Thursday, September 29, 2011

The King and I

"Do you have a piece of wood that Elvis stepped on?" my pal, Bobby Glazier, asked on the kickball court in 1956, as though it were a common question.

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know," Bobby replied. "My brother got one. He sent off to Jiffy Pop."

I was in the fourth grade at Roosevelt Elementary in Tampa. Instead of walking home that afternoon I went straight to Kwik Chek, the only grocery store between school and home. I found the popcorn aisle and grabbed a jar of Jiffy Pop. There was no mention of any Elvis wood on the label. I frantically searched the other brands and found nothing. I decided to take my chance and purchased the jar. I took my purchase home, copied the manufacturer's address on an envelope and taped a quarter to a card on which I sent my request for a piece of wood that Elvis Presley had stepped on. Of course none of this made any sense but I had no other information.

Weeks went by and nothing. I was pretty much used to the idea of mailing off quarters and receiving nothing. Usually from Kellogs. I still don't know whether to distrust cereal companies or the postal service.

Finally an official looking yellow post card with a green border came with a sliver of wood attached. Burned into the little slab was "Elvis Stepped Here." The card certified that the company had purchased the little shack that Elvis had been born in in East Tupelo, Mississippi and torn it down. They guaranteed that the wood came from the home and that Elvis had stepped on it. Man!

I tore the little treasure off the card and pasted it prominently in my rock'n'roll scrapbook.

Years went by and I saw a story on the evening news that the home that Elvis had been born in had become something of a tourist shrine. I was not happy about having been cheated. Still makes me mad. I didn't want to ruin the page in my scrapbook, however, so I left it on the page.

More years went by. I was in Crystal River talking to Elvis. He was in Florida filming "Follow That Dream." I think it was 1960. I would manage to find someone old enough to drive to take me the sixty or seventy miles every day to spend time with my idol.

On this day he was poking through the scrapbook and came across the little wood piece.

"What's that?" he asked.

I told him this same, stupid story. He laughed, tore it off the page, bent down and placed it on the ground. Then he stood on it while he signed souvenirs and pictures for all of us.

I keep it in the box with my rock'n'roll scrapbook today.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make 'Em Cry

"Why are your songs so dark, so sad?" The German journalist across the table was all decked out in black and was wearing sunglasses inside. At night. It all seemed a bit like a bad skit on Saturday Night Live.

Honestly, I had never thought about the idea that most everything that I write deals with heartache, betrayal, loss and breakup. Of course I dabble in murder and suicide on occasion, too.

I've been wrestling with his question since then and that was probably ten or twelve years ago. Others have asked the same thing a little less dramatically since.

I wanted to believe that to a casual listener who primarily spoke a language other than English that my darkish sense of humor just didn't translate well. Most of my stuff has always seemed like comedy to me. In fact, if anyone before that time had asked me what I wrote about I'm sure that I would have answered that I dealt in sarcastic social commentary and anything that rhymed.

My awareness of the sad personal junk that I post on any of the social networking sites comes from all of the sweet responses that I get from old friends, folks that I barely know and even complete strangers. I suppose that it must read like I'm some kind of self indulgent big mouth looking for sympathy and attention. I hope that's not it. I tend to think of myself as the wise guy in the room who is all talk but who has pretty good intentions.

Yeah, I still think of my material as comedy. I know, I know. All of that comedy that we all grew up on is based on sadness and fear.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's Wrong With Me?

In 1961 I didn't receive much mail. At fourteen I had pretty much quit ordering from the back of Rice Krispies  and I had enough the rock'n'roll pictures to last a lifetime. When the letter with a local postmark arrived I was anxious to get to it.

Long, hand written letter with no real signature it was meant to help straighten me out. It was from a group of girls from my junior high school. The opening signaled an optimistic correspondence. It began, more or less, "We think you are really neat, but...". It was all downhill from that point. I remember that hot rods were really out of fashion and wrestling was dumb. According to my letter.

I wish that I could remember all of my other faults that were listed. There were plenty. I'm reasonably sure that the girls were right on target.

Since that dark day I have received more written critiques on my many faults from women who wanted, somehow, to help me fix myself. I am aware that this reads as sarcastic. It is not meant to be. I don't know that I have managed to fix much but I have taken it all to heart and I have changed what I could change and I have tried to be a better person based on everything that has been offered as advice.

I suppose that we are all just who we are. I hope that I am better than I might have been if these women had not offered suggestions for change. I try harder than it appears I suppose.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Career" Move

You have no idea how frequently I am asked, "You have any idea how big you would be if you died?" Sometimes the enquirer will delicately phrase the question to imply that maybe I should just write a book. That's nice but I know what they're thinking.

Is it really possible that this guy has played his beat down old heart out for nearly fifty years and this is all that he has to show for it? No gold records? No big hits?

Hey, sometimes I wonder what on earth would keep a nose to this particular grindstone. I look at where the careers of folks from Hank Williams to Anna Nicole Smith were at the time of their demise and I understand what my hopeful friends are getting at.

We always end up with faulty memories of where our heroes were in the grand scheme of things, career-wise, at their demise.

My tales about Elvis offering to teach me karate or holding up Jimi's amps or Tiny Tim bringing me a photo booth picture and telling me that he would see me in heaven all get wildly magnified in any imaginary obituary piece. I'll bet the sad songs would sound a lot sadder, too.

Don't misunderstand me here. I don't want to kick the bucket. Ever. For me it's beneath cutting the grass or having a filling replaced. The whole concept seems creepy and boring to me.

Maybe we will have a little pretend poll here, though. Let me know what you think. Ex-wives are ineligible.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pink Diamonds, Wet Tears And The Voices In My Head

Why do folks kill one another for diamonds and emeralds when there are big chunks of broken 7 Up bottles and busted windshields all over the streets? Then again, why do fools fall in love? I'm busy trying to reconnect my head with my heart and I suspect that I'm failing at it. Again.

I'm happy about who I am except for when I'm not. I wish I had secrets to keep. Too late. I will tell anybody anything. Don't misunderstand. If you ask me to keep a secret I can. I will. Those are your secrets, though, not mine. I have no mystique. I suppose that makes me something of the Anti-Dylan, huh?

Everyone is good to me. I mean really good. I like that. Sorta' takes all the pressure off of buying lotto tickets.

I should work harder but then it wouldn't really be the work that I'm meant to do, would it? We all have unique roles in the cosmos but I have come to see mine as unique among the unique. I'm holding mirrors up to mirrors here but I'm doing it all in the key of C. No sharps, no flats, all white keys. Of course we're gonna have to go to some minors here if it's headed for sad, but I'd rather not. I don't want any more blues just now.

I hope love becomes the rage again. All hep and all fashionable. Boy!
Me and my cousin, Jimmy. I can't recall our dates' names. Maybe Jimmy remembers.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unconditional Love, Unrequited Love

My earliest memories are deliriously happy ones, secure, safe and loving. I was raised by a single mom but the towering influence in my life was my grandmother, Lottie. Always spoiled, I got everything that I wanted, including plenty that I didn't need. My working mother sacrificed plenty of basic needs for herself to provide me with frivolous junk. By the time that I was old enough to drive legally I was on my third car, a '32 Ford three window coupe with a 283 Corvette engine. My first "real" electric guitar was a 3 pickup Rickenbacker. This is not the smartest way to build character in your kid and I suspect that my mom knew this at some level.

Now the other side of this coin is that I was loved beyond reason and wrapped up in the soul of the sweetest and wisest woman that you can imagine. Grandma had raised her five children as a single mother after my grandfather had died at an early age from Bright's Disease. She had done the best that she could, working full time managing the school cafeteria in their small town of Jemison, Alabama.

She moved in with my mom to take care of me, freeing my mother to work as an information operator at the telephone company to provide for us. Grandma was not going to miss a moment with her beloved Ronny. I wish that everyone could grow up in similar circumstances. Every important thing that I know I learned from her. She taught me to pray, "Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war."

I suppose that we were praying for an end to the Korean War at the time. By the time that I was old enough to consider war and peace as a concept, I realized that there are no good wars.

Now, as a seasoned failure at romance, I question my humanity and my worth. I recently had a superficial conversation with a friend who explained to me that she is suffering through a terrible bout of the blues based on unrequited love. She's in love with him. He's not in love with her. It broke my heart just to hear her say the words.

Alan Watts once said, "Never to pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command."

I don't know that I have ever really changed my mind about anything. I don't know that I have any understanding of the concept of falling out of love. The friends that I made as a kid are still my friends and I love them dearly.

I pout and feel sorry for myself when I think that I'm wronged or mistreated and I'm quick to lash out when I feel hurt. That has never been anything but a crude defensive device to ward off hurt. I forgive immediately and I'm quick to apologize.

If I am a square hole in this round peg world I think that it comes from being spoiled with love. Unconditional love, the richest gift in the world.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Now What?

Again I find myself searching for truth and some kind of role in the cosmos. Do I fall too fast, love too hard? Yeah, you bet. I've been called stupid and I won't hop to my feet to defend myself. Sometimes my own sense of right and fair doesn't line up with any majority, moral or otherwise. I want to love and share and I want to play naked in the rain. I don't want to pretend that I don't find it sexy, either.

I can see that we have overbuilt housing in this country. Just take a look at the Channel District right in Tampa. Empty condos and townhouses reaching to the clouds. There are plans being floated to go in some areas of the country and begin tearing down some of the housing surplus.

Wait a minute. What about one of our other problems, the homeless? Families living out of automobiles in all of our major cities.

Shouldn't someone be combining all efforts towards these two problems? I'm not all that bright. Check the first paragraph here. I'm the stupid one.

How about the fact that the USA has slipped to #49 in infant mortality in the world. Last I heard we were paying for the health care of all of those folks in Washington who decide what will happen to the rest of us regarding our health care.

That's not right. Let me stand up right here, right now for the babies being born who can't stand up for themselves. Let me lend my voice to the folks out there with no roof over their head; the veterans returning from a forgotten, ignored war; the hopeless who have run out of unemployment benefits.

Now, I know that I ramble and I know that somehow I have moved from my own personal struggle with the blues to my take on the state of the union. Somehow, though, for me it's all intertwined. We have to use all of our power of love to work for everybody and everything that needs us.

We need to be led by prophets who can preach like Obama and actually stand up for truth and justice. We need to love more and love harder. Maybe I don't have it all wrong.

                                Give us peace on earth and end this dreadful, dreadful war.