Friday, August 31, 2007


God, what a week.

Worst pain you can imagine. The drug-induced haze that helps calm the stones. A nasty little brush with a forgotten memory.

But it's all right now. I've learned my lesson well. Plus, deliverance is coming. Two more days. Two more days.

My wish for you is that you never experience kidney stones. You have all the pain of something serious, but none of the fear of it being something serious. In other words it's much ado about nothing.

But you feel awful. Alone. Spent.

That's OK, though. Come Sunday, it will all be worth it.

Oh, there's some fun stuff to do before then. College football returns tomorrow. If nothing happens, I'll head up to Dean's house about noon. Wall-to-wall ball. Can't wait.

The Volunteers (yawn) will play at California on Saturday night. Drew's out there to root on the Big Orange. I'm ambivalent anymore.

We won't be at Boomsday on Sunday night. No, the evening I have in mind is something more special than that.

Old friends reuniting. We'll gather together in the Old City, throw back some drinks, and spend two hours warmed by the sweet Appalachian glow of the purtiest voice you've ever heard.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Remembering the moment

Fiction, perhaps...

It does me no good now to think of her. But think of her I do.

Funny, isn't it, the things you remember? What I remember is the time we sat to ourselves in the other room, away from the party, and talked.

I've forgotten the words. I only remember the moment. I think that's what we are left with, in the end, moments.

I shouldn't have fallen in love with her. But fall in love I did.

It was subtle at first. One last childhood crush on a kindred spirit. But as the days went by, and the words were exchanged, I looked down and noticed my heart was missing.

Knowing what I know now, I don't think I ever got to know her. I thought I did. But it was superficial, somehow, as if I only got to see what she wanted me to see. She is, I think, a seven-layer salad; get down so far and you discover something unique, something you didn't know was there. Something you're puzzled by; something you hate.

She was beautiful and she was kind. But she was horrible and she was cruel.

I blew my mind over her once. Just sat down and flipped the switch to off on the whole damn world.

After that, distance made it easier. In time, I began to think that the entire 24 month stretch was but a dream.

The memories return from time to time. They appear with a song on the radio, or a movie on television. Or a thought. A rhyme.

I go on about my solitary way, lost in the beautiful eyes of another, or in the promise of the morning dove's sweet sad song.

Somewhere in that lyric I know the love I felt was something I needed at the time, the mechanism from which I gathered my strength to complete this journey.

For her? I don't know. You'd have to ask her what, if anything, I gave to her.

But sometimes, when the night is still young, I think of her. I feel the longing, see the imaginary blinking of a long-diminished green light, and yearn for those days.

Yes. I yearn.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An innocent victim of blind justice...

For my money, the best action/dramatic series ever presented on American television is not "24." In fact, it's not even on TV anymore.

No, that lofty claim belongs to a show canceled 40 years ago today.

I speak, of course, of "The Fugitive."

Dr. Richard Kimble's quest to clear his name and find the One Armed Man that killed his wife thrilled audiences for four highly-successful seasons from 1963-67. The last episode, in which Kimble finally tracks down the One Armed Man, remained the most-watched episode of all-time until the "Who Shot J.R." fad hit "Dallas" in November 1980.

Go back and watch this series. You'll not find a better program.

David Janssen was picture perfect as the haunted Kimble. His understated performance may be one of television's best.

Nearly as good was Barry Morse as the obsessed Lt. Phil Gerard, the Indiana police officer who lost Kimble in a train wreck while transporting him to death row.

Commenting on the action was the stern voice of actor William Conrad, who each week informed audiences that Kimble was "an innocent victim of blind justice" and kept the viewers abreast of the Fugitive's every move.

Presented in black-and-white for its first three seasons, "The Fugitive" took on a film noir look and feel. It was presented in four acts (with an epilogue), as was the trademark of producer Quinn Martin.

The acting and writing were superb. The guest stars were some of the most famous names in the business.

The show, really, was a glorified western, a (then) modern-day story about a drifter on the run. Each week found Kimble in a different location, often using an alias. He would briefly become involved with various folks in various towns, but always moved on, always continued to run, unable to keep interpersonal attachments for very long.

The running stopped in August 1967. Kimble tracked the One Armed Man to Los Angeles, then back to Stafford, Indiana. It all ended on a tower in an abandoned amusement park in a scene that can still quicken the pulse.

CBS/Paramount has released the first volume of the first season on DVD. Do yourself a favor and relive the weekly adventures of everybody's favorite fugitive.

You won't find anything like it on TV today, I can promise you.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Taking a break

Hi gang,

I'm going to be taking a short break from the blog while I attempt to pass yet another kidney stone. I'm not feeling too well right now.

I hope each and every one of you are having a great week. I'll be back as soon as I recover.

Oh, just in case I haven't told you lately, those of you who take time out of your busy lives to read my words mean more to me than I could ever say. Wish I knew how to repay you. It's the greatest compliment a writer can receive.

I'm blessed beyond words.



Friday, August 24, 2007

Finding the harmony

I didn't want to be there.

It was Thursday night, it was hot, I had a kidney stone. I wanted to be home in bed. (Actually, I wanted to be in Maryville, listening to RobinElla at the library, but alas...)

Instead, I found myself headed east on Emory Road, back to the office. It's OK. You do what you gotta do.

Larry showed up about 7:30 and Emily pulled out her guitar. She struck a G-chord and off we went.

She's a broken lady/Waiting to be mended...

After a couple of tries, the harmony blended together. It wasn't RobinElla, but my heart soared into the stratosphere.

All I've ever wanted to do is sing.

When I was kid, my peers dreamed of being firefighters, ball players, police officers. I wanted to be a member of the Oak Ridge Boys.

I had it all planned out. The Oaks would pull their big bus up to house and get little six-year-old Jake to join the tour. I would dress like Richard Sterban but sing like William Lee Golden.

Well, that didn't happen. But we did sing one for the Oaks last night.

And the one most requested, by the man she knew as Cowboy, was the late night band addiction at the Y'all Come Back Saloon...

All this singing is a lead up to our appearance at the Halls Has It! Festival tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Black Oak Plaza.

Emily and Larry both played in bands back in the day. Me? Well, I sing in the shower a lot and did have a brief career singing Elvis tunes a decade ago.

We practiced about 45 minutes. I forgot all about the stone as we made the harmony work.

Finally, it was time to get back to our jobs. So we sang one last tune.

Lord help me Jesus, I've wasted it, so help me Jesus, I know what I am...

This is going to be fun.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Regrets, I've had a few, but then again...

Got into an interesting conversation at lunch today.

A good friend, whom I'll call the Rat, pointed out that an overlying theme runs throughout much of my writing --- regret. He peppered me with questions, wanting to know who this woman is I admired years ago and never told.

I dodged his inquiry for a minute. Then he gave me some fatherly advice:

"Don't get to be an old man and have any regrets."

Good words. Good words indeed.

I've changed some over the years. Time was, I would often be ruled by my fears, a prisoner to my own insecurity. Better to sit it out than join the dance and fall flat on your ass.

I left that thinking behind me somewhere between "Burning Love" and figuring out that life is a hell of a lot easier when you don't give a damn about what others think.

My friend was right. There was a girl (two of them actually) that I dearly adored once. I kept those thoughts to myself for a long time. That's a mistake I'm proud to say I haven't repeated.

Lost love, if that's the word for it, is something that piques my curiosity as a writer. I've been working on a novel for years that plays around with that theme. Missed opportunities is another favorite theme, as are endings, the passing of eras, lost moments in time. I think that's why I love Larry McMurtry, "Lonesome Dove" and "The Last Picture Show."

I don't really believe in reincarnation. But I sometimes wonder. I've felt for years I was born about 40 years too late.

Then again, no. I like my nostalgia, but I love today's technology. Given my medical background, I also appreciate the fact that doctors can remove my frequent kidney stones when I need the help.

That being said, I'm very much a black-and-white guy adrift in a Technicolor world. It's who I am. I won't apologize for it.

I'm a "three downs and a cloud of dust," defensive-loving football fan in the age of the fun and gun. Give me a pitcher's duel over a home run derby any day. I guess I'm the only person in America that still thinks college basketball would be more fun without the shot clock.

I've moved into the 21st century --- a little bit. Westerns and baseball still top my list of favorite things, but RobinElla passed Elvis and Sinatra as my favorite singer some time ago.

Most of my favorite TV series were canceled before I was born. Mayberry could have been my adopted hometown. But I've grown to adore "The Simpsons" and am enthralled with the now-canceled "West Wing" and a few of the shows on HBO.

"Friday Night Lights" was a pleasant surprise last fall. And even though I don't think the new "Bionic Woman" will be anywhere near as good as Lee Majors' and Lindsay Waggoner's old shows, I'll TiVo it anyway.

Hemingway is still my favorite writer. Don't guess that will ever change.

My heart is still with the old black-and-white movies. But my head tells me that some fine pictures are churned out of Hollywood each year. My favorites still tend to be the quiet, character-driven stories.

John Majors and Bear Bryant will always be my favorite football generals. Sorry, but a suit, tie and houndstooth hat will always look better pacing that sideline than a warm up suit and a slouchy baseball cap. Sometimes when the weather is cool, I'll dig out my Big Orange suit and hat and wear it to Shields-Watkins Field.

Anyway, I've drifted out of topic here. What was I trying to say?

I think it's this: Live your life. Do whatever you darn well please, especially if it's right and it makes you happy. Give in to peer pressure or popular sentiment and you'll regret it every time.

Saturday I'll be singing with two co-workers at the Halls Has It Festival in Black Oak Plaza at 11. It will be my first "professional" appearance in nearly a decade. I'm not going to score a record contract with RCA, but you'll be able to recognize me. I'll be the guy with an ear-to-ear grin on my face.

Find what you love and go do it. I'm one of the lucky ones. I found my calling early on and get paid to do it.

I hurt like hell and wish the stones would go away. But when you're doing what you love and loving what you do, the pain doesn't seem so bad.

Regrets? Yeah, I've had a few.

But, like the song says, they're too few to mention. Can't change them anyway.

I can promise you, though, I won't have many more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Memory of a dream

A poem...

Last night I dreamed she married me
My broken heart at last set free

Smiling, she said not a word
But then came a whisper
From the prettiest voice I'd ever heard

It was not my pretty dark-haired bride
But the little girl by her side

"I love you, daddy," she said
Planting a kiss on my head

A solitary tear fell down my cheek
For a moment I could not speak

But things, of course, are not what they seem
For I awoke to tears
And the memory of a dream


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Throwing the Hail Mary

Hi, there. Good to see ya.

Sorry it's been a few days. Haven't felt too well. Pull up a chair and have a seat. We'll get caught up.

Here's some free advice from somebody who doesn't know all that much. If you have a passion, live it. Breathe it. Go grab that brass ring. And for goodness sakes, don't worry about what others think.

I think about all the fun I've had down through the years. If I had stopped to worry about what somebody might think of it, I wouldn't have done half of them. And my life would be the worse off for it.

Here's a little secret I've learned from dabbling in newspapering. If a subject means something to you, chances are, it will mean something to the reader if you do your job correctly.

People ask me all the time why I share certain things with the world. I shrug and reply, "Because it meant something to me."

Somebody got onto me about carrying on in the paper about one of my favorite subjects. Said I crossed a line.

Blah. The day I become too indurate to write about what I feel, take me behind the barn, and aim real good.

Think back on your favorite TV show. Remember that favorite piece of music that makes you climb the walls. Heck, look at your first crush.

You can't explain those things. They just happen. Thus it is with your passion.

If yours is baseball, practice seven days a week. If it's guitar playing, you'd better strum those strings more than you breathe.

Just go for it. Forget the odds. Overlook the scoreboard and throw the Hail Mary pass, if that's what it takes.

And don't ever --- ever --- be worried about what somebody might think.

Let your heart soar high and far above the clouds. Make as much noise as possible. Jump up and down until somebody notices you.

Hit the ball. Strum the guitar. Sing the song. Write the words. You'll be glad you did.

Just as long as you don't waste time glancing in the rearview mirror.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Somebody made a comment the other day. They said, "You know, that guy hasn't changed since high school."

I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

Oh, some of it probably is. Most of the important things never change --- honesty, decency, treating others as yourself, good music and even better conversation, all that jazz.

But frankly I'd be worried about somebody who's still the same person they were at 18.

First thing growing up will do is teach you that you aren't anywhere close to being the center of the universe. You haven't lived long enough to know much of anything. And life, perhaps sadly so, isn't black and white.

With age comes responsibility and perspective, patience and (hopefully) tolerance. No one political party has all the answers. People get old and die.

Life isn't a guarantee. Most broken hearts mend after all, despite what the song says. Silence is a virtue.

Some things never change. John Wayne movies. Death and taxes. Lying politicians. The 6-4-3 double play. Pretty eyes.

It's funny. The more I ride down this journey called life, the less I seem to know. Few things are certain. Much is a mystery.

Some of the names change. That's OK. Time is the great equalizer. You find out who your real friends are that way.

So, yeah. Show me somebody who hasn't changed at all since high school and I'll show you somebody who is either among the walking dead or just plain stupid.

Neither option sounds too appealing to me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The day the music died

Would you laugh if I said that Elvis Presley's enduring popularity has something to do with the fact that he was, really, just one of us?

No, wait. It's not as far-fetched as it seems.

Presley's career was something of an accident, if you believe the legend. Recording ballads at Sun Records, Presley and his back-up band of Scotty Moore and Bill Black took off on an old R&B tune, "That's All Right."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Seen from a couple of generations removed, Elvis to me always seemed like a regular guy caught in something he couldn't control. Deep down in his soul, he remained a Southern boy who loved fried cookin' and makin' music with his friends. That he couldn't go out except late at night, and had no one near the end who really cared about him, led to his downfall.

Along the way, he drifted from rebel teenager (although he never saw himself that way), to a soldier boy to a Southern middle class hero, struggling to pay his bills and fighting a losing fight with age. Who can't relate to that?

And, man, could he sing. Overlook "Jailhouse Rock" and dig deeper. You'll find some fine pieces of work. To this day, chills still rise up my spine when Elvis hits this one note on "Loving Arms," a rare cut from a forgotten 1970s album.

And that gospel music? Nobody sang it any better.

It saddens me that Elvis has become something of a caricature. Because beyond all those stories of shooting TVs and taking midnight runs to eat cheeseburgers lies an artist, a real, flesh-and-blood musician, who instinctively knew how to craft a song and make it his own.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of Presley's death, I'll remember that music. I'll wonder awhile what might have happened if he could have weened himself off all those prescription drugs.

And most of all I'll listen to the music. Not the pop fluff, but the real stuff, the songs that make you climb the wall, play them again, marvel at such an emotive voice.

That, friends, is the King's legacy, no matter what those jerks write about fried food weight gain.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And so it ends...

FERNDALE, Mich. -- So this is the end. What a trip it's been.

Hard to tell you what's made this short vacation so wonderful. Maybe it's the cool temperatures. Probably it's spending lazy afternoons with good friends. Surely it's receiving a hug, a smile and a warm musical glow from RobinElla.

Yeah. It's all this, and nearly everything else, about this jaunt to Michigan.

Hard to believe I've been coming up here for 8 years now. They say time flies when you're having fun, and it's true. This vacation sure went fast.

Today we whiled away the afternoon at the house, watching "Magnum, p.i." on the tube. Later in the day we walked to a couple of bookstores, just browsing. I saw a long-forgotten biography about the Oak Ridge Boys, and smiled, lost in a memory.

Tonight we ate and came back to the house for another "Magnum" or two and the late innings of the Tigers game. Detroit wins 6-2 over the hated Indians.

So tomorrow it's back to the DTW to catch a flight to Knox Vegas by way of Philadelphia. Thursday, it's back to my little office, awash again in the reality of the late summer East Tennessee heat.

But that's OK. This has been just what the doctor ordered.

Three days of R&R. Hanging out with good friends. Hearing the prettiest voice you've ever heard make magic for a couple of hours.

Don't even try to tell me this isn't a wonderful life.

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Last night, when the world made perfect sense...

ANN ARBOR, Mich, Aug. 13 --- Tell me the secret.

Hurry up, please. Let me in on it. How you make time stop? I need to know.

Then again, no. Can't do that. But, oh, how I wanted it to tonight.

Discovered while making plans for this vacation that Robinella would be playing here in Ann Arbor, 30 minutes from where friends David and Jen live. I'd walk a country mile to hear Robin sing anyway; this was an easy decision.

It's just her and Hans, the guitar player, tonight. But that's all Robin needs. She opens her mouth, lets us hear a little slice of heaven, smiles that smile, and my goodness gracious.

Time stops. Cares float away. For a couple of hours the world is beautiful and the whole darn thing makes perfect sense.

She sings some favorites tonight, including "Man Over," and the tenderly beautiful "Morning Dove." A new song breaks your heart. Then Robin channels Billie Holiday and you're caught smack dab in the blues.

There's something for everybody. Alison Krauss and Roger Miller, good ol' Southern Gospel and a few original tunes. Little slices of joy and heartache.

Finally it's finished. You sit there a minute, knowing you've witnessed something wonderful. It plucks at your heartstrings, touches you in that sweet little place that only music can.

I can't make the moment last. It's back out into the late summer night, back to Ferndale, eventually back to work and reality.

But the memories linger. You hum a tune, remember that sweet smile, and thank God that you've been here tonight to hear this special soul share her talent with the world.

Life seems brighter somehow. The night isn't so lonely. The old dreams, the good dreams, yeah, they might just come true. Anything seems possible after spending some time with Robinella.

So maybe I don't need time to stand still after all.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Up in Michigan

FERNDALE, Mich. -- I took my book on Paul Bryant's "Junction Boys" and sat in the 70-degree cool Michigan morning just after 9, remembering what it's like to go outside and not feel like you've just stepped into a toaster oven.

It gets hot here in Michigan. But the nights are cool and the humidity is nowhere near that of Knox Vegas.

My plane arrived at the Detroit metro airport about 10 a.m. yesterday, after a quick jaunt to Charlotte. We drove directly downtown, ate and made it to Comerica Park in time to see the Tigers take care of bid'ness 11-6 over the A's.

From there, we tooled over to Commerce to enjoy dinner at a pub. It was a nice enough evening, so we sat out on the patio of the place. It overlooks a golf course. The grounds are well-kempt and perfect. I split a barbecue chicken pizza with David Romas. His wife Jennifer snacked on nachos.

Tonight we're headed into enemy territory, Ann Arbor, home to those blasted Wolverines, to hear Robinella at The Ark, an old intimate theater in the Great Lake State's most famous college town. David says everybody from Bob Dylan to Natalie Merchant has played there at one point or another.

I'm supposed to be on vacation. But I can't stay away from the keyboard.

So it goes when your job is your life, or your life is your job, or however you say that...

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Motown bound

I'm making my way to Motown to catch a Tigers game and jaunt over to Ann Arbor to see Robinella in concert at The Ark.

I'll be posting travelogues along the way. Hope you all have a mellowed out and safe weekend.

As for me, I'll be singing somewhere in the lonely night, dreaming of the arms that held me tight...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No cause to celebrate

I once saw Henry Aaron at a Braves game in Atlanta.

He's a gentle man. He's dignified, doesn't say much, and one suspects would prefer to avoid the spotlight.

It took him a ton of plate appearances to pass Babe Ruth's magnificient 714 home run career record. But he was so easily to like, the kind of guy you're proud to call a Home Run King.

I didn't plan to waste 15 minutes of my life writing about Barry Bonds. He isn't worth it. But when I woke up this morning and saw that he'd hit home run No. 756* (* Home runs hit while doped up on steroids from 1999-2005), I couldn't resist.

Forget his unplesantness. That's unfortunate, but not really an issue. That famous wall of plaques at Cooperstown is filled with surly individuals. (Think Ty Cobb).

No, what 756* (* Home runs hit while doped up on steroids from 1999-2005) means is that we've just rewarded a cheater. We're telling our kids that cheating is OK.

That it happened in my game, this beautiful American game, adds insult to injury. That Bonds passed Aaron to achieve his smoke-and-mirrors record is even worse.

It's fine, though. Most everybody outside of San Francisco, where the Kool-Aid must be particularly strong, knows the truth. They will forever put that asterisk besides Bonds' name, even if the official record books don't.

And in our heart's we'll root like hell for Alex Rodriguez to stay healthy and keep hitting homers, no matter what we might think of him or the Yankees.

Today isn't a day for celebration. Bonds has his record and little else. If there's any justice in the world, he'll be indicted one day. If nothing else, maybe now he'll fade off into the twilight and be relegated to the ash heap of baseball history.

The great thing about records, though, is that they'll be broken. This record will fall one day. The player who earns it will have done so the old-fashioned way.

Ruth will still have his 714 in fewer plate appearances. Aaron still has the pure record and the love and admiration of a nation.

Few look to sports to find heroes anymore anyway. The last man I really respected in sport was Paul William "Bear" Bryant. And he's been dead for more than 20 years.

So don't celebrate. But don't fret either.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

The South as a character...

It's hot.

No, really. It's hot.

Standing outside the newly-built St. Mary's Hospital North for the hospital's dedication this afternoon, I felt like I'd stepped back into some old black and white movie, maybe "To Kill A Mockingbird," always set in the South, and always hot.

The heat was oppressive. Hot. Smothering. I've never been more thankful for air conditioning in my life.

Told somebody the other day I think I may write a novel sometime about the South as a character. Throw in its faults and its charms, its quirks and its eccentricities, its uniqueness and its uniformity, and use that heat as part of the plot.

Aah, Faulkner's done it already. Williams. Even Harper Lee in her one beautiful book. But it's a thought.

Tonight I want to park myself in front of the fan and refuse to move. It's getting worse later this week. I dread those afternoons in my toaster oven office.

Tried to watch "Key Largo" tonight. Fell asleep. Couldn't bring myself to screen "Mr. Smith" again. Swallow too much Capracorn and you turn into syrup.

I may tackle more McCarthy before bed. A friend says reading prose like that takes time. Indeed. You don't curl up with Cormac, that's for sure.

Why not just turn on the radio? Something calm and cool. I'm thinking Ellington, or pre-fusion Miles ("Kind of Blue"). Maybe even a little Buffett.

Whatever it is, that will be me, the guy staying cool by the fan.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Losing it at the movies

If I could do anything other than my current work, (you know, wave a magic wand and make it happen and all that), I'd go into pictures. Either as a screenwriter or a director.

I like what today you'd call indie films. Quieter, calmer flicks that make you think or make you feel or do something other than show off special effects. Oh, I like those movies too. But, really, all they are good for is selling popcorn.

I like movies because it's so different from my craft. The written word is something else, sure. But films are visual. They bring with them a particular sensibility, and hence a unique power, of their own.

Walker Percy, I think in his novel "The Moviegoer," said that while other people have memories of dates and parties and how the weather was, they have the cat running underneath Orson Welles' legs in "The Third Man." One can relate.

Had a bad sinus headache tonight. So after spending the day with my buddy Shelton and his familia, I headed on home with the intention of reading Cormac McCarthy. But I fell asleep on the couch. So now I'm watching movies.

First up, it's an interview, actually, with film director Ingmar Bergman, who died earlier in the week. I've not seen any of Bergman's films, although I have "The Seventh Seal" recorded and put "Scenes from a Marriage" on my Netflix list. Fascinating stuff.

If I go a few rounds with insomnia again tonight, I've also got Eastwood's "Unforgiven" on DVD to watch again. Maybe not his best work, but darn good.

What's my favorite movie?

Oh, you get asked that, and I gather it's akin to trying to answer something like "Who's your favorite child?"

I don't know. "True Grit," for sentimental reasons. "Casablanca," just because. "The Searchers." "Dr. Zhivago." "Rear Window." And a bunch of others.

Can't do it. Like eating those potato chips, can't name just one.

OK, back to the flicks. See you on the flipside.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Just like they did in Key Largo...

"We can find it once again, I know, just like they did in Key Largo." --- Bertie Higgins, "Key Largo."

If I ever get out of work tonight, I think I'm going to fix myself something cold to drink (can you believe this heat?) and watch "Key Largo."

Did ya ever see that movie? Oh, it's a classic. Bogie and Bacall. Need I say more?

Bogie plays Frank McCloud, a World War II vet who shows up in the Keys to visit his buddy's widow and father, Nora and James Temple, played by Lauren Bacall and Lionel Barrymore.

McCloud stumbles into a bad situation. Mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his cronies take over the hotel the Temples run just in time for a big hurricane to hit.

All hell breaks loose and Bogie has to help save the day. Definitely falls into the "they don't make 'em like this anymore" category.

If I can get rid of this headache, I might skip John Huston's picture and read Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream." I need to pretend like I'm on the beach somewhere.

Late summer is good for nothing but a trip to some place cool and/or near the water. Since I'm doing neither this month (I'm going to Michigan), I'll have to get there via the green fields of the mind.

Wish I could have seen Key Largo when Bogie and Bacall made this film, or wandered down to Key West during the time Hemingway spent his days writing there, working on the novel that became "A Farewell to Arms."

(If you want to see American prose reach an ever-elusive perfection, read Papa's short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." Brilliant. Simply brilliant.)

Alas, I'm sitting here in my office, situated as close as I can to the fan, fighting a losing battle with the heat.

Could be worse. At least I'm not breaking my back with those guys widening Emory Road.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The best there ever was

It's hard to believe it, but the greatest voice you've ever heard had to beg for an audition. And he got to Stax Records in Memphis by driving and carrying equipment for another group.

All that changed when he opened his mouth and started singing "These Arms of Mine."

They don't sing like Otis Redding anymore. It just doesn't happen.

That was music, man. You know, the kind that sends chills running up your spine and you play the record over and over and over again, until the stylus breaks or the tape busts or the CD just gives out, depending on what year the calendar says it is. The years pass; the music endures.

Otis was the greatest. Period. Dot. Paragraph.

To suggest otherwise is blasphemous.

Start with "These Arms of Mine." What a song that is. That yearning, churning vocal spills its guts into the night, all but begging you to stop and listen. That man is aching and he don't care who knows it.

Take your pick from there. "Try A Little Tenderness." Nuff said.

"I've Been Loving You Too Long" may be the best one of them all, but don't forget about "Love Man" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "Respect." Aretha Franklin? Please. Not even in the same ballpark.

Oh, and that live version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" at Monterrey Pop. Forget all that hippie stuff. Good as it was, this is music, this is Memphis soul music, Stax Records gold, the best there ever was.

Still doubt it? Run don't walk to iTunes or the record store or wherever, and find Otis's knock-your-socks-off take on "The Tennessee Waltz." You've not heard the song until the Big O gets done with it. In his hands, you understand why that damn waltz was so painful to hear.

PBS aired a fantastic look back at Stax Records tonight on Great Performances. They were all there: Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Mel and Tim, Isaac Hayes, and a dozen more.

But it's Otis, man. It's Otis.

A plane crash took him from us, too soon, 27 years old, hadn't even released "(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay" yet. There's a statue to this great man in Dewayne Lawson's town, Macon, Ga.

PDL, Drew and I stood there awhile a couple of months ago, paying our R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It was sacred, honest, something you do 'cause you don't have a choice.

Otis sang from somewhere deep inside, throwing it all out there for the world to hear. It was magical and it was spiritual and it was a lot of things I don't understand.

You can tell me about James Brown and Sam Cooke and Clarence Carter and a bunch of others. I'll nod, tap my foot, bob my head back and forth, diggin' their sounds.

But it ain't Otis. Not even close, man. Not even close.

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