A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

Words That Stick

“…You might not see him in person,
But he’ll see you just the same.
Yeah, yeah,
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”
(1973) “Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Recorded By: ZZ Top Composers: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill

Oh, the irony of that last verse from ZZ Top.

So, who is God? Really? If He is to be found, then where is He?

Rarely do I write about an artist twice in a row, but this week turned out to be different.

If not familiar with ZZ Top, it’s not important to the thrust of this post. If you know ZZ Top, but you’re not into their style of music, again, keep reading.

ZZ Top has been together for more than 52 years. Around 1969, some Texas boys put together a three-piece band, which became a giant source of sound, with a southern rock twist. ZZ Top became one of the biggest selling names in the rock arena. If you hear them play, you might think you are hearing a five member band. Artistically, they are phenomenal. Billy, Dusty, and Frank created a powerhouse of music mixes which stamped their brand nicely all through the 1970’s and onward. Their concert tours continue even now.

Photo: Wikipedia – ZZ Top, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard

This past week, Dusty Hill, the iconic bass player from ZZ Top, passed away while sleeping in his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.

Dusty was considered far and wide as being one of the greatest bass players ever to pluck the strings. He also held down the back-up vocals, keyboards (when needed), and the cello. In fact, he began playing the classical cello as a youngster. Seeing Dusty at a truck stop, in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, complete with his famous chest-length beard, you wouldn’t assume he was an accomplished tower of a musician, or that his net worth was just north of 60 million dollars. He was a master musician and stage performer.

Photo: Wikipedia – Dusty Hill

During my high school days in the 1970’s, I knew about 70% of their music by heart. My friend, and guitar player for my band, was great at picking ZZ Top songs on his guitar by ear. So, I was a bit heartbroken this week when the news came across that Dusty had quietly left us. Somehow, our rock heroes aren’t supposed to leave this life, or ever get old for that matter. At least that’s in the back of our minds.

Dusty had a few health issues he contended with over the years. He was not a stranger to injuries, most of which occurred while on the road with ZZ Top. After a fall, with a much needed hip replacement, Dusty was advised to sit on a stool during stage performances, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. A few years back Dusty’s trusted Derringer fell out of his boot, accidentally went off and left him with a bullet in the belly. He had the wherewithal at the time to drive himself to the hospital before he went into shock. It’s a good thing he did, too. He made a full recovery.

Sometimes words are spoken and forgotten. Often times, words can be iconic, sticking to the minds of the hearers, and label of the persona who delivered the words.

Once Dusty was asked about what he thought about God, being one of the composers of “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. His answer was stark, and maybe not unusual by today’s cultural standards.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know what, or who God actually is.” – Dusty Hill

Dusty’s answer seems to fit the mindset of many. When faced with the question, if someone laughs it off, then it usually means they fear the answer to the question. The nervous laughter is a self-protective distraction. After all, there is the theory that whatever you actually speak out-loud, you believe deep down. Dusty’s honest answer usually comes from someone who has considered the answer prior to being asked. In many cases, when those words are spoken, the person drowns the heart’s desire “to know” with the stuff of life. Some common tools would be, business, career, family time, substance abuse, talents, or entertainment. Others, may follow-up on their admitted loss “of knowing” the answer, and seriously seek God out. Jesus did say, “Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” -(Matthew 7:7).

Scripture is stuffed with passages speaking of this vital Q&A beyond the cosmos we are all faced with. From the beginning of biblical time, God Himself invites us to come and discover Him, to seek Him out while He may be found. One of my favorites is when God invites us to come to Him with, not just questions about Him, but actual debate, when He said in Isaiah 1:18…

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Contrary to some schools of thought, God seeks us out. In reality, we run from the subject matter. Why? Because it’s easier to simply believe we captain our own ships, ships that sail into the afterlife. In a sense, humans are control freaks. We want to be the ones who lay in a bed in our home and say to ourselves, “Well, my body is ebbing away, but my spirit is strong enough to take it from here.”

To this, I would ask, if you can’t control your own thought-life today, this hour, or this very moment, what makes you think you can project your own spirit/soul? Seriously, ask that of yourself. Consider, the afterlife, and what is prepared for you, doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it, like one owns a car.

Photo by Mark Vegera on Pexels.com

The most prominent self-taught statement on a deathbed is: “Sure, I have sinned, but who doesn’t? I’m a pretty good guy/gal, for the most part. That should speak well of myself at Peter’s gate…if there is one.”

As for Dusty’s “who” and “what”, Jesus addressed this several times so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Am I with you so long a time, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own, but the Father, as He remains in Me, does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'” -John 14:10-11 (NAS)

For those who believe, these words of Jesus stick. As for Dusty’s words, he actually answered his own question in the last verse of his song from 1972.

Although you may think you are unknown to God, you’ll see anew in fuel for the race.

“And Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, ‘I adjure You, by the living God, that You may say to us if You are the Christ—the Son of God.’ Jesus says to him, ‘You have said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” – Matthew 26:63-64 (Literal Standard Version)

For The Love Of Stuart

“I love you in a place
Where there’s no space or time.
I love you for my life
You’re a friend of mine.
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together.
We were alone and I was singing this song to.”
(1970) “A Song For You” – Recorded & Composed By: Leon Russell

Does the name, Stuart Sutcliffe mean anything to you? Does his name sound familiar, as if you think you “should” know who he is? If you’re in the dark on Stuart Sutcliffe, don’t feel badly. Most would be, if asked.

Stuart Sutcliffe was an artist (mainly abstract paintings). In fact, as a teenager, he attended the Liverpool College of Art. While there in the late 1950’s, he met another blooming artist named, John Lennon. As friendship grew, John and Stuart found yet another love, other than artwork, in the form of music. John had a struggling band of young musicians, and asked Stuart to consider joining his group. Before you could say, The Quarrymen (One of John’s earlier titles for the band.) Stuart was playing the bass in this ragtag Liverpool crew of schoolboys. At times it was a band of three lads, other times a band of five. If you’ve ever been part of a music act, than you know this is so common of a problem.

Photo: Amazon.com Stuart, with John Lennon and George Harrison

It’s funny how things work sometimes when unforeseen events help to make other unforeseen events happen. Step 1-2-3…

Stuart was a good artist with the brush and canvas. In fact, one of his paintings sold while he was learning songs with the band-mates. Paul McCartney speaks today of how poor they were. They couldn’t even afford a tape recorder. When the proceeds landed in Stuart’s pocket, John & Paul persuaded him to buy a quality electric bass guitar with it. Feeling the pressure, he did just that.

Stuart can also be applauded for helping John come up with the name, Beatles, although it did go through a couple of spelling changes. So, off they went, playing mostly cover songs in any and every club in Liverpool, along with, surrounding villages, school and church dances, even hitting the road up to Scotland for a short tour.

Photo: All That’s Interesting – The early Beatles, with Stuart seated on the left.

Early 1960, (Two years before Ringo joined the band.) when Stuart was only 19 years old, and George Harrison even younger than that, the manager of the Beatles booked a 3.5 month residency in the red light district in Hamburg, Germany. They were contracted to play a certain amount of gigs at a club which had recently made a conversion from a strip joint to a live music club. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots did in between packing in the crowds. (Yeah, I won’t go into all that.) Because of some bad episodes, and bad decisions, the contract was cut short. However, not all things were bad, depending on who you ask.

While the lads were turning up the volume in Hamburg, Stuart met a German girl who was a shutterbug with a camera, Astrid Kirchherr, who was also an art lover. Astrid took loads of photos of the band live on stage and elsewhere. Stuart and Astrid spent a lot of time together during their stay in Hamburg. When it came time to leave Hamburg, Stuart wanted to stay. He even went so far as to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. While there, he told his new love, he thought he might like to become an art teacher someday.

Before you could say, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, the decision was made. Stuart left the Beatles, but gained a fiance.

Photo: AnOther Magazine – Astrid and Stuart

I know, the two don’t look too happy. But they were both artistic, so they could get away with not smiling. Frankly, I couldn’t find a photo of Stuart smiling or laughing…anywhere. I’m not sure what that says, if anything.

Of course, many will say, “Oh, wow! What a missed opportunity! This guy probably kicked himself later. He should’ve stuck with the lads and said so-long to the photographer.” Others will look at Stuart’s choice as, “Awe, how sweet. He loved her so much that he was willing to leave behind his Beatle band-mates. Instead of rolling in the dough, he wanted to roll in his his love for Astrid. How romantic.” Then there are some who will be more cynical with something like, “Yeah, it was love alright. Truth be known, he loved the art-world too much and it messed with his head. Priorities, priorities.” Paul McCartney says Stuart left for love, no matter what other sources might print. How do you see it?

Here’s what we DO know. Beyond, “Love, love me do…” if you live long enough, you find the richness, and the depths of love. If you live long enough, you’ll discover love changes everything. It can change your outlook, your scope on life, your plans, and priorities. Love defined is a mystery, really. For me, love is like a powerful current, an undertow beneath the surface unforeseen, undetected by sight. Love can donate a kidney. Love can empty out all self-awareness. Love can give away life for the benefit of another.

Could it be, Stuart left something he loved for something he loved more?

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Jesus defined love in John 3:16, “For God SO loved the world, THAT He gave his only begotten Son, THAT whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting (eternal life after physical death) life.” (emphasis mine)

Notice the “action” love takes in that passage.

Somehow, in someway, love is linked with loss. It is like a clipping of the wings that we have grown accustomed to since birth. When a parent holds a newborn in their arms for the first time, suddenly there is a shift. Inwardly, we declare, “I will do whatever I must do to give you a good life.” In a strange way, in that moment, we put “self” on the shelf.

I, for one, have failed at love many times in my life, especially as a younger individual. Yet, life has taught me that when true love is exercised, one does not mind cutting off part of one’s “self”. Stuart Sutcliffe, all of 19-20 years old, may have understood this.

Unfortunately, Stuart and Asdrid had very little time together. In 1962, while in art class in Hamburg, after complaining of headaches and sensitivity to light, he collapsed and passed away. After an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as a Cerebral Hemorrhage. In a twist of fate, it was yet another unforeseen event for Stuart Sutcliffe.

Astrid was asked to be an advisor on a 1994 film, “Backbeat”, which focused on the Beatles early years in Hamburg, which included Stuart and Astrid. She kept her toes in the love of photography all of her life.

In May of 2020, Astrid died after a short illness at the age of 82. She lived alone.

Be ready for the unforeseen. The instructions were left with love in fuel for the race.

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.'” – John 21:17 (NAS)

When Giving Away

“She’ll change her name today.
She’ll make a promise and I’ll give her away.
Standing in the bride-room just staring at her. She asked me what I’m thinking and I said,
“I’m not sure-I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.”
– (Album Release 1995) “Butterfly
Kisses” Recorded By: Bob Carlisle Composers: Thomas Randy Keith & Robert Mason Carlisle

I thought long and hard about just how to put the following in writing. Let’s start from August of 2008.

While living in Buffalo, NY for five years, I found myself sharing life with my middle daughter, Megan. Single parenting isn’t for the weak. My oldest daughter had already flown the coop to spread her wings a couple of years prior. My youngest daughter, a 2nd grader, left for Texas with her mom after I filed for divorce. I’ve written extensively and openly about this horrible chapter in my life before, so I won’t dive fully into all the sandpaper of history which brought my family so much pain. I will say the divorce occurred after 26 years of domestic violence, white collar crime, as well as, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse from a mentally disturbed wife and mother. Although it costs me almost everything I had, I needed to protect my girls. The history left deep scars upon all of us.

Megan was in the middle of her high school career at the time, and needed as much stability as possible in her life. So, I dedicated myself to staying in the area with my focus on getting her through high school in the school she loved.

After she graduated in May of 2008, I had the opportunity to relocate back to our original home, Dallas, Texas. I sat Megan down and revealed the options. She was welcome to come with me back to Texas, or decide to stay in Buffalo and make it on her own. With bitter-sweetness, she chose to stay. She had lots of friends where we were, and didn’t want to be geographically near her mother in Texas. It broke my heart, but I also knew I needed to support her decision, and respect it. She was 18, strong and independent. I am proud to say, she had a good head on her shoulders, smart, and talented on many levels. We hugged, cried, hugged, and cried some more. Fast forward, she not only made it very well on her own, but in spades. She became a well-known western NY vocalist and recording artist. She was the lead singer in an internationally award-winning band, and voted twice as best female vocalist in western NY. Her current band, Grosh, is considered Buffalo’s rock royalty. She has been on several albums with her bands, and many as a guest artist with other recording projects. To say I am proud of her, isn’t scratching the surface.

It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park for Megan alone in Buffalo. A few years back she was involved with a guy who was an abusive so-in-so. I won’t go into details, but even after their break-up, he stalked her, threatened her, started brawls to get to her, kidnapped her, and tried a murder/suicide plot. She survived by THE GRACE OF GOD ALMIGHTY. Oh, I could tell you some hair-raising stories. All my prayers for her protection were answered.

About three years ago, she met a really nice guy from another band. The musician circle is a tightly knit group in the area. Most are all friends, and collaborators. The first night of connection with this young man, Kevin, they were able to just sit alone and talk. It lasted hours on end. She began to pray about that spark on her way home, asking God to make this clear to her concerning this new lad. Before you can say, “Tune my guitar”, they were a hot item. They moved-in together a couple of years ago, (not what I wanted for her) and not long after, he asked me for her hand in marriage. They do so well together.

So this happened on Saturday, June 5th, on the banks of the Niagara River where Lake Erie feeds into it.

Yes, I gave her away at the Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse.

At the mouth of the Niagara, the winds coming off Lake Erie are constant and never just a breeze. Hair and fabric were everywhere.

Waiting to take post-ceremony pictures on the dock.

Just like the lyrics in “Butterfly Kisses”, I arrived at the venue early, found myself gazing at her in the bride-room. She asked me what I was thinking. I admitted to just being in a state of cruise control. There was a tendency to feel I was losing my little girl, but really, I went through that uncomfortable feeling in August of 2008 when I moved back to Dallas without her.

Megan was so nervous.

Her mother was not there, and to be perfectly honest, it was for the best. My wife, Megan’s stepmother, was unable to make the trip. So I gave her away, hugged and kissed them both, then sat down on the front row alone.

The reception was under a classy tent. Being from Texas, she wanted feed everyone tacos instead of wedding cake.

The wedding party, plus the wedding guests, were primarily made up of the who’s who of western New York rock musicians. The band for the reception were well deserved members of the Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame. As the night progressed, it turned into a jam session with other musicians attending the event. To say the least, it was fabulous. I was able to surprise the couple by singing, “Wildflower” from Skylark with the band. I had to change a couple of the lyrics to fit the father singing to the couple, but it was the perfect song about a wounded bride with old scars. I didn’t cry, but I worked very hard at choking back the waterworks.

Singing “Wildflower” from Sklylark

The band performed “Butterfly Kisses” for the daddy/daughter dance. Tears were overpowering at that point. We chose this song because I used to sing it to them at home and at church on Father’s Day while they were growing up.

The last time we danced, she was standing on my feet as I was teaching her steps as a kid. Megan and I shared a beautiful moment during the dance. I will always hold it close to my heart.

One of the unexpected circumstances was initiated by my oldest daughter, Tabitha. My girls were raised on various music icons like, The Beatles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac. The band began to play “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac when Tabitha grabbed my hand and said, “Come on dad!” Before you could say, “Stevie Nicks”, I was dancing with all three of my girls at the same time. Again, that hasn’t happened in about 17 years.

From L-R: Tabitha, D’Anna, and Megan

My 10 year old granddaughter was there, but she was off chasing seagulls most of the time.

Skylar, Tabitha’s daughter.

The reception/concert lasted about 5 hours. As the golden dusk spread over the Canadian shore across the Niagara, a soreness began to settle in my heart. The night was coming to a close. It meant she would drive away a married woman, this little girl I nurtured and protected the best way I could. Now, it would be Kevin’s responsibility to watch over her, comfort her, and allow her to dream on. At the same time, I had to put on a stage face for the scores of strangers congratulating me on gaining a son-in-law. I do feel blessed in that he seems to be a true, honorable guy who is loyal and loving. And yes, I gave her away into his arms.

When Jesus spoke of how important it is to give your very life away, it is for deep purposes beyond ourselves. When we were taught to give of ourselves, it was for the betterment of the recipient. When Jesus urged us to give to strangers, it was to offer our very best, not the crumbs of life. Before my feet left Buffalo, Kevin received my best. As the song, “Wildflower” says, I had cultivated her, attended to her, and raised her in my garden for such a moment as she took another name other than mine. I gave him my best.

Photo: Megan at 4 & 17

Tabitha, Skylar, and D’Anna flew on different flights, different days. I flew solo. The soreness I had felt toward the end of the celebration under the tent didn’t go away. In fact, I felt it not only linger, it grew. Trying to decipher deeply seeded burning stones in the soul can be difficult when negotiating an emotional event. While waiting to board my flight at the Buffalo/Niagara airport, I began to recognize the source. Megan’s mother wasn’t there at the wedding because she didn’t want her there. In other words, Megan knew she would be happier at her own wedding with her mother absent. Although I understand it, knowing the dynamics of the first 15 years of her life, my heart was sagging knowing it shouldn’t be this way. Megan deserved to have a loving mother by her side on her wedding day. Yet, that wasn’t to be.

My flight had a layover in Baltimore where I was to switch planes for Dallas. Sitting in the Baltimore airport, the guilt invaded. Guilt of “what might have been’s”. Torture paints the gut when gnawing on a good chunk of the “what did I not do’s?”. At the same time, I have wonderful, sweet memories with my girls as they were growing up. I miss those days, BEFORE MIDDLE SCHOOL. LOL However, I can’t deny the hardships my girls were faced with. There, right there, at the entrance ramp to board the plane, tears began to escape.

It was a night flight. The sunset was beautiful looking west at 10,000 feet. Looking down at the darkness there were pinpoints of light which could be detected as we flew over small towns and lit highways. Then at on point the pilot spoke to us over the intercom.

“Folks, we are entering Arkansas where there are a couple of severe storm cells of note. We will attempt to fly around them. Please remain in your seats and buckle up.”

Not long after that, I saw the storms out my window to the west. We were flying high above them. The massive storm clouds were ominous. Then, as I kept my eyes on the cell system, various sections of the clouds below lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning. Like popcorn under a glass lid, the illuminations popped up continually as I tried to count them while gazing from above the fray. Only when the lightning ripped through the thunderclouds could I spy the enormous structure of the cell. It was a sight to behold. There was a special beauty about the fantastic light show beneath us, although a danger to those beneath the storm.

So many times in my life, God has spoken to me through unanticipated visuals. Life has taught me to watch for these particular teachable moments as the Master speaks in illustration. Later, after landing in Dallas, I thought back on seeing the turmoil below in the Arkansas sky. An impression gently settled in my mind. The storms we faced as a family was indeed brutal, and harmful. Yet, now, it is in the past, and far away. I can now, I should now, not relive the torments of the life we had, but rather see it from afar, from above it. This is how I know Megan sees the threatening past. So should I. It is in that state I was able to let go, giving her hand to his.

Celebrations can be for a bright future, but also for leaving the past. It’s been done with fuel for the race.

“Now when the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the groom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the guests are drunk, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.'” – John 2:9-10 (NAS) – Wedding at Cana.

L-O-V-E

Photo:  My grandparents as newlyweds in 1938, nesting at the Brazos River, Texas.  They were married 69 years until his death.

“Ohh, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would see you through? The kind of love my Momma and Daddy knew. Yeah, whatever happened to old fashioned love, the kind that would last through the years, through the trials, through the smiles, through the tears.  (Bridge)   For now the tenderness has been replaced with something less, and it’s hard to find what we left behind…..”                         

(1983) “Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love?”  Recorded By: B.J. Thomas  Composer: Lewis J. Anderson

I love the truthful lyrics in the bridge section.  “…the tenderness has been replaced with something less…”

There I go again, using the highly overused word, “L-O-V-E” when I didn’t mean it.  Oh, sure, I like the lyric, but I can’t say I “love” the lyric…or can I?  Come on, you know what I mean.  My brain, my emotions, my gut, truly holds the lyric close to my heart.  Is that love, or infatuation?

Valentine’s Day can be so cute in so many ways.  The little Valentine cards we used to swap out in out elementary school days cause me to chuckle now.  Just like the little heart candies, “Be Mine”, “I think you’re cool”, “Here’s a heart for you”, etc.  It was all so very innocent, wasn’t it?  Then, we grow into our hormone-owned teen years.  Yikes!  Us guys can truly be a grand example of what love is NOT.  You girls seemed to have a better handle on it.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.  You tell me.  It reminds me a bit when I think of the old TV show, “The Love Boat” from 1977-1986.  You remember the first couple of lines to the theme song, “Love Boat”.  Singer, Jack Jones piped it out:

“Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard.  We’re expecting you….”  (1977)  Composers:  Charles Fox & Paul Williams.

I think that has been one of the distractions about the definition of love in our culture.  Love can be ‘exciting and new’, but usually not.  In fact, ask any couple who just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary about “excitement” or “newness”.  They will laugh at you.  But wait a minute.  Isn’t passion, sexual desire, and infatuation exciting and new?  My twist would be, yes.  Passion, sexual desire, and infatuation can be exciting, especially if it has just redirected your focus in life, a new focus, even if only for a brief amount of time.  But….is passion, sexual desire, and infatuation, L-O-V-E?  Let’s ask the British rock band, 10cc from 1975…

“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it.  It’s just a silly phase I’m goin’ through.  And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve go it made.  I’m not in love, no-no…..”

Actually, some of the lyrics in this hit can be downright hurtful, like:

“I keep your picture upon the wall.  It hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.  So don’t you ask me to give it back.  I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.  I’m not in love, no-no.  It’s because…”  Composers:  Eric Stewart & Graham Gouldman

OUCH!  I wonder if he was that honest to her face, or if the song was just therapy written on the road in a cheap hotel?

couple walking on city street
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Valentine’s Day can be a danger for some unsuspecting romantics out there.  (I know of what I speak.  I can write about this with real-world experience.)  Let’s face it, we want to be loved…right?  That desire is in the human heart even before birth.  Like an empty blender just waiting for the colorful mix of goods to be poured into us.  Am I right?  Come on, be honest with me.

So, sure.  We love dogs.  We love cats.  We love horses.  We love romantic movies.  I love that color on you.  I love a brilliant, blazing sunset.  I love Tex-Mex and Chinese food.  Boy, do I love that ’68 Ford Mustang.  What kind of L-O-V-E is that?

Resturant Table tomesto.ru

How ’bout this?  You see him/her from the other side of the restaurant, munching on a burger.  The view is of a nice looking specimen of humanity.  You toss away your slightly tomato-stained napkin and walk briskly straight for him/her.  You only have two words in your vocabulary at the moment as you lock eyes on this beautiful person.  As you arrive at the table, your mouth opens and out comes the channeling of David Cassidy…“Hi, I think I love you.”  He/she chokes on a slice of onion.  After the Heimlich Maneuver, he/she is bold enough to ask…“How do you know?”  Good question.  I guess you could say, “It’s your crystal blue eyes, your matching blue suit, the tattoo of the hammer and sickle over the entire left side of your face.  I love everything about you!”  Okay, got it.  A wise person, with a head on their shoulders, might say you idolize the look of this person.  What you don’t know is, he/she is a closet Neo-Nazi, an axe murderer, and someone who leaves their filthy Mini Mouse socks on the floor.  So, after he/she reveals these details of “WHO” he/she is, you lower your head with embarrassment, turn and walk slowly back toward your table to rejoin your spouse and five children.

It took me decades to reevaluate using the word, “love”.  If you THINK you’re in love because of what the other person can do for you and your life, you should reevaluate.  Too often this is the case.  Or, you love the “idea” of falling for someone with an Irish accent, or someone from your hometown, or someone with red hair.  So, you go on a hunt to find an Irish redhead who just happens to live where you grew up.  Careful.  That smell is from a dead relationship.  Take inventory of your motives and fantasy life.   

I’m grateful for the letter “L”.  It launches both “Love” and “Like”.  If you start to say “love”, and don’t truly mean it, you can easily self-edit as you evolve your pronunciation into “like”.  Try it.  “I need you to know I really, really LLLLike you.”

Are you confused yet?

Scripture defines love as a verb, not a feeling.  Some reveal they didn’t understand love until they had a child added to their lives.  Getting into the weeds of original root word languages, you could discover there are different brands of “love”.  Yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves.  We should love our families with all that we are.  And yes, we should love our enemies.  “That’s hard”, says Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.  There’s a picture burned into my mind, from the Desert Storm War in Iraq.  It captured the image of U.S. Marines feeding and hydrating Iraqi POW’s in the sands of southern Iraq.  What high bar to hurdle.

Jesus labelled the highest, premium degree of authentic love.

““There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.”  – Jesus – (John 15:13 (Amarmaic Translation)

Literally, if you cannot agree to die, or be tortured, or to take-on someone’s cancer (if possible) for another person’s well-being, their life, their health, than most likely the highest shelf of the zenith of love is not an active agent in the relationship.  Would you give a kidney to an old friend with stage 5 kidney failure?  Would you run into a burning complex to rescue a co-worker?  I think all various levels of love can be measured starting with the definition given by Jesus, Who loved you enough to do just what He said.

No, I am not willing to be sacrificed for a plate of tacos & egg rolls.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hand what you write.  If Valentine’s Day causes someone to misread your true heart for them, it isn’t kind.  In fact, it would be cruel.  Honesty is always best.  It might be best to find a stain on the wall as you decide which 8×10 should go there.

One thing is certain, love is the very theme of fuel for the race.

Love ya!  Mean it!

 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs.   Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  – Apostle Paul –  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a  (Berean Study Bible)

 

B-17

Cover Title Photo:  Pexels

“Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17
It was our song, it was his song, but it’s over.
Please, Mister, please, if you know what I mean,
I don’t ever wanna hear that song again.”  (1975)  Please Mr. Please   Recorded by:  Olivia Newton-John  Composers:  Bruce Welch & John Rostill

Mama’s Pizza came to my north Dallas suburb in 1976, or so.  It was the first New York style pizza to land in our area and it was a true hit.  In fact, my single mom and I were one of their very first customers after they opened for business.  The interior was very much like the no-frills, old pizza joints in New York City.  It had its dark maroon painted brick walls kissing the eight or ten booths lining the long dark narrow dining area.  There were three, maybe four tables for those that preferred them.  The kitchen was out in the open with its used pizza ovens.  (I say “used” because they didn’t look brand new to me.)  Two brothers ran the place, both from New Jersey.  They were both in their 20’s and going to school.  One was in dental school, the other in business studies.  They often fought publicly, but it only added to the atmosphere.  They didn’t care how loud they were, or who could hear them.  I smile thinking about witnessing shouts of, “DON’T BOTHER ME WITH THIS!”…”I CALLED MA LAST TIME.  IT’S YOUR TURN, BOZO!”…”AH, FORGET ABOUT IT!”

One of my favorite things Mama’s Pizza had, there on the far back wall, an authentic mounted moose head, possibly a caribou, hanging out from the brick wall.  It’s nose was just about eye-level.  A couple of friends of mine had a tradition of kissing the nose of the poor beast.  Just beneath the animal’s mounted head, an old classic jukebox.  My classmates and I almost wore that thing out over our high school years.  It looked something like this…

woman lying forward on parquet floor in front of jukebox
Photo by Cleyton Ewerton on Pexels.com

From what I recall, you could select your song for a dime, or a quarter if you wanted to push more buttons for a few more tunes.  It seems they had current hits from the 70’s, as well as, some hits going all the way back to the late 50’s.  Zero country songs.  Very seldom did you ever see a goat-roper (Our word for cowboys back in those times.) come in for NY pizza.  That’s was fine with us.  We didn’t like country-western music.

Mama’s Pizza hasn’t been here in many years now.  I miss it.

One thing Mama’s didn’t have was this…

Jukebox Tableside Dallas memories

Photo:  Dallas Memories Facebook Group

Now, depending on how you are, you might not recognize what this is.  Back in the day many small diners often sported these little treasures.  Although most have thrown them out as the years marched on, from time to time you can still find some table-side jukeboxes.   It seems like the last one I saw was at the Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, NY.

Lake Effect Diner curtinresturants.com

Photo:  Lake Effect Diner, Buffalo, NY.  curtinresturants.com

As a kid, and as an adult, sheer excitement would take over whenever I spotted these babies.  In fact, I remember searching for songs even before picking up the menu.

I will pretend you’ve never seen one.  So, allow me to describe the experience.  tThere is a knob, or lever, which turns the pages of the lengthy song-list.  As you scan the titles and the artists, you should have your dime ready for your selection.  Suddenly, you find your favorite tune, “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” by Elvis.  Next to the song is a letter or number, or both, that you would push the coordinating button for choosing.  Boom, somewhere in the building is a jukebox remotely playing your selection over the speakers at your table.  But usually there are speakers mounted in the ceiling for everyone’s listening pleasure…or hatred.  And there’s the rub.

Like Olivia, there always seems to be a B-17 in our memory.    Maybe you dislike Elvis, and there he comes, forced on your ears because some button-pushing customer in booth #3 selected it without consulting you first.  What’s worse, he might have added a couple more Elvis tunes with a quarter in the slot.  By the time your selection comes around, it may be time to tip the waiter and leave.  Before you know it, just about the time the second verse of “Blue Hawaii” comes around, you’re thinking of taking your sliced tomato off your burger and throwing it toward booth #3.  Do the math.  B-17 + Communal Music = Internal Sour Notes.

Turn Table wikihow.life

Photo:  wikihow-life

For me, the heavy remains to be my personal B-17’s.  You know what I mean.  It’s not so much a disliked artist, but rather a song.  There’s nothing like music that drags you back to a memory, whether it be a good one, or a bad one.  It could be a relationship that went south and the song on B-17 in the selector was what you called, “Our Song”.  Tell me about it, I know it very well.  I could cry a river a few times.  Maybe it was the song on the radio you were singing along with as a truck pulled out in front of you, leaving you in a body-cast for a few weeks.  Someone might think of a song sung at a funeral for a loved one.  That’s what happened to me with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”.  To this very day, I sink in sadness when it plays over the air.  The song was performed over the coffin of my friend and mentor back in July of 1981.  All these years later the song stings me.  Music has Velcro.  It’s the way God created it.  Music stamps visuals, times, and places.  So many songs do deliver sweet mental-videos of first cars, first dates, weddings, births, and graduations.  If the guy in booth #3 selected one of those I might be persuaded to buy his grilled cheese sandwich.

Sometimes being in a community isn’t always a pleasant thing.  Am I right?  It’s all about how you handle what you don’t want to hear, or see.  Maybe the group of kids in the corner booth are dropping the F-bomb for all of us to enjoy.  Maybe the idiot cutting people off in traffic gets your match lit.  It simply might be a neighbor with a political sign in the front yard you wouldn’t vote for.  Yep, sometimes being communal isn’t always tasteful.  What’s your B-17?

So Olivia is spot-on with, “Please, Mr. please, if you know what I mean, I don’t ever want to hear that song again.”

Grace, living out grace, handing out grace overcomes a lot of B-17’s in life.  Biblically speaking, it means giving favor to someone, or some thing, who you feel doesn’t deserve favor.  Grace fuels merciful action and thought.

“Lady” by Kenny Rogers is a B-17 for me.  It brings up a life-long choice which turned out to be a youthful mistake.  For many moons the sound of the song angered me, literally.  However, when hearing now, I work hard on hunting for the true value the lyrics have for others, not focusing, or feeding on the sour notes of my own past decision-making.  What’s history is history, grace would say.  I for one, need grace all the time, every day.  So glad the Creator invented it, and distributes it.  It’s what’s on God’s menu for us, the consumer.

Before selecting that button, it’s wise to order-up a good warm cup of fuel for the race.

“Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over–will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  – Jesus –  Luke 6:38  (Holman Christian Standard Version)

But All I’ve Got Is A Photograph

“Every time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I’ve got is a photograph
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…”  (1973)  Photograph.  Recorded by:  Ringo Starr   Composers:  Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.

Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write.  I just know I have to.  I MUST write about it.

Meet Terry Sindle.  Terry was a dear friend of mine.  We were the same age.  He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived.  It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York.  They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher.  But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.

Terry Sindle RLT Choral

(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)

He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative.  He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum.  He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow.  I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best.  He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer.  I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport.   Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing.  We both had poor single moms.  We both loved music, and music performance.  And we both loved pizza…or so I thought.  Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza.  So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn.  When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS?  THIS isn’t pizza!”  Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza.  We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy.  It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.

One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar.  He was an incredible guitarist.  I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar.  His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”.  Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band.  In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog.  TWO DAYS!  He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs.  He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn.  He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.

You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather.  I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition.  I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading.  It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music.  He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977.  He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.

Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads.  Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy.  Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully.  We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards.  With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics.  (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.)  Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.

Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town.  Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career.  We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock.  Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on.  We lost track of each other by 1980.

Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times.  It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act.  He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.

Terry Sindle Rocking the 80s

(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)

Then…all went silent.

About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend.  By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link.  Nothing came up.  Internet searches came up empty.  It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.

Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search.  With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit.  Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37.  What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing.  May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him.  My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable.  All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida.  All other searches came up zero.  It was highly frustrating.  I gave up and the years went by.

A couple of months ago for  Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.

Me and Band RLT Oct 1977 Terry Sindle far right

(My Alan Brown & Co Band.  Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)

In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977.  That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants.  Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.

Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry.  I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough.  So, I lit a fire under my chair.

Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister.  I messaged with her right away.  Afterwards we spoke on the phone.  Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death.  Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief.  After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist.  Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live.  In fact, he died 3 days later.

Terry did well with his music while here.  In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records.  Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed.  His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there.  He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married.  They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.

Terry Sindle Wedding

While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients.  That didn’t surprise me a bit.  He had a huge heart.  As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life.  He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s.  He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again.  At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus.  AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back.  Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.

Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed.  She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years.  I was thrilled!  I did so.  Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace.  You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt.  In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up.  Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.

Terry Sindle and Sons

(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot.  Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)

A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet.  Once again, I was thrilled!  I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us.  They were itching to show up.

When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling.  It was so strange.  All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me.  As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor.  Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster.  They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years.  We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.

I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?”  There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew.  Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth.  When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.  The others drove up shortly after.

Terry Sindle Memorial Gathering

(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot.  I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)

For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts.  The guys poured out all their memories of Terry.  No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together.  Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years.  He dearly loved his wife and sons.  Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up.  After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise.  That was his concern while preparing to leave this life.  He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.

Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub.  I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades.  Of course, I know what she meant.  Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad.  His eyes lit up as I described our days together.  He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry.  He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited.  He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.

As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized.  It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty.  And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help.  So many don’t.  He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away.  To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.

As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well.  I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become.  You are an impressive young man, Matthew.  And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.”  Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.

Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others.  If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.

One day I will see Terry again.  And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”

A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.

“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.”  – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)

 

 

Me…Mingle?

Photo:  Pexels
“I Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends,
a chance to share old memories and play our songs again.
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name.
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”   Garden Party (1972)  Written and Recorded by:  Ricky Nelson

Did I catch you singing?  I know.  It’s got a terrific hook on the chorus.  Truly, it’s the iconic song Ricky Nelson was known for at that stage of his short life.  The lyrics sound as if it was a pleasurable garden party with old famous pals, but it was birthed out of rejection and sourness.

It was October of 1971, the Richard Nader’s Rock ‘n Roll Revival Concert was a huge gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York.  It was billed to showcase older American Rock ‘n Roll giants, prior to the British invasion, from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with acts like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell.  They were among many kickin’ it on stage that night.  Back stage, and in the audience, the ultra-famous were in attendance from various corners of the entertainment and sports realm.  The lyrics in the song, “Garden Party” point that out.

It was his turn at the mic.  Ricky Nelson came out on stage in the fashion of the times, bell bottoms, velvet shirt, complete with bell sleeves, and long hair down to his shoulders.  Keep in mind, the order of the concert event was to reminisce with early American Rock ‘n Rollers, so the look was expected, too.  Well, unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t take it to heart who the nostalgic demographics were holding tickets.  He performed some of his early songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s.  But then he played a peculiar country rendition of The Rolling Stones’, “Honky Tonk Woman”.  At that, the crowd began to boo, and boo, and booed some more.  He wrapped up his set and left the venue, not even waiting to show up for the all-star finale at the end of the night.  However, it worked out because he wrote a song about the experience in, “Garden Party”.  And I must admit, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
Me in session working on The Tree 2006 WDCX
In the late 1990’s I created an award-winning radio theater department for Criswell Communications Network.  I absolutely adored those years writing, acting and building those audio movies.  Later, I did the same in Buffalo, NY for the Crawford Broadcasting Network.  From time to time I am asked to voice a character for special commercials, promos, or projects.  But back then, life got in the way and now it’s been a few years since I was a regular working voice actor.
Mic
About a year ago, I was asked to voice a character for a dramatic read of a new novel and CD due to be released simultaneously.  Although it was a small walk-on role, I was thrilled to do it.  It was like going home again for me, even though I wasn’t the author or director.  What was very different, and a bit nerve-racking, was the author himself was in studio with me.  Being a hands-on kind of guy, he directed me while I fashioned the vocals needed for this particular character.  Don’t get me wrong, the author was/is a terrific guy.  I’m sure we will be working together in the future for more projects.
Me as Skunk Baxter of Dooby Bros 2016
This morning, before I could pour my first cup of java, I got a voicemail.  It was the author.  He made me aware of the recently released book and audio version.  He then invited me to a cast party he was hosting at his very lovely home.  I responded before lunch, letting him know how much I enjoyed the recording session, developing the character, and his invitation.  Then I politely declined to attend the party.  Why, you might ask?

people sitting beside table
Photo by Lee Hnetinka on Pexels.com

For as long as I can recall, I have never been good at cocktail parties, social dinners, or dances were strangers want me to do the Macarena.  Sure, I can act my way through it, which is what I’ve always done, but that’s work, not pleasure, and certainly not comfortable.  Being an old stage actor and radio personality, you would think I would be a hoot at a gathering of pre-friends.  Trust me, I’ll be the quiet guy in the corner with a china saucer full of chilled shrimp in one hand and a cup of punch in the other.  Yes, there’ll be clusters of revelers in a circle laughing, kissing cheeks, along with lines like, “What do you do when you’re not acting?”, or “What a lovely tie.  Who are you wearing, sweetie?”, or “So what project are you working on now?”  I just don’t mingle well.  It’s as simple as that.  There, I’ve said it.  Arg!  I would likely run off stage left like Ricky Nelson.

Cast parties are fine, in fact I have attended lots of them through my acting days, even hosted many myself.  Most all cast parties I’ve been a part of were packed with fellow cast-members I had the pleasure of working with face-to-face.  Those were actors and crew in which I developed relationships with, or at least decent acquaintances.  Those were parties where we could let our hair down and enjoy reminiscing about lines being dropped, favorite scenes, and wardrobe malfunctions.  (In 1978, while playing Johnny Brown in The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, I walked out on stage singing with my fly opened.  Thank the Lord it was only a dress rehearsal.  Orchestra members noticed it first down in the pit.)  Cast parties are always a grand time laced in lots of laughter.  Here, the difference is, I never played against another actor in last year’s session.  My recorded lines were like a looping studio session where the dialogue was digitally dropped into scenes in post production.  There was no actor but me, myself, and I.  I played to a mic and a music stand.  I never met any of the actors on the bill.  To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of session, it happens more often than not.  At the upcoming get-together I would know the author, his wife, and the recording engineer/producer.  It’s not that I am really anti-social…or am I?  Ouch!  What am I admitting?

If you’re a psychologist, you probably know why I am bent this way.  The ugly truth is, I am probably afraid of rejection, even eyes of rejection.  I’ve been at award shows, green rooms, and backstage at concert venues where you’re chatting with someone who won’t look you in the eye because they’re way too busy scouting out the next celebrity to be cornered.  You find yourself answering their question about family, career, or which hotel you’re staying at when suddenly they quickly interrupt with, “Oh, there’s Amy Grant with Vince Gill right behind you.  Gotta go.”  Is it just me, or is that not rude?  I’m guilty of that behavior as well.  So awkward.  Again, I say, Arg!  In the end, I dislike “…players who only love you when they’re playin'” (Fleetwood Mac)

Has it occurred to me that maybe I’m wrong about all this?  Maybe by now you’re saying silently, “Hey, this is weird.  He needs to loosen up.”  Okay, I’ll accept that.  But as I’m being super honest with you, hear me out.

To truly engage with another is to be associated with, connected with, to be in tune with the other, even if in a small way.  This is me.  If you and I are having coffee at a local spot, I will fully hear you, see you, and meld with you.  In fact, I like to make people feel that they are the only person in the room, complete with eye-contact and real chuckles, not out of nervous laughter for the sake of sound to fill up dead air.  This is how I was raised to believe.
Ricky Nelson
Photo:  Wikipedia
Poor Ricky Nelson.  Every time I hear “Garden Party” I listen for the rub, the angst, the sore spots between the words.  Bottom line, he didn’t “know” his audience.  Moreover, he didn’t take in serious consideration of the theme of the event.  Of course, the audience lacked true love for Mr. Nelson.  They only loved him when he played what he was known for ten years prior.  In those quick tunes he scratched their itch until he ventured onto something new from a British band.  It was a mismatch moment, a sting he took with him to his grave.  He died in a tragic plane crash on New Year’s Eve 14 years later.

In the end, I believe it’s all about “knowing” someone, or at least making faithful efforts in doing so.  Because inside that other person is a story which comes from their hearts.  A story worth the fidgeting, even if booed.  If we “play” at socializing, we do not do justice in the connection.  How else will we learn to love others, as God would have us to love?

Still, I remain shy with strangers in close settings.  I shared an elevator today where my total sum of verbiage was, “Third floor.  Thanks.”

Engaging another may start out with “How are you?”, but if they begin to tell you about their gout, making you’ll want to slip away with, “Ya know, I need a refill.”  If so, then where is the honest interest?

More and more I understand why Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

You know, maybe I should go to the cast party after all.  If I do, the boldness won’t come from my clipped persona, but from a deep well of fuel for the race.

 

“If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for this? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about this? Don’t even unbelievers do that?”  – Jesus –   Matthew 5:46-47  (Contemporary English Version) 

Crank It Up

Photo:  spotify.com

“If you start me up, if you start me up I’ll never stop…” (1981)  Start Me Up.  Recorded in 1978 & 1981 by:  The Rolling Stones.  Composers:  Mick Jagger & Keith Richards.

From a radio/record perspective of Start me Up, it truly has one of the biggest hooks in rock & roll history.  It sticks to the ear.  Even now you probably are hearing it in your head.  From a rock composer’s perspective, the instrumental is carefully crafted.

Recently, I have been astonished at the musical icons still on tour, or performing stop-and-go dates.  The Stones are a great example.  76 year old Mick, along with Keith, Ronnie, and Charlie are still cranking it on stage across the planet.  Then there’s Roger and Pete from The Who continue kickin’ the boards worldwide.  Of course, Barry Manilow, Joan Baez, Willie Nelson (86), and Ann (69) & Nancy (65) Wilson of Heart are like well oiled machines.  Brian and Roger of Queen are dotting the world in song still.  I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention Mick, John, Stevie, and Christine of Fleetwood Mac raising the arena roofs.  Gene Simmons of KISS recently stated that he will be 70 in August.  By the time their End of The Road Tour wraps, he will be 72 and believes he will be cooked well-done by then.   There’s no way I would leave out Elton, Paul and Ringo wowing concert goers on every continent.

Joan Baez in Spain 2019. Grace Stumberg took pic.

Photo:  Joan Baez in Spain.  Concert by the sea, July 2019.  Photo by my friend, Grace Stumberg from upstage.

A buddy of mine, near Green Bay, WI, worked part-time in security for major concert events.  One recent night he found himself in charge of the green room back stage for the band, Kansas.  While they were on stage performing Dust In The Wind, he got a good look at all their drugs sitting out, completely exposed.  He was surprised to find a mix of Levemir, asthma inhalers, an assortment of beta blockers for blood pressure, and statins for cholesterol.  Signs of the times?  (LOL)  Most all of the above, with a few of exceptions, are artists who range from 75 years old and older.  Mick Jagger made major news, not long ago, with heart surgery holding back the current tour.  He got through it nicely and is hopping around on stage like a young rabbit.  Being an old performer myself, I know how tough it is to be on your energetic stage toes as you get older.  There’s just certain things I just can’t do as well as I once did.

Eastern Hills Buffalo NY 2007 II

Vocally, I’m fine.  But too many times lately, I find I lean on my mic stand for support, or sit on a bar stool to finish a set of music.  After decades of performances, I know I could probably never take on a major role in a musical again.

Homecoming Production 1999ish Playing John Walton.

Or, it could be these are photos of my imaginary son. (LOL)

Molly - Me at Saddlerock

The truth bites.  Honestly, I don’t know how these long-in-the-tooth artists are able to take the wear & tear of concert touring.  Most all of these acts have 15 years minimum jump on my age.  I guess Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine was right with the lyric, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.

All of this came to mind earlier this month when it was 120f degrees inside my 2008 Nissan Xterra.  It’s been a terrific vehicle since I bought it about 9 years ago.  One July afternoon I got in the oven…uh, rather the SUV, turned the key as it tried to start, but was denied.  Knowing it wasn’t the starter or the battery, it left me bewildered, and hot.  Try, try again they say.  After the third attempt, it turned over.  So, off to the auto shop it went for diagnosis.  Right away they gave me the bad news.  It was the actual crankshaft, and with it, crankshaft sensors.  If the crankshaft doesn’t spin, the pistons won’t engage.  Arg!

I hate car trouble.  After a couple of days, and $750.00 later, it drove as if right off the assembly line.  On the way back home, I heard Start Me Up on a classic rock radio station.  I thought it was most coincidental.  The laughter came tumbling out of my mouth.  Wouldn’t you know, I turned it up and sang along, using my best Jagger accent, of course.

Some say age is all in the mind.  Maybe that’s true to a certain extent.  Then again, why isn’t 79 year old Chuck Norris competing in the MMA?  I certainly see how the mind can overcome many rusty, slow-moving items in life.  On the flip-side, there are times when the mind says, “I know how to do this.  I’ve always done this.”  Yet, the body doesn’t get that memo.  Parts rust, wear and tear, and the muscles weaken with stiffness to boot.  Age is what it is…age.

So, for now, I will grab the energy God gives in His installment plan.  He does say to rely on Him for strength, even physically.  The One who makes all things new is the best physical trainer.  My job is to nurture and exercise this aging earthsuit while I’m still in it.  The turning of the key to Divinity is all about trusting what He promised to those who acknowledge and follow Him.

Wisdom says, get to know your body and its limits.  It’s prudent to explore the boundaries when starting up the day.  Who knows, maybe you’ll never stop.

If I do sing and dance on stage when I’m 76 years old, it will only be because I consumed fuel for the race.

“Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.” – God   Isaiah 46:4 (NAS) 

You Are Not Alone

Photo:  Guilherme

“Oh, Stormy…Oh, Stormy.  Bring back that sunny day…”  Stormy (1968) Recorded by:  Classics IV.  Composers:  Dennis Yost, James Cobb, Buddy Buie

As I write this, it’s a sunny day in Dallas, Texas with temperature hovering about 102/f degrees.  The heat index, or what it feels like with humidity mixed into the works, is 118/f degrees.  Great day to mow the lawn. LOL  It’s July in Texas, and you can always count on the weather being oppressive.  What I wouldn’t give for a bit of rain right now, but not HOT DROPS.

Our springtime was horribly rough.  May and June alone were pelting us with several tropical storm-type winds, tornadoes galore, and thunderstorms ushering in hail.  We had straight-line winds clocking at 71mph in one of our storms in June.  The trees on our property lost several branches, large limbs, as well as, nerves.  Around here, when the civil sirens go off, you run for shelter, never walk, during tornado warnings.  We’ve had many this year thus far.

Tree from Greenville storm June 2019

Photo:  My cousin sits with a partial of a massive 100+ year old Sycamore, which was uprooted from my mom’s front yard, and landed on her roof.  She was home at the time, but uninjured during the tornado.  The house is about 164 years old.  It took the brunt, with only roof and porch damage.  Texas storms come as quickly as a fake news story cycle.

Meanwhile, at our house, our oldest dog, Sammie, is like bacon on a hot skillet during storms.  I’ve written about this before.

Sammie In Storm Sammie goes bonkers at the smell of rain, not yet fallen.  You can always tell by her attentive look with immediate cravings to cuddle.

Sammie Gimme-Gimme-Gimme

The slightest sound of distant rumbling thunder will set her off with the quivers, shakes and shivers, like a 7.1 California earthquake.  All the while, nestled safely in my arms for shelter.  I’ve been told she runs to me because I’m the biggest one in the room.  When it’s peaceful outside, she rarely notices me, unless I have a treat in my hand.  Of course, I do what I can to calm her vocally, and sometimes it works, but often not.  The storms just seem to override any audible efforts of comfort.

Frankly, I can understand her pretty well.  I mean, growing up in Texas, I have seen what tornadoes, flash floods and hurricanes can do.  Because of past experience, my heartbeat rises a bit during these storms.  On the other hand, I have family and friends who are storm chasers.  They absolutely adore the thrill of getting as close to a tornado as possible, without catching up with Dorothy and Toto.  In my opinion, they are all mad as hares in a cabbage patch.  Yet, I still love them.

Oh, how I wish I could link telepathically, with Sammie’s little brain.  I wish she could know I will cover her with my own body if a tornado hit our house.  I just don’t speak “dogness” as well as I should.  If only my communication skills were on her level, maybe she would understand the kind of protector she has in me.  But, Shorty, our other pal, knows what to say.

Sammie Shorty Relaxing

My communication skills might be lacking during Sammie’s times of trouble, but sometimes lyrics will hit me out of the blue…or the darkness.

Recently, my daughter’s band, Grosh, released their new album.  The last song on the project is my favorite.  The cut is entitled, “Piece of Mind”.  Besides hearing my daughter deliver some terrific vocals once again, the original lyric touched me deeply.  It speaks.  Here’s a section for you:

“…Whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.  Give me a piece of your mind.  Because whether or not you know, whether or not you don’t.  Whether or not you care, whether or not you won’t, you are not alone.” (2019) Piece of Mind.  Recorded by Grosh.  Composers:  Lougen/English (Her band-mates)

(Sample the cut at:  groshband.com.  Go to “Store”, click on the title of the song and turn up the volume.  (Also available for downloads.)  Tell me how it grabs you.)

There have been unexpected storms in my life when I desperately needed to be reminded I am not solo here in this life.  Most of he time, I didn’t get a siren of warning before I was flattened by a down-burst.  Car crash – no warning.  Job loss – no warning.  Health crisis – no warning.  Death in the family – no warning.  Can you identify?

How honest is this?  At times, I have felt alone.  At times, I felt alone in a crushing crowd of revelers.  At times, I looked around for someone to find peace with and found a vacant place.  At times, I searched for synthetics to numb my loneliness.

Life is so much like the weather.  Lightning WILL clap just when you least expect it, and you WILL leap off the mattress about a meter or so.  Sheets of hail, wrapped in a torrent of rain, WILL beat on the roof, and all you can do is wait to analyse the aftermath.  You might sit at a table, with a fine wine accompanied by broiled brisket, when suddenly, an EF-4 tornado WILL rip the house apart with its 166+mph winds.  (It’ll take about 3 seconds.)  In those moments of oppression, in those moments of turmoil, in those moments of trying to grip the rug beneath your feet, like Sammie, it’s normal to feel a bit shaken.  A bit at a loss.  A bit bewildered.  This is the stuff of life, and life’s surprises.

Because I am a Jesus “accepter”, I do what I can to keep from nursing on other means for quick fixes to sooth my nerves, my fears, my “what next”.  Many times I fail.  In those times I must remember all things I touch, taste, and see, are only temporary at their best.  Synthetics are just that…synthetic.  Who would depend upon a wedding ring fabricated out of a cigar-band?

Sammie runs to me for comfort, but I don’t mention to her that I can be blown away, just like she can.  The comfort from my body is, well…uh…temporary.  In the same way, I can run to my wife, a counselor, a friend, a chemical pacifier, but in the end, they are faulty, too.  We all fall down physically, emotionally, spiritually.  My proven rest relies on the One Who holds me up today, yesterday, and tomorrow.  Why?

Where else could I go?  He simply is the biggest person in the room.  The storm may not be removed each time the radar turns red, yellow, and purple, but I do have the promise He will be with me through what comes my way.  He alone called Himself, “The Rock”.  In Exodus, when Moses was afraid to be God’s spoke-person to the enslaved Jewish community in Egypt, and Pharaoh, he challenged God.

He inquired, “Who shall I say sent me?”  Wouldn’t you ask?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NAS)

Someday I will write on the significance of the title, “I AM”.  It’s a great study of the words in Hebrew.  For now, my point is, scripture details Him as being all-in-all.  Not only that, He goes so far as to invite us to PROVE Himself to be.  Wow!  That’s brave and bold, regardless of who sends the invitation.  Outside of creation, and all things in it, before we began to put names on each other, our animals and plants, He “was” and always will be.  A great reliable comfort in times of unsettled traumatic turmoil inside this sphere of existence.

Jesus was sent to our everyday, bluejeans and work-boots level.  He came to speak our language for understanding of God’s mind, heart and love.  He claimed that He and God were one.  Yes, a heavy thing to say.  And then He proved it several times.  Some 700+ years before Jesus was born, it was foretold He would be referred to as, “Immanuel”.  It wouldn’t be a surname, or a first name, but rather a description.  It literally means, “God with us”, “With us is God”, or “God housing with us”. (Isaiah 7:14)  That’s amazing in itself, but it also means I don’t have to shiver while cowering in the fetal position, stuck in a corner with my chosen toy for distraction.

Learning to lean on the Rock that is higher than I is the beginning of fuel for the race.

“Take My yoke (Guiding, instructive brace.  IE:  A cast on a broken bone.) upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-29 (BLB)