Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The way they used to be

Two a.m. and I'm up again. So, let me rant a minute or two on something that doesn't matter.

Most boys will tell you they want to be a firefighter when they grow up. Or a police officer. Or a big league ballplayer.

Well, I guess I've always been a weird kid. You want to hear something funny?

I wanted to be an Oak Ridge Boy.

Yes, as a lad I would tell people that I was going to grow up to be a member of the Oak Ridge Boys. I loved those guys. My first concert, in fact, was a trip to Stokely Athletics Center in 1984 to see them on their "Steppin' Out!" tour.

And I guess I never have lost an affection for their music.

Dewayne Lawson sent a text message tonight to give me about 10 minutes' worth of advanced warning that the Boys were going to be on DirecTV -- live in concert!

"Up next!" Dewayne texted. "William Lee Golden in HD!"

I felt the nostalgic tinge of childhood.

Turns out it lasted 15 seconds.

Instead of the classic, mostly well-dressed and well-coiffed quartet I remember from childhood, out came Richard Sterban looking like he'd slid headfirst into a midlife crisis. Normally dressed in a natty suit and tie, tonight he sported an outfit that should make men his age blush. HIs slicked back hair has given way to a long, flowing embarrassment. William Lee Golden went from being amusing mountain man to long-haired freak in desperate need of a bath. Even Duane Allen looked like an aging Baby Boomer trying too hard to look 18 again.

It was sad.

They sang an obnoxious tune composed by Shooter Jennings. I turned it off about two minutes in and surfed over to YouTube to find a classic 1982 clip from "The Tonight Show."

Some things are best left in their era. The Oaks have continued to perform (and thankfully worked out a deal to get Golden back in the fold). When they do what they do, it works. But this was downright nauseating. It's a lesson few aging stars learn. If you doubt what I say listen to a recent Tom Jones single. Ugh.

Then there was all this talk on Facebook. I signed off in disgust. What can I say? I was country when country wasn't cool.

Ah well. I'll always have 1983 and "Ozark Mountain Jubilee," Elvira and Bobby Sue, the Y'all Come Back Saloon and I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left my Heart Alone). Back then it was simple. It was sorta lowbrow but it was fun. And it wasn't so pretentious.

And neither were the Oak Ridge Boys.

Sometimes it wouldn't bother me one damn bit if pop culture of the moment went up in flames.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

What I learned from a Nehi Grape soda...

Blame this on Radar O'Reilly.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite treats was to enjoy a Grape Nehi. Seems like I would always get them at the beach -- or at least in the summertime. Last one I remember drinking was at a Myrtle Beach campground in 1989 or 1990. Seems like a long time ago.

Most of you know how much I love "M*A*S*H." Such a sweet, gentle show, full of wit and humor, but also peppered with ruminations about what is often called the human condition.

Those familiar with the show know where this is headed. The 4077th's lovable clerk, Walter F. "Radar" O'Reilly, loves Grape Nehi. While Hawkeye and the boys throw back beers in Rosie's Bar, Radar sips on his soda.

Well, it got me to thinkin' I wanted one. But, when I got to looking around, they had all but disappeared from Knoxville. What to do?

So I found a store in Mt. Airy, N.C. (Andy Griffith's hometown) that stocks the stuff. Sent away for an entire case! I can't wait.

Last night, when I got home, waiting for me (complete with a bow!) was a 6-pack of Grape Nehi. Pals Mike and Erin had bought it for me for my birthday. Mike had found it at Mast General Store downtown.

Tired from a long (if great!) day, I put a "M*A*S*H" DVD in the player, propped up my feet, found a bottle top opener, and took a swig.

Ahh, beautiful grape carbonated soda! I had forgotten how much I love ye.

Just got an e-mail saying my case of Grape Nehi is being shipped from Carolina today. I feel like a kid in a candy store.

It put a big grin on my face. And, it took me back to childhood for a few minutes. And, I was reminded once again that I have the best friends in the world.

Thanks, Radar.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 16, 2009


I get reflective around my birthday.

It came and went last Friday. Fun, fun. Cake and ice cream. Gifts and cards. Smile, cheese, flashbulb pops.

After it was over I came home, put "Magnum" on the DVD (great episode with Frank Sinatra), and cuddled up with a Carolina Blonde (sadly, a drink).

But, you know what the best present was? Time spent with friends.

I've got a bushel full of them. Several of them have been to hell and back with me. Others make me laugh, or think, or feel.

Friday night an old pal, Jason Buck, and a new pal, his father-in-law Barry, invited me to the Leaf & Ale. It was cool. Put me in mind of what an British club must have been like at the turn of the last century. From there, it was on to mom's to enjoy dinner (smoked ribs, baby!), cake (Red Velvet, of course!), ice cream (chocolate!) and presents ("Hawaii 5-0" DVD!).

Slept until after 1 on Saturday. Felt like crap from the nocturnal rumblings. Missed lunch with someone I wanted to see. (Sorry, Jen.) That night was a cookout at Shelton's that made up for the debacle earlier in the week. Burgers and dogs and baseball and belly laughs.

And I've got to mention the unexpected but blessed conversation with two special people. Words can't express what they've given me. Best thing I could have gotten for the big 3-1. I only hope I've halfway returned the favor.

Today was quiet, solitary, reflective. I needed to recharge. Haven't felt too well.

But, as dark as it sometimes gets, I think about what matters, the wonderful people who have shown up in my life when I needed them, and it's enough to make up for the times when nothing makes sense, life stands still, and I'm afraid cause I think it always will.

God, it's been fun, though. Rocking with RobinElla, laughing with Dean and Drew, Elvis quotes with Dewayne ("I don't pay any attention to movie magazines..."), books with Bridget and Sara, "The Critic" with JM, Conway Twitty and needed conversation with Brandy, what seems like 100 years with Shelton, Thomas Magnum and "True Grit", an eerie "Sideways" scenario with Frith, baseball and bluegrass, love and hate, heaven and hell, and how the weather was.

Sun sets on a Sunday. Time to face the reality of Monday.

I want to be at the beach, swing to the surf, take the Greyhound on the Hudson River Line in search of Samantha.

But as it is, I'll head into Halls, clean off my desk, sing my Shopper song.

And I'll look back at 31, forget about the sleepless nights, get by with a little help from my friends.

That's the gift that keeps on givin'.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Placer County, where the weather was a joker...

I think I've told you about this song before.

It is a haunting piece of music, full of depth, rife with emotion. And it's even more poignant because of its tragic tale.

The singer, by the way, is Johnny Mathis. The composer is Michael Moore (no, not that one!). And this song is called "Yellow Roses on her Gown." I had never heard of it until 11-12 years ago.

Briefly, it tells what I have later learned is a true story. A son describes his parents' marriage...how happy it was in the beginning when the family lived in San Francisco, and how strained it became later.

"I remember how they looked then, when their eyes were always living, and my father loved a girl with yellow roses on her gown."

And then they moved to Placer (pronounced with a short "a") County, "where the weather was a joker, and I watched my parents' laughter turn from amber into ice." He says the father would "bear and bear the insults of a pair of loaded dice." And the mother stood beside him, "though her heart was on the hillside of a city where a soldier and his lover bedded down..."

By the end of the song, the father is living eastward, near the Sacramento River, "and he swears to me he's happy with his practice and some land." And, in the springtime and the summer, when the fog is off the valley -- the narrator visits his dad on weekends, "but his grass is overgrown."

And the last part tells us the mother is dead..."sometimes after dinner, I will gaze away the evening, in the attic at a sash of yellow roses on her gown..."

I was struck by the song for several reasons. One, it is interesting stylistically in that it has no chorus or bridge. The closest is the repeating phrase "yellow roses on her gown."

Two, this song is filled with such emotion, such obvious pain, that I knew it had to be a true story.

And, sure enough, it turns out that the songwriter's father was a lawyer who represented those accused of being Communists during the McCarthy Era. The strain of it -- and the danger to his own reputation -- caused his marriage (and his life) to fall apart.

My friend Chuck Kincade (who lives in San Diego) said in response to an inquiry that Placer County is located in the Sierra Nevada, a desolate area that is perfect for those wishing to be alone. Hence, a perfect place for the father, when his grass is overgrown.

Such detail, such descriptive lyric (the words about the family's early life are quiet poetic), such overt passion, is rare in most popular music, at least to this degree. It's a heck of a song, one that deserves a better fate than to have become a forgotten album cut. You can hear it on YouTube if you get curious.

I respond to music. Fast and slow, happy and sad, it tends to stay with me. Isn't that what we really want all good songs to do?

Cause, as silly as it may sound, late at night I've often thought about the father who swears he's happy, though his grass is overgrown; and the mother who's heart was on a hillside; and the son up in the attic, in the evenings, gazing at a sash, with yellow roses on her gown.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 09, 2009


If I die tomorrow, this crazy journey will have been worth it because of "Teardrops."

Robinella sang it for me tonight. In some ways, it's the best (early) birthday present a guy could get. It's a sad song, poignant and melancholic, but it always sends me to the stratosphere.

It sounded so pretty -- Robin knocked it out of the park -- and as I listened, I thought about all the things that didn't work out. I will turn 31 on Friday; guess that's put me in an introspective mood.

One thing I like about that song is that it is so honest. "I know I won't make it if you don't love back; please, love me for all that I lack."

Isn't that what we ask of a lover? "I'm not perfect, but love me anyway." I guess I adore that song because it verbalizes feelings I'd otherwise never be able to tell a woman.

When it's hard to tell the nighttime from the day, I think about all the friends I have, all the fun times, all the crazy things I've done. And it makes the darkness visible.

I don't know. I fly up into the ether, wondering when I'm going to come down ("When are you going to land?"), and then I crash. But, hell. I'll deal with it.

I go about my day, try not to think about the nights, laugh it up, bluffing the world by rarely showing my hand.

And some nights, Robinella sings "Teardrops," I skyrocket into the stratosphere, and it's a memory to hold onto when I come down to earth.

Labels: ,