Old Connections

Tonight I taught a guitar lesson for a young girl named Caitlin Robinson. She’s the daughter of Kim and Libby Robinson, now divorced. Kim is the older brother of Dave and Dave is one of my oldest friends.

I was introduced to Dave in 1973 by my cousin Russ. They were juniors at Cleveland High School that year and I was a freshman. I didn’t get to know him to well until the following year when we had the same Creative Writing class. This is when I learned that Dave was a gifted writer. Our teacher, Mr. Tom Potthast, (now deceased) always had an assignment for us. Every single night. It was usually not required to be lengthy, and many times he would just make something up as the bell was ringing. As we’re all standing up to get to our next class, he would yell out, “OK, 500 words on…(small pause)…A radio show; you’re a script writer for a radio show. 500 words.”

I’d be saying to myself, “What the…?”

But Dave, well he’d wait until right before class the next day and write his 500 words in about 3 minutes. And they were always good. He made A’s through the whole semester.

Then I learned he also wrote songs and played guitar. He loved Bob Dylan. He sang like Bob Dylan. You know, not so good. But, hey, I didn’t sing at all.

Well over the next few years, after high school and after my one failed year in college, we became working partners. The thing I liked most about Dave was that he was serious. He took music and practicing music seriously. But eventually we realized our plans were not bringing home the bacon, so he took a job in the kitchen of O’Connell’s Pub, where his older brother Kim worked as bartender. A few weeks later, he called in Russ, and then a week after that they called me. That was 1979.

I remember saying to myself, “I’ll work here just long enough to get the money for my electric guitar and amplifier. Then I’ll be ready to make it with a band.” I figured about nine months. I was there ten years.

In the meantime, I played a lot of guitar. I got pretty good at it and when Kim finally asked Libby to marry him, they asked me to play at their wedding. So, tonight I give a guitar lesson to their sixteen year old daughter who by the way has a teacher that I had as a freshman. A big guy name Skip Gatorman. I remembered that Mr. Gatorman played Harvey the rabbit in a school play one year. I told Caitlin to call him Harvey one time and see what he says.

Slice of life (and sometimes death)

OK, so I’m going to try a slice of life from yesteryear.

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to play and perform music. I wasn’t exactly a go-getter though, so many of my opportunities had to hit head-on for me to take advantage of them. My older sister Becky had a guitar and I plucked around on that from about age eight and took some lessons at about age 12. But, I really wanted to play drums. My dad told me that if I took some lessons on the drum, he’d buy me one. (One drum?! To get started, I guess.)

So, I got up enough nerve to approach the music director at Woodward Elementary and I asked him, “I’d like to play the drums. Can I play the drums?”

He just looked at me. “I already know how to read music,” I continued.

Finally, he spoke, “I don’t need a drummer. How about the trumpet?”

I answered immediately, “OK!”

So, I took my coronet home that day at lunchtime and learned to play my C scale. Played my little coronet through seventh and eighth grade and then headed for high-school. And, though I was the first chair at Woodward grade school, I just didn’t see myself enrolling in the Concert Band in high school. I signed up for the Junior Band. It turned out to be a wise decision.

By being in this junior band I was able to spend time with the music director at Cleveland High School in 1973. His name was Ed Levinski. He had played trumpet for Lawrence Welk. He was impressed both with my decision to join the Junior Band instead of the Concert Band and the sight of me taking my instrument home every night to practice. He spent many an hour in Junior Band teaching me music. I developed a somewhat close relationship with him. I remember him telling us the story of how he’d survived a tornado that hit his home and shot a wooden banister right into his belly! That was pretty cool when your fourteen years old.

Anyway, one day he was sitting in the chair next to me with his hand on his chin, just staring at me. He kind of started, then stopped, then finally said to me, “Rich, would you like to try playing the French Horn?”

“The what?” I asked.

“You know, the Horn? We really need a horn player in the concert band and I think you could do it.”

Well, I didn’t care what a “horn” was, the director just invited me to join the Concert Band! “Well, sure!,” I said.

He went over to pick out a horn, gave me a book and told me to practice with it for a few days. And, just like switching from drums to trumpet, I never gave it a second thought. I was now a Horn player.

I joined the concert band and I was on top of the world. Except for one thing: this “horn” was a monster! Turns out there are different horns. There’s a B-flat horn, an F-horn, an E-flat horn. He didn’t mention all of this. Which one did I have? Now that I was in Concert Band, he didn’t have time to spend with me like he used to. I didn’t want to ask him or tell him I was having trouble figuring it all out.

Then one evening while home, the phone rang. My dad took the call. He hung up and came to talk to me. I still remember his exact words, “Are you ready for some bad news?”

“No,” I replied.

“Mr. Levinski had a heart attack and died this evening.”

I said nothing. I ran upstairs to my room so he wouldn’t see me cry. I remember my friend Chris Stift calling on the phone just then, I told my sister that I couldn’t talk. My dad had to go to a meeting that night, I know he wanted to stay. My mom talked to me for a few minutes, then left me alone. I cried some more.

Later, after I’d turned the lights out to go to sleep, my dad came in my room. He offered a few words of solace, but we didn’t really talk. Looking back on it, I know what an effort it was for him just to come in the room.

Mr. Levinski was dead. Every time I see Lawrence Welk on TV (it still runs on Sat night on PBS) I think I seem him in the back row playing his trumpet. I don’t know if it’s him or not. It might be.

Tim’s Blog

You know, I was lamenting the other night that I just don’t have anything to write about. Write about my day? No thanks. Of course, some days are busy and fulfilling and I’ve written about those. But then I have a couple of real boring days in a row and I feel like I got nothin’.

Then I read Tim’s entry from last night. It was great. Just a slice of life. Just a slice of his life from a while back, that is. Hey, great idea. I can do that. I’m going to try tonight. Be sure to read Tim’s Blog.

I tried to be good

You know, I tried. I’ve tried to keep politics out of this blog. Mainly because there are so many other blogs that do that. I’m not going to start ranting, but I have to write about something that happened today.

I attended a Methodist seminar today. These things are by nature stupid and slow. Why do I go? Usually I would go to support a new Christian who may be exploring the idea of getting more involved in our church. Also, to support our pastor who many times is pressured to attend these things by his boss. So I go.

There are two sessions today (Saturday; one was last night but I just couldn’t do it). The first one was “The 21st Century Worship Experience.” Well, if a laptop and a Powerpoint presentation is 21st Century, I think even my little church has got that one covered. It was lame, though the young people who presented it were, I thought, probably good vibrant church leaders in their element.

The second one, though, wow. It was given by an ex-Jesuit and it was called something like Asset-based community organizations. I don’t know what is was called. It was one of those two-sentence titles. Anyway, here’s a couple of quotes from the guy:

After presenting a hypothetical dilemma He asked, “What should you do?”

Someone spoke up to say, “Pray.”

He says, “Na, that won’t do any good, what else?”

“OK,” I’m thinking to myself, “What time is it?”

Another remark from this guy was, “Jesus is just another Jew on a cross without St. Paul.”

Alrighty then. Now I just want to leave. But no, he looks right at me and asks, “What do you think so far?”

I say, “Well, I tend to look at things from the other side.”

That’s all I said. Now I do give the guy credit for being sharp. From that one statement he concluded that I was a right-wing fascist. Without taking a breath he accuses me of not supporting a women’s right to vote (that’s right, I said vote, not choose!) and of not supporting Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. Wow. Then he said Rush Limbaugh should be kicked off the air for making racist comments. I was flabbergasted. I thought to myself, “I’m going to go down the hall to another session, I think they might be talking about Jesus down there.”

But, thankfully, it was over. We’ve got alot of work to do in the Methodist Church. Tomorrow, I get back to work.

I don’t have the nerve

I don’t think I have the nerve to write well. I got out my Rust Never Sleeps songbook and went through it. I sang Pocahontas and Powderfinger, the two really good ones from that album. Here’s the fourth verse of Pocahontas:

I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the morning on the fields of green
In the homeland we’ve never seen

C’mon! If I wrote that…I couldn’t write that. Yet, it’s a great song.

And so is Powderfinger. It’s so vivid:

Daddy’s rifle in my hand felt reassurin’
He told me, “Red means run, son, and numbers add up to nothin’ ”

Then the last verse starts:

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger

That is great stuff.

I’m just going to keep on pluggin’ away here and see what happens. Here’s a verse and a chorus of a song I wrote a lifetime ago:

Evening turns over
Early in October
I’m alone again
How long has it been?

A couple of years, a couple of tears
The autumn always seems to be
A time of remembrance to me

‘Cause the moon goes around the earth
And the earth, it circles the sun
We come around and do it all over again
Somehow, it just doesn’t seem the same this time around
To me

I gotta get some Johnny Cash

On the way home from work tonight, listening to NPR, I heard a bit of Johnny Cash singing “Pocahontas” (written by Neil Young). Wow. It sounded so…so…I don’t know; real?, powerful? There are several really good songs on that Neil Young album, Rust Never Sleeps. My favorite is Powderfinger. When I heard Cash singing this song, I reminded myself that I don’t have to sing in the same key as Neil. Johnny was probably two octaves below the original. I’m gonna get that music book out and try it. I’ve also got to go buy some Johnny Cash CDs. I’ve been meaning to, I just never get around to it.

I can really appreciate a good writer. Lyrics, fiction, non-fiction, haiku; whatever. It’s a lot of work. You really got to have something to say. (a little voice in my head just told me, “yeah, so why don’t you shutup!”) Damn!, now I just remembered I was supposed to go over to my mother’s house sometime this week to set up her VCR. I forgot. That is, her fourth VCR in as many weeks. She just a little picky when it comes to her taping. I don’t blame her.

Went to Steak N Shake with my dad and my wife last night. I felt like I was in a Twighlight Zone episode. These two worlds are not supposed to meet! Chaos could ensue! But, both of them had a good time and I was happy to watch them get along so well. And, yes, I barely got two words in edgewise.

The envelope formerly known as the envelope

I was watching a morning news show last week with an interview with Prince, or whatever his name his now. You know, Prince. I’m assuming they asked him about the Janet Jackson thing at the Super Bowl and the conversation edged into artists “pushing the envelope.” They were speaking specifically about sexuality on stage or in videos, something Prince used to be known for. As he was speaking they would show some short clips of videos from today’s hit songs. This is when he was asked, “what would be pushing the envelope today?” He said, “today not pushing the envelope would be pushing the envelope.” Wow. I guess I should be making videos. I could do that.

That got me thinking about my new guitar amplifier. It has twelve digital “signatures” built in. They digitally mimic the “envelope pushing” sounds of the rock guitar. The distortion, phase-shifter, flange etc., they all started with artists pushing their equipment to places it wasn’t meant to be. And now, it’s just a click away. So, in art, mimicking the pushing of the envelope isn’t the same as actually pushing the envelope. I think Prince was right.

Google Ads

Don’t you just love technology? The banner ad at the top of this page is generated by Google Technology. The ad is there because I’m using this web space as a free service. I have nothing to do with what the ads say or advertise. In fact, no person has anything to do with what the ads say. It (the technology) reads the text of my blog and grabs keywords that are frequent search terms and displays them as links to articles and products related to these words. It just strange for some reason. I don’t know why. I find myself clicking on the ad many times just to see what’s out there. Click here for some news on Google. That’s it, I just thought that was interesting.

Wrong Question

After listening to a great sermon on Sunday morning, I used it to start conversation in Sunday school right afterwards. I started it out by asking everyone to give me and example of something that is either legal but immoral or illegal yet moral. Of course, the first thing I hear is abortion. I moved quickly, “OK, what else?” Then came capital punishment, the right to bear arms, free speech. It all came down on me fast. I wanted to focus on the concept of watching out for “the wrong question.” In other words, being alert to the probable agenda of the person you’re talking to. And don’t just jump to conclusions about that word agenda either, cause everybody’s got one. The question you have to ask yourself is, “do I want to have this conversation?” If the answer is no, then walk away or change the subject to baseball or the weather. But if the answer is yes you do want to have the conversation, then you’d better be prepared for the “wrong question.”

Here’s an easy example: “How do you feel about a woman’s right to choose?” Now, you know what the person is talking about and it isn’t choosing her skin cream. If you are against abortion (remember you want to have this conversation) then you might not want to reply, “Choose murder?! Do we have the right to choose murder?”

Now let’s look at the other side. “How do you feel about the legality of ending the life of an unborn child?” If you are for a woman’s right to choose abortion (and you want to have this conversation) you shouldn’t reply, “A woman has the right to govern whatever goes on in her body.”

Why not? What’s wrong with these responses? What’s wrong with them is that they side-step the underlying issue. Unless you talk about what lies at the heart of both people’s belief system, you’ll get nowhere. The usual dilemma is that traditional religious folks have no trouble telling exactly what they believe and why, but your average American secularist will claim that “beliefs” hold no part of the argument. This, of course, is hogwash. What they really mean to say is “Your religious beliefs are wrong and the federal judiciary has agreed with me.” This would be a more truthful response by the secularist.

Now you have an argument! The religious person says that the fetus is sacred therefore you have no right to end its life. The secularist says that babies are cute and all, but a woman’s right to choose what goes on in her own body is sacred and therefore can’t be infringed upon. Then you must both discuss what it is that you base your beliefs on. Religous people ususally have the upper hand here because they work on it all the time. Your average secularist has no idea what classical naturalism or humanism is. They should work on that and explore the tapestry of modern thought. I recommend the militant atheist lesbian feminist Camille Paglia. She’s great.

A note to all my religious friends: you should help people in this journey. Don’t be afraid to encourage people to explore the logical outcomes of their logic. Everybody is searching for truth. If you’re right, they’re likely to find it some day. If you’re wrong it doesn’t matter anyway.

A note to all my atheist friends: you should help people in this journey. Don’t be afraid to encourage people to explore the logical outcomes of their logic. Everybody is searching for truth. If you’re right none of this matters anyway. If you’re wrong, maybe you’ll have helped someone turn down the right path.

Another normal (whirlwind) weekend

Friday night is Bible study at church. But, most of the new sound system came in and it has to be up and running by tomorrow night in fellowship hall. We didn’t get the speakers. Think we’ll need them? The pastor says, “I know where we can get some.” I don’t ask, but I know they just bought some over at the other church he serves.

Saturday morning we’ve got speakers. I spend all day at church setting up the hall with the new system, learning to work it etc. About noon Lee (the pastor) says, “So, you ready to do those labels?” I forgot, we’re mailing five-thousand glossy postcards for Lent and I volunteered to do the addresses and labels. He stays up half the night formatting the postcard and I bring the label file home and ask Annette to do it for me.

Saturday night was the big coffee house. It went OK. Lots of small technical problems that Annette says nobody but me noticed. I hope so. We did the Beatle sing-a-long at the end and everybody had a great time getting up in front of the microphones to sing. I had fun showing off with my electric guitar. I’d been practicing my Beatle licks for a month now. My old pal Dave came in from Nashville to buy his niece a guitar, and he sang a couple of songs. Then, about 20 of us all went out to eat afterwards.

The youth took over fellowship hall for their own coffee house after we left. From the looks of it they had about 60 or 70 people. It looked like a lot of fun. When we came back from eating at about 11:00 pm. I came in the side door to peer onto the stage, and there was my daughter, playing my Gibson Dove and performing with Lee’s daughter Maria. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I cried. I know it sounds silly, but this is a guitar that I know she will own some day. And, you know what day that will be. She will play it and remember her dear old dad. The guy who she thought wrote Twist and Shout until she was about eight years old. She told me today that “some guy”, one of the kids’ dad, said to her, “Where did you get that guitar?” I think it’s sinking in that it’s not just any guitar.

So, then I have to re-assemble the sanctuary’s sound system that I tore apart to use all the cables. I got done about 12:30 am. Then I remember, I’m singing in church in the morning. Singing as in a solo and a guitar solo.

Get up early Sunday morning to prepare for church. The music went good. Led a good Sunday School, though it got a little edgy when I dipped into some social issues. Ooh, can’t do that! People are so sensitive! So what if we disagree… is it gonna kill you?!

Anyway, went home, took a little nap. Got up, went back to church for the labeling party. A handful of the steadfast were there to print, cut and label 5,000 postcards. It’s an honor to work with these people.

OK, have I impressed you? Good, I’m going to bed!