequately balanced, so the only thing heard was the backup vocals.  There seemed to be several times when the sound engineer either was just not paying attention to the balance of the microphones.  I’ve said it before, and reviews and I will repeat it here: The sound engineer needs to have a person seated in the theater monitoring what it sounds like from the audience’s perspective and not just from his booth.

Other favorites from the evening included Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues), Sure As I’m Sittin. Here, Mama Told Me Not to Come, and Celebrate. Every song was flawlessly performed and full of the energy the songs deserved. 

The encores included Eli's Coming, Prayer of the Children, and Joy to the World. I had forgotten Eli entirely and was surprised when they launched into it with resounding guitar intro. It was awesome. Then came the one mistake I think the band made during the evening, and acapella song called Prayer of the Children

It is tough to say something about a song with that title, and I will state right here I think the song was beautifully performed, the five-part harmony was remarkable and the lyrics outstanding. My problem was the song’s placement. Everything is upbeat during the encore, people are totally fired up and waiting for the band to in the show playing best song in your repertoire. Eli has them more built up and then you go into a slow, light song with reflective lyrics. In my opinion, the song should’ve gone earlier in the show and before or after a more mellow tune like Out in the Country.

Bottom line:  Go see them if given the chance. They do not disappoint.

The Venue

Given the choice of seeing any show, anywhere in the world, for me, only the band names would change. There is no better indoor venue in the world than Kalamazoo State Theater.  I say this having seen shows in several of the great halls across this country, and in Europe as well as the Far East.

What adds even more to the physical building is the staff. Wonderful people.


Friday, March 23, 2018

A Majority of Students... Aren't

Preface:  Over the course of my life I have had some really fantastic teachers. This includes not only formal classroom teachers but also informal who have passed on their knowledge outside the classroom. In my entire life, just one teacher brings out negative thoughts, not only to what happened in the school but her abusive personality in general. Whereas this entry is about one specific instance that occurred, there were many over the course of the school year which led to not only an unfavorable opinion of her but of the subject she taught as well. One bad teacher out of hundreds is really not such a terrible percentage after all.

My seventh-grade year was somewhat traumatic, as it was for lots of folks. Mine was a little more so not only because it marked an end to my parochial education but because of my seventh grade English teacher at Central Junior High School in Lawton, Oklahoma -- Mrs. Terry.  Note: St. Mary's and San Carlos (Monterey, California) were Catholic schools that provided me with terrific tools that served as a basis for everything that came afterward.  

Coming from Catholic school into a public school was tumultuous because whereas most people had been together since kindergarten only five of us had made the transition from St. Mary's to CJHS. As a result, from the first day, I felt like an outsider. My one respite was a substantial involvement in Boy Scouting.  It provided me with a break from what I was dealing with Monday through Friday, and at least two times a month the troop went camping at the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. All of this background is just setting the stage, and not really the point of this particular blog entry.

One day, Mrs. Terry announced that has part of our studies on correspondence we were going to be required to write a persuasive letter to our state representatives. Having not been in a seventh-grade classroom in a long time, this particular assignment may no longer be part of the curriculum. This particular letter was not authored by me or anyone else in the classroom. Except for the personal return address, Mrs. Terry provided the exact verbiage we were supposed to use for the letter, as well as the required format. She told us that she was going to take all the letters, once we had finished, put them in a large envelope and send them to the statehouse to see what kind of response it would garner. When I read the letter, I immediately disagreed with its message.

The letter Mrs. Terry had penned asked that the state representative support an initiative that would change the Wildlife Refuge from a publicly run entity to one that was contracted out. Along with that contracting, it forcefully requested the entire park be changed from primitive style camping to paved campsites that included full hookups. At that point, having spent over a year in that park every other weekend and enjoying the primitive style camping that is offered, I was in total disagreement with this letter and took objection to it.

My parents suggested going to the teacher and expressing my disagreement. To this point, my dealings with the teacher were far and few between. She was not the most approachable human being, and the stock answer for any disagreement was -- Well I'm the teacher.  During my conversation with her, I expressed my difference of opinion with hers regarding the future of The Wildlife Refuge.  Surprisingly, she listened and nodded while taking the position that more people would enjoy a park that was overbuilt and had such conveniences as water, electrical, and sewer hookups for recreational vehicles. I was told to complete the assignment as given, with the verbiage provided, because she was the teacher.

Going back to my parents, I told them that I was going to refuse to do the assignment at all and just take a failing grade. Because my parents hoped one day to send me to medical school, they called the school principal and express their discontent.  This led to an announcement in the middle of class that Mrs. Terry would allow anyone who disagreed with her methodology to edit the text of the letter, as long as the word count remains the same and it was grammatically correct. As she said explained this, she walked over to my desk and stood next to me.  Mrs. Terry then informed the class that this accommodation should make it unnecessary for anyone else's parents to call the principal about her teaching methods. Upon finishing, she paused and stared at me, then waited until everyone in the class was also staring at me.

When I composed my version of the letter, I argued against contracting out the wilderness space and converting it into a civilization campground. To fill up space, I also discussed the various places where I'd camped inside the refuge; at the time you could camp anywhere in the park as long as you were within one mile of a bathroom facility. I talked about enjoying swimming, hiking, and rock climbing.  I also mentioned watching the buffalo and prairie dogs that lived or wandered near the campsite. In the end, my word count was exactly the same and since automatic grammar checking had not yet been invented – – I contacted my sixth grade English teacher and asked her to review the letter.  She marked it up, and I corrected the issues before giving it to Mrs. Terry.

A week or so later, Mrs. Terry passed out sheets of paper with the letter grades of the assignment on it, mine was a C-. When I asked why she informed me that I had not only missed the word count but there were significant grammatical errors in the paper. Being the independent-minded young man, I was, I stupidly asked if I could see what mistakes were on the paper. She was incensed that I would challenge her this way.  She explained that the original documents had all been sent to the statehouse, so she did not have a way to go over the actual document with me. I would just have to take her word on the grade – – because she was the teacher.

Time passed, and a letter came in from the Oklahoma statehouse. The representative praised my letter and agreed with me that the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge should be contracted out and civilizing the entire area was part of his plan for the future -- he was convinced after receiving so many letters precisely like mine. To this day, I'm unsure if my letter was sent as written, or of Mrs. Terry took the time to rewrite it before she sent it.  More than likely, the representative read the first letter and assumed they were all the same due to whatever cover letter Mrs. Terry had placed on the stack before sending it. What disturbed me then, and still disturbs me now is the fact that because of this assignment, I was seen as supporting something that I opposed.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and I was driving across the country going to Grissom Air Force Base from Guam. I purposely routed my trip through Lawton, Oklahoma so that I could spend a few days in the wildlife refuge along the way. I wished I hadn't.

I arrived right at sunset and went straight through the main gate without stopping heading toward one of my favorite places in the refuge to camp.  When I got there, I discovered it was barred by locked by a gate. I went to three other locations I had camped before, as the sun slipped past the horizon, and found that they were all locked.  In one case, the turnoff for the camp from the main road had been removed. What the hell it happened?

Going back to the Welcome Center, there was a sign announcing that such and such Incorporated controlled and operated the refuge. There was also a list of hours where you could pay to go camping. There were some primitive campsites, but they were located within the one large organized campground, there was another, campsite but it was for groups and not individuals. I went inside the Welcome Center and inquired about getting a campsite and was informed that they were closed. After a brief talk with the guy behind the counter, I convinced him to allow the late check-in, and I went to the campground.  The staff member also told me that once I was at the campsite, I would not be able to exit until morning because they locked the roads.

I found my spot, set up my tent, and spent the night wondering how responsible I was for what had occurred here. It was less about the disappointment of reliving my memory than it was the guilt that I had destroyed something no one else would ever enjoy the same way I had ever again. I only stayed one night, departing the next morning as soon as the gate opened. It simply wasn't worthwhile.

As I look at what is going on in this nation with students being seen as only having one opinion that she was the teacher. To the entire outside world, I was counted as agreeing even though vehemently objecting every step of the way.
will lead to the destruction of something most are incapable of understanding, I am reminded of my experience with Mrs. Terry.  She buried my thoughts and ideas under hers because

When you hear, that a vast majority of students feel a particular way – – don't believe it. No one has surveyed enough of them to determine a vast majority of anything. Whoever is making such a pronouncement is accepting the word of a teacher (or a few compliant students) that everybody agrees with them.  What you have in the end is that single person's opinion. 

One person does not make a vast majority.