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)

 

Oh, How Those Arrows Do Fly

Cover Photo:  Pixabay

“We took our chance and we flew.  Like an arrow, like an arrow.  We came to our sense to soar.  Like an arrow, like an arrow…” – Like An Arrow (2015)  Written and recorded by:  Lucy Rose Parton

It was a beautiful April morning.  While sitting at my desk, typing away, I got a text from my middle daughter, Megan.

“Dad, Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen really wants to meet you.  They are in town with Joan Baez and wondering if you’re up to anything.  They’ve got the day off in Dallas today, with exception of a recording session late this afternoon at a studio downtown.  Maybe you guys could meet for food or coffee.”

If you’re unfamiliar with my posts, you may not know about my daughter, Megan Brown.

In 2008, I was leaving Buffalo, NY to move back to my stumping grounds in Dallas, Texas.  Megan and I were the last of the family to remain in Buffalo after a divorce two years prior.  I got Megan through her last two years of high school.  It was a mammoth undertaking leaving our spacious house while squeezing into an apartment.  Through her high school years, and right after, Megan grew to be an accomplished vocalist.  She did very well in school choirs, musicals and singing in church.  She joined a garage band during that time in efforts to sharpen her rock and roll teeth.  Along the way, I encouraged her to sing with me at various events.  We were a duo team for about 10 years, since she was about 8 years old.  I coached her vocally, as well as stage presence and acoustic training, as her talent continued to surface.

Me and T-M-D Sept 2016

Photo:  L-R:  Tabitha, D’Anna, me, Megan 

During the summer of 2008, I had accepted a morning show gig at a new radio station in Dallas.  I gave Megan the option of moving back with me.  However, she wanted to spread her wings in Buffalo, and shoot for the moon on her own.  And boy, did she!  I love my girls.  Each one is unique, and vastly different from the other two.  Of my three daughters, Megan is the one most like me on many levels.  It was so difficult to loosen my grip and push her out of the nest.

After I moved back to Texas, Megan was asked to join an up and coming western New York band called, Dirty Smile.  As a solo artist she didn’t hesitate.  They won international accolades through the Hard Rock Cafe organization, winning awards along the way.  Megan became a highly sought-after artist during that time, appearing on many albums as a guest artist.  She also has been awarded for Favorite Female Vocalist in Western New York.

Megan Mag Photo:  Megan’s old band, Dirty Smile

After many years, and recordings, the band decided to hang it up as band-mate’s wives began having babies. Later she joined another band, which toured nationwide, but was short-lived.  She and a friend, Grace Stumberg, started an all-girl band called, Rustbelt Birds.  They disbanded late last year due to scheduling conflicts with other bands.  Now she is with a new band called, Grosh, with Grace Lougen.  They are doing very well, as they released a new CD this very week.

Megan Grosh CD Release Performance

Photo:  Megan’s new band, Grosh at their CD release performance event June 13, 2019.

As it turns out, the legendary Joan Baez has something in common with Megan.  They share band-mates.  Both Grace Stumberg (Joan’s vocal harmonizer) and Grace Lougen (Joan’s lead guitarist) perform in the Joan Baez band.

Grace Stumberg on stage with Joan Baez

Photo:  Grace Stumberg entering stage with Joan Baez

Thus, the reason for the two Graces to be in Dallas for a couple of days.  Joan Baez was performing in an outdoor venue in the downtown Dallas theater district the following day.  The weather was perfect.  I couldn’t attend as I was doing my own gig in northeast Oklahoma that night.

Grace 1&2 pre-show in Dallas

Photo:  Pre-show shot at Annette Strauss Square in the outdoor venue of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Complex.

Soon, in mid July, they will embark for another European concert tour.  Joan was one of the artists who performed at Woodstock in 1969.  After the Woodstock Fest 50th Anniversary Event was cancelled (slated for this summer) it made it extremely easy to book Europe once again.  Joan says it will be her final tour.  After five decades of hitting the stage, I can understand why.  Still, musician peers of her age are making big splashes on the road these days.  (We’ll see.)

To say it was a delight to converge on a Dallas Irish pub for lunch with Grace and Grace, would be a huge understatement.  We laughed and told stories about our lives and their “on-the-road” adventures.  Since Megan wasn’t at the table with us, I felt free to roll out some of the childhood antics Megan and her sisters got into.  We found ourselves at ease with each other as the afternoon went on.  We felt as if we had known one another for a thousand years.  I was so proud to hear of their enormous respect and love for my daughter.  As they spoke of her, I could see a sense of treasure in their eyes.  My ears grew as tales of their friendships were described, as well as the professional side as band-mates and fellow-musicians.  I can’t tell you how it made me feel.

Grace 1&2 Irish pub Dallas

Photo:  L-R:  Grace Lougen, me, Grace Stumberg

Sitting there with these highly talented young ladies, I soaked in the warmth of love they shared for my Megan.  It truly hit me like never before that Megan and I made the right choice back in August of 2008.

The Texas sun beat down on us as we exited the pub into busy pedestrian traffic.  As we hugged out on the walkway, while saying our goodbyes, Grace Stumberg said,

“I am so glad I got to meet the maker of Megan Brown.”

I chuckled as a nervous response.  I appreciated what she said, but I KNOW Who made Megan.  I am held in His hand.

Just then, I felt my chin quiver.  Knowing myself well, I knew tears were next.  I had my sunglasses on, so they never saw me shed one drop.  But as they walked back to the Joule Hotel, two blocks away, I couldn’t hold them back any longer.  My parking meter was beeping at me, which was another excuse to quickly climb back into my car.  When I did, I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t turn it.  Instead, I just sat silently and wept for a good two or three minutes.

It was written, so us readers who dare to research would know, releasing our kids into the world is like an archer releasing his/her arrow into the air.  Kids normally outlive the parents, at least that’s the design of our biological lifespan.  So, my girls, my arrows, will go into a future I will not see, a future I will not reach.  In August of 2008, once again I found myself holding my fatherly bow.  I pulled back the bowstring, tilted upward above all targets for the proper air-arch, distance, and wind direction.  Feeling the tension of holding the bow close to my cheek, knowing I could hold it there no longer, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and let go of the bowstring.

Megan was launched into the world with the swishing sound of the tail-feathers.  Her flight continues where I will never be.  As she soars, she has pierced hearts, minds, and culture, all of which I cannot.  Her trek sails through audiences, lifting their chins from faces I will never see.  During her flight, she will look down and see cities, societies, and stigmas without dividing lines mapping out the boundaries I tend to set.  Her arch will be observed and heard by many she has not yet seen.  As my arrow, she is an extension of me.

Do dads worry?  Sure we do.  With that said, I have an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Father who once launched me at birth.  There’s where my comfort rests.

Oh, how those arrows do fly…with fuel for the race.

  “Children are indeed a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”  Psalm 127:3-5a (BSB)

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

In The Waiting

“And all this time I’ve been staring at the minute hand.  Oh, what a crime that I can’t seem to understand that life is in the waiting.  Life is in the waiting…”  (2000)  In The Waiting, originally Recorded by:  Greg Long.  Composer:  Kina Grannis

It was early in 1998.  There I was, with two copies of my new script in a saddle-leather briefcase with the strap over my shoulder.  A friend of mine (I will call him Jon, because that’s his name LOL.) agreed to meet me at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Arlington, Texas (Between Dallas and Ft Worth.) for a pre-production lunch meeting.  As a producer, director, writer, actor, I was acquainted with wearing all the hats way too often for my productions.  In this case, circumstances required an executive producer to help me launch my next three-act stage play.  Frankly, I was relieved.  But I needed someone I could trust.  Jon was always pitching the idea to bring a production to his suburban community.  We had been in musicals together, as well as, duos on stage, and choral work.  Off the stage, together we produced an original song for a scene in one of my radio theater plays.  So, it seemed right to ask him to be my executive producer while I agreed to take care of everything else.

After scheduling arrangements through phone calls, complete with email confirmation, we were to meet for lunch at 11:00.  Double checking our emails, I knew the exact time to leave my house, which was some 35 minutes away from Arlington.  My radio drive-time show began at 2:30, but the radio station was only a quick 10-15 minutes from the restaurant.  If the meeting went long, the clock gave me a buffer.

I am always early for everything.  That’s just who I am.  I’ve always hated rushing around in the attempt to arrive on time.  If I don’t, I can get scatter-brained.  Plus, being a radio guy, I was living and dying by the broadcast clock.  Literally, half-seconds are counted on-air when back-timing for hard commercial breaks, or news drops.  It’s something you tend to take home with you.

11:00 rolled around as I checked my watch.  No Jon.  Cracker Barrel has a gift shop inside their front door.  You have to wade through all the candies, gadgets, and silk-screened t-shirts to arrive at the front counter, as well as, the host/hostess station for seating.  So, I browsed away at the pecan logs, moccasin style coin purses, and plastic bobble-head dashboard figurines way beyond my actual curiosity.

I checked my watch…11:27.  No Jon.  Hummmm.  So, I remembered that the restaurant had a selection of wooden rocking chairs outside on the porch area.  After exhausting myself among the peanut brittle and beef jerky, off I went to explore the various rustic patio furniture.  It was a cool morning, but tolerable.  I walked among the presentation of rocking chairs, looking at the price tags while talking to myself.  Suddenly, realizing they were all just about identical styles and colors, I chuckled at myself for doing all I could to kill time as I rocked in one of the chairs.

Rocking Chairs

Photo:  decorpad.com

By that time the watch said 11:45.  No Jon.  I checked my cell phone only to find I hadn’t received any texts or missed phone calls.  Hummmm.  I didn’t want to call him, knowing he was probably driving like a mad hatter to get there.  After counting all the cars and pick-up trucks in the parking lot, I began counting all the green cars and trucks, vs the blue cars and trucks.  Yep, it was getting a tad stupid.  Thinking I should spend my time more productively, I pulled out a copy of my script and began reviewing like a script editor.  (Any actor that has worked with me knows that’s dangerous.  I tend to find words I want to add, or rearrange scenes, or dump a character.  I also tend to remove myself from my surroundings when this occurs as the clock gets devoured.)  Halfway through the script, about where I placed the intermission, my watch read 12:52!  NO JON!  I must admit, miffed is a kind way of interpreting how I felt.  My 2:30 radio show obviously was to happen without show-prep, or a fresh pot of coffee at that point in the waiting.  The next thing on the docket would be my frantic producer/co-host calling me in a panic wondering where I was.  Arg!

By now you must be wondering why I didn’t give up and leave the place.  I’m quirky that way, I guess.  Nobody can accuse me of one who gives up easily.  However, there was a thought to give him until 1:10 for the drop-dead time.

About 1:00, two hours after our scheduled lunch appointment, Jon pulled leisurely into the parking lot.  As I waved away the steam coming out of my ears, I could see him walking up toward me, totally relaxed and unhurried with every hair in place.  Go figure.

Jon said with a smile, “Hey, Alan.  The food smells great out here.  I’m starved.”

I grinned, as I bit my tongue, “Boy, me too.  I’m short on time, but I can woof down a burger quicker than anyone I know.”  And with that greeting, in we went.  With the two hour gap, I wondered if he had made a trip to L.A. forgetting to change his watch back to central time.  Who knows?

The funny thing is, he never said why he was late.  He never apologized for keeping me waiting.  The scripture passage says, “Wait on the Lord…”, but not Jon.  I avoid confrontation whenever I can.  Never did I mention the late hour at all.  It seemed okay just to play off his mindset of the moment in the attempt to hide my angst.  After all, there was much to discuss with few tick-tocks to do it in.

Have you been there…in the waiting?  For you, maybe it was that time when you were in a hospital waiting room, counting the rectangular panels on the ceiling, hoping all would go well in the O.R.

Waiting Room POV

It could be something as benign as sitting in traffic everyday, or that long traffic light at your most hated intersection.  How about when you’re in a jury pool, with scads of other citizens, waiting all day for your name to be called?  How many outdated magazines can one read in a day?  Maybe you’re thinking of the time you waited up for a very late, non-communicative teenager on a Saturday night.  (Oh, don’t get me started on that one.)  Maybe it was after a first diagnosis, while in the waiting for test results to confirm, or a second opinion.  The cruel clock can just be a mocker sometimes.

However, it’s up to the individual to caress the realities of this journey between beginning and ending.  It’s the duty of each to embrace the joy in the journey, even during times of hardship, pain, and frustration.  It’s what we make of our speed-bumps and the cliffs ahead.  We can stroll among the identical rocking chairs, comparing the price tags, or burn them all in anger because they’re not different.

One thing is for certain.  Above all else, time marches on.  The famous Rolling Stones lyric is wrong.  Time is NOT on our side.  Mick Jagger just discovered this in his own life.  As much as we want it to be, time is not a respecter of persons.  Ask any plastic surgeon.

There is a beginning, and it assures us there will be an ending.  Everything in the middle proves to be just the space between the certainties of beginnings and endings.  With the exception of a sphere, or circle, all has a beginning and ending.  In jazz you will discover chords can be created with dissonance.  Often the time signature has these chords sustained for the ear to grasp the clash of pitches.  Oftentimes, the ending of a score in jazz does not resolve, leaving the ear hunting for a major key chord of solution.  Not so much in life.  Endings are not always pleasant, or wanted, but they push through the maze of waiting.  Expect a resolution to all things in this physical world.  In the middle of our stage entrance and exit, we find ourselves in the waiting…sometimes listening to jazz.

How often have you heard an elderly person say they inwardly feel like they did as a teen, spry, energetic, with youthful thoughts?  There’s a purpose for that testimony of the aged.  It’s all about the soul, or the spirit.  I’ve written about this before, and for good reason.  Often interchangeable in print or speech, the soul/spirit, is eternal.  (I often think of the spirit as the emotion, or intellect.  This disappears when the brain is dead, diseased, or damaged.  Yet, the soul is far deeper.)  In fact, some medical researchers have put a weight to the soul as it leaves the body.  It’s been documented at 21 grams.  No matter how the wrinkles and lines redraw the face and hands, the soul remains timeless.

In a lengthy post, found in my archives, I shared my near death experience.  (See “Confronted By Death…” dated Feb 11, 2018.)  Actually, I should say, “death” experience, as I was found dead and brought into the E.R. dead.  Let me just say, they call it “Passing Away” for a reason.  Literally meaning, “Moving Out (in motion)”.  That event changed my outlook and daily life.  Since I have written about it exhaustively, I won’t do so here, but I will repeat something I KNOW to be true.  This body we live in is an EARTHSUIT.  It is a shell created for this planet’s temps and atmosphere, exclusively.  The more we discover other planets, the more certain this becomes.  We rent this thing we call “the body.”  It begins to degrade the moment we are born.  When “it” dies, “YOU”, the person in whom you are, the soul of yourself, moves out.  You leave your remains behind like an old apartment you once knew and took care of.  When the old ’72 Chevy gives up the ghost, it’s time to get out from behind its steering wheel.  Later, in a salvage yard, someone might be able to use its hubcaps, or dipstick if not too corroded.  But the realization is, “YOU” are no longer in that rusted-out car.  It’s like the discarded empty cocoon, left to degenerate on the branch.  Look at it this way; the body that dies has come to the end of the waiting.  Not unlike Elvis, the being has left the building.

Meanwhile, soul/spirit/body wrestles in the waiting, before shedding what corrodes, to be who we are inwardly, discarding the waiting.  You can visit my grave after my body fails to revive, but don’t ever say, “Buried here is Alan.”  Say hello.  I won’t answer.

Meanwhile, the waiting may be long, or short.  My personal Act I, Act II, and Act III have their moments, their twists and turns, leaving me to wonder how much longer to curtain call.  The Executive Producer, the Ancient Of Days, of my life may seem late, but He’s always on time.

Jon and I worked together very well, selling out each show later that year.  Moreover, we went on to sing together in various venues, as well as, stage musicals.  It was worth being in the waiting.

When discovering and accepting the Author of Easter, one never waits for fuel for the race.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  – Jesus –  In John 3:16-18. (NAS)

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

As We Are Known

“I remember you from a long time ago, when my eyes were new…” (1998) “I Remember U”, Recorded by:  Chaka Khan.  Composers:  Prince, Yvette M. Stevens, Larry Graham.

Confession here:  I am so glad the above yearbook shot is in black and white.  It was a 1975 double-knit, burnt orange suit, with white-trim stitching.   Oh, and bell-bottoms with white high-heel platforms.  (OUCH!)  I was just, “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

This particular post is here for one simple purpose.  I’ve experienced a phenomenon of late.  It’s been a refreshed observation, at least for me.  I’ll explain in a bit.

For several months, I have been looking forward to my high school reunion.  Finally, in late October, the two-day event came.  Many times I heard the comforting phrase, “I would know you anywhere!”  Among the festivities, a golf tournament, and a casual ice-breaker at a local club, which went into the wee hours, from what I’ve heard.  Plus, us vocalists put together a gathering of choral department alumni.  (Complete with singing some of our favorites from our choir days.)

RLT Choir Reunion Oct 2018After 40 years, (yes, I typed 40 years), here are some of us from the tenor section preparing to do some harmonies right off the page.  The “young” man on the left, with the water bottle, is yours truly.  (Ha-ha-ha)

Our sore aged feet could testify how a few of us enjoyed a tour of the old high school.  (Lots of additions and remodeling had occurred.)   Then, at a local country club, the semi-formal gala with dinner, drinks, and dancing wrapped up the benchmark hang-out.  Let me tell you, I was exhausted after the weekend was over.  Maybe not so young.

Hundreds attended our long-awaited reunion.  No surprise there, almost 900 people walked across the stage during our graduation ceremony that year.  Unfortunately, about 60 of us are deceased now, including some very dear friends.

There was the unexpected.  A few classmates, I reconnected with, had gone through huge changes.  I found strangers, who were my old friends.  For example:  An old goat-roper who is now part in the upper-class of millionaire strata.  I bumped into old known substance-abusers who are now on the straight and narrow.  And sadly, some who are still chasing the dragon, among other indulgences.  Stunned would be the word describing how I felt when a cowboy, who once was a long-haired, stoned, hippie-type, hugged my neck.  What a change!

RLT 40th Tammy Chris Mason & MeOf course, there were many deep-level, intellectual debates concerning how to change the world….NOT!

RLT Reunion with David Bradley and Sylvia's hubby, Kevin Hurd.Being an old actor/singer, there is just something to be said about the unexplained bondings of former fellow cast members, and show-people in general.

RLT 40th wTammy & Kathy Grisby Even fellow artists who recognize you before the shave and haircut.

RLT High School friends Jon Ford, Wylie Post, Kelly Kelley, Me, Gayle Moseley. May 2015I’ve said this before, there’s just something special about “old love”.  Do you agree?

DNA can be a wonderful thing to some, and cruel to others.  Unrecognizable were a few who looked at least 20 years older than most of us.  Then there were others who had barely changed at all over the last 4 decades.  One of the more humorous lines I heard at the gala was, “Hey, at our age, we NEED these name tags.”  Yes, without the name tags there would be too much time spent at guessing who was who, and fearing some feelings might be injured.  Above all, what was so evident, too many now look like their parents from back in the day.

You know what was amazing to me?  Beyond the wrinkles, weight-gain, baldness, and hair color, it was the spirit of the individual which had the outstanding identity stamp.  It’s true!  The persona of each person jumped out, as if to say, “Hey, Alan…It’s me!”

Although the words, “Spirit” and “Soul” are often interchangeable, there really is a difference.  No doubt there have been times you’ve connected with someone even before you recognized their appearance.  Unlike a bald spot, you can’t put your finger on it, and that’s the point…you can’t.

Think back on your real-world life experience.  Have you ever been drawn to someone’s very soul?  Maybe there was nothing to attract your eyes or ears, but drawn none-the-less.  Maybe it was a perfect stranger passing by on the street.  Maybe it was a chance meeting, done in a casual manner, but the spirit of that individual radiated out toward you, like waves on the beach.  Have you been there?  I must admit, I have kindred spirits in my life.  How about you?

We are triune beings.  Much like an egg with the albumen (white/clear), yoke, and shell, all three separate, yet all in one.  Our body is separate from the personality, and the personality is separate from the core essence of ourselves.  You recognize the core when gauging the turns of the heart to the right or left, up or down, and backward and forward.  THAT essence, the eternal part us, which longs for a connection with something bigger outside of ourselves, outlasts both persona and body.  THAT segment of the individual has the ability to bond with The Supreme One, a relationship which can extend beyond time and space, as we know it.  What a way to be put together.

As you know, even voices change with age, but the spirit/soul of a person will go on.  It shouldn’t surprise me in the least.  After all, Celine Dion’s, “My Heart Will Go On”, from the movie, “Titanic” reminded us.  Then there’s the Apostle Paul alluding to it about 2000 years ago.  Concerning the mystery of the afterlife, when considering his existence, outside of the physical body.  It was recited during the memorial service for Pres. George H.W. Bush.  Paul wrote…

(My emphasis.)

For NOW we see in a mirror dimly, but THEN face to face; NOW I know in part, but THEN I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NAS)

Turns out, I just might know you anywhere!

The Ancient Of Days, the Inventor of “old love”, pours it out liberally in fuel for the race.

“I will see Him myself; my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger.  My heart longs within me.” – Job 19:27 (CSB)

 

The Fading Fad of Fades

“La-Da-Daa-da-da-daa, Da-Da-Da-Daa, hey Jude.  (fade)  La-Da-Daa-da-da-da-daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude.  (fade)  La-Da-Daa-da-Da-Da-Daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude. (fade)……………”  From 1968, “Hey Jude”, By: The Beatles.  Composers:  Paul McCartney & John Lennon.

You’ve wondered, right?  Maybe you’re too young to have experienced it.  Maybe there have been times you were watching an old TV show where an artist like, The Monkees, Partridge Family or Elvis, were performing one of their radio hits, only to watch them try to look normal as the audio of their performance began to fade out into nothing.  Correct me here if I’m not accurate.  Two things always happened.  Number one:  The performer is left to look uncomfortable and awkward as they try to keep up with the lip syncing until the sound goes to black.  Number Two:  You, the audience member, are left feeling oddly unsettled watching them squirm on camera as the song fades.  You know what I mean.  Oddly enough, as a concert-goer, you never saw that occur on stage.  If you did, the audience would be in revolt.  It’s like, if they can’t perform live, why am I here?

I’m an old radio personality who has seen this scenario change slowly firsthand.  There’s nothing new under the sun. (Thanks King Solomon.)

Here’s what happened.  YOU, as a music lover, were manipulated by radio and record labels.  How does that make you feel?  Don’t be mad, we’ve ALL been like musical sheep following the sheep ahead of us, who followed a marching drum major from the razzle-dazzle boardroom on the 18th floor.  YOU were the Guinea Pig that proved the experiment worked.

The fade-to-black music ending of pop songs on the radio slowly emerged in the 1950’s, ruling over us for over three decades.  A good example, within the top 10 charts in 1985, there is not one produced song with, what is known as, a “cold ending”.  In the 1990’s, the fade-fad began to…well…fade away from the offerings coming out of the record industry.  Pushing the fast-forward button, the top 10 year-end pop list for 2011, 2012 and 2013 gave radio only ONE fade-out song.  Why did the musical-manipulation-melee-madness begin?

Radio Theater Trophies

During the 1940’s, and before, much of the music heard on radio was live, in-studio performances, like the big bands and torch singers.  After World War II, they began to play more of the recorded cuts, much of which were recorded live as well.  It was very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to fade-out the endings of songs.  Any band conductor, or composer, would’ve shouted out in frustration, “WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?”  Plus, what hard-line composer would invite such a thing to his/her music masterpiece?  After all, the natural sustained ending, or a cold “stinger” ending of a song, was and is well-thought-out and pampered from the chicken-scratches of a songwriter to the artwork of a mechanical/electrical recording studio.

Piano Keys Ebony and Ivory

The early idea was more psychological than for any other reason.  Some artist, composer or producer somewhere came up with the thought that the ebbing away of the power of the “hook” of the chorus could induce a feeling of the slow passing away of lyrical thought and musical dynamics.  It was to leave the listener soaking-in the song as it stamps more of its identity while lingering with repetitive bars ushering us to audio silence.  (As a side note, in radio there was a rule of thumb used to know when to manually fade out a produced song live in the studio.  In the 1980s, we were told, by those in the know, like consultants and record reps, to fade out after 2.5 repeats of the rotating chorus.  Some productions placed their fades in that spot, if not, we would.)  As for us on-air guys and gals, it allowed us the artistry of segueing and mixing the wrap of a cut with the intro of the next tune hovering over it.  If not done, it was considered bad, or lazy radio.

Not to be outdone by those in the industry who decreed such a tactic, was another school of thought.  Some felt the effect of faded endings also gave the feeling of the music, the hooks and the lyrics could mentally continue after a three-minute song finished.  “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…(repeat & fade, repeat & fade)”  You get the idea.  Interesting thought, considering the entire idea of pop music is that the song must stand up as a “Velcro” tune sticking to the ears long after turning off the radio.  As you read the chorus of “Hey Jude” at the top of this article, you heard the song in your head, right?  Yep, it’s all about SALES!  It’s why some of the most talented songwriters are, or were, jingle writers for ads, like Barry Manilow, as well as “scores” of others.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  You can sing them now, I’m sure.  “You deserve a break today, so get up and…..”  Or, “Like a good neighbor….”  Or, “Plop-plop, fiz-fiz, oh what a….”

Radio Car Vintage 1966

Early on, songs for airplay were too long.  Before you knew it, radio engineers were manually fading out the music on their own.  As it turned out, in the 50’s, radio fades on pop tunes became more of the norm as radio programmers, sound board operators and the sales department were looking to find ways to eat the clock for more ad space in programming.  After all, the sponsors pay for air-time.  Songs were the glue to hold the listener to the speakers until the next commercial break.  Fading out tunes was a perfect way to shorten the cuts played, making more room for the dreaded commercial breaks.  That’s why in the 90’s it became a big-deal for a radio station to promote the 30 minute music sweep.  Yeah, we all did it.  Most still try.  I know you’ve heard it, with a bouncy, happy music bed underneath…. “Hey, we love you so much.  So, we’ll treat you to more music per hour, (before the hated 10 minute commercial block.).  Come join us?  Your 30-minute music sweep starts right now.”

As for “Hey Jude” when the Beatles made the decision in 1966 to stop touring, cocooning themselves in the Abby Road Studio, they were not bothered by coming up with two or three different versions for tracks recorded.  Knowing they were not going to perform them live any longer, they allowed the fade-fad to be a signature for the fab-four.  Thus, “Hey Jude”.

So, that’s your radio hit parade of pop music history lessons for today.  However, in the end, I don’t want my life to mirror a radio hit.  If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to fade-out toward the ending of this life.  Sure, some with certain medical challenges have no choice.  Even so, the will is there to finish well, to end your musical adventures with a natural sustained chord, or possibly a cold stinger of an ending, that rings out in classic 1970’s reverb, “I WAS HERE AND MADE A DIFFERENCE!”  The Giver of life will never mind-bend, manipulating your life-song.  He certainly never has been in favor of fade-outs, but He does perform segues.

Nothing is impossible when filled with fuel for for the race.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you) may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus, from John 10:10 (NIV)

 

 

Once Upon A September

Painting:  My step-son, Kellen Mills

The waning heat is urging us onward
Farewell to its waves and thunder
Parks and pools have been silenced
The kids mourn the death of summer

Sounds from the Earth, Wind and Fire
Together inviting us to remember
Some clouds will not be desired
Selective memories bring September

Labor awaits in loud rigorous debate
August’s end ushers the work of rest
The light colors fade to darker shades
Breezy wisps birthing autumn’s best

Brooklyn’s mine unearthed a Diamond
Its cut resonates September Morn
How blessed to dance-in a new day
Mending hearts broken and torn

Johnny Appleseed launched his orchards
Vast colors and kinds among the members
Their sweet aromas mask political torture
Tis the season to approve of September

Old Maggie, was a wooing abuser for self
T’was late September in her brutal court
The jester’s wage became a kick in the head
Tests from this wake-up school still ignored

Unexpected screams flooded 110 floors
Love held us between hell and heaven
We prayed and then prayed all the more
Reflections of Pearl, our September eleventh

As for now, I wait for the leaves of fall
Like Ol’ Blue Eyes, spying through tears
The children’s laughter, bikes and balls
Singing along, The September of My Years

-Alan

Remembering the times in which we live with a good dose of fuel for the race.

“Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions…When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”  Ecclesiastes 7:10 & 14 (NIV)

Music Ref:

“September” – Earth, Wind & Fire.  Composers:  Al McKay, Maurice White, Allee Willis.  Recorded:  September 1978.
“September Morn” – Neil Diamond (1979).  Composers:  Gilbert Becaud, Neil Diamond.
“Maggie May” – Rod Stewart (1971).  Composers:  Martin Quittenton, Roderick Stewart.
“The September of My Years” – Frank Sinatra (1965).  Composers:  James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn.