The funeral was today. Jeremy would have liked it. There were tears followed by the laughter as stories were shared amongst our family.
I’m not sure what I feel right now. It’s a sadness no one can know. Only a parent who has lost a child can understand the depth of the pain. My friend Edgar knows the pain of losing a son. He told me we are part of a club we never asked to be in. I get it. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I’m thankful that I have friends like him to walk me through this.
I came home. It somehow seemed fitting to listen to the wisdom of the Grateful Dead. Jeremy would appreciate that. I thought I was cried out until “Box of Rain” came on. I wasn’t. I can’t pin down the reason, but it reminded me of the evenings Jeremy and I sat on the front porch for hours discussing the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in it. I thought I’d leave it with you. Our journey has been a wonderfully “long, strange trip” and I miss my son…
I try to write every day, whether I feel inspired or not. I’m told that such a practice will make me a better writer; that quality content will become more frequent. Lord knows I need that. Some nights though – after a long hard day at the farm – I come home, turn on the stereo (the computer actually), and sit down to do paperwork and answer emails. That’s not happening tonight though; the paperwork and emails I mean. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” put an end to that. There’s nothing left to do but lean back, breath deeply, and enjoy the music.
I never fit in. It’s the oft told tale of being on the outside looking in. I’m not sure why really. I was blessed to have a great family. My sister and I are both adopted – wanted and loved dearly by the couple that became our parents. I didn’t come from a broken home. Mom and Dad celebrated fifty-three years of marriage before Dad passed. There’s no abuse that I know of; at least not physically or emotionally. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home I went to church three times a week, learned about a rather arbitrary God, and tried to live up to impossible standards of piety. That is spiritual abuse, but that’s another story…
The one vivid and undisputable memory was the music. It was always present. Saturday evenings were devoted to Lawrence Welk (my Dad’s favorite) and country music shows like “Live from Panther Hall” and Porter Waggoner (featuring a young Dolly Parton; my Mom’s favorite). Perry Como, Mitch Miller’s Sing-along, and Andy Williams filled the rest of the week.
My earliest and fondest memories were of singing in the car while on the way to South Texas to visit my uncle’s ranch each summer. My Dad would prop me up on his lap and let me take the steering wheel of our ’64 Oldsmobile 88 as we rocketed down the highway (there were no such things as seat belts and the car seat consisted of his arm across my chest when we had to come to a sudden stop…). Man, that car would fly. We would be running at ninety miles an hour and Dad would be singing all the way.
Dad had varied tastes. He’d belt out 1940s Big Band hits on minute, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or bluegrass hymns the next. Many years later he told me that my Uncle Bynam, who was killed in World War Two, was the singer in his family. After hearing Dad, I respectfully disagree…
Melodies filled the car, the miles faded into the rearview mirror, and all was perfect in my little world. Dad’s lap, my driving (okay, steering – I couldn’t reach the pedals), and the songs made that Oldsmobile a piece of heaven on Earth. I can still hear him sing “I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” or “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…” some five decades later.
I outgrew Dad’s lap and at sixteen, found my own seat behind the wheel of a ’68 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe. Dad’s singing was replaced by an eight-track tape deck blasting everything from The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Steely Dan to Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Cat Stevens. My tastes were as varied as Dad’s. My part-time job was next door to Independent Records (the Top 100 albums were on sale for 3.99!). When I got paid on Saturday mornings, I made haste to cash my check so I could buy new albums. My purchases were always dependent on whatever adolescent challenges I was facing that week. Some of you know what I mean…
The eight-track gave way to cassette tapes, CDs, and later to MP3s and streaming services. The ‘67 Chevy has been replaced by my old farm truck. I drive the speed limit most of the time. My feet have reached the pedals for fifty years or so. Every now and then you just have to crank it up to ninety, crank up, the stereo, and keep an eye out for State Troopers, even when you’re sitting at your desk…
People don’t listen to Rock FM radio much these days. It’s become outdated by the plethora of streaming services, satellite radio, and internet radio. However, it wasn’t always that way. There was a day when FM was the Wild West of rock and roll radio. Casting aside the mono pop radio of the AM bandwidth, stations popped up across the FM dial. It was perfect for rock and roll – they refused to follow convention, shunned playlists, and introduced new artist regardless of their spot on the Billboard Top 100.
By the time I started high school in the early seventies much of rock FM radio was listed as Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) and had begun to develop playlists for said genre. Still, there were the musical rebels that played all the albums (yes Virginia, there is such a thing as vinyl recordings) and tracks not found on the AOR stations. They tended to be somewhat obscure – hidden on the dial by their limited range and smaller broadcast wattage. When I found one it was a true treasure. It’s where I discovered everything from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention to Bob Marley or Jackson Browne. It’s also where I discovered John Prine.
I was driving down the highway in my ’67 Chevy Impala SS, listening to one of those maverick stations when I heard “Hello In There” for the first time. It was by this guy named John Prine and honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. If it could elicit that kind of emotional response, I had to check this guy out. I bought his debut album the next day. It started a relationship with his music that still goes on today and I still say “Hello In There”.
Fast forward to 2020 – FM radio is a stereo version of AM pop music and vile talk radio. What’s now considered “classic” rock is anything but classic. It was commercially successful among Baby Boomers back then and lacks any of the substance of FM radio’s glory days. The hidden treasures I once valued died an ignominious death at the hands of corporate media giants.
Sadly, not only is FM radio gone, but the world lost another treasure – John Prine. He died of complications from COVID-19 last Tuesday. I was in my truck on the way back from the farm when I heard the news. I still listen to FM radio, but I’ve traded the commercial crap for National Public Radio and some local Red Dirt radio (if I need to explain, you wouldn’t understand…).
I, like so many others, have spent the week listening to tributes, old interviews, and a constant stream of a lifetime of John Prine music. The songs took me back to the first time I heard “Illegal Smile” and knew exactly what he was talking about. That smile faded as I became older and began to identify with his classic “Sam Stone”. Originally titled “Great Society Conflict Veterans Blues” it became one of his greatest protest songs. For me, it became too real. “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…”
Thank you, John Prine, for a lifetime of sarcasm, wit, reality, and truth. That’s why he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s why he’s an American treasure. That’s why I miss him…
I’ve been taking a personal writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks. It’s been quite busy with Opal’s Farm and client requests. When life gets a bit too hectic I’ve learned the value of a Sabbath rest…
Fortunately, it’s been gloomy and rainy here for the past two days. Thursday’s downpour and yesterday’s off-and-on showers allowed me to complete many of the projects I have going. I woke up this morning to a glorious sunrise, bright skies, warmer temperatures, and a brain worm…
Jonathan Edward’s “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” kept echoing through my head even though the last thing I want is for the sun to leave. It’s a great song from my younger days though. It led me to look it up on You Tube. I couldn’t help but listen to the subsequent playlist – Greg Allman, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet – and my favorite from the morning, Arlo.
Now I know some of you have no idea who Arlo is. I know I’m dating myself, but Arlo and his father, Woody (as in Guthrie) shared a musical wisdom few possess. (Aside: I still follow the ritual I started some forty years ago by playing “Alice’s Restaurant” each Thanksgiving Day at Noon!).
As I was watching the video from one of Arlo’s more recent performances I was struck by the fact that some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard of not come from preachers and pastors, but from artists. There’s a spirituality in art, particularly music, that I’ve never found in a church service.
I hope you enjoy the clip. It’s rather long. Then again, most preachers go on a lot longer. (Another aside: When I was a kid we always found on preachers who went past the allotted twenty-minute sermon time – the Baptists would beat us to Luby’s…)
Anyway, I found it particularly meaningful on a bright, sunny day. By the way, Sunshine don’t run off…
I was at the desk for a long time last night catching up on paperwork and phone calls. I had a great head of steam and was crossing items off the “to-do list” right and left when my internet radio station hit a string of songs that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had no choice but to push the papers aside, crank the volume, and sing along to Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffet (anything before “Margaritaville”), the Eagles, and a host of other tunes that reminded me that growing up wasn’t all bad; even if it felt that way…
It felt that way a lot. Years later I’d ask my friend and
mentor, Jim, why I felt so different from everyone else growing up. What was
wrong with me and how did I get here? Why was I so uncomfortable being me? He’d
smile and reply with one of those West Texas sayings that used to drive me
batshit crazy like, “Son, it ain’t important how the mule got in the ditch, it’s
how are you gonna get him out”. I’d like to believe I’m a reasonably intelligent
individual, but it took a long time to understand what he was saying.
You see, the why didn’t matter. It wasn’t important. “Why” could never change the outcome. I was always asking the wrong question. When the question became “how” as opposed to “why” I began to crawl out of the proverbial ditch I found myself stuck in. I may not have been responsible for falling in the ditch, but I was responsible for getting out. As a result, the climb has been faster than I imagined and slower than I’d like, but the view from the top is well worth it…
Every now and then I’m reminded I’m on this amazing
journey called life, replete with mountains, valleys, obstacles, and wide-open
meadows. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t been where I’ve been. Duh, right?
Music, like what I heard last night, transports me to the mountaintop where I
have a 360-degree view. I can see the past and present and am delighted to
revel in the present.
Is there a song (or songs) that take you to your “happy place”?
What makes you stop, crank up the tunes, and relish the