“A Long December and There’s Reason to Believe”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is crows.png

One of my all-time favorite tweets came from The Counting Crows on January 1 of this year (see above). Unfortunately, 2021 really hasn’t been better. I lost a dad. I lost a co-worker. I had friends who lost relatives. And if you’re looking at it from a health perspective, the COVID situation isn’t any better. It’s still continuing to do damage to families and businesses while overloading hospitals, health clinics and simultaneously dividing families and countries.

We’re almost to October, and one thing that is kind of back to normal is the fact that you can now attend sporting events and concerts once again, even with the pandemic still in full force. It’s kind of like people all over the world just said ‘I’m tired of being locked inside and scared, and I’m not doing it anymore. It’s time to start living again, virus be damned!’

So with this pervasive attitude, I found myself and a few thousand others sans mask at a Counting Crows concert last Saturday. It was the first concert I’ve been to since pre-COVID. You had to show either your full vaccination card or a negative test within 48 hours to be able to enter the Walmart Amphitheater here in Rogers, AR. I’m sure that requirement did keep some away, and The Amp was not sold out by any means, but for the most part, the good seats were filled, and there were a number of people in the lawn area too.

Dreadlock-less and now 57, Adam Duritz and his band Counting Crows launched into nearly two hours of music on a perfect Saturday evening. I wouldn’t say I’m an enormous Counting Crows fan, but I (along with millions of others) have been somewhat hooked since the release of their outstanding debut, “August and Everything After” in 1991. “Mr. Jones,” “Rain King,” and “Round Here” were in constant rotation on my cd player back then. And through the years, I would hear a new Crows song and it would bounce into my consciousness for a while, and I’d think “good on Adam and the boys for continuing to put out good and interesting songs.”

2021 Adam Duritz

“And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean I guess I should”

And it’s one more night in Rogers, Arkansas, and I’ve never seen the Counting Crows… I guess I should. Na na na na, na na na na… Like I said, not the biggest fan, and probably won’t ever see them play again, but that should not diminish their impressive resume’ and longevity. I’m glad I got to see them perform and see what Adam Duritz was like live as a frontman for arguably one of the biggest bands of the 90’s. Heck it was fun just being around live music, and I even enjoyed the four drunk 30-somethings that sat directly behind me and knew all the lyrics to every song. (Actual interaction with one of them early into the Crows’ set: “Dude (young guy talking to me), if I spill anything on you just punch me in the face. Seriously, punch me in the face.”

The Counting Crows are touring in support of their latest EP, “Butter Miracle Suite One.” They played all four of those songs of which “Bobby and the Rat-Kings” is my favorite. I’ve always been a sucker for a story that just happens to be a good song. The song reminds me of something like Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” mixed with Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” with a distinct Counting Crows flare.

Duritz has publicly spoken about (and given interviews) about his dissociative mental disorder which (the best I can understand) makes him feel disconnected from people and the world in general at times like he’s really not there and he’s watching someone else’s life. It sounds like he’s lived through some very dark days and continues to battle it on a daily basis though he’s in a better place now than he was years ago.

He seemed very genuine towards the end of the show though when he spoke about the affect COVID has had on he and the band and not being able to play any live shows for nearly two years. He said how he missed the interaction, the connection with people, and was very happy to be performing again, and I believe him. Though he no longer has those signature dreads (he always thought it was silly that people found his hair style fascinating), at 57 he looked healthy and happy and at this time in our history, I can appreciate that.

And maybe next year will be better than the last.

“I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’
Now the days go by so fast”

I know I’ve stepped into the 90’s, but as I was thinking about Duritz and the Crows, I remembered that Duritz was in the news many years ago for dating Jennifer Aniston for a short time. But I must have totally forgotten or missed the part where he also dated Courtney Cox as well? (Insert your Lisa Kudrow joke here if you want). In fact, Cox appears in the music video for today’s featured song released in December of 1996. Appearing twelve years after her debut in Bruce Springsteen’s video “Dancing in the Dark,” (she also appeared in a Toad the Wet Sprocket video in ’95) here is Courtney Cox starring with Adam Duritz and the band named after a British nursery rhyme – it’s Counting Crows with one of my favorites of theirs – “A Long December…”

And now, “A Long December” 2021, in Rogers, AR. No Courtney Cox sightings though you get to see a few of the aforementioned drunk 30-somethings enter into my shot. They had by now moved from behind me to seats in front of me, but we make it through the concert without any punches to the face being thrown by yours truly.

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s… err, 90’s

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Is It All in That Pretty Little Head of Yours?”

“What goes on in that place in the dark?” – Elvis Costello

Yesterday morning I walked in the annual “Walk to End Alzheimer’s.” They didn’t have it last year. COVID you know. It was a short walk that lasted all of about 20 minutes. It was a beautiful 80 degree Saturday morning, and fluffy white cumulous clouds walked aimlessly along with us as they floated overhead across the bright blue sky.

The starting area was littered with sponsor tents and colored flower pinwheels as people in matching t-shirts and a few dogs mingled about. There was even a local DJ bumping out tunes, and it wasn’t lost on me at all when he cued up the Aerosmith Run-DMC 1986 collaboration “Walk This Way” when the walk officially kicked off at 10.

I mentioned the flowered pinwheels that were present for anyone who was walking or somehow involved in the event. The different colors of the pinwheels are all symbolic: a purple one means you lost someone to Alzheimer’s; yellow means you’re a caregiver to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s; blue means you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s; orange means you support the Alzheimer’s Association; and the newest flower – the white one (introduced in the last few years) represents the future – a cure to Alzheimer’s.

I walked alongside the Grand Brook Memory Care team which takes care of my mom, who suffers from the disease. They’re wonderful people. In the past, they’ve had their residents participate in the walks as well. But not last year or this year – COVID again. I think about how hard it must be to work in a memory care facility with people that don’t even remember your name. These workers are constantly just making sure that someone’s loved one eats a meal, or showers or gets dressed in their own clothes. Takes a special kind of someone is all I know.

I joked that I was going to sprint instead of walk so I could finish 1st. As you can see, I did finish… just barely in front of Grand Brook worker Levi and his dog. Levi finished first in our who has the better beard contest though.

It’s been a slow progression for my mom dating back the better part of five or six years. There were signs even before that, but it’s just been the last few years where it has gotten to the point of full-time care, and it was one of the key factors in moving her and my dad to Rogers from their home in Norman, Oklahoma in October of 2017.

Yesterday was also mom’s 75th birthday. Fitting I suppose. After the walk I stopped by Grand Brook to see her, and wish her a happy birthday which I’m sure she had forgotten about even before I left. We sat there and bounced around the years while listening to some 50’s music. She can remember every lyric to every 50’s hit, but she can’t remember what she had for breakfast or even what she was doing five minutes before I showed up. What a strange and twisted disease.

Mom’s birthday 1980 something

We sat in the courtyard and talked about the weather… numerous times. She remarked on several occasions how big the clouds were. She asked me how work was multiple times. She wondered what the inside of “the home” (as she calls Grand Brook) looked like and did I want to come inside. I had to tell her repeatedly that it’s colder inside and much more comfortable outside (which was definitely true). I’ve gotten used to the repetitive nature. It doesn’t make it any easier though. It just makes it different. You really have to spend time with a dementia patient to understand.

My favorite are doctor visits. I took her to the dentist on Friday for a routine cleaning. I know somewhere in the chart at the dentist is something about dementia. There has to be as many times as I’ve taken her there. Yet I’m not even surprised anymore when the hygienist starts in with her questioning to my mom – have you been flossing regularly? Do you used waxed floss? Do you have an electric toothbrush? All questions which my mom answered… incorrectly. I honestly just sat in the corner smiling to myself and reading my emails on my phone. You can choose to get mad or just choose to try and find some humor in a time where nothing seems very funny at all. I don’t always choose the latter, but I did Friday.

So for the better part of an hour, mom and I sat in our rocking chairs watching clouds, and birds, and butterflies float in the breeze. Occasionally, a resident would wander out and walk around the pathways. While I watched a few of these Grand Brook residents, I began to wonder what kind of lives they used to lead. I wondered what this terrible disease robbed them of, and what kinds of challenges their families have faced. Probably not a lot unlike my journey or yours or anyone else’s that has been touched by Alzheimer’s. Now though, these residents just wander, many with blank looks on their faces lost in an every-changing world of their own, searching… searching for something… searching for a cure.

“Well she used to have a care free mind of her own With devilish look in her eye
Saying “You can call me anything you like,
But my name is Veronica”

In 1989 Elvis Costello released the track “Veronica” which he co-wrote along with Paul McCartney, who also contributed with bass play on the song. The name “Veronica” was Elvis’ grandmother Molly’s Catholic confirmation name. She suffered from Alzheimer’s.

There’s a short interview with Elvis before the video starts and at one point he says “you just sit there and bounce around the years with her.” Anyone with someone who has dementia can completely relate.

So let’s bounce around back to February of 1989 when Costello released this song. It was Costello’s highest charting single reaching #19 on the Billboard Hot 100. This video also won a Best Male video award for Costello.

“And you could try to work out what was going on in her head. But I think it’s something we don’t understand. Not yet, anyway.” – Elvis Costello

It doesn’t seem like much has changed since Elvis made this song and video some 30 plus years ago. There have been promising developments but at a seemingly snail’s pace. Pray for a cure and donate if you can.

Thanks for reading and maybe one day my mom will hold the white flower.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Mom’s birthday 2021. In this family, no one walks alone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Each Day As I Grow Older”

“The nights are getting colder. Someday the sun will shine on me.” – Frankie Valli

I started this blog as a way to capture memories and sometimes random thoughts and occasionally dedications. My dad passed away about 12 days ago late one rainy August evening. I’ve been struggling to find the beauty in death. The beauty is there if you frame it correctly. If you see the right things in your mind’s eye or say the right things to yourself. I’m not alone in the struggle, and I also understand that it’s a struggle that goes back to the beginning of mankind.

In many regards, we are simply vessels that carry memories, stories, incidents, and random happenstance with us wherever we go. When a friend or loved one passes on, those memories and stories are scattered among everyone who knew the person. They’re all different, they’re all unique, and they all serve as constant reminders of days gone by, and how quickly those days can go. Honestly, it’s depressingly beautiful to think about.

I think when a parent passes especially, there is a sense of one’s own mortality that creeps in and says “you’re next.” A little bit of that bulletproof glass vanishes, because logically it makes sense for us to view the order of passing generationally. Even though none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, when the generation in front of you starts vanishing then it’s hard not to think that your time is coming at you faster than you want it to.

“Money, I don’t have any
I’m down to my last penny
But darlin’ don’t cry over me.”

My dad’s visitation and viewing is over, the funeral mass has concluded, and the graveside burial is complete. The commotion, the busyness, the stories, the talks, and the friends and family have all departed. The sound of silence has set in. Too dramatic? Probably.

I feel like my wife has held me together with her love and a roll of duct tape the past 6-8 weeks. She asked me what I was feeling last night to which I replied “I’m kind of just here.” Probably not what she wanted to hear. I did tell her this was the first day I hadn’t cried in about three weeks so I guess that’s something to build on. Things don’t seem real. Even as I type these words, my concentration is weak, and my ability to focus or become motivated to work are sorely lacking right now.

It helps to get lost in episodes of “Longmire” or “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It helps to listen to music or sit on my back patio and watch the 4-6 hummingbirds zip from feeder to feeder defending their turf while chattering away at each other in stern hummingbird lingo. It helps to tap away on the MacBook Air keyboard. And it helps that my wife just sits with me sometimes not speaking a word, yet saying everything in the moment.

I’m looking forward to a beach somewhere once I get past the bills and the paperwork and the insurance and everything that goes along with dying. Who knew dying was so time-consuming and so expensive?

Things will get better. I am sure of this. The nights are already getting better. But there are just times right now when I don’t want it to. I want to soak in the pain just a little longer because it just feels like if I’m happy then that will somehow mean I am forgetting, and thus starting to care a little less. Pretty stupid reasoning. I know this too, and so does every person that has lost a loved one.

It’s a valley right now and it doesn’t feel like I’m going to walk out onto the top of a mountain and into the vibrant sunlight at any moment. No, I feel much more like it’s going to be cloudy and overcast for the foreseeable future. Better grab my umbrella and forge ahead.

Still looks like rain.

“Big man in town
I’m gonna make it, just wait and see
Oh, I’m gonna make it, just wait and see.”

My dad loved the Jersey Boys musical and album. After all, he was a Jersey boy at heart having grown up on the Jersey shore one of six Irish-Catholic siblings where he became one of the greatest athletes in the shore area back in the 50’s. He was definitely a big man in town along the shore area. He was a big man in town in New Orleans where he starred at Tulane University. He was a big man in town at every stop along the way in his wonderful life.

And now, he’s a new big man in town somewhere above the stars and clouds. Up where the sun is shining. Here’s to you, dad.

Thanks for reading.

Early 80’s with dad and my sister, Kari.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love is Not a Cage. Love is Not a Path”

“Love’s a steady hand waiting for the storm to pass.” – NEEDTOBREATHE

When you sit in a nursing home room with someone under hospice care you notice everything. The loose handle on the large brown portable clothes closet. The dead battery in the clock hung on the wall forever stuck at 7:07. The well-worn sitting chair upholstered in vintage 70’s stripes. The glitch in the cable tv feed that annoyingly causes the picture to stall from time to time. Did Bryce Harper just hit a double or a dribbler to first base? Buffering…

You study the barren beige walls covered with only a monthly events calendar, and you notice the scratches on the dark wood vinyl floors that have housed many in room 108 before him. And then there are the windows. Empty bird feeders hang outside a few of the windows around the facility, and a few random squirrels scamper about. It’s not a serene beach view, but the windows look out onto a green lawn and green trees dancing in the distance. The windows promise a better tomorrow so sometimes I walk over to them and just stand there gazing. I stare out looking at everything and nothing at the same time.

“From my shallow grave, I’ve prayed to find the strength to crawl, the strength to climb.”

They say eyes are windows to the soul. Well my dad’s empty stare and gaping mouth makes me wonder what he sees now. He can’t speak anymore and I know I’ll never have another conversation this side of existence with him about overpaid athletes, or the finer points of a full court man to man press. But I just wonder what those eyes see now when he stares over my shoulder and out the window or stares up at the white ceiling seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.

His current condition is somewhere on the finality scale between sadness and heartbreak. He always said he didn’t want to die in a nursing home, yet here he is after gravity took a knock at his shoulder added to multiple heart surgeries, cancer, and mini-strokes. Cumulatively they have taken a toll on his mind and his body. They’ve turned my hero into a bed-ridden hospice patient waiting on a merciless clock forever stuck at 7:07.

When I visit, I only have so many words. So many well wishes from friends and family and stories to relay and tell. Then, I’m done and we sit in silence as I cue up some of his favorites on my Spotify app on my phone. Yesterday it was The Righteous Brothers, today Motown hits of the 50’s and 60’s, and tomorrow feels like a Kenny Rogers sort of day. I feel bad when I don’t have anything to say that I haven’t said already. It’s like I think that something I’m going to say is magically going to make him rise again like Lazarus and we’ll have another 10 or 15 years to discuss the finer points of pre-flop raises with suited connectors at a poker table. I wonder if the the smile and laugh I saw yesterday is the last one I’m going to see. I’m not ready to say goodbye, but in a way I’ve been preparing for this moment for the last four years since my wife and I moved my mom and dad to NW Arkansas from their retirement home in Norman, Oklahoma. Maybe I was hoping for a better ending. One where he didn’t have to spend the last weeks of his life apart from his wife of 52 years alone surrounded by unfamiliar walls and nurses spoon-feeding him his meds mixed in applesauce.

“Up to the surface, untie my hands. Sorrow had a purpose but it’s time to stand.”

Still I peer into those once vibrant blue eyes that burned with passion and intensity and love. What are they seeing now? Do they just see the same barren walls or ceilings I see? Are the seconds like hours and the minutes like days to him at this point, or are those eyes seeing something entirely else. Maybe they see his parents who have long been deceased or his two brothers that both left their earthly bodies too early in life. Are they seeing his former Tulane University or Phillips 66ers teammates? Do they see his coaching friends that have gone before him in the past 12 months – friends like Jerry Jobe and Billy Tubbs? Is he having conversations with these people in an alternate universe right now? Or do his eyes see anything at all?

If I’m being honest, I have alternating feelings of sadness, anger, and pain. There are times when I have to muster courage just to drive over and sit in this room with him. It seems ridiculous, but those times of avoidance are laden with guilt and shame though I know I have nothing to feel shameful about. But I still feel it. It’s a constant struggle of guilt and shame against those of duty and obligation. The latter two ultimately being driven by love. It’s love that wins, but it’s a game that’s always played at different times and lengths. Love always wins, but much like I always knew the Harlem Globetrotters were going to beat the Washington Generals, the how of it was usually the mystery in it.

“Whatever you do, I will be there. Son, I will follow you anywhere. Into the mystery.”

One of my favorite new songs of 2021 is a song about love and about knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles. Written and sung beautifully as always by Bear Rhinehart of the South Carolina band NEEDTOBREATHE, the song is called “Into the Mystery.” Bear talks about the song’s meaning from an angle of supporting your children as they grow and figure out things in life. I also think the song is for anyone who feels alone right now.

I’ve had the song in my head the past few days and it has brought me comfort as I’ve thought about my dad and what those eyes of his are seeing now. I’ve thought about his support for me, for my sister, for my mom and for all of his friends and players through the years. I’ve thought about his laugh and all those places and things that those eyes have seen over 81 well-lived years. Soon they’ll see his parents and two brothers again, and they’ll see countless teammates and coaching friends. One day not too far in the distance they’ll see his completely healed wife as well. His pain will soon be over and he’ll leave that pain here for his family and friends to absorb. So I pray for my dad right now. I pray for mercy for that skinny kid from the Jersey shore, and I pray that his empty stare and his eyes are seeing something other than a blank wall or a white ceiling right now. I pray the eyes to his soul are staring right now deep into the mystery. If you need comfort right now, I hope this song brings you some as well.

Thank you NEEDTOBREATHE for a beautiful song, and thank you dear reader for reading.

Dad and I spring 1984

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Won’t Be Easy, But I Gotta Be Strong”

If I wanna cry, I don’t need your shoulder.” – Vixen

I love the Olympics. Always have, and this year I am greatly enjoying the momentary distractions it is providing me amongst the chaos that is currently surrounding my life.

My earliest recollections of the Olympics were L.A. in 1984. I don’t really remember the 1980 winter Olympics and the U.S. boycotted the summer Olympics that year, so ’84 is really the first time I recall being really enthralled with it. I love uniting and cheering for a common cause and U.S. athletes, and that’s what the Olympics tends to do. In 1984, we had Carl Lewis, Mary Lou Retton, Greg Louganis, Edwin Moses, Bart Connor, Rowdy Gaines, and the U.S. amateur men’s basketball team featuring Michael Jordan, Steve Alford, Patrick Ewing, and my new favorite collegiate player at the time – OU’s Wayman Tisdale. Russia returned the favor and boycotted the L.A. Olympics that year, but it didn’t really matter that much to me.

A lot has changed about the Olympics since 1984, but one constant has remained for me – if it’s called a sport and it’s in the Olympics, I’ll give anything a chance. Want to check out Olympic surfing? Ok. How about mixed archery? Sure. Badminton? You bet. Those shuttlecocks fly 200 mph! Three on three basketball? Of course! Skateboarding? Why not! I made mention the other night to my wife that it seems like if you just stay on your skateboard that you’re going to be in the medal hunt. It was crash after crash after crash, but somehow a lot of those participants were “still in the hunt” at the very end. Shout out Horigome Yuto on your gold medal! Your board-sliding flip flap cross-footed halfcab 180 was soooo sick! That’s just a totally nonsensical smattering of skateboarding terms, and not an actual maneuver, but you didn’t know, did you?

“It isn’t like you never had the chance to change your tune.

Did you think that I’m a dime a dance, well the dance is through.”

I do love watching many of the events, but swimming and the track events are my favorites. There’s just something about the competition where it’s you against the clock. There are no random judges awarding you points on style or content or difficulty. It’s just who can get from point A to point B the fastest. The first week of the summer Olympics features swimming while the second week moves to track and field, and it’s fascinating that tenths and hundredths of a second can separate the best competitors in the world. And it was no different for the women’s 100m breaststroke the other night.

The event was to come down between the world record holder, the confident American Lilly King and the South African, Tatjana Schoenmaker– who had set an Olympic record in qualifying and beat King in their semi-final. King hadn’t lost a race since 2015. It looked like it was going to be one of those two until a high school senior from Seward, Alaska out-raced the two favorites down the stretch in a thrilling win, and in turn set off a party in our underappreciated 49th state. Check it out in case you missed it…

Jacoby became the very first Olympic swimmer and Olympic gold medal winner from the state of Alaska. Good on you, Lydia.

“I’ve been living on the edge of a broken heart.

Don’t you wonder why I gotta say goodbye.”

Couple of things I had forgotten about today’s featured song and video was that Richard Marx makes a cameo in the video (he was responsible for producing the band’s debut album and co-writing today’s featured song) as does Poison drummer Rikki Rockett. Between Poison and Vixen, that was a lot of big, blonde hair back in 1988. Also, why are there only three females at the beginning of the video? There were four members in the band at this time, and in the rest of the video as well. Just seemed odd.

Anyway there are a lot of athletes on the edge of a broken heart who may have just missed out on their Olympics dream, so even though this song is about love, you can also think of it for any such heart-breaking disappointment including the Olympic type. Led by lead singer Janet Gardner, who was born in Juneau, Alaska (Alaska connection!), here is the all-female hair metal group, Vixen with their top 40 U.S. hit from ’88 called “Edge of a Broken Heart”

Thanks for reading.

USA! USA! USA!

sincerely,

the 80’s

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“But Time Makes You Bolder”

“Even children get older. And I’m getting older too.” – Stevie Nicks

As I sat in hospital room 625 next to my dad’s bed the other night, he looked straight ahead and said “Sometimes I wonder why God still has me alive?” It’s probably the most real, lucid, and raw thing he’s said in months. Even though it was a rhetorical question I felt compelled to answer with a cliche that nonetheless was the best I had to offer: “Well, God still has you here for a reason and we don’t always understand what those reasons are. You just keep doing the best that you can one day at a time.” My 81 year old father just nodded misty-eyed in silence while I sat there misty-eyed thinking the same question.

Time has a way of wearing on you like an old beat up coat that you can’t get rid of even though it just soaks up water instead of repelling it. That coat has gotten heavy for my dad. Broken hip, two fractured shoulders (one of which has me sitting bedside this time), a broken clavicle, and memory issues have left a former All-American athlete with communication issues and on the verge of immobility the past few years. He can ask questions, but he can’t answer the simplest of ones now: What month is it? “March?” What year is it? “Nineteen… 88, no 98… no…” What town are you in? I can see him trying to will his brain to produce the right answer like he used to will his teams to victory as a basketball player and coach. I want him to answer every question correctly so badly. It’s hard to watch. Add all of these physical and mental ailments to a man who’s had to watch his wife of 50+ years succumb to the slow decline of Alzheimer’s the past 10 years, and it’s no wonder he’s asking these kinds of questions.

He was transferred to a skilled nursing rehab facility earlier this evening and now he’s laying in a single bed all alone in a barren, drab brown room with random nurses checking on him and the glare of a television to keep him company. I find a little relief in knowing that my dad is a good patient. He still jokes with the nurses and tries to laugh about things. He could be mad and bitter, and I would not fault him for it. There are times when he is mad at the world, but I’m thankful it’s not his default attitude.

Time drags you down slowly sometimes, and then other times it comes at you swiftly, cruelly, seemingly out of nowhere, and cuts a life abruptly and unfairly short. My co-worker and friend Dave passed away unexpectedly Sunday morning at the age of 39. I had just been hitting golf balls with him and a few of my other co-workers at Top Golf on Thursday afternoon. We hit balls and laughed at our lack of golfing skills. We swapped golf stories and work stories, and family happenings. Per usual, Dave was all smiles and laughs and bragging on his daughter and her upcoming performance at TheatreSquared. There was nothing out of the ordinary that told me or anyone else that something was amiss. Dave left behind a 10 year old daughter, a wife, tons of friends, and a future full of memories never to be made. My co-workers are mad and angry and gutted. So am I.

I want to write something funny or nostalgic. I want to be witty and clever and, I want to laugh. But it hurts right now and I simply can’t. I find temporary distractions in work, and sports, and movies, until something snaps me back, and the familiar feeling of water welling up within my eyes rushes at me again. Time can be a ruthless, selfish bastard, and now it feels like I’m wearing the coat.

“And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills ’til the landslide brought me down”

Neither of these versions fits the 80’s theme of this blog because Fleetwood Mac’s original came out in 1975 and The Smashing Pumpkins’ version was released in 1994, but they fit my mood. I suppose if you take an average of these two releases though, you do end up in the 80’s. Regardless, I like both versions for different reasons. Pensive, melancholic, and beautifully sung, pick your favorite or have a go at both of them.

Time to go hug someone. It’s a season. There are better days ahead.

sincerely,

Kyle

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tongue-tied and Twisted”

“Just an earth-bound misfit, I.” – Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd in 1988 (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

The title today (and subsequent line) is actually one of my favorites from any 80’s song ever. What’s crazy is that I’ve never been a fan of Pink Floyd. And to be honest, this song comes from the only Pink Floyd album I’ve ever owned. I only own it (still have it on cassette) because my cousin Tina bought it for me either as a Christmas ’87 (or possibly birthday early ’88) gift. She was big into Pink Floyd if I recall. Prior to this album, my total knowledge of Pink Floyd consisted of knowing two songs – 1973’s “Money” and 1979’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).” Those two songs and the common perception that Pink Floyd was “stoner music” was the extent of limited Pink Floyd knowledge around that time. I’m also sure at sometime pre-1987 I thought Pink Floyd was a person, but I think by ’87 I knew just enough to realize that it was a group even though I couldn’t have told you any one single member of the group at that time. (Side note thought: I wonder if the artist Pink has ever performed any Pink Floyd songs in concert? I’d much rather attend a Pink concert too if given a choice. Anyway, I digress.)

“Ice is forming on the tips of my wings
Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything”

I follow a few different music blogs fairly regularly (links to a few of my favorites at the bottom of this post). They’re older bloggers (or shall I say “more mature bloggers”) like myself, so a lot of the music they feature and write about is right in my wheelhouse. One post recently featured a review of this particular album by Pink Floyd from 1987 titled “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” I have to admit that when Tina bought me this cassette I had to feign excitement while curiously wondering if I would play it through more than once. I would have never bought this album, but out of respect for my cousin Tina who I always thought was pretty cool, I was determined to give it a fair shot. And I was pleasantly surprised with the album and how much I enjoyed a few of the songs including today’s featured song “Learning to Fly.”

“A soul in tension that’s learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try”

I was 16 or 17 listening to these lyrics and not really understanding that they are tailor made for those coming-of-age years. As a teenager, I think my soul was in tension a lot as I navigated the tricky world of being a teen as I worried about school and clothes and grades and sports and girls and what the next phase in life was going to look like. “Condition grounded” was a common phase for many of my friends. Groundings for missed curfew or poor grades or poor attitudes. My few groundings were mostly for lack of acceptable grades though I also was grounded once for skipping my afternoon classes when I was a senior. But feelings of being grounded persisted in general for most teens just from the fact of living at home under your parents rule dreaming of the day you’d be living on your own.

The one thing about these Pink Floyd lyrics is that they can be interpreted many ways, and I think that’s the mark of a complex, well-written song. It’s no surprise that I think of my self-described gypsy-nurse cousin Tina when I hear this song. Our paths have crossed a few times through the years, but it’s been nearly five years now since I last saw her.

Around the time I was a senior at Norman High School in 1988-89, she was taking courses at Oklahoma University and working at the McDonald’s not too far from campus. My best friend Barry and I went there to bother her late one night, video camera in hand, during Christmas break.

I think it was Tina who told me she would occasionally skate on the frozen hamburger patties late at night on the McDonald’s floor. Remember that the next time you stop in for a late night burger. We also met up again at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a few years later where she lived in the same dorm (Haskell Hall) just a floor above me for about a semester before she mysteriously disappeared. I remember seeing her in her little convertible, bandanna around her head, and sunglasses covering her eyes as she and her girlfriends would drive off to who knows where. I saw her again at Grandma Ruby’s 100th birthday celebration in Norman in August of 2016, and that’s the last time I’ve seen her in person.

“Above the planet on a wing and a prayer. My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air.”

Coincidentally (or not), Tina is now a Fight Nurse, so she apparently spends a lot of time above the Earth’s surface in a helicopter helping to save people. I see her posts on Insta so I know she’s in Tulsa for the time being, but I may see her scroll one day and she may be in New Mexico or Colorado or Cali. There’s no telling with Tina. She’s travelled much (thus the “gypsy-nurse” moniker), and she’s lived an interesting life of which I know very little of. Our grandma Ruby referred to her on more than one occasion as “a free spirit.” True words indeed and ones I’m sure Pink Floyd followers could relate to back in 1987.

“There’s no sensation to compare with this. Suspended animation, a state of bliss.”

So when my eyes take to the circling skies and they spot a medical chopper, my kudos, my appreciation, admiration, and most of all my thanks go out not only to my cousin Tina, but to all of the flight nurses everywhere that are suspended in animation on a daily basis helping to save lives, and to make this revolving rock a little safer.

“A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night”

The song only reached #70 on the Billboard Hot 100, though it was a #1 hit on the Billboard Rock Tracks chart, but I did enjoy this video anytime it popped up on MTV. It won a MTV Video award for “Best Concept Video” in 1988, and features a young indigenous male wielding a sickle at the beginning of the video. You don’t see that everyday, but cutting through wheat like they used to do does not look like a very fun job. I’ve never tried it, but I actually own an antique sickle like the one he’s using in the video. I inherited it somewhere along the way over the years and now it sits in a storage unit. Another artifact determined to grow old in the shadows.

Not my actual sickle, but it looks just like this one.

The wheat field, the airplane, the feathers, the silly old man dancing around, the conversion into a red-tailed hawk after leaping from a mountain – I like it all. I thought the videography was fantastic in this video directed by Storm Thorgerson. Written primarily by David Gilmour, but also by Anthony Moore, Bob Ezrin, and Jon Carin, here is Pink Floyd with Gilmour on lead vocals and a video shot outside of Calgary, Alberta, it’s “Learning To Fly…”

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to thank a nurse one day soon.

sincerely,

an earth-bound misfit from the 80’s

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 13934985_1314006531945899_4275299947834588209_n.jpg
My gypsynurse/flight nurse/travelnurse/former McDonald’s employee of the month cousin Tina in the black with glasses in the picture above celebrating Grandma Ruby turning 100 in August of 2016

Oh, and as promised here are some of my favorite music blogs, so check them out:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Intensify Security”

“Break the chains that hold me down.” – Platinum Blonde

It was Canada. It was the 80’s. And these guys were apparently a pretty big deal.

I just finished reading another book by Donald Miller. I say “another” like I’ve read ten of his books or something, but this is actually only my second Donald Miller book. I really loved “Blue Like Jazz,” which I read probably 10 years ago (it was published in 2003). I liked his thoughts, and his writing style and the pace of his words They seemed concise and thought-provoking. Yet, I didn’t pick up another Miller penned book until my wife bought me “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” a few months ago. The curious title alone demanded I open the cover.

The book comes about when two producers approach Miller about turning “Blue Like Jazz” into a screenplay for a movie. Miller comes to numerous realizations throughout the process of “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” and that process and self-reflection forms the basis of this book. The realizations force him to make decisions about his own life and what he wants that life to look like and represent. In turn, it makes the reader (or at least it made me) stop and pause at various points throughout as well.

“I thought about Heaven, about how if we were shooting a movie about heaven, at the airport, we would want to shoot it there, and how in the movie, people would be arriving from earth and from other planets, and when the angels picked us up, they’d put us in their cars and drive a million miles for a thousand years, and it would be miserable until you got to where you were supposed to stay, where you would see your family and the girlfriend you had in the second grade, the girl you always believed was the only one who really loved you.” – Donald Miller

There are all kinds of good nuggets and analogies and quotes scattered throughout the book. I also like the fact that he’s introspective enough to convey his thoughts clearly and sometimes hilariously. They’re thoughts I could relate to, and thoughts I’ve had before. Anyone that writes or tries to write has had them. The thoughts and insecurities and self-doubt that come with putting words on paper or on a computer screen can be as perpetual as the blinking cursor on my screen that never tires but still begs to be put to rest.

“If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died.” – Donald Miller

I like a good story. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t. And I think we all want to tell a good story with our lives. That’s the quest, right? The question though becomes am I telling a good story? Are we? It’s for each of us to decide and to judge for ourselves. It’s purely subjective, and that’s part of the beauty of individuality – one man’s happiness need not dictate someone else’s.

So what the hell does Donald Miller have to do with a Canadian 80’s glam rock band? Honestly, I just thought to myself – ‘how can I write about this band and this author and make it into one halfway coherent post?’ Well, I probably didn’t succeed. It’s too random, but how about this – I do wonder if Donald Miller could have written some of these lyrics? “Sad Sad Rain” by Platinum Blonde, vocals by Mark Holmes, lyrics by Donald Miller? Eh. It kind of works. Just to be clear, Donald Miller has absolutely nothing to do with Platinum Blonde though the author was born in 1971 putting this band squarely within his influential teenage years.

“Another mask of innocence. You hide away for convenience.”

Sometimes I come across these bands that have their story for the most part, and I wonder if they knew they were writing that story while it was happening, or if they just woke up one day a little soft in the middle, still fancying bad habits, and with little or no financial gain to show for their success? I wonder if the time slipped by so quick that they didn’t slow down to enjoy the success? I wonder if Platinum Blonde is disappointed that they were never more successful in the U.S.? It seems to me they were overlooked, and I will fight you about it too… sans weapons… like Canadians. I don’t care what you think, but I like these guys.

To be honest, I don’t remember this Toronto band that formed originally as a trio in 1982 at all, yet I really have enjoyed listening to their collection of hits the past two weeks. I feel like I’ve stumbled across a brand new band with a nice collection of songs I’ve never heard before. New music from the 80’s! It’s easy to dismiss Platinum Blonde by their name or looking at the hair and makeup, the clothes they have on, and the same cut and paste format in their videos that a lot of bands from the 80’s used. Yet, I would caution you not to do so. I didn’t, and now I have a Canadian 80’s band to add to my Spotify 80’s playlist.

But let this be a lesson to you, because this is what can happen when you Google “Canadian rock bands of the 80’s.” If you’re not familiar with Platinum Blonde either, don’t feel bad. They had zero top 40 hits in the U.S. Zero! Even Tone Loc and Men Without Hats had multiple hits. Yet, Platinum Blonde had only one song that even cracked the top 100 in the U.S. In their homeland, where they are rightly more appreciated, they had 13 songs crack the top 75 including a #1 hit that I’m featuring in this post today. To this statistic, I say bravo Canada. I’m almost ashamed that the U.S. barely bothered with one of your most treasured bands of the 80’s.

My wife loves a movie from 2007 called “Music and Lyrics.” We still own in on DVD. It stars Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. In the movie, Grant stars as a washed up singer from a fictitious 80’s group called “PoP!” If you haven’t seen the movie, check it out sometime. If you have seen it, then Platinum Blonde reminds me of a cross between the fictitious PoP! and Duran Duran – catchy hooks combined with plenty of 80’s style. Here’s the opening video from the movie featuring their fictitious hit, “PoP Goes My Heart.”

“‘Cause I ain’t gonna be your fool no more. ‘Cause I ain’t crying, crying over you.”

Honestly with some of the garbage on the radio in the 80’s, I’m surprised those of us in the lower 48 didn’t hear more from these blond boys north of the border. A real-life #1 hit in Canada in September of 1985 (and by then a quartet featuring Mark Holmes on vocals, Sergio Galli on guitar, Chris Steffler on drums, and Kenny MacLean on bass), here is Platinum Blonde with “Crying Over You.”

I’ll leave you with one last Donald Miller quote from the book:

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.”

Now get out there and go live a good story. Platinum Blonde surely has even if it wasn’t necessarily in the U.S.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Now, red, white, black, tan, yellow, or brown,”

“It really doesn’t matter, we can all get down” – Digital Underground

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Last Friday morning I told my twenty-something-year-old co-worker that it was a sad day in the music world, and then I asked her did she knew who “Shock G” was? I didn’t really expect her to know, and she didn’t. That did allow me to recite the first verse of his most famous song, “The Humpty Dance.” Even then, she barely recognized the song. The only reason she did is because she has a five-year-old and they had seen the animated Disney movie “Sing” where apparently an alligator performs a short portion of “The Humpty Dance” during an auditions scene. I probably should have asked her mom instead.

Gregory Jacobs, aka “Shock G,” aka “Humpty Hump” passed away last Thursday night in L.A. at the age of 57. If you know me, or have read some of my posts in the past on this site, then you know of my affinity for rap music especially in the 80’s. For me, rap music was new and fun and interesting and exciting. Others didn’t really “get it” or understand it, but in the 80’s I voraciously consumed the likes of Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, and The Beastie Boys among many others.

As the 80’s were coming to a close though, rap music was dropping very political and raw lyrics as groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy were stepping to the forefront speaking out against social injustices and what life was like for many growing up in the hood. A lot of this new “gangsta rap” I totally dug too, but I couldn’t really relate. After all, I was a suburban middle-class white kid living in Oklahoma.

I think that’s why I gravitated so hard towards a brand new group out of Oakland that burst onto the rap scene nationally in 1990. The group was Digital Underground and the album was “Sex Packets,” and it truly was unique. The album steered myself and those like me back into that fun arena; that danceable arena with cool grooves and clever lyrics, and it really started with Shock G’s alter ego Humpty Hump and the iconic song “The Humpty Dance.”

Many thought Humpty Hump and Shock G were two different people. Jacobs even created a fictional biography for Humpty Hump. The fictitious backstory was that Edward Ellington Humphrey III, former lead singer of “Smooth Eddie and the Humpers,” had become a rapper after burning his nose in a kitchen accident with a deep-fryer. The story was apparently even told by Casey Kasem on his then countdown show “Casey’s Top 40.” I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but if it is, it’s hilarious, and I would love to hear it one day. I wonder how mad Casey was when he found out, or if he ever found out, or if he even cared.

At most public appearances, Jacobs would show up as one person or the other, but at live shows and video shoots he would use a stand-in (he apparently has a brother that bears a similar resemblance), or camera tricks to maintain the illusion. I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely sure at first either if they were two different people or not.

It was “The Humpty Dance” that led me to purchase the D.U. cd, “Sex Packets,” my freshman year at St. Gregory’s College. I bought two subsequent cd’s after that as well in 1991 – “This is an E.P. Release” and “Sons of the P.” Ultimately, “Sex Packets” will forever be their crowning achievement, and if that’s all Shock G, Money B, and the rest of the Underground had ever done, it would have been enough in my books. But then they went and appeared in a Disney animated film as well so five-year-olds across the world (and their moms) would know about Humpty Hump.

“Now as the record spins around, you recognize this sound,
Well, it’s the Underground,
You know that we’re down with wutchyalike”

Most people have heard “The Humpty Dance” in one form or another, so here are five more of my favorite Digital Underground songs to check out if you have any interest in diving further into the Digital Underground catalog:

  1. Same Song” – Probably my favorite D.U. song. Plus, it introduced us to one-time D.U. member Tupac Shakur. That’s right – Tupac makes his rapping debut on this tune… “Tupac, go ahead rock this…” The song was also oddly featured in the Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, and John Candy movie “Nothing But Trouble.” Favorite lyric: “Hypothetical, political, lyrical, miracle whip (same song). Just like butter, my rhymes are legit.”
  2. Doowutchyalike” – the video is below and there is an extended version of this song that is worth checking out on Spotify or Apple or wherever you stream your music from, but whatever you think of the video, the song was for “… rich, poor, high, low, or upper-middle class, let’s all get together and have a few laughs, and doowhatewelike.”
  3. Kiss You Back” – the best song from their ’91 album “Sons of the P.” You’ll be humming “Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop” in no time after one or two listens to this danceable track.
  4. Freaks of the Industry” – what kind of self-respecting rap group doesn’t have a classic freaky sex song? D.U. brought the heat with this entertaining tale. Favorite lyric: “After the ride, put my clothes on and walk outside, and before anybody gets a chance to speak, I say, ‘Yo, don’t say nuttin’, I guess I’m just a freak!’
  5. Packet Man” – Another song from their “Sex Packets” album which was a concept album loosely based on “G.S.R.A.” (Genetic Suppression Relief Antidotes) intended for astronauts. I’ll let you go down that rabbit hole further should it peak your interest. Favorite lyric: “These are 40, these are 80, and this one here is 10. Just give me a hundred dollars, I’ll call it even. But don’t pull your money out yet, see. There’s one or two narcs in this area that sweat me.”

(Also check out 2Pac’s “I Get Around” from his second album “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.” The song features Shock G and Money B)

Still questioning my fandom? Well, I present to you the NSU Redmen basketball media guide from 1992-93. Just check out the nickname I gave myself when I had to fill out the questionnaire for said media guide back in 1992. (I really didn’t think they’d print it, but they did…)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is renderedimage.jpg

Maybe “The Humpty Dance” should be the featured video in this post, but Shock G was much more than just an alter-ego with a glasses and nose prop. Jacobs learned drums early in his life as well as bass, and taught himself to play piano too. He was creative and funny and talented (Jacobs drew the cartoonish covers you see on the album covers as well). He was also occasionally raunchy and raw, but he helped cultivate the early Oakland hip-hop/rap scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and he helped give us all a solid legacy of funky rap music to enjoy.

From their 1990 debut album, “Sex Packets,” here is their first hit song and accompanying video which was actually released in 1989.

“Just havin’ fun y’all, and if you think that it’s wrong, you got to admit, it’s a new type of song, Doowutchyalike…”

R.I.P. Shock G, and wherever you are, I hope you doowutchyalike.

Peace and Humptiness forever.

sincerely,

the 80’s, aka “The Packet Man”

P.S. As a bonus… For an awesome abbreviated version of “Packet Man,” check out this “Sesame Street” rendition…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Running Just As Fast As We Can”

“Holding onto one another hands.” – Tiffany

I can’t run as fast I used to be able to. I turned 50 a few weeks ago. I don’t really feel any different than I did when I was 49, but yet I can’t seem to shake that number. It seems big. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s just perspective. I think I’ll just go with perspective. After all, forty didn’t seem too big. Thirty was barely a blip. I don’t even really remember 20. The only thing 50 really reminds me of immediately is that my general physician said I’ll need to have a colonoscopy this year. Shit.

For some reference: In 1971, movie tickets were $1.50, and a gallon of gas averaged 40 cents. The average cost of a new house was $25,250. Disney World in Florida opened while the voting age was officially lowered to 18. Federal Express and Tupac Shakur were born in 1971, and on the music scene Led Zeppelin IV was released while Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison died of a drug overdose in Paris at the age of 27. The Billboard Song of the Year was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, and also in 1971 The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards turned 73 (unverified). You keep going Keith!

“Rat, when it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.”

I’m also reminded how time is ticking ever so quickly especially when I watch a movie or a video or old concert footage where the star is no longer with us. I watched an old documentary on Amazon Prime the other day about The Eagles and their “Hell Freezes Over” album and concert from 1994. I bought that cd a day or two after it was released. I love The Eagles, but it’s hard to imagine that was about 27 years ago. It makes me sad to hear the sweet sounds of Glen Frey and realize he’s been gone for over five years now. But I do imagine Glen is somewhere taking it easy.

This blog hasn’t even been around five years yet, but it’s getting close. I think I like writing on here because the words are out there. They seem permanent, and they may even be out there long after I’m gone. I told my wife to make sure she pays my annual website domain fee should anything happen to me, because all of these words may disappear like they were never written, like they never existed should my payment lapse for too long. She just shook her head at me. I’ve heard of digital and social media executors so maybe I should look into that. I don’t know. Maybe my wife and/or daughter will ultimately fill that role. I have a lot of other things with higher priority right now, so I’ll worry about social media executors and the such tomorrow, and hope that tomorrow comes.

But whatever does come along during my 51st year in this earthly body, I want to do my best to be present and fully immersed in the moment. Ultimately, that’s really all I have control over. And, I’ll keep running just as fast as I can… except when it’s time for the anesthesia for my colonoscopy.

“Look at the way we gotta hide what we’re doin’ ‘Cause what would they say if they ever knew.”

You know who else turns 50 this year? You got it. Tiffany Darwish turns 50 this September. I wasn’t exactly into Tiffany when she debuted in 1987, and had her ensuing “The Beautiful You: Celebrating the Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87.” I liked shopping malls, but I wasn’t going to a concert at one. I wanted to buy fresh kicks and cassettes and books at the mall, not watch a peer sing pop covers of Tommy James and the Shondells. But that’s exactly what Tiffany’s management team did – they scheduled a 10 city tour that included three twenty minute performances at various shopping malls starting in Peramus, New Jersey.

At the age of 16 years, Tiffany became the youngest female artist to achieve a No. 1 album (quadruple platinum) and also the youngest to have two consecutive No. 1 singles. I hadn’t watched this whole video probably since since 1987, and I have to say I wasn’t totally turned off by it. The fact that some of the scenes are in soon-to-be-relics known as shopping malls makes this video somewhat nostalgic. A Motley Crue video this is not, but a solid 80’s representation this video most assuredly is.

There are two parts of this video I really like: at the 1:10 mark you get to see “security” holding back the raucous shopping-mall crowd, and then the dance sequence that begins around the 2:23 mark and includes the old man with the crazy hair dancing on stage with Tiffany. In a few more years I may be the old man with the bad hair dancing at a concert with a teenage superstar. Life is full of possibilities. Possibilities that include being a worldwide superstar singer at the age of 16.

So, here is then 16-year-old Tiffany with one of those two consecutive number one singles – a remake of a #1 hit from 1967 by Tommy James and the Shondells – “I Think We’re Alone Now”…

A happy early birthday to Tiffany, and, as always, thanks for checking in and reading. I appreciate you all… even you – random internet reader whom I’ll probably never meet.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments