Thursday, September 28, 2023

Casey’s Coast to Coast — and a Few Fly Overs In-between

When I’m cruising around, because of my love for music, my radio is always on. However, is not always music I’m listening to. I also programmed in some comedy and news channels. I also listen to a couple of different podcasts as well. But mostly it’s music.

On the weekends, if I get lucky, I catch an episode of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Of course, these episodes aren’t current, I don’t even think AT40 is still broadcast. But way back in those magical days, when I was in my adolescent and young adult years, it was part of my weekly routine. I’d listen to Casey as he counted down Billboard magazine’s Top 40 hits for the week.

A confession: Except for getting to hear a few songs I would record for later mix tape creation; I really didn’t care about the countdown. What I enjoyed most was Casey’s way of telling a story through long-distance dedications, trivia, and some of the back stories he provided on older music. Casey hosted the show from 1970 to 1988 and then after a ten-year absence, returned in 1998 until he and AT40 permanently parted ways in 2004. 

When I worked as a disc jockey during my college years, I got to play Casey’s show every week. It’d arrive at the station on custom-made vinyl albums that included all the songs, commercials, and other material ready to go. I played them one at a time. Then flipped them over and played the backsides. Because of legalities, we were required to return the records every week after playing them or pay a hefty fine. I stopped listening to the show regularly when I finished one of my tours in Germany in 1983. Armed Forces Network Europe made sure we got the show every week.  

I’ve been listening to AT40 for a long time, but I only realized recently that the bottom fifteen songs on the chart usually don’t move up. This is because of the way the charts mix of famous and lesser-known music. Either less than stellar songs solely occupied the lower part of the countdown by famous artists or new songs by people you’d never heard of. Upon that realization, it forced me to ask myself, should he have even bothered?

While on a recent trip, I was trapped with Casey’s show from start to finish. The show was from October 1979. Rather than flipping stations, I let it play uninterrupted from beginning to end. Since the show’s a countdown, he started with song number forty and worked his way up to song number one. This meant my first hour of listening were these barely known songs. At least to me.

Were they bad songs? No, not really --  they just lacked that commercial hook that would’ve made them eventually rise to the top. A few of them I recognized and at least one I could remember dancing to, but they weren’t those stellar songs that climbed to the top.  

Were they worth listening to? Yes. Most definitely. They provided me with entertainment for at least an hour and at least one of them was significant enough to me I could match it against a life event. So, if those songs did not exist, things would’ve been a little less than. Personally, I like it when my life is more than.

Without realizing it, Casey made sure those songs gained ears even though they wouldn’t gain massive fame and fortune. Most songwriters, like writers, feel happiest when they entertain and share their words with an audience, not only when they earn money.

Here’s Casey’s final sign off.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

September -- When Celebrate Ends with an Arrr!

This is a busy part of September with many things that I consider important being commemorated: Batman Day, US Constitution Day, Birthday of the Air Force, Oktoberfest begins, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and somewhere in there my birthday.

16 September — The day commemorating the world’s greatest detective: Batman. Starting with Adam West’s portrayal and followed by all the players who have put on the cowl since, he’s been my favorite. Why? His only real superpower, aside from unlimited funds, is his intellect.  

17 September—US Constitution Day, a day celebrating the most brilliant government document ever written. Freedoms for the people, and a framework for how the people control the government. The Constitution rocks.

18 September—US Air Force Birthday. I am and will always be proud of my service in this branch of America’s military. WWII showed the Air Force was truly something different from what came before and therefore needed to stand as an independent force. Yep.

19 September—International Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is my favorite holiday, with rum, booty and talking funny. It should be yours too. It is easy to take part, just go Pirate Speak–you even get to keep both eyes, both legs, and you don’t need a hook or parrot. Check out the facts here.

Mid September -- Oktoberfest Begins -- This is the time when everyone gets to be German. Beer, singing, dancing, and more. I only got to go to Munich once so far. I will never forget it. Hey Baby -- indeed.

Note: For those who think I forgot, I didn’t.  

20 September—Storm Area 51 Day, a meme-driven event that turned a mass uprising into a humor creation exercise. As information regarding UFOs is now being released, please take a moment to realize nothing references Area 51.


Monday, September 11, 2023

A Rememberance

Note:  I wrote this after experiencing 9/11 while stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany capturing the experience of being outside the United States during that day.  Never forget.

A lot of folks have asked me to share what it is like being outside the US during recent events.  After giving it some thought, I have pieced together the following, and I am sending it on to friends and family.  I hope this lets you know that the world is still a caring place, for the most part, and that we are all safe and secure.

On 11 September, I was in class when the announcement was made about the first crash. None of us could believe it.  I grabbed my cell phone and dashed to our security office from the classroom.  I arrived in time to watch the second plane hit - I was dumbfounded.  My brain could not digest that this was real and not some special effect. 

I left the security office to head upstairs to the situation room to notify them that I was locking down the network to prevent any problems.  After about 15 minutes there I walked into the Colonel's office to brief him.  As I walked into the room, I heard the announcement about the Pentagon.  This was so unreal.  I was in a daze.

I had no fear for my youngest son, he was on the base and secure.  My older son was at work,  just around the corner from his brother.  The only real fear I felt was for you folks in the US and those folks in uniform I had worked with for 20 years. I also had a very odd feeling because this was the first time in 20 years I was in no way connected to what would be the "military reaction."

Like most of you, we all spent that night and the next few glued to the TV set to see what new information was forthcoming.  Armed Forces Network (AFN) was giving us a live CNN feed.  We, like you, were looking for something --  anything that would lend a bit of hope to the darkness.   I found some of that hope in the German people of our city.

The night of the 11th I was taking the trash out when two of our neighbors, who I had not even met yet (we had been in the house 11 days), came by to express their condolences and to tell me that their prayers were with America.   While walking downtown,  a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent comes up to apologize for the acts of the "insane and evil" among his people.  Most of all he wanted me to understand that it did not represent his people and that I should not hold it against them.

The base went into lockdown mode.  As some of you know, I do not work on the base itself but in the American Arms Officer Tower downtown.  Within a few days, we all got used to the ID checks, car searches, and other obstacles in place to keep us safe.   About two days after the crash I started to notice the flowers appearing at the main gate,  which had been totally locked down.  I started making it a point to go by there, and as days passed flowers, candles, cards of encouragement, and flags (American and German) all appeared.  I took time to read several, and most said the same thing "We are with you,  we are one."  I had found some hope, a bright spot that made it all a little easier. Several huge silent candle-lit marches went through the city, ending in services at the various cathedrals in town.

We went on a Volksmarch (sort of an organized stroll through the forest) the next weekend, and IVV was collecting money for American Red Cross and signatures for a card to be sent to New York.  I think this is the first time I can ever remember hearing about or seeing a foreign country giving to America instead of the other way around.

In recent weeks there have been two other events here in Wiesbaden that connect to the WTC tragedy.   I am telling you about them so that if you hear about them later, you do not feel any worry.  The person thought to be the "money man" for al Qaeda was arrested here.  Keep in mind that Frankfurt (20 miles up the road) is the financial capital of Europe, so it is not out of line for this guy to be living here.  It is about the same as finding a stockbroker living in Newark.    One item of comfort:  since this was a money laundering operation, the business end was kept far away from it to keep it looking legitimate.

The other incident was an Anthrax scare at a local Shell gas station. The substance was tested and found to be plain old cocaine.  How's that for relativity - feeling relieved because it was cocaine?  

The worst part of being here during something like this is not feeling insecure or fearful.  The worst part is feeling disconnected from your people - those that share the experience and feel the pain.   It feels that way here to a small degree.  For the most part, the sincerity of the words "We are with you,  we are one" from the German people provides that comfort to us.  From what I hear similar experiences are being had by Americans in England and Italy as well -- too bad it takes a disaster to bring us all a little closer together.

That's all the news from Deutschland for the moment.  Everyone is fine and well and doing great.


Wiesbaden, Germany

Monday, August 21, 2023

When Lyrics Start To Matter, Keep Singing

In my last entry, I mentioned singing a song to my youngest granddaughter at bedtime. I think aside from reading, it’s one of the most important things that adults can do during a child’s upbringing. Reading teaches children storytelling and takes them to a different world. Each tale has its own way of teaching a lesson. Music, while more ethereal, serves the same purpose. Also, since with very few exceptions we no longer sing as part of daily life, it provides a unique personal connection that is usually unshared.

The older sister of the one I mentioned, who is a kindergartner now, lived with us for an extended period while her dad was deployed. This allowed me to be part of her nightly bedtime ritual of bath, stories, songs, and tuck-in. With the adults each taking one step, I ended up singing to her almost every night. Of course, I was not much for lullabies, and instead introduced her to the music I enjoyed. After all, I knew the lyrics to those.

At first, I gleaned songs from my memory she might find easy to understand. She loved it when Puff the Magic Dragon was sung including her name. Then, of course, tunes like Rollover where she was the little one and the Ants Go Marching where her name was used for the ant doing the action elicited giggles. Granted, even though the objective was to get her fall asleep I didn’t mind hearing her laugh a bit before she did. She also liked The Marvelous Toy and The Unicorn Song.

As time went on, I started pulling songs from lots of sources. Rocky Top and Fox on the Run from my bluegrass repertoire, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Blue Bayou, Car Wash Blues, and Operator from my folk-rock history. Double Feature/Science Fiction* and The Rainbow Connection from my soundtrack memories. Lots of other songs made a brief appearance, and then vanished. The idea behind this was to get her to relax and fall asleep.

Even though she’s a kindergartner now, I still get to do this occasionally when I am around for her bedtime. She’s still not very good with titles. One night she asked me to sing the song about ‘your hill and my hill’. It took me a minute to realize she meant This Land Is Your Land. Most of the time, I sing what she asks for but when she can’t decide I’ve been introducing Eagles songs. Then the other night it happened.

I had sung Best of My Love and when I finished, she asked: “Grandpa, what’s that song about?” It took me a minute. I fondly remember the song as semi-romantic, but when I started running through the lyrics in my head, there was no doubt it was a breakup song. Worse, I couldn’t think of a way of explaining a song: Two people who loved each other very much but just couldn’t make it work out. How do you explain that to a five-year-old in such a way she might understand? In the end, I kept it simple: it was about two people who had to say goodbye. She let me get away with that, not asking another question. I was thankful I hadn't sung Hotel California.

It’s a wondrous and wonderful thing to watch her grow up. It’s still at the point where the new discoveries are joyful enough to distract from the fact these days are also disappearing one by one. I’ll continue to sing for her every chance I get, but I’ll be more careful about the songs I pick. Might be time to dust off Puff again.

*-Whereas the movie that the song Double Feature/Science Fiction is intended for adults, the song itself is about 50s era Science Fiction movies and is harmless. 


Monday, August 14, 2023

Grief Is Momentary, But the Good Memories Last Forever


On Friday, I read the news of a lifelong friend's passing. Losing a friend is harder if you haven’t kept in touch then the news hits harder as you are flooded with memories. Tom Arnold was a good man and probably the best example of how lifelong friendship works among military brats.

In the mid to late seventies, Tom, Phil, and I made up the self-named Busboy Triumvirate at the Fort Eustis Officers Club in Virginia. One evening, when we had completed our shift, we adjourned to an unused game room at the back of the club. There were a few pinball machines and a pool table in the center of the room. Off to one side sat the remains of a keg of beer we had absconded with earlier. On this particular evening, as we played Eightball, smoked cigarettes, and drank beer, the topic for discussion was how the world had changed. It’s funny to think that three teenagers found any change in our brief lives significant enough to complain about. Somehow, we did.

We’d talked about this subject before, but this time we compared events from when we were in elementary school. It was the first time any of us had spoken about those years. As military brats, you wash over deep history and instead, just exchange a quick list of bases where you’d once lived. So, it was a surprise to discover that for the first few years of elementary school Tom and I had both been at Fort Ord, California. Beyond the basic information, we didn’t delve into it further because there were more important things to do like drink beer and shoot pool. 

The next time we showed up for work, Tom was eager to share a photo he’d dug up. It was his second-grade class picture, and he pointed to himself in the front row, and then to me two rows behind him. Amazing, all these years later and now on the opposite coast of the United States we were about to graduate high school together. It wasn’t until a few nights later when we compared birthplaces we found both of us were born in Germany. I was born five days before him, and just fifty miles down the road from Frankfurt.

For three years, we lived in the same neighborhood and developed a casual friendship that skipped important details until now. That’s not unusual for military brats. We form significant relationships with only a cursory comparison of histories. It was more about the here and now, and who is in front of you than where they came from or were born. Junior year, we sat next to each other in a health class we shared. We spent most class periods talking and joking since our health teacher was often absent because of his side job as a wrestling coach.  

At the club, because there was time between setting up parties and taking them down, we had a lot of time to talk. When Phil’s romance with a co-worker made him duck out, so Tom and I conversed about deep stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all serious discussions. We also discussed girls, cars, and our plans after graduation. Looking back, it was during this time I learned the basic critical thinking skills that I’ve used over a lifetime. We were bouncing ideas off of each other which helped us develop that skill. Tom was smart and also had a great sense of humor, so our discussions were very enjoyable.

One night, while we were putting away linens, Tom saw an old piano stored in the room’s corner. He made a remark that he always wanted to walk into a room containing a piano, walk over to it, and play a semi-complicated song without fanfare or introduction. When the song was complete, he’d just stand up and walk away, leaving everyone to wonder if he knew far more than that one song. At that point, he walked over to the piano and sat down. First, he cracked his knuckles and played the intro of Whiter Shade of Pale then sang the first half of the song as he played.

When he was done the room fell silent. I looked over at Phil, who had a puzzled look on his face. Tom closed the cover of the keyboard, stood up, and exited the room without saying a word. It was probably the most Tom-like thing I ever saw him do. Whenever I talk about him, I recant this tale.

When Prom time came, the three of us and our dates went as a group. The evening included dinner at a Polynesian restaurant that was known for selling booze to underage kids more than for their food. Then we went to the prom. When it was over, we headed out to the Colonial Parkway. It was also the last time I spent any time with Tom. A few weeks later, we graduated and then blasted off in separate directions.

In all the time that I knew Tom, he always had a quick wit, and often unique insights about whatever subject was being discussed. Even if we disagreed, I can’t recall a time when either of us got angry but sought a more logical argument to convince the other person to come over to our side. It was Tom who taught me a lot about what it means to have a good friend.

It’s been many years since we graduated high school, and I lost touch with a lot of folks but the one I regret most was Tom. Whenever I hear A White Shade of Pale I am flooded with memories of the times we spent together. I’ll always pause to reflect on them, at the moment with tears in my eyes.

My careers, both in the military and out, have taken me around the world, so saying goodbye to people then not remaining in touch is normal. A few years ago, when prepping to go to my Class Reunion, I asked if anyone knew if Tom was coming. His sister reached out to me and provided his mailing address but warned me he might not write back. She explained it wasn’t an insult, just who he was now. I immediately wrote a letter, and several more over the course of the year. After not hearing anything back, I gave up hope of hearing anything about him again, until this morning when I saw his obituary.

Tonight, I was reading a book to my two-year-old granddaughter before tucking her into bed; I took a moment to tell her about my friend Tom. Then, while holding her tight, I sang her to sleep with an a cappella rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale.


Tom is one of about a dozen friends who also played guitar, but he is the only one I never jammed with. I was into folk rock and learning banjo during the time I knew him, he was into something more electric. But aside from being a great friend who left a significant impact on my life Tom introduced me to the music of Eric Clapton. Awesome stuff.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Grandkids Can Give You The Blues

I consider myself blessed I get to spend part of my time hanging out with my grandkids. Along with the expected joys that come from hanging out with these terrific small humans, I get to share things they are excited about. Recently, it was a cartoon called Bluey.

Bluey is a cartoon out of Australia that centers on a family of Blue Heelers. The family consists of Mum, Dad, Bluey (six-year-old daughter) and Bingo (four-year-old daughter). Besides those characters, there are also uncles, grandmothers, friends, neighbors, and more. Most stories focus on games played by the children with their parents, and occasionally with relatives.

It is a lot of fun to watch how the parents react to being included in the games. Of course, this is fantasy, so they can always drop everything to take part with the girls and they always participate wholeheartedly. The Dad, Bandit, has a keen perception what's going on and immediately jumps into the fantasy the girls have concocted. He gives characters made-up names while playing the game. For instance, Bert Handsome for the hair salon, Romeo McFlourish for the fancy restaurant, and Telemachus for the hospital.

Some examples of the games include the floor is lava, the pizza shop, going shopping, robot Dad, Dad is a newborn, and statues. They also have event episodes like when the girls fixed Dad's birthday breakfast, and going to the hardware store with Mum. There are lessons to be learned as well, and if a parent does something wrong, they figure it out with the help of the girls. Eventually, everything is made right. In a small way, I guess, each episode is it's own lesson if you pay attention closely enough to find it. No problem with that -- they are also entertaining.

I like the artwork of the show. There are things in the background that make the world of Bluey more believable and more like your home. Minor details like outlets, window cranks, and the miscellaneous stuff on a bookshelf all make the program more immersive. The best part is that I get to enjoy watching most episodes with my granddaughters on my lap, as we laugh together at the funny parts.

The show has been around for three seasons, and is catching on in America thanks to a streaming service picking it up. As more and more people are familiar with it in the United States, you can occasionally get away with slipping a reference from the show into a conversation. I had such an experience during a recent coffee shop visit.

Me: I'd like a large nonfat cappuccino with whipped cream and one Splenda.

Barista: Absolutely name for the order? 

Me: (after a moment's thought) Telemachus.

Barista: Uh, could you say that again, please?

As I was about to speak, the barista standing next to the first one, took the cup from her.

Barista 2: It's okay (as she wrote on the cup) I got this. 

I thanked them both and then stepped aside to wait for my order to be prepared. After a few moments, Barista 2 nodded toward me as she extended the cup in my direction. Taking the cup from her, I spun it around in my hand to get the mouth hole in the right place. Then I noticed what name she had written upon it... Bluey's Dad.

I guess it could've been different, the Barista could've written Son of Odysseus and Penelope instead.


Monday, July 17, 2023

The Legend of Chris Towel

Almost everyone has a tale about that person who hung out at your house so much they became part of their family. It’s usually due to a friendship between them and someone in the family or maybe it was a boy/girlfriend situation that morphed into a whole family thing due to personalities. Of course, dogs, cats, and other animals often become family as well. This story is different, it’s about a towel that became if not part of the family at least part of the family lore and legend.

When one of my sons was working as a lifeguard at a community pool in Missouri he discovered after arriving for his shift that he’d forgotten to bring a towel. Rather than going without, he searched through a bin of Lost and Found items that had been there for over a month and pulled out a towel. As towels go, it was what you’d expect it to be. It was well made and larger than a bath, but smaller than a beach towel. It was medium gray with the name Chris and the silhouette of a fish embroidered on it in red.

When he brought it home that evening, he threw it in the laundry basket and explained how he came by the towel. I thought because of the fish emblem on it that Chris was probably part of the swim team or some other aquatic collective. The towel was washed and put away with our other towels and without fanfare Chris Towel, as it became known, started its journey with the family. 

The rest of the time we lived in Missouri, Chris Towel became the go-to tog. We’d take him with us when the destination was less than stellar, more nature than civilized, or when there was a possibility, a good towel might get stolen. It was the expendable towel. It was also the towel used to mop up things off the garage floor or elsewhere in the house when dry was needed, but you didn’t want to risk a high-dollar towel. Looking back, I have to say that Chris Towel always performed well and after going through the wash it returned spot and stain-free every single time. It was never lost. I guess monogrammed things have less of a propensity for being ripped off unless someone named Chris is walking by. 

Chris Towel could’ve lived out his days in Missouri, serving its intended purpose until worn out, but fate had other plans. When we moved to Germany, he made the trip with us. From there, Chris Towel traveled to the Netherlands, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and all over Germany. As the expendable towel, it was always understood that if space was needed, Chris Towel would be left behind. He never was. Chris Towel also went along on Boy Scout camping trips at Camp Freedom and Kandersteg International Scout Camp in Switzerland. When my youngest son went to an Outward-Bound style camp in Austria, Chris Towel went along. 

There were times he faced extinction as closets were cleaned out and decisions were made about what might get disposed of or donated. Chris Towel always made the cut. He came back to the United States where he went to various water parks and a few more Scout camps before he was relegated to the back of the closet. 

When I deployed to Kuwait as a reservist, Chris Towel went along. Later, when I deployed to Kuwait as a civilian, Chris Towel once again packed his bag and went with me. At the end of my tour in Kuwait, I once again looked at Chris Towel and thought about leaving him behind, but thought better of it and he returned to the US with me. 

When my youngest son was putting together his own household, after getting married, Chris Towel went with him. I suppose explained Chris Towel’s family legacy to his wife, as she also refers to him by name. Since that time, he’s been blessed with two awesome daughters who’ve been dried off by Chris Towel. He continues to serve as the solution for a wet body coming out of a lake, a pond, a bathtub, or a sprinkler. 

Like most folks, over the years, I’ve picked up a little of this and a little of that from everywhere I’ve ever been. But I have to say that one of the most constantly familiar objects has been Chris Towel. 

Now and then, I think about wanting to return the towel to its original owner, but I have no way of locating them now any more than when he first arrived decades ago. Chris Towel had been with us so long I’m seriously considering adding them to the family tree. I wonder how the ancestry sites will feel about that.


Monday, July 3, 2023

Damn It, That Elk Is Dead Jim


There are a lot of good things about being a grandfather, but one of the best is being able to relate the events you have lived over the course of a lifetime. Grandchildren often find them entertaining and you get a chance for a little one-on-one time while being the hero. It occurred to me while I was telling me stories that my life is been separated into different segments. Depending on the age of the grandchild, I pick which segment from which I choose the story being told. One story I recently told tell was from the segment of my life where I was heavily in involved with Boy Scouting.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the Scouting community that was very active. We camped at least once a month, and then did additional trips and adventures throughout the year and summer camp. One of those adventures was a canoe trip down a segment of a river. As near as I can recall, there were seven canoes, each with three scouts. A scoutmaster was in the lead canoe and one at the tail end to keep an eye on everybody. During the day, we would swap positions with the person sitting in the middle of the canoe getting a break while the scouts for an aft did the paddling.

The scenery was mostly boring for a kid. Lots of trees. Occasionally we would see a deer or some other wildlife in the woods near the shore, but they would dart away as soon as our noisy crew got near to them. One of the more interesting things we passed was a dead elk that was near the shore. Looking back, it must've been dead a few days, as it was severely bloated and that was why it was floating instead of being underwater. It wasn't moving along the river with us because it was caught up in some trees which were also in the river along the bank.

Everybody stared at the carcass as we floated past. Most of the canoes were off to one side, so we weren't ever closer than ten or fifteen feet as we slowed for a bit to look before paddling on. As we meandered on downriver, we suddenly heard the voice of the scoutmaster who was bringing up the rear of our crew yell out "Don't you dare. Get away from there." Looking over our shoulders, we could see that one canoe had broken ranks and was paddling toward the dead elk. He continued to yell, and they continued to ignore him until their canoe was parallel to the carcass. Then, the stupidest thing I think I've ever seen in my entire life happened. The scout in the middle of the boat grabbed a spare canoe paddle and raised it over his head, aiming at the body of the elk. The scoutmaster's final plea of "NO!" echoed down the river as the paddle was brought down with force onto the abdomen of the elk.

Never before, and certainly never since, have I ever seen anything like it. The carcass of the elk exploded as the pent-up air from its decay was suddenly released. I swear you could almost see the green funk rolling down the river as the smell of the rotting carcass set upon us. We all stared in disbelief. The three scouts in the canoe were then treated to a torrent of decayed flesh, and maggots fell like rain upon them. The look on their faces went from disbelief to disgust as they realized what had happened. Being so close to the smell, their reaction was instantaneous, and they all puked in unison. Because it came upon them so suddenly, they didn't have time to lean over the edge of the boat. As the disgusting rain of insect larva and rotten meat slowed, all three of them stood up at once, and flailed as they tried to brush the disgusting mess off.

There is a reason you never stand up in a canoe. That rationale becomes even more clear when everyone in the canoe stands up at once and in short order the canoe capsized. They landed in the water, surrounded by everything they were trying to escape.

We had enough people to help with the rescue, which avoided an even worse situation. None of the three ever lived the incident down, as it was retold every time any of them showed up around the campfire where any witness of the event was also present. The story became more exaggerated over time, and eventually including the dead elk seeking revenge for its desecration.

When I get to tell one of these stories, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have had a life that was full of interesting things like that to pass on. It is great to entertain them for a few minutes as we sat around a table playing Uno. However, I sincerely hope none of them ever whack a bloated dead elk with a canoe paddle while passing it by, but that they will have the opportunity to do so just the same.


Friday, June 30, 2023

Midsummer Night's Playlist

It was forty-seven years and a couple of days ago today.... 

I was driving from here to there and the songs on the above list were blasting from my radio. In my first two cars, there was only a built-in AM radio to listen to, but that was okay. At least I had tunes while I cruised.

This list popped up on one of my social media timelines, and as I read through it, I was immediately taken back to those midsummer days, and the AMC Gremlin that I drove. The Gremlin was not my first car. My first car was a 1962 hooptie that could get me from one place to another when it wasn’t broken down. During the few months I owned it, I replaced the entire exhaust system, brakes, and fluids and performed a complete tuneup. When the transmission went out after I’d invested all that money, my dad told me that the car was done. He helped me with those repairs; I learned a lot even though a lot of it was spent simply holding a flashlight while his mechanical skills came into play. Now, most of those repairs are not required or simply cannot be performed by the average owner without a full car maintenance bay. So, the Gremlin was the one I spent more time working on the fun side.

The only existing picture of my 1976 Gremlin
I pinstriped the car myself, and swapped out the rims before attacking the inside of the car. It may have only started with an AM radio, but it ended up with a nice FM radio complete with an 8-track player. I only owned ten or of the large clunky tapes. However, in that small number, I covered a wide range of genres from The Good Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack to Kiss Alive!. I added a set of home speakers I bought at a yard sale for ten dollars and they set loose in the back of the car, creating a safety hazard but giving me my own wall of sound.

I never did much to the engine. I didn’t know what I was doing. Automobile mechanics had marched forward in the two decades from when my first car was created to this one. It looked nothing at all like what I had done with my dad on the hooptie.

 About eighteen months later, as I was heading to an employee party in Williamsburg, the car was totaled. The rural highway I was on was in a heavily wooded area, and as I went around the curve, I faced two sets of headlights coming at me. On either side of the road was a steep embankment, so that was not an option. There were simply too many cars and not enough road. The Cadillac Deville that hit me head-on was being driven by a driver who was both drunk and high. The car he was passing was an older car with a group of older ladies in it. Given that everyone was traveling above fifty miles an hour, it is a wonder that everyone survived––especially me. There were no airbags in the car, but the seatbelt that my dad insisted I always wear was firmly fastened.

 After being struck head-on, his car pushed mine backward and then down the embankment. I remember sitting in the car a little surprised I was still alive. I shook my head several times to clear it before exiting the car and climbing up the embankment. Once I got back onto the highway, which was now covered with broken glass and shredded metal, I was stunned as the gravity of what happened pounded me. It was a memorable evening.


Monday, June 12, 2023

Of Dad & Cheetahs


Memories for me are triggered by many things. Music in particular, sometimes specific smells or meals, and of course particular days during the calendar year. I think most people can relate to having memories invade their consciousness during Christmas, but it being June. The approach of Father’s Day–has my mind turned to my dad and I’ve found myself reliving memories of dad events over the course of my life. It’s not a bad thing. Most of the memories are pretty good and usually relate to something positive. One memory seems to be coming up more often than the rest this year. It was something that occurred just before he passed away.

During the last few years of his life, he questioned whether he was being affected by CTE. Over the course of his life, he suffered several concussions. As he mentally deteriorated toward the end of his life, I came to believe he was probably right. As his issues grew, I tried to help with his care, so the burden didn’t fall solely on my brother. It was during one of my many trips to help that this event occurred.

Because of a recent fall, he was staying in a rehabilitation facility; I met him at the doctor’s office. The visit was unrelated, but because he was in rehab he was delivered by med transport. It was late in the day, and I’d spent a frustrating morning dealing with the Georgia VA and taking care of some other details.

Because his was the last appointment of the day, the accumulation of all the day’s delays had put the doctor almost an hour behind, which added to my frustration. The appointment itself was fast, and soon we were ushered out of the doctor’s offices and into a hallway that served as a waiting room. Because of the delay, the med transport that was supposed to return him to the rehab facility had left, and we now had to wait for it to return. I plopped down into a chair and stared silently at the wall in front of me. Because he was in a wheelchair, dad sat a few feet down from me and stared at the wall mounted TV which was showing local news or something.

We sat together without speaking. I was mentally going over the events of the day, trying to make sure I had accomplished everything on my list of things that needed doing. He was silent for several minutes and then he spoke without shifting his view from the TV. “Well, tell me something I don’t know.”

I didn’t appreciate the interruption. In fact, I was hoping the ambulance would show up quickly so that I could move on to the many things that still needed handling. I did not want a conversation. I thought for half a minute before responding, or maybe I didn’t think at all before responding with a smartass answer. Without even looking toward him, I said in a flat voice. “The cheetah is the fastest land animal. It’s able to run up to 70 miles an hour.”

As soon as I the words came out, I knew I was wrong and regretted it. I was taking my frustration out on him. None of this was his fault. But that occurred to me. I braced myself for whatever deserved angry response might come back to me. When he hadn’t spoken for a minute, I looked over at him, and he continued to stare silently at the TV. Then, his expression changed and I could tell he was pondering some sort of response and I gripped the arms of the chair I was in. Finally, he relaxed, shrugged, and without looking toward me said, “Okay, I didn’t know that,” then laughed.

The tension having been broken, I laughed too. We then had a brief conversation about what was going on in the news.

This event is the one I cling to as the last cognizant conversation we had before he passed away.

I miss you, dad.




Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Music in the Woods

A few weeks after moving into my apartment in Virginia, after my return to Germany, I was watching the local public TV station. They were having their annual fund drive, and it included an auction. When a pair of tennis shoes showed up on TV, something I needed, I called in and placed a bid. The end of the auction was a few days away, so I didn’t bother to remain tuned in. However, the next day I was flipping through channels and they were announcing the opening of an auction for tickets to a local bluegrass festival.

Bluegrass has always been figured into my music persona not only because I enjoyed storytelling in the music, but I used to play it on the guitar. I don’t believe it was a random choice, but a choice to impress my parents. Over the course of my lifetime, I learned to flat-pick several tunes and a few dozen standards. At one point, I considered myself good enough to audition for the bluegrass stage at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg. Over time, I learned how to play the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle to expand my repertoire.

As fate would have it, I won both of the auctions. The tickets covered my admission for three full days of the festival, plus a space to stay in the on-site campground. I guess I really hadn’t thought about the whole camping thing, but I owned a tent, so I had that part covered.

It rained as I took off for the festival on Friday afternoon, fortunately, the rain stopped as just as I arrived at the site. After checking in, I was pointed in the campground’s direction and wandered around for a bit before deciding on a spot. A lot of the people there were in groups of ten or more and had created little compounds for their group. Since I was alone, I just looked for a place that was fairly level, uphill from the way the rain might flow, and close enough to the latrines for convenience but not for smell.

The acts started at sunset on Friday night. I will admit, I had not heard of a lot of them, but that did not mean I wasn’t ready to become an instant fan. The performance area was a lakeside amphitheater, with the audience facing the lake, and the stage backed up against the water’s edge. Off to one side was an open area where people were invited to dance. 

The performers I had heard of included Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (a legend), Riders in the Sky, (a quartet that played cowboy music you might’ve heard played by the Sons of the Pioneers), and Doc Watson (a legendary flat pick guitar player). Until the first band took the stage, I really didn’t get excited about being at this festival, but from that point on I was hooked.

The bands stopped performing at about nine, which might seem kind of early if you fail to consider that when most people went back to their campgrounds and individual performances started around every campfire. I had brought both my guitar and banjo with me but made a quick reconnoiter around the campground to see where I might best fit. After that walk, I decided my banjo was going to stay in the cab of my truck because I was not good enough at all to be playing with these folks. So, I strapped my guitar to my back, put a few picks in my pocket, and wandered off to find a jam session.

I remember playing with at least three different groups that night. Usually, I would quietly saunter into a group and listen to the folks playing in the shadows. It wasn’t long before someone would urge me to move closer and join them. Once someone noticed my guitar, I was invited to play along. This is where the collection of bluegrass standards I had learned earlier in life came into play. I played familiar tunes like Fox On the Run, Rocky Top, Orange Blossom Special, and Under the Double Eagle. Aside from a few family gatherings over my life, this was the first time I’d ever played with a fully orchestrated instrumental group, including things like mandolins, banjos, fiddles, upright bass, and drums. It was exceptional. The campground didn’t go quiet until about two in the morning. By then I was still full of excitement, but the libations I had enjoyed all evening allowed me to fall asleep when I got back to my tent.

The next day was great, with most bands playing at least two or three sets. So, if you missed a favorite, you could always go back later and catch the next show. There were also tutoring sessions for various instruments that were taking place around the festival area. The main stage area was lively until almost midnight, then everybody went back to the campground. 

After I had eaten a delicious dinner of C rations (picked up at the base commissary before departing), I got my guitar and other stuff together so I could wander around again. A man carrying a fiddle asked if I wanted to jam. Although I wasn’t intent on just playing a duet, it seemed like a good place to start for the evening, so I nodded.

We played half a dozen bluegrass songs, and he was tearing up that fiddle. I had never been in the presence of anyone who played so well. He asked me what other kinds of music I played, and I told him folk-rock and that I had also written a few ballads and other songs over the years. He asked me to play one. As I looked around while trying to decide which of my songs might be worth being heard beyond a group of friends, I was surprised to find that we had been joined by at least a dozen people standing around the two of us. I hadn’t planned on an audience. 

I played a few funny songs I’d written because funny was okay with most folks. They were songs about blind dates that went horribly, and the angst of being stationed on an airbase so far from home. Then I played a love song I’d written, and by love song, I mean a song about a really nasty breakup and resulting heartache. 

Up to this point, my new friend with the fiddle sat quietly and listened. Occasionally he’d join in to sing harmony on verses to songs he’d never heard before. This time was different. There was a bridge in the song between the verse and the chorus, and he pounced on that bridge. I regret to this day not having a tape recorder with me that night. Out of nowhere, he added a violin solo to the bridge that was just fantastic. (You notice I changed from fiddle to violin? What he played for that song was violin, not fiddle.) What he added was exactly what my heart felt while singing that song. It was as if the song came alive for the first time. I improved an extra verse for him to take a more lengthy solo, which he did. It was beautiful.

At the end, we got a loud round of applause. We played together for another hour, then as things broke up for the evening, I found out that he was a professional musician. He played for the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra. Ya never know.

I went to sleep that night with the notes he played still bouncing around inside my brain. A chance encounter became something magical I still recall.

Most of the bands played again on Sunday, but the heat was up as was the humidity with a rainstorm due that evening. It was so bad at one point. Too Slim (Fred LaBour) of Riders in the Sky ran from the stage and dove into the lake at the end of their last song. I still have the cassette they autographed that day. (I don’t have anything to play it on, but I have the cassette.) 

As I hit the road for home, I slid that cassette into the player in my truck, and about halfway home the rain caught up with me. It’d been a dynamite weekend. It’d been a weekend about music. Does it get any better than that?

395, 205

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Quiet No More


When I was in seventh or eighth grade, my dad gave me his old clock radio. By today's standards, it really didn't do much. It could play music, show the time, and wake me up via the most annoying buzzer I'd heard up to that point my life. But the absolute best feature was the play timer that would allow me to set the radio to play for up to sixty minutes on demand. I didn't think about it then, but that radio changed the way I dealt with silence for the rest of my life. 

From then until sometime in college, I fell asleep listening to music. The first couple of years, I listened to local top 40 station that featured a disc jockey named Lee Van Sickle. Lee turned me onto a lot of schmaltzy bubblegum rock, but also played the first songs I ever heard by Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and a few others that became my favorites. Sunday nights were different, featuring a syndicated show by Dr. Demento playing funny songs instead of the regular music. To be honest, Dr. Demento kept me until the radio turned itself off because I wanted to listen to the songs rather than going to sleep.

I had entered a point in my life where I could control what silence I was forced to tolerate. Don't get me wrong, I like the sounds of nature when camping or hiking, but when I'm by myself driving or just hanging out at home, I prefer to fill that silence with music. Over the years I've gone through a variety of ways to carry my music with me from early cassette players, Walkman, DiscMan, a few flavors of iPods, and more. According to iTunes (my program of choice for managing my music collection having tried many others), I have over 25K plus individual selections of sound. I have to say sound because besides music; I have a selection of audiobooks and stand-up comedy that have made its way into my collection over the years. Many of those selections I've had in multiple formats.

From time to time, I examine my motivations behind filling my silences with sound. Is it really because I'm uncomfortable with my own thoughts? Not at all. Music brings more of my thoughts to the forefront especially while I'm doing something mind-numbing. I think that is the way it is for most people. Once, I worked in a factory shipping department; I lasted an entire week. Every day throughout the entire factory, they broadcast music for an hour, so in the morning, then for another hour after lunch. I was told when I asked that management did it to motivate the workers. Maybe if they played for over two hours a day, I might've stayed longer than a week.

As my ankle heals, I can start exercising again and my search for some appropriate music, which I'll listen to through earbuds. So here I am again, all these years later, once again filling silence with something different. Something to lift my soul and inspire me to ignore the discomfort and keep going.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Old Enough to Accept a Collect Call from Mr. Floyd

The album Dark Side of the Moon was on Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart for over fourteen years during the 1970s and 1980s, but until the last few decades I was only aware of a few of the album’s songs. When Pink Floyd was becoming a music icon, I was busy listening to what would be what later be called Folk Rock. Singers like Linda Ronstadt  and the Eagles  were my primary choices for listening. 

The Folk Rock genre was where my head was at during those years. I could find meaning in the lyrics and I liked the storytelling in the ballads. There were exceptions, of course, but mostly, that music defined my teen years. But somewhere in the background, some songs by Pink Floyd made it into my playlists. Comfortably Numb, Time, and eventually The Wall.

When I was in college, I was a disc jockey at several radio stations. Most were AOR—Album Oriented Rock. That meant aside from the top 40 songs by a particular group, we would play other things on their albums. I’m not sure what the process is now, but we used to have to track what songs we were playing and how often. My assumption was it had to do with both royalties and tracking what songs were popular in our listening area Over the course of my DJ career, the programming directors for at least two of those stations required DJs to add a set of tunes to our documentation, even if we didn’t play them. They were songs off Dark Side of the Moon album.

During my tours in Germany, Pink Floyd’s music spoke to me. I listened to not only Dark Side of the Moon but also The Wall, and a Momentary Lapse of Reason. I was more mature, and I was finding different meanings in the songs I had noticed before. Even though the band’s intent was for albums to be listened to start to finish, I found certain individual titles blended better together and created my own playlists. Aside from the lyrics, I found the music itself to be almost hypnotic. Yes, it was rock ‘n’ roll and had many wailing guitar solos, but overall the music was calming and of a medium tempo rather than something feverish. Maybe that’s why I had to wait until I was older to appreciate it.

Through the years, the band has changed the members, produced a movie of The Wall album, and allowed their music to be matched together with laser light shows. I will admit that I’ve never been to one of the laser light shows, although I’ve heard they are cosmic. I’ve also never watch the movie of The Wall, but I saw the props from the movie on display at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I’m not sure why I bypassed those things, but I understand parts of the band might be on tour this summer and if they are performing at a venue nearby, I might just have to go see them.

Last night, I went to sleep listening to my Pandora mix of Pink Floyd songs. As the music relaxed and eventually allowed me to drift off to sleep, it momentarily occurred to me how far I had come with Pink Floyd and their music. I’m glad that I didn’t discover them earlier in life as I don’t think I would’ve appreciated each of the songs and albums as I do now.

Vincent van Gogh once said that “Perhaps I am a painter for people who have not been born yet.” Maybe Pink Floyd’s music was out there waiting on me to get to a point where I could properly listen to it. If you’ve never listened to Pink Floyd, I invite you to audition their Dark Side of the Moon album. As you look over the titles list, you may recognize a few songs, and be tempted to focus on those. Don’t. Instead, listen to the album the way the band intended. Each song in its entirety in order start to finish. Then listen to it again. The first listen will let you enjoy the songs, but the second will allow you to become immersed in the music’s complexity with the lyrics. I promise you, will find something there.

I haven’t done this yet, but supposedly Dark Side of the Moon and the The Wizard of Oz can be combined into a single visual/audio experience. I guess I'm waiting on the right frame of mind before I sit down and try it. Here are the instructions:

1. Set your MP3/CD player play the first track of Dark Side of the Moon. 

2. Set your MP3/CD player for album repeat.

3. Start The Wizard of Oz.  

4. Wait for the MGM lion to appear. Once he roars for the third time, hit play on the MP3/CD player. Press mute on your TV.

5. To confirm the music and movie are in sync, when you see the credit “Produced by Mervyn LeRoy,” the credit should fade amid the transition from Speak to Me to Breathe.