Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Forgive me while my heart bleeds

I'm going to rip open my heart and let it bleed awhile. Some is personal, some is political, some is existential. Just indulge me a few minutes, please.

Got a note that made my day.

It was from a fellow "M*A*S*H" maniac. Total surprise. He'd found something I'd written on TV writer Ken Levine's blog some time ago about my favorite "situation tragedy" and its landmark last episode.

And he reminded me of a great quote by the greatest shrink since Sigmund Freud, Sidney Freedman:

"Anger turned inwards is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye."

Hawkeye, if I need to explain him, is Benjamin Franklin Pierce of Crabapple Cove, Maine, played to perfection on "M*A*S*H" by the peerless Alan Alda. Hawkeye is my hero. And he is as real to me as my own mother -- and almost as influential.

"M*A*S*H" made me a better human being. I say that straight, no hyperbole.

It taught me that it is OK to cry now and again, to wear my heart on my sleeve, to care about my fellow human beings no matter their nationality, faith, gender, race, philosophy, or political persuasion.

It taught me that military conflict -- seemingly romantic in children's books about the Civil War -- is pure hell, pure and simple. The blood is quite real and turns Technicolor red, and the scars, physical and mental, are deep and wide and take time to heal.

It taught me that television can be more than mindless mush, that even the medium Newton Minow famously called a "vast wasteland" is capable of rising above itself, altruistically plucking the heartstrings of its audience like a finely-tuned Stradivarius.

It taught me to love with a capital L. It taught me not to be quick to judge. It taught me that women are so much more than what I'd been led to believe. It taught me that life is fleeting. It taught me things that no textbook ever could.

We live in troubled times. Anger hovers over our earth like ominously crimson clouds. It has permeated everything. Politics. Personalities. Religion. Recreation. Common ground. Common sense.

I am a lifelong learner. As corny as it sounds, I view each day as an opportunity to improve, to love, to laugh, to live. 

And yet some people just can't be content with living their own lives. They want to tell you whom you can love, how you should act, what you can do in your own home, how you should think. And, by god, if you disagree, you're un-American, or anti-Christian, or a communist, or a racist, or a fascist, or a fool. If you don't have a substantive argument, don't worry. Just shout down your opponent and start name-calling. You can even make millions doing that for a living.

I met a woman at Dewayne and Bridget's wedding named Erin. She is now a minister and a wonderful writer. Here is the post she wrote today. I agree with every word. If you don't, that's your right.

 Here is the money quote:

"People on all sides of the aisle, and from many states of belief, have had enough. Enough of ’faith’ being hauled out as a mask for all manner of ills; enough of political parties aligning themselves with religious groups, in a country that is supposed to protect one from the other; enough of labels that divide and tear down, when the essence of both faith AND country call us to connect and build up. It is becoming fully and profoundly clear that nothing good comes from this kind of politicking or preaching. And I can only hope that it signals an impending shift in the conversation."

Amen and amen.

I don't recognize this country anymore. I don't recognize this hatred. I don't recognize this intolerance. If you think the so-called Founding Fathers fought for this, you need an enema, a history lesson, or a heart transplant.

My heart is broken. It's broken over all of this, over people enslaved in any kind of bondage, unable to free themselves of literal or figurative shackles of slavery.

Longtime friends and readers know that I have suffered from migraines for two decades. They're getting worse. Part of it is personal. Part of it is philosophical. Part of it is from physical and mental exhaustion. I'm looking for space, to quote that poet laureate John Denver, lost in the sadness and the screams.

To me, phrases like land of the free, home of the brave, and all people are created equal are more -- much more -- than star-spangled slogans spiffed up each summer for Independence Day.

So let's get serious. Turn down the volume and turn on your heart. Use your ears more than your mouth. For God's sake, use your brain.

Love. Laugh. Live.

Where have you gone, Hawkeye Pierce? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Migraines and other monsters

Well, it's going to be a long night. (Expletive deleted) migraines. Ugh.

I've told you before that I don't like to complain. So many people are facing terrible circumstances, much worse than mine. In that sense, I'm grateful.

I'm also tired of constant, debilitating pain. I keep writing this blog (almost daily if I can swing it) just to stay sane.

It's nearly 3 a.m. as I write. I know tomorrow (well, later today) will be a long time, to paraphrase Dylan, but I can't get to sleep. So, I'm listening to the PBS "NewsHour" and talking to you.

I'm worried about the Ukraine situation. Scared about what Putin might do. Maybe it's just old, baseless fears. I hope so.

The Winter Olympics are over. My pal Dean and I may be the winter games' most passionate fans (at least in North Knox County), which is fine. I get caught up in the spectacle. Like Dean said, for two weeks we can at least pretend we're a world together as one, putting politics aside for sport.

Here is a favorite piece of music as a "So long!" salute to Sochi.

What else is new?

Before the massive migraine, I read a touching memoir by Jerry Lewis on his years with his old partner Dean Martin. It's a sad tale, one not told by an idiot. Jerry Lewis has been underrated for years. How frustrating that only the French seem to appreciate the best of his films.

Speaking of Dino, I bought the Bear Family box set "Return To Me." These are the Capitol recordings from the lush years. Warm, inviting work that Dino recorded just before he became a superstar for Reprise and on TV.

Well, I'm going to listen to the news and hope it lulls me to sleep. Hope you're having a better evening than I.

See ya soon. Good night, and good luck.

Those were the days...

And you knew who you were then;
Girls were girls, and men were men;
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.

Didn't need no welfare states;
Everybody pulled his weight;
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great;
Those were the daaaaaaaayyyyys...

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Musings on a Monday morning

There was a time when Sunday afternoons were reserved for newspapers and naps.

Some of that survives. Take yesterday, for instance. I fell asleep somewhere around 3 o'clock and slumbered for about two hours, awaking hungry and happy.

But social media changed everything. My attention span, if not gone, is greatly reduced.

I'd often use rainy or cold Sunday afternoons as time to read, 20 books or more a year. I still aim toward that bull's-eye, but often find my mind wandering, back to Facebook feeds, tweets, all this silly stuff that has become the way we live now.

It isn't all bad. I can now read The Sunday (London) Times in addition to print editions of the Sunday News Sentinel and The New York Times. I can read The Paper of Record seven days a week if I want. I have access to stories I would have otherwise missed if not for social media. I keep up with friends I never see.

Still, something is awry, amiss, out of place, out of sync.

I wonder what will happen when a generation that knows nothing about three-channel TV and can't remember a time without Facebook or YouTube comes of age. My suspicion is everything and nothing will change.

I do lament the lost art of conversation. I am attracted to people who know the language, who revere it even, people who use it well, who think about words and ideas and who might have even read a story or two in The New Yorker.

Time marches on, as it must, some good, some bad, some in between to be had, more shades of gray than monochrome.

Musings on a Monday morning. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dreaming, scheming and screaming in the wee small hours

Up late. Can't sleep. Dreaming with Dino.

Except I'm having to listen to the digital "Dream With Dean" and not this beautiful vinyl pictured at left because it arrived warped. That's kinda like waking up on Christmas morning to find out your toy takes batteries that you don't have in the house.

Ah, well. No big deal.

And, no. I'm not really scheming or screaming. I just liked the rhyme.

No, I'm just dreaming. Dreaming about springtime, mostly.

It was nice today. Warm. Wonderful. Would've been perfect without a whopper of a migraine. But, hey. Could be worse, right?

So, yeah. I'm dreaming of spring, of soft, sunny days and cool, quiet nights.

I'm dreaming of baseball, of Opening Day, of that childlike wonder that makes you all giddy inside when you eat your first hot dog at your first game of the season, spilling mustard on your scorecard, singing like nobody can hear you during the seventh inning stretch.

I'm dreaming of beautiful dogwoods, of daffodils, of deciduous trees in bloom.

I'm dreaming of a bed and breakfast by the bay, drinking an adult beverage at the bar down the street, and of strolling along the shore.

I'm dreaming of the day I can dance again and really mean it.

I'm dreaming of you and the night and the music, slow dancing, "some of the old song, Sam."

Until that spring is sprung, I've got a pocketful of dreams, Dean, Frank, Bing, King, cards and letters, words and rhyme.

It's enough.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The budding feminist

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my niece Lydia Maisen Sharp, the budding feminist.

Let me tell you what this precocious three-year-old did a couple of nights ago.

She was saying her evening prayers, stopped, looked at my sister and said, "Mama, when we pray, why do we say 'Amen' instead of "Awomen'"?

I beamed with pride.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I want to live...

Color me corny, but John Denver has always been a favorite.

I adored his songs in childhood, watching the orange RCA label spin round and around on my record player, singing along to "Annie's Song" and "Take Me Home Country Roads."

He was a gentle soul, humanitarian with a heart, composer of my life's theme song, "Looking For Space." Whether I always agreed with his politics didn't matter. He was sincere, and I admire honesty.

Remember where I was in October 1997 when I learned he died in a plane crash. Shocked. Stunned. Shaken.

His music endures. It's a shame he's ridiculed in some circles, mostly by musical snobs who overlook among other things his skill at songwriting.

Today, I thought of one of his more heartfelt songs, "I Want To Live."

No more hunger, no more killing, no more wasting life away; it is simply an idea, and I know its time has come...

Regardless of one's place on the political spectrum, how can you argue with that lyric?

My wish for you tonight is peace, love, longevity and harmony.

Far out!

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Pieces of poetry, woven in a Webb

Something happened a decade or so before I was born that shaped my life forever.

People were in an introspective mood. It's easy to understand. The upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s -- Civil Rights, feminism, Vietnam, Watergate -- had left their marks.

Everyone from philosophers to filmmakers were trying to make sense of it all. One songwriter in particular, Jimmy Webb, created pieces of poetry. He set them to music. Singers as varied as Glen Campbell and Richard Harris (!) were his interpreters.

Jimmy Webb is my favorite songwriter. He created songs that stretch deep and wide, plucking my heartstrings. Glen Travis Campbell was his most frequent and best conduit. (Although don't miss a fantastic more recent album of Webb's songs as sung by the superb Michael Feinstein.)

Last night I heard a line. No, scratch that. Last night, I heard the line.

And I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time...

So I dug out my vinyl copy of "Wichita Lineman." Whether by Webb or someone else, the songs grabbed me, stabbed me, convinced me this is Glen Campbell's best work.

Besides the title track, the album features Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," "If You Go Away," The Brothers Gibb's "Words," Campbell's own composition "Fate of Man," the unfairly maligned "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife," Sonny Curtis' "The Straight Life," and Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe."

Glen Campbell was at the top of the mountain here, as was Webb and arranger/producer Al De Lory. With a couple of misses (I'd prefer never to hear Billy Edd Wheeler's "Ann" ever again), this is an almost perfect phonograph.

Webb's lyrics, like others of the period, are light-years removed from today's popular music. I even like his mercilessly ridiculed "MacArthur Park," and I don't care what you think about that. It's a beautiful song, bombastic but majestic in its way, particularly the bridge (After all the loves of my life, I'll be thinking of you...).

What's more romantic than saying you need your love more than you want her, and you'll love her for all time?

Poetry, my friends. Pure poetry.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

In my life

What a strange, wonderful, horrible, amazing, awful thing is this roller coaster ride we call life.

It's easy to get cynical, but one mustn't. Oh, no. We owe that to our fellow human beings. Heck, we owe it to our sanity.

This morning on Facebook, I read some of the most terrible tripe to ever trip off anyone's tongue, the product of ignorance and itty bitty minds. One wants to make fun, but no. No time for that. What is it Jimmy Stewart says in "Harvey"?

"Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me."

Whirlwind week. Took Mom to see John Mathis in Alabama last weekend. What a guy. Seventy-eight years old. Sings super. On and on the hits came -- "Misty" and "Twelfth of Never" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New" and "Chances Are" and "Yesterday" and everything you'd expect.

Speaking of the last song, I have to give a nod to Lennon/McCartney. Everybody's caught Beatlemania again. Fiftieth anniversary of the Invasion, you know. My interest in them lies in their harmony and their songwriting. "Yesterday" was McCartney's, just like "Something" was Harrison's. Incidentally, they are the two most covered songs in music history.

But my favorite? Well, other than "Let It Be" (also mostly McCartney's, I might add), it's got to be "In My Life."

With lovers and friends, I still can recall;
Some are dead and some are living; 
In my life, I've loved them all...

Look around. You'll see it everywhere. Gold in the sun. Silver in the stars. Sweetness in smiles. Joy in the morning. Magic at midnight.

Music keeps me going these days. Music, books, ideas, Dean Martin roasts, all the important things in life.

Yesterday, buddy Spencer and I spent the afternoon trolling the record stores. I felt bad about how much I spent until I heard about Dean Harned's bar tab...

Sunday morning came on easy, "Sunday Morning" and "Tennessee This Week" and the newspapers, Dino and The Beatles on the turntable.

I'm going to go eat barbecue and pick up an album I left lying down at Lost and Found yesterday. "The Lush Years." Dedicated to Dean -- Martin or Harned.

 Life is good. Do yourself a favor. Love your friends. Love your enemies. Love your family. Love everybody. Love life.

I know I'll often stop and think about them; 
In my life, I love you more...

Thursday, February 06, 2014

You know what they say...

Once you go vinyl, you'll never go back...

(Some of us never left!)

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

'Keillor Geography'

OK, y'all. Confession time.

Sometimes -- in the wee small hours, on cold and cloudy days, anytime "Sunday in New York" is showing on TCM -- I dream of disappearing.

I fantasize about moving to Manhattan, working for The New Yorker, begging Charles Osgood for a job on "CBS Sunday Morning," going to see Jonathan Schwartz at WNYC. Other days, I head to Hawaii, Maui mornings, spectacular sunsets.

I've told you before about Garrison Keillor's novel "Love Me." My friend Bridget turned me on to it in 2008. It was my fantasy come to fruition -- writing a best-seller, leaving home for the big time in the Big Apple, working for the late, great William Shawn.

But then I'll receive a note about something I've written from someone down the street. Out of the blue, I'll get a thank you card, or someone will stop by just to shoot the you-know-what. Best of all, my loved ones are here. And I think, "No. At least for now, this is where I need to be."

To my complete and utter delight, Keillor agrees. Read his National Geographic article, folks. This is WRITING. And it has the added benefit of being true.

(Shout out to Fountain City guy Charles Williams for suggesting I read this piece to rid my mind of the fear that we're entering a new Dark Age.)

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

So much for that...

Welp, so much for me placing an order with Mark Kaufman Furs for a coat like the one Broadway Joe Namath wore to the Super Bowl.

I don't have the $3,000...

But, I do have a Members Only jacket from the 1980s and a 1970s era Elvis pimp coat!

Meanwhile, Namath's coat even has its own Twitter account. Here's the story.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

In one place, a generation lost in space...

Feb. 3, 1959

But something touched me deep inside,
The day the music died...

Sing it, Don.

RIP, Buddy, Bopper, and Ritchie.

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

New sound, no silence; Garfunkel shines in Knox

Anticipation mounted.

You knew it was coming. The only question was when. And then:

Hello, darkness, my old friend;
I've come to talk with you again...

I hit my knee with my hand, not to keep time, but to reassure myself that I was six or eight rows back from Art Garfunkel, hearing a song that has long haunted my life.

He was here in Knox Vegas last night at the town's best acoustic venue, the intimate, inviting Bijou Theatre. And, oh, how the memories quickly mounted.

Even without Paul Simon, Garfunkel was great. More than great. He was grand, and I'll tell you why. Art Garfunkel has recovered from a vocal cord problem. That voice, the soaring voice that took us on the "Bridge Over Troubled Water," was nearly silenced.

No, no. Art worked hard. It healed.

And he went back on the road. It's just him, a guitarist, and occasional appearances by his son Art Jr. When father and son sang together, oh, boy. Oh, boy.

In between songs, he interspersed pieces of poetry he's written. So, when he took questions, I asked him which poet inspires him. His answer? Dylan Thomas. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Somebody told him that Phil Everly, whom we lost last month, went to West High School. He didn't know that, liked it, and paid homage to Phil and Don, whose harmonies influenced everybody from Garfunkel and Simon (I feel like reversing that order for once!) to John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Time marches on, as it must. Garfunkel looks like an accountant who's nearing retirement. Gone is the big hair and the tall, slender physique.

But that voice? It endures.

Garfunkel got standing ovations for "The Sound of Silence" and "Bridge."

No, he didn't go for the gold at the end of the latter song. That's OK. He didn't have to.

He's already been there.

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Welcome to Philco Radio Time!

Filling in for Bing Crosby, I'm Jake Mabe!

Bought this beaut today from a nice fella named Eric, who lives up in Dandridge. Found it on eBay and he agreed to meet me rather than risk damage during shipping.

Eric restores radios, says there's just something about the sound from a tube set. I concur.

Just picked up WYSH/WGAP and have heard Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, Eddy Arnold and The Statler Brothers in the past 30 minutes.

Classic country, indeed!

Happy Saturday, y'all.

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