Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Half-Assed Novelist

The year was 1973.  I was an artist, living in New Orleans...I drew caricatures for tourists along the boardwalk on the East bank of the Mississippi River.   The times were indeed high.  My artist friends and I we shared love, we shared passion, we shared whatever intoxicants we might possess at our midnight gatherings in Jackson Square.  It was such a fine and natural sight, everybody dancin' in the moonlight just like the King Harvest song of a similar name.

It was at one of these nocturnal festivities that I saw something wondrous and truly affirming.  I was lying on my back, letting the cool of the grass support my carriage as to give my tired legs a moment of respite. In that moment my eyes happened upon a kite, swaying against the moonlight. The kite was as patriotic as Old Hickory himself, streaked with brilliant reds and blues against a backdrop of white.  I was mesmerized by the hypnotic dance of this flying wonder and could not help myself but to follow the string all the way down to the earth where I saw that the string stopped inside a little hand, a hand attached to an arm which made a skinny journey to the torso of....

a little boy.

This lad was a firecracker. He was decked out in bell bottom jeans with patches on the knees, a "Super Friends" t-shirt with likenesses of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.  He wore a baseball cap bearing the logo of what must have been his favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles. He wore horn-rimmed glasses which perched ever so carefully atop a slightly runny nose.

I rose to my feet. I walked over to the boy, fascinated by the way he mastered the kite flying high above our heads. I said "Son, what's your name?"

The boy barely gave a sideways glance as he mumbled somewhat under his breath "Jimmy."

My stare penetrated his blank exterior and I asked with fervor "Jimmy what?"

And with that the boy made a massive pull on the string, sending the kite into a nosedive, he jerked the string with such a violent motion that the kite leveled out, three feet above the ground, the pointy tip flying straight into my posterior.  I fell to my knees, my eyes watering, my backside on fire. The boy glared down with sinister, repellent eyes and said to me "My name sir....

is Jim......


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Song of the Month

I am a lyrics guy. This might have something to do with the fact that I am not a musician. I love music but aside from being able to strum C, D, and G on six string I have no discernible musical skill. Lyrics though, lyrics I get. To me the essence of a song lies in what it has to say.  Obviously a great song needs to make sense melodically and feature excellent musicianship, but if I am to remember a song, more than likely it will be for the message that I take away from the lyrics. Recently I started compiling a list of songs that have changed my life. Songs that have buried themselves in my heart and now exist as part of the collateral mass that makes up my soul.  Naturally, these songs are great lyrical songs, with lines that resonate permanently in my psyche.  I came up with about twelve songs which means I should be able to share at least one every month throughout the year.  I will list them in no particular order, though some might be more timely than others depending on the season. Here goes...

"Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman


Timing was definitely part of the reason this song had such an impact on me. Released in April, 1988, "Fast Car" came out just as I was preparing to graduate from high school.  I was moving beyond the synth-pop of the mid-eighties, looking for a change of pace from my punk flirtation with Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and my obsession with classic country was still a few years in the distance.  Tracy Chapman came along when I was trying to be a grown-up, and listen to grown-up music. Her song, a tale of a girl caught up in the cycle of poverty, alcoholism, and the bitter need to be self-reliant, was about as grown-up as it got.

"And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone"

"Fast Car" is the musical marriage of Joni Mitchell and Charles Bukowski.  It's gorgeous melody cradling the tattered soul of a woman beaten by desperation and frustrated by the father, and the partner, who have done nothing in her life but let her down. Perhaps, one year earlier, in the incubator of high school where life is taken care of by those who know what's best, this song would not have registered.  But as a young man who graduated high school on a Friday, and went to work in a hot warehouse the following Monday, this song struck a literal chord in my life. It was about small victories and big dreams, and the heartache that occurs when those dreams have to be put down.  I would not be so presumptuous as to say I saw myself in the song, God knows I had it pretty good all things considered, but I did relate to the message.  For me the song is a testimony to the truth that no matter how much you want to believe in someone, at the end of the day you are responsible for your life, for better or worse.

"We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way"

 "Fast Car" changed my perception. It was so well-crafted, so intelligent, it moved me to explore deeper musical subject matter, and reminded me that life was bigger than what I saw through my windshield. That out there somewhere was a world I did not know, but I wanted to, desperately.

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we can make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Anyplace is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we'll make something
But me myself I got nothing to prove
You got a fast car
And I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
We won't have to drive too far
Just across the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living
You see my old man's got a problem
He lives with the bottle that's the way it is
He says his body's too old for working
I say his body's too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody's got to take care of him
So I quit school and that's what I did
You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way
See I remember we were driving, driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone
You got a fast car
We go cruising entertain ourselves
You still ain't got a job
And I work in the market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You'll find work and I'll get promoted
We'll move out of the shelter
Buy a big house and live in the suburbs
See I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone
You got a fast car
And I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I'd always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me'd find it
I got no plans I ain't going nowhere
So take your fast car and keep on driving
See I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone
You got a fast car
But is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way
Chapman, Tracy L

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Respect for the Also-Ran's

Once, a very long time ago, I was "The Weakest Link." Allow me to take you back, all the way back to the turn of the century, 2001 to be exact. At this time there was a very popular game show on television called "The Weakest Link". It was hosted by a curt British woman named Anne Robinson. She was known for her harsh stares and directness, and for making contestants feel like dirt when they did not perform up to expectations. The idea of the game was that the contestants would build the jackpot together, answering questions, banking money in the kitty, and voting each other out of the game until one by one each of the contestants was eliminated save for one, and that person walked away with all of the money.

Early in 2001 the show was holding open auditions in cities across the country.  During this time I was producing a morning radio show in Dallas on 93.3 FM "Merge Radio" which before that was known as "The Zone", then afterwards "The Bone", then "I-93", and maybe a few dozen other names as well. Anyway, as a bit I auditioned along with the two hosts of the show, Tim and Yvonne.  The audition consisted of answering a few trivia questions, talking about yourself, and displaying interesting talents (Hellooooo Breakdancing!).
Yvonne received a call right away and was on the show soon after. As I recall she did well, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack.  Months went by, I left the radio station, forgot all about the audition,  and then one day the phone rings and it's a producer from the show. They liked my audition, and want to fly me to LA to be on the show.

Cutting to the chase, I was terrible. I did not answer a single question correctly, I did not bank any money, and at the end of the first round I was voted the weakest link by every other contestant. Goodbye!

For a long time I looked at that as a defeat, a serious blow to my confidence. I had choked on national television. It all felt like failure, everything that I had been taught to believe about winning and losing told me that I was a loser.  Somewhere along the way, however, I began to realize something; what people saw on television was only part of the story.  Sure, I had blown it in that one round, and the fact that it was the first round was certainly a case of bad timing, but what was not seen was the victory that was getting on the show in the first place.  To become a contestant on "The Weakest Link", not only did I have to impress the producers in the Dallas audition, I had to be impressive enough to be chosen over people in Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and wherever else the auditions took place. Once you arrived in LA, they did not just slap some makeup on you and throw you on television. The producers brought more people to Los Angeles than they planned on using, so we had to play a "practice game",  a rehearsal if you will, only the people who made it through that simulation were chosen to be on the actual show.

Did I win any money? No. Did I get an all expenses paid trip to LA? Yes. Did I look silly on national television? Yes. Would I trade the experience? Absolutely not. Now I do not believe in the "every kid gets a trophy" approach that our culture currently embraces.  I think there are, and should be, winners and losers. I do believe, however, that we have too narrowly defined what a winner is.  We tend to see only the last man standing as the winner while giving no respect to the ones who gave everything they had, and fell just short.
People who do their best are winners.  People who don't give up are winners. People who overcome adversity and challenges and don't make excuses are winners.  We need more winners like this in the world, no matter where they might place in the race of life. Despite what society may say, no one who does these things is an also-ran.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

To Him the Glory

The struggle is for our growth, the victory is for His glory!

Every now and then I will throw down some preaching. God knows how to speak to me because He made me.  He knows what will resonate and connect.  I think in sound bites so He often will speak to me in that way, giving me little quotes that I can jot down like the one above. Those words came to me this morning in prayer time when I was thinking about how our God is a God who is with us in the daily junk. He is intimate with our struggles but does not leave us stranded there. Instead He is leading us out, to a place of victory and redemption where we can look back at where we came from and rejoice in His might, His goodness and His love.

Take heart that God knows it's hard sometimes, but He also knows what you are made of, because He made you. He knows that you have power and strength. Most importantly, He knows that when things seem too much to bear, you have a God who is on your side, and will not let you down.

So when you are in the struggle, remember that you are growing, becoming who God designed you to be. When you achieve the victory, remember that it was God who delivered it and to Him should go the glory.

Monday, January 5, 2015

On Living Long

When is a good age to die? I will be 45 this year, halfway to 90. Ninety seems like a really good age to die. You have lived past your 80's so hopefully you have been blessed with health and feel you have lived a good, long life. However, you don't make it to 100, which is alright because between 90 and 100 I would imagine you spend most of your time checking over your shoulder for the grim reaper anyway.

Much more important to me than how long I live is how well I live.  I don't mean living well in the sense of having nice things and being comfortable, I mean the satisfaction and joy that comes with being independent, able, and of sound mind and body.

My greatest fear when I was young was being "normal." Living as an anonymous, faceless drone doing a job that nobody noticed or cared about. That fear certainly motivated me to pursue a broadcasting career, I loved the idea of being on the radio, of being heard, even more than I loved the actual sports I was covering.
Some people fall in love with sports, and that love leads them to a career in play-by-play. I was the opposite, I loved radio, and my love of being on the air manifested itself in a sports broadcasting career.  Now that I am older and I have come to terms with being both known and unknown, my biggest concern is that I will one day be helpless, unable either mentally or physically, to do the basic, daily tasks that make us human. The things of dignity, respect and self-preservation. I want to be the old man who putters around, running his daily errands, having little adventures. I want to be my own man, always.

I know, however, that the day might come when that is no longer a possibility.  I am fortunate to have two wonderful, caring little girls who I am fairly certain would tolerate me if I become a little old man, ornery and stubborn, but in need of their care. That is not my prayer. My prayer is to be the daddy they know, full of life, light and surprises. A blessing to their kids and even their kids kids, right up until the day the light goes out. Whatever (old) age that may be.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Jersey Boys

I am not judging, but I don't get grown men who wear jerseys. I see them everywhere, grocery stores, restaurants, even at church. Mostly they are worn by men who bear no resemblance whatsoever to the person whose name adorns the back of the garment, unless Dez Bryant somehow morphs into a middle aged white dude when he is not on the football field.

I don't know why it bothers me, it just does. Like I said, I am not judging and I really don't have a problem with how other people choose to express their support of a particular team.  It's just not something I understand. I would never, as a grown man, wear what amounts to a replica of the work attire of another grown man to show my admiration for said individual.  To me it would be akin to showing up for a doctors appointment wearing a lab coat with a stethoscope draped around my neck. 

When I was a kid I had jerseys. I remember being very proud of an Earl Campbell Houston Oilers jersey and my Pittsburgh Steelers jersey bearing the name and number of the great Franco Harris. I guess I had a thing for stocky running backs. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.  Now if I want to support a team, I will wear a t-shirt or a hat with the teams logo, maybe a golf shirt if I am feeling upwardly mobile that day.  I guess I associate the wearing of a jersey with idol worship, in essence the wearer is saying; "I want to be this person when I grow up." The problem is my friend you are grown up and chances are your career path does not include playing time in the NFL (I know, if not for the knee injury in high school you would have made it) so maybe it is time to let that dream go.

There was a stretch of my radio career where I spent about 200 nights in a year in a locker room. My job was to interview players, take the sound back to the radio station and cut it up for use in updates the following day.  I interviewed guys like Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Troy Aikman, etc. One of the reasons I think I was good at it was I never looked at it like "OMG! I am talking to Nolan freaking Ryan"! It was always one guy doing his job by talking to the other guy about how he did his job. Maybe that is why the whole jersey thing escapes me. I see athletes as guys doing their jobs...entertaining as hell and fun to watch, but just guys, not gods.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Musical Bucket List

I was sad to learn of the passing of Little Jimmy Dickens this week.  Dickens debuted on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1948 and was its most senior member.  I always enjoyed watching him perform. He just seemed like the nicest little firecracker you could ever hope to meet.  I never did meet him, or see him perform live. I have never been to the Opry, but it is something that I have always wanted to do.  Now that I think about it there are numerous musical adventures I would like to have before it is too late, so in that spirit I have created my own musical bucket list, here goes...

1) Van Morrison.
Right now Van is performing in Europe, mostly in his native Ireland.  If I were able to see Van the man in concert on his home soil, I don't know that I would ever need to attend another concert for the rest of my life.  Morrison has inspired me and his music has connected with me in a way that no other artist ever has. One day on this blog I will tell the story of when I was first introduced to this transcendent talent but until then just know that this is number one on my musical bucket list, by a large margin.

2) U2
More Irish greatness.  I had the chance to see U2 once, back when U2 was EVERYTHING to me. I had a ticket to their sold out showTarrant County Convention Center when they were touring in support of the Joshua Tree. November 24, 1987. Unfortunately, I had received a speeding ticket the previous week and my father grounded me from the concert. A friend of mine sold my ticket for face value and I have resented my dad ever since.   I know U2 still tours and perhaps one day I will see them perform, but it won't mean what it would have meant to me when I was seventeen.

3)  Kris Kristofferson
Johnny Cash is dead, never saw him. Waylon Jennings is dead, never saw him. Willie Nelson is alive, but I have seen him. Kris Kristofferson is my last chance to see another Highwayman. I love this man, and I love his music. I think that he is perhaps the greatest writer to ever step foot in Nashville and I will push Steve Earle off of Bob Dylan's coffee table to get up there and say so.  By the way I have seen Dylan so he does not make the list.

4) The Grand Ole Opry
Might not be as appealing to me now as it would have been in the days of George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, but still something that every country music lover should probably experience.

5) Barbara Streisand
Not so much for me, but if I took my wife to see Barbara Streisand, I could leave the toilet seat up for the rest of my life and it would not matter. Plus, it would most likely be a really cool show.

There you have it...hopefully I will get the chance to see Elvis, Michael Jackson, George Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and a bunch of others one day as well, but that is after I kick the bucket.