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)

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)

Are We Cutout For It?

“I see you, you see me,
Watch you blowin’ the lines…Private eyes,
They’re watching you.
They see your every move…”
(1981) “Private Eyes” Recorded By: Hall & Oates Composers: Warren Pash, Sara Allen, Janna Allen, Daryl Hall.

Just when you think the tortured memories of this year’s Super Bowl was finally beginning to ebb away, I have to drag you back. Not to Tom Brady, or the political stances taken, or even the rhetorically infused high-priced commercials, nope. I will spare you from the very forgettable items of the game itself…or maybe I should ask if there really was a game at all that day.

To be brutally honest here, there should be hats off to the NFL for being able to punch through the doubters who took a stand to say there couldn’t be a football season in a COVID laced year. You might not be aware of the fear mongers who tried to persuade the NFL from even attempting a football season with fears of contagion mastered locker rooms. The debate was real, as well as, the fear of a pre-season, or spring training in the midst of a pandemic. It’s true, some teams did see some team members infected with COVID, but they were few and far between.

The teacher’s union should take notes.

One of the sacrifices made was the lack of live spectators in the stands. “Ouch”, said the players. What performer doesn’t want a full-house to pull from? Here in Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys elected to have a smattering of fans in the stands, where as some team owners decided to have 100% empty stadiums. For viewers at home, watching the games, at least they fed us with fake crowd noise, complete with cheers and boos. At some point, the NFL commissioner allowed percentages of ticket holders with strategic seating for healthy social distancing for attending fans.

Photo by Frederico Erthal on Pexels.com

The first time I saw cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands, early in the season, I laughed out loud. Seeing cardboard cutouts of people planted in the seats looked very much like a joke from a team owner with a great sense of humor. Before the following Sunday, many stadiums were filled with people made from trees. A psychological boost, maybe? What a hoot!

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

As for the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida, there was a twist of all the fiber represented. 25,000 live fans paid dearly for the few seats available to watch the Chiefs play the Buccaneers. There, alongside live spectators, were 30,000 strategically placed cardboard cutouts of fake fans with splashes of red, yellow, bronze, and white. There was one camera shot of four cheering Chief fans in masks standing, jumping, and cheering Kansas City onward as the cardboard cutout fans next to them were being pushed aside and stepped on. In the end, it didn’t help the Chiefs pull off a win. A mannequin in the seat is just a dummy of wax. Cardboard falls apart in the rain. I guess the lack of people with depth flattens a lot of expectations.

Photo by Jeric Delos Angeles on Pexels.com

Maybe the most bizarre experience seen, other than the live streaker running onto the field, were the faces on the cardboard cutout fans. The last time I checked, the NFL offered to place a picture of your face on one of the cardboard cutouts for a price of $100.00. (Frankly, I’m surprised the offer was that cheap.) Yes, for a Ben Franklin you could place your silent face on a cardboard figure overlooking the field. Forget that many have been out of a job because of COVID, living off unemployment, or was once living off unemployment. Forget about the many who are standing in food lines to feed their kids. Forget that many have have faced bankruptcy, foreclosures, repossessions, hospitalization, etc. For me, it had the odor of insensitivity. A move like that smacked of “Because we can!” thinking from the haughty high towered offices of the suits. Don’t get me wrong, I am an NFL fan. I disagree with many things the NFL chooses as they boldly tend to bend to the left in our society, but still, I’m a fan. At the same time, it leaves a stain on their reputation, like a white jersey on freshly cut blades of grass. With the politicization shown by the NFL, I may never see them in the same way again.

Shakespeare wrote it, “All the world is a stage. And all the men and women, merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…” (From the pastoral comedy, “As You Like It”) So true. I’m an old singer and actor. I learned early as a kid that it was considered bad luck to take a peek out the curtain at the house prior to the rising of the curtain. Many times, I broke protocol. Never once would I have been thrilled to see cardboard cutouts in the house seats. In fact, as a performer, I would not have put out a top-shelf effort. Why? Because we draw from one another. Is it not true? Whether good or bad, we pull out energy from each other.

If I act badly in a road rage fiasco, I guarantee the driver in focus will not be made of trees. My actions and language inside my home will be performed in front of my family…made of flesh and blood. If I do a lax job at writing this post, YOU will notice. If I stop you in the grocery store to insult you for your politically printed t-shirt, your face will change expression, unlike a picture. Why? Because you are not a painted piece of cardboard.

Biblically, a believer’s directive is to be careful that your sin finds you out. Why?

A – God, your Judge, is not a mannequin of wax.

B – Because you and I are on a stage, washed in light, and the spectators are not fiberboard cutouts.

Trees were created on a different day than you were, in fuel for the race.

“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1 (NAS)

Masquerade

“Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play?
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding understanding anywhere
We’re lost in a masquerade”

(1976) “This Masquerade” Recorded By: George Benson Composer: Leon Russell

As I write this, it’s 104 degrees here in Dallas, Texas, with a heat index (What it feels like with the humidity factor.) of 118 degrees. The last thing I want to do is put on a mask.

If you read my blog posts you already know I don’t write about politics, or political favor, or rhetoric. (At least not directly.) Trust me, I won’t start today.

COVID-19 sure has delivered its punch in various ways. At first we were told masks were not necessary. Soon after, we were told to wear masks if ailing in health in order to protect others. Soon after, we were told to wear them in order to protect our own health from others who may be carriers. Before you know it, we were told to wear them in public regardless. Later we were told it might even be best to wear one in all indoor locations, outdoor locations, and when alone. ALONE? REALLY? So, if you’re hiking alone in the forest, you better have a mask over your big trap. Jeepers, I give up.

Let me start off by saying I want to do the right thing. I’m not one of the rebels you hear about who gets into fights at Walmart because of the lack of a mask on the mug. Beyond all of that nonsense, I have chronic health conditions which COVID-19 targets. To be frank, (and Alan, too) I must wear one when around other people until we have a vaccine. If I contract COVID-19 in my health state, I will most likely die. I know that sounds dark and gloomy, but it’s the truth. So, I do put the stupid thing on.

Me in my non-surgical mask.

Yep, that’s what I look like driving up to the bank teller. Times have changed. In case I forget it, I also have a fresh surgical-style mask in my car with the string around the ears.

Before you ask me, I do take off my sunglasses while in the grocery store. Which brings me to a very honest confession. Over the last few months of this pandemic, I slowly began to stop smiling at people I come in contact with. In fact, I find I no longer speak pleasantries to others as I push my buggy around. The only thing I can figure is that I feel hidden, as if no other shopper can see me. Isn’t that the dumbest statement you’ve ever read?

I sing in my church band, but that’s been nixed since the virus shut our normal church services down. For some odd reason I have grown, or shrunk, to feel I am a non-person in public. Therefore, since no one can see my mouth, cheeks, and chin, why bother to smile? Why speak since all is muffled. Mostly, when you feel hidden, what purpose is there to utter a word? Oooh, this sounds harsh. Am I making any sense?

Others must have the same syndrome because I see it in their eyes as they quickly look away from mine. What’s more, I don’t seem to mind the change I am seeing and feeling. Now, THAT’S sad.

If you saw the cover photo above the title, it might have given you smothering memories of Halloween-past. Remember how those loud, crackly plastic masks made your face sweat big-time? By the end of the night’s outing your face looked like it had ventured into a car wash. Then there’s the old saying, “You can throw me in jail but you can’t keep my face from breaking out.” How true of those days.

Speaking of retrospect, this reminds me of a familiar personal mode, which is far too common.

Mask, or not, sometimes we create our own masks. Don’t we? Not shields of cloth or plastic, but inner shields we default to. Like the ancient Greek actors holding up masks on sticks, we tend to hide our true selves in times of emotional turmoil, anger, and fear. As an artistic so-in-so, I buried myself in stage acting, or for various media. As a singer, I would dive into the lyrics, which drove my stage presence to another level different than who I really was. When I began to settle in my radio and voice-over career, I felt more at ease behind a mic in a control room all by myself, even though there were 200,000+ listeners on the other end of the speakers. In short, I allowed these areas in my life to become masks on sticks to hold up in front of my face…which in translation means: Emotions. If thin in some section of the persona, or physical appearance department, we tend to mask it with other tools from abilities, or our personal strengths. This is why most comics, actors, singers, writers are very often shy in their everyday-jeans.

At the same time, if we could only recall that there is Someone Who knows us, every line and wrinkle. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God has counted every hair on our heads. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God knitted our tendons inside our mother’s womb. There was a purpose for the scripture which states, God not only knew us in our mother’s womb, but also made plans for our lives, good plans to oversee.

Pay very close attention to the passage below for emphasis. Please don’t miss this. Notice how Jesus uses His words when meeting a man named, Nathanael for the very first time. Check it out.

***

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:45-50 (Berean Study Bible)

***

No doubt, Nathanael ran back home and shouted, “Look Ma, no mask!”

Although your Creator sees straight through the mask you hold up, others cannot. I will work harder in communicating to others through my eyes. (I’ll act my way through it. LOL)

Knowing, and being known is discovered in fuel for the race.

“And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face had become radiant from speaking with the LORD. Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses, and behold, his face was radiant. And they were afraid to approach him….When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. And when he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, and the Israelites would see that the face of Moses was radiant. So Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. – Exodus 34:29-30 & 34-35 (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)

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)