Monday, February 06, 2012

Rocked: DJ David Hall’s Untimely Death Shocks Nashville

The voice of Nashville Rock Radio for 32 years has suddenly fallen silent. David Hall (left), WRLT Lightning 100’s Program Director and afternoon drive-time DJ passed away over the weekend, leaving fans of Music City’s best radio station (including me), in utter disbelief. Yesterday (Sunday, Feb.5th) would have been Hall’s 58th birthday. Above, he is shown spending time in the WRLT studios with three members from the consortium of ten local artists known as Ten out Of Tenn (second left to right, Butterfly Boucher, Matthew Perryman Jones, and Tyler James). As was his mission in 18 years with the station, Hall was a tireless supporter of local Nashville artists.

An Unexpected Death in the Family
If you’re a fan of arguably Nashville’s best radio station, 100.1 FM, WRLT Lightning 100, you’ve probably already heard the news and if you’re like me, you’re likely still in shock.

As I write this, I’m listening to Lightning 100, as I so often do and have done since 1992; immersing myself in what I truly consider to be the best part of my experience living in Nashville as a west coast transplant. However, today I’m having a really tough time keeping the lump in my throat down. Seems I keep hearing a familiar voice during the commercial breaks, some of the song intros and station IDs; and each time I do it takes a second or two before I realize that the wonderfully personable man behind that voice it is no longer there; that he now lives only via Memorex and in our memories.

And I swallow hard, again.

WRLT was the first Nashville radio station I heard back in the summer of 1991, when Michelle and I visited here to scope out Music City as a possible relocation site, to provide an environment in which to better raise our two elementary school-aged children as well as a place where I could continue my then-six-year-long career as a graphic designer and art director in the music industry. Nashville was the perfect choice on a number of fronts, but when I heard this radio station I was blown away from the get-go.

At the time in question, we were in a real estate office in Franklin, TN, waiting to be helped. They had Lightning 100 piped in, playing in the background. That blend of fresh, alternative rock was so much different than what I was used to hearing in Los Angeles that I audibly said, “Whoa! What station is THAT?”

“WRLT,” the receptionist replied. If for no other reason, I knew I’d found a home right then and there. But little did I realize at the time just how unique and special Lightning 100 was in comparison to Music City’s otherwise relatively bland and staid radio landscape, dominated by Country, Top 40 Pop, and same ol-same ol’ Classic Rock. By the same token, I would discover after moving here several months later just how wonderfully diverse the Nashville music scene is, featuring numerous musical genres via live venues on any given night. Nevertheless, you’d have been hard-pressed to surmise that reality by sampling the local radio fare, were it not for Lightning 100.

WRLT has proved to be a radio stalwart; a true champion of the musical Darwinism that typically chews up radio stations and spits them out like the ‘chaw tabaccie’ refuse my Kentucky-bred Papaw used to deposit into an empty coffee can sitting on the floor beside his easy chair.

Unfortunately for all lovers of the extensive musical pedigree this great city boasts, Nashville was a little less cool on this appropriately overcast Monday morning. All of us who have loved and have been loyal to RLT throughout the years awoke to the realization that we have lost a great friend.

Lightning 100’s David Hall has left us – way before his time.

New Rock For Y’AAAL
One of those chiefly responsible for WRLT’s continued success over the past 21 years, Hall, the station’s program manager and afternoon drive time voice, passed away over the weekend, presumably sometime Friday evening or Saturday; the details of his demise having yet to be announced as of this writing. WRLT’s website posted a brief notice of Hall’s death at 12:45pm yesterday, Sunday, February 5th, the day on which he would have celebrated his 58th birthday.

The famous air-slogan, “David Hall RRROCKS y’all,” is as familiar as that of any Nashville radio personality in history, and actually predates Hall’s 18 years behind the mic at Lightning 100. Nearly half of his 32 years in Music City were spent as a mainstream/classic rock jock for FM stations, WKDF and WGFX in the 1980s and early 90s, both of which have shuffled their formats as well as their nicknames more than a of couple times since.

Meanwhile, Lightning 100’s progressive, ‘AAA’ (Album Adult Alternative) format has remained unchanged since ‘Radio Lightning’ made its debut on March 5, 1990, giving WRLT the singular distinction of such format consistency versus any of its Music City contemporaries over that time period.

There are a few big reasons for the station’s longstanding commitment to its new-but-not-too-trendy style of supporting both recent and classic rock, folk, roots, and modern alternative music. One is the fact that WRLT remains Nashville’s longest-running independently-owned radio station. It has been broadcasting the same eclectic format to local Music City listeners for more than 21 years (and to a world-wide audience via the Web for nearly as long). It is one of only 50 remaining ‘Triple-A’ stations across the country and has always ranked near the top in that category. Years ago, owner Lester Turner, Jr. vowed never to sell out to the ever-expanding corporate radio machine that has since engulfed nearly every other major American market. Lightning 100 remains a shining jewel of independence in a sea of lackluster, cookie-cutter sameness.

I believe another big reason that Lightning 100 is still Lightning 100, has been the continual work and influence of David Hall. Already a staple of the Nashville airwaves, after a five-year stint with Album-Oriented/Classic Rocker, WGFX, The Fox, Hall brought his affable, music-loving personality, silky-smooth baritone voice, and extensive radio experience to bear on WRLT’s still-forming progressive chops in 1993. In addition to his role as PM drive-time host, Hall was hired to serve as RLT’s Music Director. He jumped into the role with both feet.

The Compass Points SXSW
Hall was one of, if not the first Nashville Radio executive to religiously attend and bring back on-air product from a fledgling music industry showcase held in Austin, Texas called, South-By-Southwest — well before it grew into the multi/social media behemoth that it is today.

Hall made the trip to Austin an annual pilgrimage every March; mining and returning to Nashville with musical gems from such little-known artists as Spoon, the brotherly vocal trio, Hanson, and a group called, Uncle Tupelo, which would later split up to form the bands, Wilco and Son Volt, both of which would become staples of Lightning 100 on-air playlists in the 90s (…and Wilco still is today).

Other notables who would find their way into our ears via the WRLT airwaves (…and most of whom have remained there over the years), at least in part due to their SXSW exposure include The Old 97’s, The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, Norah Jones, Leslie Feist, and Amy Winehouse.

Nevertheless, Hall didn’t restrict his search to out-of-state showcases to find the best new and progressive tunes; he was also instrumental in supporting the up-and-coming careers of then-resident Nashville singer-songwriters, Cheryl Crow, Patty Griffin, and former Sixpence None The Richer lead vocalist, Leigh Nash.

Hall had an ear for great music, and particularly so for female singer-songwriters. In addition to the aforementioned Crow and Griffin, Lightning 100 has held a consistent spot in its musical lineup for female folk-rock duo, The Indigo Girls and fem-rocker, Melissa Etheridge (one of David’s personal favorites), as well as for a pair of onetime aspiring Canadian songsmiths; Alanis Morissette would go on to dominate the 1996 Grammy Awards, and a little more than a decade later, the aforementioned Feist would strike gold when her song 1-2-3-4 was featured in an Apple iPod Nano commercial.

We can say that we knew them when; relishing the opportunity to have witnessed their live performances in intimate Music City venues, and to boast that we were hip to their talents well before the most of the world; all thanks to the work of our ambassador to new music, David Hall.

Recollections & Lamentations of a Radio Groupie
I’ve mentioned it before, but I sorta have the tendency to teeter on the brink of obsession with the things that really float my boat, and music definitely falls into that category. I don’t think I’m alone in that tendency, however; I think a lot of people love music because of the way it speaks to them; it becomes a part of their lives in a way the artist who created it at best could only imagine.

However, my children’s generation, the Millennials, and to a lesser degree, the GenXers before them, have thoroughly embraced the new medium through which today’s music is delivered and consumed, e.g.: social media, digital download, iTunes, etc. Radio has become optional to a large number of young music consumers. My son, for example, hasn't listened to the radio at all since he was in high school (he turns 30 this year). He buys 100% of his music on iTunes; he doesn’t own a home CD player; the only one he has is in his truck and he rarely uses it; he listens to everything through his iPhone. Yet he goes to more concerts on average than I ever thought about attending — even in my heyday — and is as fanatical and devoted to his bands as I have ever been to mine. This is all without a disc jockey acting as the middle-man in his musical discovery experience. His bond is with the artist directly; not with a radio station or DJ through whom the music is delivered.

It’s largely a generational thing; that’s kind of obvious. I am a product of my longstanding radio-indoctrination just as my son is a product of his age group’s digital download paradigm. Nevertheless, a larger percentage than ever of today’s young consumers are obtaining their music digitally; they’re learning about cool new bands by word of mouth and through social media. As a result, fewer are discovering and/or reinforcing their musical tastes via radio, all but eliminating the parallel emotional bond that comes with the shared experience — the human element of discovering new artists and their music through the agency of that familiar on-air voice; music delivered by a friend.

Rambling preambles notwithstanding, I’m not attempting to indicate that the younger generations have completely foresaken broadcast music today, nor have they lost the ability to love a radio station and its on-air personalities as much as I have grown to love Lightning 100. Mostly, I suppose, it’s to excuse myself for being such a weirdo-radio-enthusiast back in the day that folks might well have assumed that I owned stock in Tuned In Broadcasting. I make no bones about the fact that I adore WRLT and have always considered the Lightning 100 family to be a part of my family; all of which makes David Hall’s death so much harder for me to take.

Back in the 90s, I guess I was sort of a Lightning 100 ‘superfan.’ I took part in every contest and/or station promotion that I could. I showed up at all the live remote broadcasts; I was an early adopter of, Nashville’s very first radio station website, where I engaged the staff and other Lightning listeners on the site’s message board, implemented by then-Noontime-to-3pm DJ, Mary Brace, who also doubled as RLT’s original webmistress.

I was that ‘seventh caller’ lots of times; I won lots of stuff, and due to that involvement in those early years, I was asked to participate in a ton of onsite focus groups to help assess whether or not the artists and music the station was putting out there was what the listeners wanted to hear.

Through it all, I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know (or at least, be known by), a number of the Lightning 100 staff. And while I don’t for a minute assume that he ever considered me anything more than a dedicated listener, David Hall always had time to say hello whenever we crossed paths; he always seemed to make the effort to make me feel welcome.

In recent years I would most often saw him at 3rd & Lindsley, working the crowd before or after the Nashville Sunday Night broadcasts that Hall emceed from the 2003 on, following the weekly concert series’ original host, former RLT overnight DJ, John Larson’s departure for the enchantment of New Mexico.

Even after not having seen me for a year or more at a time, Hall never forgot my face or my name. But as special as that always made me feel, remembering names and making folks feel comfortable in his presence wasn’t a particularly remarkable feat for him; he treated everyone that way. That’s the kind of man he was. As warm and engaging as he came across on the radio, that’s exactly how he was in person. David Hall was a big man with a big voice and an even bigger persona.

Perhaps my favorite among all the memories of my encounters with Nashville’s premiere rock radio personality came when my daughter Amy and I attended a 2008 NSN performance of one of our many mutual favorites — the recently reunited Sixpence None The Richer, featuring Leigh Nash.

Amy’s musical tastes have always run in a vein very similar to my own. While attending college at UT Chattanooga, she had access to a really good progressive campus radio station and subsequently turned me on to a number of cool artists, most of whom I would soon thereafter hear on Lightning 100. Amy was quite familiar with MY radio station, and what a shameless RLT fan I’d always been, so I kinda assumed that she would take what happened next in stride.

The two of us were seated at my favorite spot in the room, there at the elbow of the bar, just opposite the stage. As showtime approached, the crowd quickly thickened around our location. As such, when I looked up and saw David approaching, carefully making his way through the crowd and following along the narrow pathway that lay between the bar stools on which we sat and the tables just 2-3 feet in front of us. As he reached our position, our eyes met and he extended his hand in greeting, pausing momentarily to say hello. I didn’t realize that Amy had no idea who he was as I introduced her to him, but not the other way around — I really didn’t think that I needed to. We went on to make brief small-talk before Hall continued, scooting on past us to whatever location it was that he was originally headed.

Then Amy gives me the, “um…and who was that again?” look. I’m not sure if I was more surprised that she’d have to ask than I was embarrassed that I hadn’t conducted a more proper introduction.

“So...did you not know that was David Hall?” I asked.

My daughter’s eyes grew about the size of the beer coasters on the bar we’d been leaning against all night.

“David Hall rocks y’all???” she squealed, at a decibel level more than high enough to be heard rather easily above the din of the still-gathering crowd. “That was him? Do you know him?” she demanded.

“Not really...but kinda, I guess,” I said with a sheepish grin. “He’s just a really nice guy.”

And indeed he was; as well as being an astute musical mind and a fervent supporter of local Nashville talent.

Hall was a figure the Nashville music community will never forget and will miss deeply; that most definitely goes double for me.

So rest in peace, David. Mission accomplished; you most certainly rocked us all.

* * * * *


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Unfinished Business: June 20, 2011

This bit of Unfinished Business entails a bit of explanation; more so than I hope future installments will require. I will attempt to be succinct.

A Good Will Gesture.
As you likely know, we lost the great Clarence Clemons (left, top), the former saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band last June. I was surprised at how hard I took it. I was even more surprised at how difficult it was for me to verbalize my feelings as to why. I really shouldn’t have been so shocked, though; I’ve had difficulty in plumbing the depths of my affinity for Springsteen’s music for longer than I’ve been writing this blog.

As I’m sure he is to a lot of his fans, Springsteen has always been a borderline spiritual figure to me, not that I think the dude is god or anything, but for the extraordinary quality of his music; for what he stands for, both as a musician and as a human being; the honesty that flows from his lyrics; the raw passion that exudes from every musical pore of his being. It’s hard to summon up the words to describe the feeling that his work conveys to me — and for the longest time I tried, but couldn’t. I just couldn’t seem to do my own emotions the justice they deserved. That fact alone has hindered me from really saying much at all about him in this space; a place I originally intended to be my personal forum on the music and artists I love.

I’ve collected a lot of fond and funny memories over the years, relating to my Springsteen fandom that I’d always thought might make excellent blog fodder. However, before now I’d never managed to find the inspiration to break through that wall; to find the words that adequately described the feeling his music delivers to me. In another aborted post that I started nearly a year ago, I tried, but it simply wouldn’t come together as I’d hoped.

Then last June, Clarence died on the day before Father’s Day. I was devastated. Springsteen’s longtime friend, confidante, and musical partner in crime was a huge part of my affinity for Bruce’s music overall; his wasn’t simply an instrumental contribution that could be replaced by another sax player. To me, he was a major part of Springsteen’s musical appeal. Again, I wanted to render some kind of significant tribute; something significant to me if to no one else. A straightforward bio/career acknowledgement just wouldn’t do. It had to be more. I stumbled, struggled, and came up with nothing over two days.

Then I received a passively 'Willful’ assist from a guy I had the pleasure of meeting at a wedding I attended in 2008, who has since become one of my favorite personal bloggers. Will Stegemann (@betheboy on Twitter) offered a fun, yet poignant tribute to Clemons the day after his June 18, 2011 passing. His post shed the perfect amount of light on the dim confusion of my self-agitated bundle of emotion regarding Springsteen and the loss of Clemons.

Without spoiling the plot, the story delivers a tribute to Clemons as seen through the eyes of a sub-adolescent, as Will was at the time of his introduction to The Boss’s music. Will’s account of his own childlike sensibilities regarding his Dad’s favorite rock ‘n roll band helped to connect the dots of my over-complicated internal analysis of the place Springsteen’s work occupies in my own life. It allowed me stop thrashing about, mentally, and to look at things simply; identifying my relationship to the artist on the most basic of levels. Had I not read Will’s blog that day, there’s little doubt I’d still be wrestling with the concept even now.

Epiphanies aside, I still got hung up in parsing it all out, so the story sat unfinished for months until this week, when I finally decided to wrap it all up.

Melodramatic much? Oh, absolutely! But I embrace my inner drama queen; it’s a big part of what makes me who I am and I have no intentions to change.

I would hope, however, that after all this, you still have the intention to read this back-dated post, started on June 20, 2011, but finished just today:

Here’s to You, Big Man

*    *    *    *    *    


Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Temporary Interruption

When real-life gets real...
Sorry ’bout that folks. Actually, I’m sorry about a couple of things. First I’m sorry it’s taking longer to wrap up the second part of my previous post, and second, I’m sorry I feel the need to explain that in the first place.

Just bein’ honest.

I’m really racing the clock to get caught up on a big project at work before being off half of next week for my daughter Amy’s wedding down in The ATL, so I’m kinda taxed for time, not to mention the fact that Part 2 of my Toad story really hit a rut this week that will be explained when I can finally post it. Hopefully again, it will be worth the wait.

Additionally, mucking up the waters time-wise, a big story that hit the national news yesterday (Wednesday) will be the subject of my following post — in fact, right on its heels. That one will be an important one for me, and extremely germane to how the subject matter of this blog has played out over the years.

I still have several other stories in queue, including another music-related one I forgot to mention earlier that I believe you’ll enjoy.

However, I just wanted to break the silence here briefly before some of you begin wondering if the boy who cried ‘BLOG’ was back up to his flaky old tricks. :)

BTW, if you’re not already, I invite you to follow/friend me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I’ll be announcing all blog updates via all three of those social media channels. Or you can subscribe to my RSS feed and stay up to date on my posts that way.

Type atcha soon...


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reincarnation Song (Part 1 of 2)

Mercy Lounge = House of Toad. Their reincarnation is complete. Saturday August 13, 2011, the continuously popular 90s Alternative/Modern Rock band, Toad The Wet Sprocket made their triumphal return to Music City; performing together in Nashville for the first time since 1997 and rocking a packed Mercy Lounge. From left, bassist Dean Dinning, drummer Randy Guss, lead vocalist/guitarist Glen Phillips, and lead guitarist/vocalist Todd Nichols did not disappoint; delighting the sold-out, standing room crowd. (Photo: Nancy Neil/

I Will Not Take These Things for Granted
As Toad the Wet Sprocket took the stage a week ago Saturday night at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge, lead singer Glen Phillips strode to the microphone with a grin on his face as wide as the Pacific Ocean. The group’s primary singer/songwriter was drinking in the sold-out, standing room crowd’s rabid applause as if it was a tall glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. The band was playing their 70th out of 74 appearances on the first leg of of a blistering initial tour to mark their full-fledged return to the contemporary music scene.

“I am SO happy to be an artist, playing Nashville, Tennessee WITHOUT a current song on the charts,” he announced, to further hoops and applause from the adoring masses. Phillips knew this group of fans was there for the right reasons. He and the band have nothing new to sell yet, really — and certainly nothing to prove. Each and every member of the audience knew why they were there; they were already completely sold.

Over the next three glorious hours, what ensued was much less a concert than it was choir practice, as the vast majority of diehard fans in attendance sang every word to every song with such fervor, that even from my position within the mass of humanity pulsing just a few feet from the stage, the sound of Phillips’ voice was nearly indistinguishable from that of the crowd’s.

If you remember the last time I reviewed a Glen Phillips show, you’ll know why I captured this song: Stupid, from Toad’s 1994 release, Dulcinea.

The band hails from Santa Barbara, California, a place far enough removed from L.A. to hardly be considered Southern California proper, but close enough to engender all of what we consider magical about life on the left coast. The surf community has always been a big part of the city’s mystique, and for me, as with most people I’d imagine, the beach is an integral part of anything that’s SB-related.

For my wife, Michelle and me, Santa Barbara is one of our favorite spots on earth. She attended college at University of California, Santa Barbara, and that time in her life is a part of her youth that can never be replaced. It’s also where we spent on our wedding night — in a little motel right on the beach, of course — en route to a two-week honeymoon trip up and down the west coast; thereby instilling in it for me a sense of romantic nostalgia that’s equally irreplaceable.

However, I take this little detour not to proclaim my affinity for Toad as merely based on where four former San Marcos High buddies grew up, forming a band in their teens that would become one of, if not the most endearing and successful of the Alternative Folk/Modern Rock era.

No, my appreciation for their music goes much deeper than that; the Santa Barbara connection is just an added bonus.

The reason I mention the beach and Toad in the same breath is in part because that’s where their music takes me, emotionally. The freedom; the soul-piercing clarity of thought; the sense that you can be one among a crowd of people, yet feel that the sole intended recipient of each song’s message is you and you alone.

Oh…and there IS one other reason… Glen Phillips came in looking as if he’d actually just come from the beach.

Crowing Although standing three feet from the stage definitely has its advantages, I’m beginning to realize that some of those advantages are better applied to a man considerably younger age than myself. This was the first ‘stand-up’ show I had been to in at least two years and as I indicated a month ago, sadly, I can no longer ignore the effects of Father Time on this ol’ bod ‘o mine.

Dude, I was sore!
Nonetheless I had a great time, and being so close as to get a shot of Glen’s set list (left) — and knowing that being situated in the second row of people standing in front of the stage, that there was no way in hell that the couple directly in front of me wouldn’t nab it first — was the next best thing to receiving it as a souvenir myself.

The 23-song set included all eleven tunes from their newly re-recorded greatest hits album, All You Want, released this past April, on the band's original, self-financed label, Abe’s Records, through which they also originally produced their initial project, Bread & Circus, before being picked up by Columbia Records that same year. The set also included a number of additional early Toad hits (from B&C, Pale, and their breakthrough release, Fear), which Glen openly dedicated to those diehard fans who had indeed been with them from the beginning.

The re-recorded greatest hits album (available for just $12/Digital or $15/CD at it NOW!). It is the band’s rightful effort to re-acquire the licensing rights to the songs from their Columbia Records catalog still held by their former record company.

Setlist Amplification
And just in case you can’t figure out the Toad Code of song title shorthand and chord/key designations, or perhaps you counted the songs in the photo and suddenly realized that ol’ AJ’s math isn’t quite right, here’s the set list in its entirety, including the album on which the tunes first appeared (and yes, there is indeed an extra tune the boys slipped in that wasn’t on the set list):
  1. Something’s Always Wrong (Fear – 1991)
  2. Whatever I Fear (Coil – 1997)
  3. Crowing (Dulcinea – 1994)
  4. Fly From Heaven (Dulcinea – 1994)
  5. Good Intentions (In Light Syrup – 1995)
  6. Stupid (Dulcinea – 1994)
  7. Inside (Dulcinea – 1994)
  8. Windmills (Dulcinea – 1994)
  9. Is It For Me? (Fear – 1991)
  10. The Moment (NEW! Yet Unnamed Album – 2012)
  11. Friendly Fire (NEW! Yet Unnamed Album – 2012)
  12. Way Away (Bread & Circus – 1989)
  13. I Will Not Take These Things for Granted (Fear – 1991)
  14. Come Back Down (Pale – 1990)
  15. Nightingale Song (Fear – 1991)
  16. All I Want (Fear – 1991)
  17. Crazy Life (Coil – 1997)
  18. Finally Fading (Glen Phillips solo release: Winter Pays for Summer – 2005)
  19. Brother (In Light Syrup – 1995)
  20. Fall Down (Dulcinea – 1994)
  21. Encores
  22. Come Down (Coil – 1997)
  23. Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie: The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & Spiders From Mars – 1972)
  24. Walk on the Ocean (Fear – 1991)
Bootleg Medley
Still don’t believe me? As I touted this piece in my previous blog entry, this post is a truly multimedia effort, And given the fact the Toad has always encouraged fans to record live shows if they’re so inclined (Glen has referred to the band as having a very “taper-friendly” policy), I decided to bring my hand-held digital voice recorder to the show. I was originally only going to use it to record snippets of each song so that I’d be sure to have an accurate account of the setlist. However, once I realized that I could actually get a photo of said list, i decided to do a mini bootleg of the entire show.
However, be forewarned, this audio ain’t exactly archival quality. Remember that thing I said earlier about this affair being akin to one really huge choir practice? Well, as you can imagine, when everyone in the house is belting out every Toad lyric in as high a volume as they can muster, in whatever divers pitch their little vocal muscles can squeeze into a sound, abetted by liberal amounts of feel-no-pain-inducing liquid refreshment, and I'm sure you get the picture.

But to be honest, after listening to and formatting this recording, I was surprised at how little major interference there is in the thing. You can certainly hear the guy standing directly behind me who unfortunately couldn't carry a tune in a wheelbarrow (yes I know the expression is ‘carry a tune in a bucket,’ but that’s how bad this dude was — trust me) but I'm here to tell ya, you won’t hear him nearly as well as I did (yikes).

Also, in addition to some decent-sized chunks of songs, I was fortunate to capture several choice bits of Phillips’ interaction with the crowd that I think you’ll enjoy. My favorite comes at the very beginning of Crowing (track #3), in which Glen offers a very entertaining lesson in physics, much to the chagrin of one very LOUD member of the audience. :)

The audio is mashed-up in medley format and condenses more than two hours of the concert down to 50 minutes, 9 seconds. However, I did decide to record in their entirety the two new Toad songs that will appear on their upcoming album due out next year. Thankfully, they're pretty much the only ones that the crowd shut up for, so they actually sound pretty good.

Note however, that the inline audio player below is flash-based, so you won't easily be able to directly download the MP3 file for offline listening. However, if you’d like a copy of my ‘mini-bootleg’ for yourself, feel free to leave me a Contact message (located in the navigation bar in the AYBABTU header) with your email address and I’ll be happy to send you the direct download link. It’s a fairly large file (58.7 MB), but shouldn't be too much difficulty for anyone with a good Internet connection to download . Enjoy.


Toad the Wet Sprocket  |  Sat. 08-13-11  |  Mercy Lounge  |  Nashville, TN

And of course, it would’t be multimedia without still photos, so from the Flickr Photostream below you can click through to my Flickr account and view the set of images I’ve uploaded from the show.

More to come
With all the added stuff, this post is getting long. You’ve probably got enough to keep you occupied for awhile with the audio, video and pics from this great Toad experience, so I’ll just let you play around with that for now. I’ve got lots more to say about Glen and the boys but I think I’m gonna save it for a followup entry a little later. Type atcha then.

Next: Stories I Tell

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oh, Have I Got A Lot to Tell YOU...

Seriously Ready to Burst
Gotta do it. Wanna do it. Prolly shouldn't do it, but The Boy Who Cried ‘BLOG’ is back, making promises again — well, maybe not promise promises, but promises of intent, leave us say. I’m planning to crank up the ‘ol personal blog jalopy again real soon and against my better judgment I once again feel compelled to tell you about it instead of just doing it and keeping my big yap shut. It’s just that I’m so freaking excited about getting back to my first love that I simply can’t not talk a little bit about it with you first.

I have been all kinds ‘a busy this summer. Between my new(ish) job (which I began in January) and my daughter Amy's impending nuptials in just less than two weeks (August 29th) — and all the commensurate madness that accompanies such an event — needless to say, I haven’t had much time to think, let alone keep up two blogs.

And yeah, I’ll confess, I have been writing fairly consistently on my hockey blog, what with the continuous activity of the Nashville Predators’ deepest run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their history this past spring, followed by the surprisingly contentious re-signing of star defenseman, Shea Weber, there’s been a lot of compelling goings-on in that part of my life, and I’ve had to choose one blog over the other. Wish it didn’t have to be that way; perhaps it won’t always be; however I’m not making any promises about that right now.

On the other hand, I AM promising to myself and to you, that my backlog of AYBABTU posts will be seen to here in the next few weeks, and I am SO looking forward to it, I cannot express how much.

First on the docket will be a return to the original subject matter of this blog, a concert/lifestyle review on my recent experience seeing one of my all-time fave bands, the recently re-united, Toad The Wet Sprocket. Glen Phillips and the boys played before a sold-out Mercy Lounge crowd here in Nashville last Saturday night and it was magical! This will be my first (full-fledged) multimedia review, as I have both audio and video content to share. That should be coming sometime later this week.

Next, and possibly before, depending on how long the Toad story takes, will be the first in about a half-dozen partially written-but-never-finished posts from earlier this year and during my full-time work hiatus of 2010. Most of these stories are very close to completion but I really don’t know exactly how long they’ll each take to finish; so let’s just tease them as ‘coming soon.’

The story topics will range from:
  • My time spent in a very exclusive entertainment industry focus group that you probably hear references to on a weekly basis
  • Thoughts on the extremely disturbing way the radio industry works today, and how it’s changed in recent years
  • How blogging saved my life
  • Why the ‘Evil Empire’ is alive and well right here in the state of Tennessee
  • My thoughts on the end of a TeeVee institution
And there are a few others I’m still toying with that may or may not see the light of day. Some may be even too nerdy for me to stomach seeing in print. We’ll see.

Nonetheless, I wanted to commit myself here online to getting these stories finished and out, at least in part before Amy’s big day, ‘cuz I KNOW I’ll be writing about THAT!

So anyway, keep your eyes peeled for the next few days. I’m hopeful this will be the jump-start I need to get back on an at least one-post-per-week schedule. Wish me (and my schedule) luck.

Type at’cha soon.

*     *     *     *     *


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Double Nickels

Run, rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don't sit down
It's time to dig another one

For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave
Breathe  |  Pink Floyd  |  Dark Side of the Moon  |  © 1973 Roger Waters
The Daily Grind
It’s a complex dance, yet one so familiar and well-practiced that we rarely stop to even give it the briefest of consideration in our work-a-day world.
Gotta go to work.
The biblical account of Adam and Eve explains that it’s The Curse in action; the realization of God’s decree in Genesis 3:19, upon Adam and Eve’s expulsion from The Garden:
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.

New American Standard Bible
Some of us live to work, but all of us in one form or another, work to live.
For most in modern society, whether you’re a member of the nine-to-five, swing shift, or graveyard crowd, we all put in our time — figuratively or literally — punching the clock. We scratch out our existence; some of us working for The Man, and others of us, being The Man.
But while such harsh metaphors of employment are hardly the reality for most of us blessed to live here in 21st century America, the concept has, and always will be, relative.
And even as Roger Waters’ brilliantly poignant lyrics to the nature of our everyday existence speak to the more-or-less metaphysical aspect of the treadmill we call subsistence, yet another rock group, the 80s hair band, Loverboy ironically distills the concept to a much more immediate, corporeal, single statement (although they probably didn’t intend it that way):
Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend.
And indeed we are.
Ever consider the paradox in how many of us view our jobs? Every Monday morning we wish it was Friday, and every Sunday night we wish the weekend was just one day longer. Finally, one day we wake up and realize that every work week we pray will pass quickly is five less days we have left in our lives to enjoy; to experience; to celebrate who we are and why we’re here.
Kinda sobering, ain’t it?
Workin’ Fool
I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds in assuming that most people think as I do on the subject, but if you don’t, I’m sorry, however, I’m actually quite happy for you at the same time.
It’s just that after 33 years of official membership in the working class, supporting myself and my family, and being inexorably connected to the mass vibe of America’s commerce machine, I believe I’m qualified to go out on a limb and say that, given the chance, the vast majority of Americans would opt out of their usual existence if they could. In other words, we work because we have to, not because we want to.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Some people do indeed love their jobs and hopefully, not everyone hates what they have to do to earn a buck. I, for example have always loved the fact that I’ve basically made a career out of doing what I’ve always wanted to do. That’s a real advantage in the quality of life department for yours truly and something I am indeed grateful for.
I’ve been blessed to have achieved what I considered among my ‘dream jobs’ on two separate occasions, in two related, yet distinct fields. Each was challenging, each was exciting, and each was gratifyingly successful.
But given even my own experiences, I know that the notion of the truism, “Find the job that you truly love and you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life,” is little more than type-‘A’-personality bullshit. Most of us are far too lazy and much too selfish ever to choose spending 40-60 hours a week making somebody else rich, over logging that same amount of ‘me time’ in its place
Than being said, just because I’m not stuck digging ditches for a living (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), don't think for a minute that if I ever won the lottery (or some other nonsensical pipe-dream that will never happen), that I would miss the work-a-day grind for even a millisecond.
No way, Jose.
I am of an age in which I’ve accomplished more than enough to make me feel as though my life has been worthwhile. And while I might not be counting the days until retirement (mainly because it’s been a long time since I took math in school and I’ve sorta forgotten how to count that high), I am most definitely looking forward to that time when it finally does arrive.
I still can’t drive…55
So what does all this face-sweatin’, run-rabbit-runnin’, work-a-day-hatin’ business have to do with the subject of small change and/or highway speed limit signs? They’re all associated with a journey — the journey — upon which you and I each embark in order to get where we’re going to in this life. The way that we respond to these cues more often than not can dictate not only the enjoyment of the ride, but the quality of the vehicle in which we’re asked to travel as well (...both literally and figuratively).

So why the even-more-intense-than-usual-navel-gazing-metaphysi-babble subject matter today, you ask? Well, as far as that aforementioned journey is concerned, as of today I'd have to consider myself a little better than two-thirds of the way home, so it’s kinda heavy on my mind. Today is my birthday. I’m 55 years old, and for the first time in my life I can honestly say, I’m not all that ‘happy’ about it.

I am none too thrilled about the speed at which time is passing. I am particularly not jazzed about the fact that now, the longing for time to think and to write and to do the things that I want to do is, essentially, tantamount to hitting the fast-forward button of my lifespan — skipping over the ‘now’ in favor of the ‘later,’ when life will be simpler; when I no longer have to run the treadmill; when I’ll likely be too old to really enjoy it.
And I guess what bugs me the most is that I’m realizing that I’ve now become the person I always used to make fun of; the one who insists on re-celebrating his or her 39th birthday each year; the one who wants time to stop instead of embracing old age gracefully.
Some may point to ‘50’ or perhaps ‘65’ as the most momentous of latter-year landmarks in a person’s life. However, for me, ‘55’ is the big one.
‘50’ was a piece ‘a cake; my life almost literally began at ‘40’; I was still trustworthy when I hit the big ‘3-0’.
But ‘55’? Please. Somebody cue Sammy Hagar.
This is the day I officially hit the backside of the hill; this is the year in my life that initiates, statistically, the accompaniment of exponentially fewer chances that I’ll live long enough to see another one.
I knew that this day would come; I just thought I’d be better prepared; I always figured that I would sort of grow into the part a little more — you know — like actually feeling 55?
Instead, it’s like someone went back to 1991 and threw me into some damned time machine, then dropped me off here in 2011 and announced, “Congratulations, AJ, you’ve hit double-nickels. Averages say you now have 22.9 years left to live (if you’re lucky). Oh, and so sorry that the last 20 years of your life have been a blur, but get used to it; the next 20 will go even faster.”
My Forties: The Good Ol’ Days?
Remember how momentous just the the idea of the impending dawn of the new millennium seemed, years before it happened (and then quickly became old hat)? Long before the late 90s doomsday hubbub surrounding the computer implications of Y2K became the subject of near-mass panic, I can clearly recall thinking about the year 2000 way back in the 70s and 80s, realizing that I’d be the ‘ancient’ age of 43 when we finally hit the turn of the century. “Wow,” I thought. “I’ll be so old by then. I wonder how I’ll feel...” (as I imagined myself all wrinkly, with gray hair and liver spots).
Hell, are you kidding? 2000-2005 were among the very best, most life-affirming, productive, and liberating years evAR for me! Outside of my early 20s, there were no better ‘good ol’ days’ than my early-mid-to-late 40s. It was a time in my life when I experienced and felt many different things, but never, ever, was ‘feeling old’ among them.
And to be honest, I still don’t; I feel and think of myself as the same guy I was 25, 30, even 35 years ago. But that’s just the problem — the calendar (with an assist from the mirror) says otherwise.
Of course I’m being more than a little melodramatic here, but you get the point. Everything is relative, and particularly in our culture, hitting your mid-fifties is hardly tantamount to loitering at death’s door. Nonetheless, to ignore reality at this point in life and continue thinking that I’ll simply go on, unaffected by time’s incessant march is the most absolute definition of folly.
However, I’m not looking for a pity-party here on my birthday. After all, there’s nothing magical — or fatal — about reaching the age of 55. It’s just that with such a major mile-marker on the road of my life now in the rear-view mirror, I kinda felt that I should acknowledge — to myself if to no one else — that feeling like I’m 32 should never be confused with believing I still am.
My American Dream
Again, in the event that this post’s intent somehow became obscured in the firmament of sparkling anticipation for my golden years, let me repeat: this really isn’t a woe is me kinda post. It’s actually a celebration; a celebration of simple reality despite my oft-not-so-simple way of dealing with it. I am actually much happier and satisfied with how my life has turned out than that twenty-something kid who once wondered about Y2K ever imagined he would be.
Have all of my dreams come true? Hardly; but a lot of them did. But don’t get me wrong — I haven’t stopped dreaming; it’s just that now, my goals are more practical, and a lot less costly — both physically and spiritually. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my 55 years on this rock; my greatest ongoing dream is to see to it that I never make them again.
At this point, I figure that I yam what I yam, financially; I’m firmly ensconced in the middle class and that’s more than okay with me. There’s no Mercedes in my future — not that I have ever honestly wanted to own one. I have no more dragons to slay; no more truly daunting mountains to climb. And to be perfectly honest, I never really had many to begin with. I’ve always been much more about keeping my life simple; about being happy, and humble, and most of all, realistic.
I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve been rich for quite awhile.
My American Dream is my wife, Michelle, my kids, Shawn and Amy, and the aforementioned fact that I have indeed experienced my dream career; twice. I may not be the very best at what I do, but I’m confident that I’m better than most, and that’s okay too because something else that I did years ago pretty well filled that oftentimes silly compulsion we Americans seem to feel is our birthright.
I was a collegiate national champion in my sport of choice, gymnastics. As a rings specialist, I performed a skill on that apparatus that, in the opinion of a few people who would know, had never been performed in the same way by anyone else, before or since. And that, right there, is more than most people would require to feel as though they’ve accomplished something.
But before you wag your head and say, “Oye, there goes AJ bragging about gymnastics again,” let me stop you and say that you’re missing the point. I don’t walk around the house, wearing my gymnastics medals nor is it the first thing I bring up in conversation with the man on the street. I don’t need to employ athletic accomplishment as a crutch to make me feel special, but there’s no denying that it does. I don’t live on past glories, yet I continue to be fulfilled by them in a most wonderfully contented way.
However, that’s nothing compared to how rich and how blessed I feel to be married to Michelle, now for 32 and a half years, and for having successfully raised two incredible, beautiful, and talented children. And buddy, that’s worthy of bragging about, right there. Michelle is the game-changer in my life; she is the reason you should ALL be bummed out that you’re not me.
Comparatively speaking, all the shiny gold medals in the world can’t hold a candle to that accomplishment.
The cynics among you may dog me for being so easily satisfied; for not pushing myself more, but you can’t touch how truly happy I am to have what I have and to have done what I have done. I may not have all the toys that often mark the success other of men my age, but I also don’t have the bills, the heartburn, and the pressure that comes with it, following you around like a pet.
I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith, and I ain’t finished yet.
I am 55 and I am content.
It may all be downhill from here, but I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna enjoy the ride.
*     *     *     *     *

Monday, June 20, 2011

Here’s to you, Big Man

RIP Clarence Clemons. (AP Photo) Former Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band member, Rock Sax legend, Clarence Clemons, seen here performing last November, died June 18, 2011 from stroke complications (AP/Rhona Wise).

A WILLful Assist
This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been inspired by something that Will Stegemann wrote. You may know him as @BeTheBoy on Twitter, who, coupled with his equally brilliant and lovely spouse, TeeVee industry writer Nina Bargiel (@slackmistress), comprise a one-two punch of avant garde creative goodness that’s sometimes hard to describe, but always a party for the imagination.

And while I really dig both Nina’s edgy hipness and faster-than-your-own-neurons-can-fire wit, Will’s stories just have a way of ‘getting to me,’ particularly when he writes about his late father, who passed away in 2009.

Will seems to use his blog as a vehicle similar in style and purpose to my own; he doesn’t appear to seek engagement with an audience so much as with himself, particularly on subjects of family and his childhood memories. And whether or not that’s actually the case, it is how his posts speak to me.

Yesterday was of course, Father’s Day, and I was hit with a double-dose of BethePoignancy. Will posted a wonderfully-woven tribute to both his late father and the renowned Rock Saxman, Clarence Clemons, who died Saturday from complications of a stroke suffered last week. Clemons’ was a that loss I felt deeply but initially struggled to find a way to accurately express when I first heard the news late Saturday morning. He was 69 years old, a fact that alone was staggering to me. It didn’t seem possible that he could have even been in his sixties, let alone pushing seventy — which in and of itself is a testimony to the passion with which he lived and played music.

All in the Family
A number of aspects to Will’s story touched me profoundly, not the least of which was his experience of first encountering Springsteen’s music as a child in the 1980s, when he internalized his Pop’s everyday-affinity for the Boss’s sound to the extent of play-imagining the E Street Band as stand-ins for his own flesh and blood.

I was particularly tickled by Will’s reference to a live version of Springsteen’s Rosalita that was a particular favorite on his Dad’s car stereo cassette deck. It just so happens that the song was recorded at a club show in 1978 that I myself had desperately tried to attend, but was unable to get my hands on what few actual publicly-accessible tickets were available. I ended up having to settle for listening to the show being broadcast live on the radio, on now-defunct Los Angeles FM Rock station, KMET (I’ll relate the sad story of my own ‘Sunset Boulevard Freeze-Out’ at another time).

However, I mostly wanted to give a tip of the cap to Mister Stegemann for so accurately highlighting the concept of Springsteen’s band as a family, and as such, a pseudo-extended family that of all of the Boss’s fans can relate to — even through the eyes of a kid. It’s a most fitting metaphor and something that has escaped my ability to properly process over the years, as I’ve sought to find a meaningful framework on which to hang the feelings I’ve always had for Springsteen and Clemons in particular. To me, the two have always been a family; a nearly inseparable entity. And while Bruce’s solo work has always been great, I’ve never felt it matched the impact of that achieved together with he and his musical siblings: Clemons and the E Street Band.

Will’s post caused me to ponder just how much that connective vibe of Bruce Springsteen’s persona and early music resonated with me as a 19 year-old in the mid-70s, a point in time when Will’s life was just beginning.

I became cognizant of Springsteen’s music, late one August evening in 1975, hearing Born To Run on the radio for the first time, and as such, being immediately introduced to the soprano sax of Clemons (a.k.a., The Big Man), busting through the airwaves as a part of the E Street Band’s signature sound. For me it was a wonderful new discovery. However, compared to Will’s father, I was merely an AJ-come-lately.

Having grown up on Long Island, NY, Will’s dad (who was just two years older than me) had the unique perspective of being in the same geographic area as the Asbury Park, NJ phenomenon, perhaps knowing of him or actually being a fan before Springsteen hit the big time. Stegmann’s Pop had been a well-seasoned fan for years and went on to raise his kids with an appreciation for The Boss as well. Will’s blog post, Riding With The Big Man is required reading, whether you were an avid fan of Clemons or were only marginally acquainted with his contribution to the sound of the artist who quite frankly was The Beatles of his generation.

As part of my previously mentioned aborted blog post on Springsteen several months ago, I began to write about my initial encounter with The Boss’s music, of which Clarence Clemons’ dynamic presence played a huge part. I’d like to relate that anecdote right now, in The Big Man’s honor.

My World: Rocked
Like so many others, I was blown away by the sound of Born To Run, Springsteen’s third album — but the one that truly made him a household name when it hit the airwaves in the summer of ’75. For me it was one of the truly seminal musical moments of my lifetime; the kind of deal that makes it impossible to forget the first time you experienced something so different, so powerful, that you simply had to stop and say, “Wow! WHO. WAS. THAT?!”

And that’s quite literally what happened, late one night in August 1975, within a few days of when the album was first released. At the time I was three months into my first experience of living away from my parents’ house; sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a pair of roommates in a highly-questionable neighborhood in North Long Beach, California.

On the night in question, I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, but the chronic insomnia that was my constant companion during my teen and early-adult years wouldn’t allow me to. As usual, my clock radio was tuned to 95.5 KLOS in Los Angeles, and as also was my habit, I was listening to music while waiting for the Sandman to show up. Since it usually took more than an hour for me to fall asleep each night, I always figured that I might as well spend the time enjoying one of my favorite pastimes: listening to music. It never occurred to me that perhaps my indulging that fave pastime also had plenty to do with why I’d always had trouble falling asleep in the first place…but I digress.

Anyway, I remember just lying there, like so many other nights; staring at the ceiling. I had to get up at 3:00am to go to work at the grocery store the next morning; I remember feeling particularly anxious that I might sleep through my alarm if I didn’t grab some shuteye soon.

Then it happened. My little clock radio nearly jumped off the nightstand — or so it seemed.

The introductory signature blast of Max Weinberg’s booming drum beat, along with The Big Man’s foundational sax note, and Springsteen’s guttural, biting lead guitar riff sent a chill down my spine. Born To Run was rocking my world.

“Who IS that?” I thought.

Initially, I turned my head and stared at the radio, reaching in to turn the volume up and continuing to lean closer and closer until, by Clemons’ bruising mid-song staccato sax bridge, I was completely perpendicular, with my feet on the floor, seated at the side of my bed, fully engaged in a sound like none I’d ever before heard.

There was NO way I was getting to sleep now.

I’m not sure if the DeeJay ever gave the artist’s name after the song was finished, because I remember having made it a point to listen extra hard to the radio the next day, in hopes that I might hear it again and learn the identity of that awesome new band that played it.

I also remember that the part I liked best of all was the sax.

It was without a doubt, the most memorable moment from the five months I spent in that dingy old apartment on 56th and Orange, in an area bordering North Long Beach and South Central Los Angeles. We were located just a couple of blocks north of the gang-infested Carmelitos Projects and a few blocks south of the Compton city limits. It wasn’t a real fun place to be, but it served its purpose for the brief time that I was there. I roomed with a buddy I’d known since junior high school and another acquaintance from my church group, but at that point I probably would have shacked up with Freddy Krueger for the chance to get away from the Nightmare on Lave Avenue that was my existence at the time living at home with step mom Maxine.

I am most happy to say that my love affair with Springsteen and Clemons has lasted considerably longer.

A Window into the Soul
It’s abundantly easy to canonize the departed, especially artists, the output of whose professional lives have touched you in a manner such as that of something as accessible as popular music. It’s like falling in love with a painter, based entirely upon his body of work; never mind that in real life he was a pretentious jerk, who kicked his dog, beat his wife, and ignored his children in private — or even in public. All we know is how awesome his works of art made us feel.

By all accounts, Clemons was a genuinely good guy, and while I could be wrong, I rather doubt we’ll see any ‘Daddy Dearest’-type tell-all accounts from either his four sons or five ex-wives. Does that mean his closets were completely skeleton-free? No, but then, whose is?

Clemons/Springsteen in the iconic Born To Run album cover image
One thing is certain; the bond between Clemons and Springsteen defined their music; which in turn defined my love for it from the moment I heard that first note. Even without having heard a note, you could see it in the cover photograph from Born To Run (above).

In a Huffington Post article, posted soon after Clemons’ death, entitled, Why Clarence Clemons Matters to Race Relations, Ben Mankiewicz offers a poignant rendering of the classic image, featuring Clemons & Springsteen:
“Iconic is a wildly overused word, but the cover photo of Born to Run — Bruce Springsteen grinning and leaning on Clarence Clemons' broad shoulder — is a powerful and memorable picture, one that meets the standard for iconic rock n’ roll images. And its status is rooted in the beautiful story that picture tells.

You’ve got this enormously talented, giant black man -- literally “The Big Man” -- saxophone between pursed lips, essentially supporting Springsteen. The look on Bruce’s face is honest and authentic, a genuine moment captured in a photo shoot. There's a giddiness in Bruce's smile: “I'm working with my friend,” he seems to be saying, “and our music has never been better.”

The photo made an instant impact on me, long before their music did.”
Actually, for me the events were reversed. It wasn’t until weeks after I first heard BTR that I actually saw the album cover, but I too was mesmerized by the volumes that photographer Eric Meola’s image spoke in just a glance.

The combination of how the music and the imagery made me feel was nearly indescribable; the feelings of joy, inclusion, friendship; a shared passion for life; an unbridled excitement about the future’s unlimited potential.

Thirty-six years later, my feeling of loss is nearly as indescribable, as no doubt is Springsteen’s. In eulogizing his friend via a statement posted to his website yesterday, Springsteen confirmed with insightful eloquence what I already knew, yet couldn’t express:
“He carried within him a love of people that made them want to love him.

“He created a wondrous and extended family.”
Here’s to you, Big Man, our big brother. Thank you, so very, very much. Rest well.

*    *    *    *    *    


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 6 of 6)

It's Tuesday, May 24, 2011, Day Six of my six-day blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU. Today actually IS the site’s seventh blogaversary, and as such I thought I’d change things up just a bit. Up to now I’ve been reposting of some of my more obscure, yet favorite stories over the life of this blog, however, today’s entry isn’t exactly all that obscure.

On the afternoon of Thursday August 6, 2009, I received the shocking news via a news alert email I opened at work. Filmmaker John Hughes had sustained a fatal heart attack at only 59 years of age. Hughes was best known for the coming of age film, ‘The Breakfast Club’, a touchstone classic for millions of GenXers. And while I wasn’t attached to his most famous work, Hughes’s demise hit me in way that was nearly as painful. I loved his work as well, not necessarily for the subject matter of his films, but for their essence and the way they made me feel.

Combine Hughes’s death with that of what seemed like half of Hollywood that horrendous final year of the new millennium’s first decade, and what you get is a fairly good representation of how all of 2009 went for me. At that point I was three months out from losing my job at The Company; already feeling the sand beginning to give way beneath my feet. I remember that day having that sickening sense that the loss I was feeling wasn’t an isolated happenstance; it was a wave that was ready to break over my head.

It’s a moment in time I wish not to forget, but rather, to celebrate.

It was was one of those periods of melancholy in my life that somehow have the opposite effect on me than they seem to on other people. No, I’m not a masochist, but just the same, I don’t run from pain either; I embrace it, because the sun will indeed come up tomorrow. When it does, the pain will subside, but I find that the memories of times you’ve had to really fight just to get through is always the best reminder that you are indeed alive.

That’s why this story is special to me, although that has little to do with its relative lack of obscurity.

There have been and continue to be, blog posts that receive more hits from the search engines on a cumulative basis, but no other post that I ever wrote received more traffic in the week that it was first posted than this one. And I can’t take credit for that either. A person I mention in the follow-up to this post, a young woman who had maintained a penpal relationship with Hughes over the years since ‘Breakfast Club,’ received a great deal of attention for her own blog’s reaction to his death, and was kind enough to link to my story, greatly enhancing its ‘Google juice.’

So whether you are a fan of John Hughes or just want to get a better handle on why I’m so weird, here is final installment in my blogaversary reposts series for this year.

Happy Birthday, AYBABTU.



He Made Us Comfortable in Someone Else’s Skin

What a lousy year…
I’m really not in the mood to write today, but I feel I must. I need to do so in order to pay tribute on at least a somewhat timely basis to the passing of yet another luminary in our culture whose life has come to a premature end; a man whose movies defined a generation in a way that may never be duplicated: reknowned 1980s writer/director/producer, John Hughes.

Photo courtesy Cinetext/Allstar

Over the past three months I’ve started and stopped at least four stories regarding the notable lives that 2009 has claimed; the list is staggering. It seems that each time I try to express my regret for one of the individuals who has passed, another one drops off and I’m once again crippled by grief and have to set it aside.

On June 25th we experienced the double-whammy of losing both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson within mere hours of one another. And though these were the two who captured the attention of the TeeVee news magazines for weeks, there were others who preceded them. Giants of significance to me, in the personal, entertainment, pop culture, and political arenas; names like Ed McMahon, my Father In-Law, David Carradine, Dan Miller, Chuck Daly, Dom Deluise, Jack Kemp, Bea Arthur, Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych, Paul Harvey, James Whitmore, Andrew Wyeth, and the great Ricardo Montalbán.

But the Grim Reaper wasn’t finished in June; he kept right on going, and has in just the past six weeks claimed the additional lives of Walter Cronkite, Robert McNamara, Steve McNair, and Karl Malden.

Now if you’re looking at that list and either scratching your head because there’s a bunch of names there you either don’t recognize — or in whose passing you weren’t quite moved enough to really feel bad about, well, no worries here. Chances are you’re not 53 years old, have split your lifetime between LA and Nashville, and/or are married to the daughter of a late, former Apollo 11 Moon Mission engineer.

You Just Never Know
We all have our own individual list of people that have touched our lives; its not the same for everyone, just as we also wield our own sphere of influence that touches the lives of others.

Sometimes that influence is through incidental contact; other times it’s quite intentional. Sometimes it’s a part of our job; other times it’s none of our freaking business. Sometimes our influence is a good thing; other times it’s the worst thing that we could possibly do to another person.

There’s one constant in all of this however, and that is that we never know.

We never know how just a look from us can change another person’s day; how an encouraging word can either make or break a child; how the conscious decision to NOT let our ill mood affect our response can make all the difference in the outcome of an inter-personal situation.

We never know how years of direct exposure to another soul can either mold that person’s character for good, or cast an irrevocable die of pain upon their life.

We just never know.

My all-time personal favorite quote — the single greatest influence I have ever received from a poet, is displayed in the masthead of my blog. It’s not from a poem, but is from the heart of a wise and inspired poetess, Maya Angelou:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This has become my mantra; something I attempt to use to govern my actions; to make each and every contact with another person a positive one, because…you never know.

A Hughe(s) Loss
John Hughes probably had a clue, but I doubt he ever knew just how influential his movies were, or how much he would be missed when he left us this past Thursday.

I sure as hell didn’t know how it would affect me.

And the thing is, at the time I heard the news, I really didn’t know why I was so shaken.

Perhaps it was just the straw-that-broke-the camel’s-back of this god-forsaken ‘another one bites the dust’ kind-of-year.

Perhaps it was the fact that just a few days earlier I had actually done a Google search on Hughes to try and find out what he was up to. I hadn’t heard anything about him making movies in what seemed like forever. Was he ill or just laying low? Why had he dropped out of the limelight? Why had he not directed a single feature film since the early 90s?

And then came Thursday...and he was gone.

The irony was simply too sharp. I really had to swallow hard as I read aloud to my co-workers the news of John Hughes death from the press release I received via email late Thursday afternoon.

I felt as though someone had punched me in the gut.

The man was 59 years old — just six years my senior. I had no idea. I’d always assumed him to be was much older than that. I’d never even seen a picture of him prior to that news release.

I guess I knew a different John Hughes. The filmmaker I admired was perhaps different than the one whose movies you connected with as a teenager. I was well beyond my teens in the 1980s, but instead was traveling through my late twenties and into my thirties by the time Hughes’ films exploded upon the scene.

Hughes’ original Brats: (clockwise from left) Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, and Molly Ringwald
Photo courtesy

I was, by MY generation’s directive, almost ready to join the ranks of ‘those not to be trusted’ when The Breakfast Club hit the theaters in 1985.

Oh, and did I mention, I what an ASS I was back then, too?

In the mid-80s I used to bristle at Generation X, as they recently had been dubbed. The kids born after the mid-60s; those malcontents who listened to Punk Rock, dyed their hair chartreuse, and spent their time yakking about ‘No Nukes.’ These were the age and experience group that John Hughes’ films were directed to the most.

I realized at the time that this must have been how my parent’s generation felt about me and my mates in the 60s, when the first so-called ‘generation gap’ formed.

I was aware of The Breakfast Club, although not necessarily cognizant of Hughes per se. What I did know, however, was the ‘Brat Pack’ — this group of up-and-coming actors, and how they were being hyped as ‘the next big thing’ in Hollywood. The Breakfast Club was ostensibly the birth of the Brat Pack, as noted in the 1985 New York magazine cover story which popularized the phrase.

Yeah, they were brats alright, I thought. Kids these days.

I just rolled my eyes.

But as has so often in my life been demonstrated, I later realized that I needed to stop assuming things that weren’t necessarily true. I mean, you know what they say about ASSuming…

So I went to a different ‘Brat Pack’ movie that came out that same year: St. Elmo’s Fire. It wasn’t a John Hughes film, but its ensemble cast featured three of the Breakfast Club’s five principles, including Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson.

I loved it.

But enough about brats; back to John Hughes.

An Overdue Present
I may have given the Brat Pack a second chance in 1985, but would continue to be late to the John Hughes love-fest for another five years, until a screaming kid would force us to take him to a movie about another screaming kid: Macaulay Culkin in his portrayal of the precocious Kevin McCallister, in Hughes’ comedic masterpiece, Home Alone.

Our kids were ages eight and six in December, 1990, and Home Alone was all the rage among most of the young parents we knew. So after much cajoling from our son Shawn, we treated the kids to the now-classic Chrismastime flick — which they loved.

However it was I who received the long-overdue present at the movie theater that day: the gift of John Hughes.

There are two movies from the Early 90s that simply enrapture me, not necessarily for their production values, or even their story lines alone, but rather the aesthetics created by the combination of those two elements that infuse the mind of the viewer.

One film, about which I’ve written fairly often in previous stories, is City Slickers — both for it’s breathtaking cinematography of the West and its humorous-yet-gripping truths about a man saying goodbye to his youth.

Home Alone is the other, and probably for exact opposite reason. Oh it’s funny, silly, and all of those things that one would expect from a plot about a young boy who believes he’s made his family disappear, but there was something more in it for me.

Home Alone reconnected me to my childhood — not that I ever spent any time fending off burglars by greasing up the basement steps or pretending I was a gangster joyously filling my enemies full’a lead.

What I got out of the movie — and the numerous other John Hughes films I would subsequently rent and devour over the years that followed, was pure John Hughes; a guy who was a child of the Midwest, just like me; a child of the 50s and 60s, just like me; and a filmmaker who poured out just the right amount of that part of his life into every movie he made.

I don’t really know how else to define it, but the ‘feeling’ of Kevin McCallister’s neighborhood in suburban Chicago is exactly how it ‘felt’ in similar settings throughout the Midwest I grew up in. The flavor was unmistakable to me. And amid all the movie’s laughs and high-jinx was the poignancy of this connective tissue that bound it all together.

This wasn’t just a movie about a kid in suburban America, it was a movie about me. And I’m certain that the way Hughes affected me in Home Alone is the same way so many GenXers felt about The Breakfast Club.

He made us feel connected.

John Hughes didn’t just make movies about teens; he made movies about the human spirit — weaving characters into whom we could lose ourselves and identify; seeing our lives through their eyes for just a little while, and then returning us to reality a little more enlightened; a little more encouraged to go out and make the world our own. He had a remarkable ability to speak to the heart, whether in laughter or in angst, making us comfortable in someone else’s skin.

And he will be missed.

Next: John Hughes — addendum

Monday, May 23, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 5 of 6)

It's Monday, May 23, 2011, Day Five of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU, reposting of some of my somewhat more obscure, yet favorite stories over the seven-year life of this space.

I’m beginning to see a pattern here. It would seem that many of my favorite posts are thoughtful, rather sad tributes to people in my life who have died. Yesterday it was Johnny Carson, today it’s my step-mom Maxine, and tomorrow it will be filmmaker John Hughes. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself...

Anyway, one thing I wanted to mention regarding today’s repost is how much I wish I’d taken Latin in school; it’s a fascinating language for me, largely because so much of our English words are based on Latin derivatives. And being the latter-day etymologist-wannabe I’ve become in my old age, I could poke around a Latin/English translation website for hours – which is what it appears I DID in coming up with the title for this story.

However again, I don’t want to get too far off-track here, except to say that I now realize that when I wrote the story back on June 1, 2010, I goofed a bit in my self-translation of the title phrase Secundum Memor, which, allegedly, is Latin for, In Accordance With Remembering.

The problem is that in actual Latin usage the words would be transposed. It should be phrased, Memor Secundum, with the preposition secundum following its object instead of the other way around, as I’d mashed it up via an online translator. Oh those crazy Romans; maybe I need to get to know their language a little better if I want to use it.

But all levity aside, this is another serious post and one that’s especially close to my heart, as its subject is the woman with whom I shared a turbulent, emotional, quintessential love-hate relationship in my youth. Nevertheless, there was perhaps no person I ever more wished to be accepted by than my step-mother, and thankfully, in the end, I was. Enjoy...

TUESDAY, JUNE 01, 2010

Secundum Memor

For me, Memorial Day is always at least a day late
My father served in the army during WW II, but luckily for my family, didn’t see any time on the battlefield. He’s still with us today; a hale and hearty 86-goin’-on-87 year-old.

None of my aunts and uncles lost their lives fighting for our country either.

I didn’t have any friends or relatives who died in Viet Nam (that I know of, anyway), save for a high school buddy of my late brother David, Glenn Bailey, for whom I always say a prayer each time the calendar rolls around to the final Monday in May.

I don’t believe either of my kids have had friends who’ve lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan; nor have any of our family friends with children in current military service dealt with the anguish of such a fate.

Even my most famous soldier-relative, WW I’s most decorated, Sergeant Alvin C. York, who defied incredible odds and employed legendary valor, managed to come through his tour of duty in The Great War with life intact.

So, that being said, Memorial Day, apart from a general reverence on behalf all of the men and women who fought to secure my freedom, had never been all that personal a day of remembrance for me.

That is, until ten years ago today.

June 1, 2000 was the day my step-mom, Maxine was laid to rest.

She died that Memorial Day weekend from a viral infection, which suddenly overtook her body during recovery from a previous surgery. It was shocking; unexpected; devastating. She was 78 years old, but had always been in good health. However that began to change following a second knee replacement in 1999 and a subsequent series of complications, including removal of a benign tumor and a staph infection, which she was recovering from at the time that the secondary viral infection took over and ended her life.

The stormy relationship Maxine and I shared is well-documented, yet the loss I still feel each June 1st has never abated; and I doubt, ever will.

For the vast majority of my adult life, I was on wonderful terms with the woman who raised me; who taught me responsibility, and “the principle of the thing.” But it hadn’t always been so.

The lessons she delivered were hard and unrelenting; the same way that she had learned them, growing up during The Great Depression. I had every reason to rebel; every reason to hate her, but I endured, and eventually won her favor.

The years seemed to mellow her, but I’m not certain of that. All I know for sure is that her stance toward me changed after I became an adult. She often made it a point to let me know that finally, I had “done good” after years of not-so-subtly suggesting that I never would.

I learned the definition of forgiveness through my step-mother; not by her example, but rather by God’s provision of my opportunity to grant it unto her, despite all the reasons I had not to.

Ten years later, now with adult children of my own, with whom many of the same issues of will that my Mom and I battled having come and gone, I see things through different eyes; even more so now than I did ten years ago, when I stood at the podium of Forest Lawn’s Church of Our Fathers, delivering her eulogy.

There are always two sides to every story; dual points of view, both seemingly ‘right’ in the eyes of those who hold them. Whether it was hers or whether it was mine that was the correct one is immaterial.

What is important, and what is that part of the substance of my character gleaned from my relationship with Maxine, is that there is good in every situation, no matter how dark or daunting. A battle of wills does not always declare a victor, nor does it always brand a loser.

Maxine taught me that there is more than one way to love.

Thanks, Mom.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 4 of 6)

It's Sunday, May 22, 2011, Day Four of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU, reposting of some of my somewhat more obscure, yet favorite stories over the seven-year life of this space.

Seeing as though we apparently missed The Rapture, I thought that today I would reprise a story about someone who at least lives in Comedy Heaven: the legendary King of Latenight, the late Johnny Carson.

The post, The King Is Dead...Long Live The King originally appeared on Monday, January 24, 2005, the day after Carson’s passing, as my tribute to a longtime hero of both my childhood and adult life. Johnny Carson defined an entire genre of television and certainly, just as well defined a big part of the lives of his millions of fans throughout his show’s 30 seasons on the air.

It’s almost unbelievable that today marks 19 years since, quite literally, Carson’s swan song: Bette Midler’s rendition of ‘One For My Baby’ at the close of the penultimate Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (the actual final show the following night, on May 23. 1992, included no guests besides sidekick Ed McMahon and previous Tonight Show video highlights).

At any rate, in tribute to that, and because I’ve always considered this one of the most heartfelt stream of words ever to proceed from my fingers...Enjoy.


The King Is Dead...Long Live The King

Sorry to interrupt, but this can’t be helped.
It was my sincere intention to complete my current series before I went on to any other subject. The story of my brother’s current battle with Alzheimer’s Disease has taken more than six weeks so far, and it’s been excruciating to try and get through. As a matter of fact, I’ve got plenty of other story ideas I want to get to. They’re all lined up in queue inside my head just waiting to be written as soon as I can get this current gorilla off my back. However interruptions happen, such as my side posts at Christmas and New Years, because they’re holidays that merit such timely recognition. Now another event has occurred, which in my world deserves similar pause and reflection.

The King is dead.

No, I’m not talking about Elvis — he’s still working the graveyard shift down at the 7-Eleven. I’m not talking about some Middle Eastern potentate or even the King of Beers. I’m talking about the King of Late Night. I’m talking about Johnny Carson.

Johnny passed away around dawn Sunday morning in his Malibu, CA home, apparently due to complications from emphysema. It was no doubt the result of his many years of cigarette smoking, which makes it all the more disgusting and painful for me to take.

You see, I come from a long line of smokers. I am the only one of all my brothers who has never smoked. My Dad quit 22 years ago after having smoked on and off for 23 the previous 43 years. All of his family have been heavy smokers, including my paternal Grandfather, who himself succumbed to emphysema in 1973. I guess that makes Carson’s death a little more personal for me. And it also makes me a little more angry because it circles back to add a stinging reminder as to my own failure as a parent; the fact that despite the example of our family’s history I apparently couldn’t make a strong enough case to prevent my own children from becoming smokers themselves.

Shawn and Amy tell me that they are mostly ‘social smokers.’ They acknowledge that it’s a harmful habit and that someday, they will definitely quit. But as I’ve told them to no avail, I’ve grown up around it and would dare say that I’ve known quite a few more people in my lifetime who after only smoking for a few years have tried to quit and found it extremely tough. How tough, I can’t say, because thankfully it has never been my problem; yet it’s obviously something that’s difficult to deal with, so why start in the first place?

Okay, okay...I’m veering way off course here. It wasn’t my intent to make this post a rant about smoking. I’m not a cigarette-Nazi, and quite frankly it doesn’t bother me to be around it; after all, like I said, I grew up with smokers; I’m used to it; it’s not a major issue. What I do have an issue with is the fact that it has killed yet another person; a person I grew up with; a person I truly loved and thought the world of: Johnny Carson.

You all know who he was, but if you don’t have a clear recollection of actually witnessing him host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, you likely don’t know what he was. He was a pioneer. He not only defined the genre of late-night talk, he was The Beatles of talk show hosts. He set the standard. He broke the mold.

In the 1960s, when I was between 8 and 12 years of age, there was no cooler treat than being able to stay up until 11:30pm to watch The Tonight Show. I always felt so ‘grown up,’ getting the chance to laugh at the sometimes racy, certainly ‘adult-oriented’ humor of Johnny and his guests. Carson defined the now standard concept of the comedic monologue to begin each show; now it’s standard practice. It may not have started with Carson, but he became the standard-bearer for its use to subsequent generations of comic talkshow hosts to follow.

I know that a lot of you thirtysomethings probably think that Johnny Carson was a little old-fashioned, compared to the raucous, zany or hip, urban styles of David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Arsenio Hall. Certainly they all fed off of the Carson genre and added their own special augmentations, most of which are both funny and worthy of praise in and of themselves. But if you were to ask them (and all have been asked over the years) who is the greatest of them all, to a man they point to Carson.

Everyone watched Carson. Of course the fact that there was no cable in all but a fraction of U.S. households in even the latter years of his run didn’t exactly hurt his ratings. But the fact is, Johnny Carson was the definition of water cooler discussion. His show was what everyone talked about in the office the next morning. His monologues were often the topic of discussion for morning radio DJs throughout the country. And perhaps as importantly, all America knew that if someone made an appearance on the Tonight Show, either as an interviewed guest or a musical performer, that person or band was important. They had made it. That’s how significant Johnny Carson’s influence was.

Johnny & Ed
I had actually been thinking about Carson recently, and wondering how he was doing; it seemed amazing how time had flown since he left the public eye. After leaving The Tonight Show on May 23,1992, he basically went into seclusion, making public appearances very rarely and television appearances almost never.

Carson’s sidekick for over 30 years, Ed McMahon would go on, following The Tonight Show to enjoy perhaps his greatest celebrity with the syndicated Star Search TeeVee series, while also putting his face on seemingly any show or product he could throughout the decade of the 90s.

Yet even as McMahon’s public presence began diminishing over the past few years, I was still hopeful to see Johnny to resurface at some point. Unfortunately he stuck to his guns just as he’d said he would when he announced, “When I retire from television, I’m going to stay retired from television.”

And now he’s gone...and I feel like shit.

I feel as though someone just reached into my soul and ripped out a huge chunk of my childhood, not to mention a good part of my adult life. I don’t know anyone my age who didn’t think the man was The Man. He was, quite frankly, a hero to my generation; someone to be admired.

Johnny Carson was 79 years old; not exactly a spring chicken, but three years younger than McMahon, who is now 82. Not that I would have ever wished it upon him, but I always figured that Ed would be the first to go.

The Boy Who Would Be King
When we were kids, my brother Alex and I would pretend that we were Johnny and Ed. I was Carson, of course.

We would do imaginary interviews with greats like Jimmy Stewart (with me doing double-duty with an extremely lame Jimmy Steward impression). Of course Zha Zha Gabor would always stop by with her legendary cat and her even more legendary question to Johnny (which I would learn only years later are merely urban legends). And of course, Carnac the Magnificent would make an appearance as well, giving the answers to Ed’s questions before they were even asked.

But now all these years later I hold in my hand the LAST question. It has been hermetically sealed inside a mayonnaise jar, sitting on Funk & Wagnall’s porch since noon today.

The question is a simple, “Why?” However, we’ll never know the answer. Carnac won’t be making any more appearances.

The King is dead.

Long live the King.

Photo Courtesy Carson Productions, Inc.