At 2:30 this morning the sadness woke me up and washed through me. It was a bittersweet experience. I miss everyone I've lost. Everyone who's not right here with me and no one is right here with me. Oh, there's the obvious- my mom, Grandma, her. It was bigger than that, though. I miss Bubba. He was the little boy who lived down the street from me in Birmingham. His father backed over him in the driveway. It was my only real lesson in ultimate loss until years later when my little schoolmate, Lynn Lowry, died of leukemia in the third grade.
Viet Nam made it all bigger, closer, more real.
Now I have an address book by the phone and it's filled with more dead folks than living friends.
Yeah, I miss the dogs, too. All of the dogs, not just the ones who were mine. The cats. Every goldfish, guinea pig and white mouse.
Every living thing changes the world profoundly. Elvis and Joan of Arc are in the history books. Bubba doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Who decides. The memories are mine. I want to burn until there's nothing left but ash and I want the ash to be love.
Maybe it's all about patience. I've caught myself describing me as a patient man. Yeah. The same guy who has claimed an addictive personality. For such a self-absorbed fellow I don't seem to be very self-aware.
If they never left I'd have nothing to write about. The dreams try to warn me but the dew washes away the memory. I want nothing and I long for everything. That high pitched hum? That's the earth's cry for peace.
Dreaming of world peace and reunion with loved ones who have gone on takes up lots of my consciousness. When it comes to everyday life, I have everything I have ever wanted. Every thing.
Tell me, then, what is this longing, this yearning?
Do you suppose that we're wired for desire as an evolutionary mechanism to prevent us from growing complacent, sitting around, growing fat? Do you think that we worry to burn calories, that we don't just make passionate love in the middle of the street so that we don't get run over to the point of human extinction?
So, it's come to this: I now worry about worrying. I'm sitting here trying my best to study love and I find myself worrying about worrying.
So, today's cheater news headline is about FIFA. Those crooks. Everyone who follows soccer, or football to the rest of the world, has always known that the international governing body exists to enrich the individuals who have made up the group. Now, with Qatar having been awarded the World Cup for 2022, they went a little too far. In yesterday's lexicon they "jumped the shark."
Last week it was four of the major world banks. Again. They were fined, collectively, about six billion bucks. You put me in a business where I can pay six billion dollars to make hundreds of billions and I'll show you a wealthy man.
Now, I can't waste my time and yours listing all the cheaters. The ones whose names bring to mind their capers belong in a special category, however. Jeb Bush. Charles Van Doren. Tiger Woods.
My beloved rock'n'roll fell victim to the heavy hand of the cheaters as soon as it became obvious that the young folks who were listening to it suddenly had discretionary income. Organized crime already controlled the jukebox business. Once everyone recognized the real value of a "hit record" the game changed. Oh, we've had payola for as long as we've had radio and whores and drugs. At least Leonard Chess and Ahmet Ertegun liked music. Dick Clark? Alan Freed? I'm not so sure. They might have gone into plastics had the dice rolled differently.
My take on our culture, I'm sorry to say, is that the cheaters have now written the rule books. They own most governments at most levels including our own. Sure, it's easy for us to cluck our tongues and shake our heads when a new scandal involving Russia or Greece comes across the evening news. We seem to be unable to accept the shenanigans of our own thugs as corruption and crime. I mean, surely those fresh scrubbed, earnest fellows deny climate change just because they're not scientists and because they learned in Sunday school that the Big Guy himself controls the weather. Right?
Unfortunately, profit is easy and profit is everywhere, potentially, if you're willing to cheat.
War? Our number one industry now. We arm the world. Far too many fortunes have been made to ever turn back. "War Without End" should be printed on our currency right under "In God We Trust."
Think you'll coast above it with your spiritual beliefs? I've got the number for a guru who can have you levitating by sundown. For a fee, of course.
Yeah, we need a revolution. For you spooks who may check on my on-line blarney, relax. I'm talking about love. It's free. It's easier than cheating.
My dreams always seem to make me profoundly sad or wonderfully joyous. So does the music, now that I think about it. I seem to have a high gear and a low gear, that's it. Chevrolet called it "Powerglide."
Life sure is funny, isn't it? You lead some laps and you worry about when the others are coming into the pits. There's usually debris all over the track from other's misfortune. If there's a wreck in front of you drive straight at it. The best odds are that it will be someplace else by the time you get there.
Do I control my thoughts or am I controlled by my thoughts? I'm not trying to be cute or clever here. These blues and this joy seem to jockey for control. The cat wakes me up at 3:30 in the morning and life has never looked brighter. The world is perfect. Go back to sleep for a couple of hours and missing her is all that matters.
As usual, I root for the underdog. Come on, love. You can do it, happiness.
How old is too old to rock'n'roll? Maybe it depends on the rocker, huh? (Did you catch my clever pun, slipping in "Depends"?)
Young John Lee Hooker was good. Real good. We're fortunate to have plenty of film footage and tons of recordings from him from all stages of his career. That old man, though; the beautiful chocolate gentleman in the chair with the hat and the see-through nylon socks- that was magnificent. A force.
Well, after next week, I have nothing booked. Nothing. Ever. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
The radio station here, WMNF, is the main promoter for the kind of music that I play. Well, to be honest, nobody actually promotes the kind of music that I play, but you know what I mean. Well, now sir, the last time that I played a Ronny Elliott show for them was for my sixty fifth birthday. I'm sixty eight. The last time that I played on their Tropical Heatwave show was at least ten years ago. They're having a "British Invasion" tribute show in a few weeks. I know because I heard it announced on the radio. I wasn't invited. Hey! I was there for the goldarned British Invasion.
Every year I look forward to playing the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma. I have for the last ten or twelve years. This year I found that I was booked for Wednesday evening. Festival really starts on Thursday. I thought it might be a good idea to save their money for the airplane ticket.
Don't get me wrong. I love my place in this business, in this world.
Often I describe my childhood "growing up poor." I never used that term earlier in my life. Even now it's certainly a relative description of our circumstances. My mom was an information operator for the telephone company. She certainly knew how to balance a checkbook. I always had anything I needed and the best of it at that. She often went without to see that I had anything that I wanted.
Now I find myself living in a country that is number thirty or so in infant mortality while we spend trillions of dollars on wars that have to do with the defense industry, an ironic term if I ever used one; the petroleum companies; and the banking firms. We spend billions on bombers longer than football fields and refer to the other bad guys, the ones with sandals and grenades, as terrorists. It's cowboys and indians on steroids.
If Gerry Adams can shake Prince Charles' hand in public, I can find peace in my own heart. Speak out against war.
No civilization that allows its babies to perish while lining the pockets of billionaires can thrive for long. I have a vision through that fog of war and it's beautiful. It's all about love and the soundtrack is sweet rock'n'roll.
Always quick to quip, "Who cares?," I realize that I care. About almost everything. Too much.
Insert your cliche here:
Choose your battles. Let sleeping dogs lie. Leave well enough alone.
Everything hurts my feelings and I have come to realize that most of my behavior that isn't exemplary comes from perceived slight. I saw something yesterday that I will paraphrase, "Some people are going to love you. Some are going to hate you. It has very little to do with anything that you do."
There certainly seems to be someone angry at me at any given time. I have an annoying habit of wasting time attempting to find out why.
I hope this doesn't read as though I'm so vain that I don't care what anyone thinks of me. I do. It's just that I'm gonna try to put all my energy into doing the best that I can. Love is the only tool and sometimes I have to remind myself of that.
It's funny, I've been looking forward to and dreading this last episode of Mad Men for so very long now. Of course I have enjoyed the series but sometimes it has gotten a little too surreal for me. I'm not complaining about the writing, the scripts. I mean that it seems to have gotten into my reality on occasion.
Now, you don't have to tell me that that's what good writing is about. I know that. I'm talking about the connections with my heart and my brain in a very fundamental way.
A month ago I wrote a blog that I called "Buy Me A Coke." No big deal. The title was really the whole enchilada for me, however, in this case. It was my hiding yet another plea for help. The world seemed to be the "Buy The World A Coke" ad and I was feeling desperate for mine.
The scenario that I presume that we were supposed to come away with last night was that once Don Draper could give in to love and compassion and empathy, he could be the real man that he was born to be. The concept of agape freed him and opened him to do his best work.
I'm no more Don Draper than you are. I do believe in a collective consciousness and I am aware that the suffering all around me is a reminder of my great, good fortune. This love thing is all we've got. Einstein knew.
Close one. I just came thisclose to ordering an I Phone 6 and starting service with CREDO so that I could support progressive causes. Then, two minutes later I narrowly avoided taking myself off Facebook and scrubbing my blog.
We're all moved and motivated by advertising and peer pressure, some of us more than others. I'm surely no exception. I've said before, though, that I'm not hip. Every now and again I'm fashionable for a brief time. That's when fashion moves my way, usually. There are times when something brand new comes along and I sense that it's for me.
Hey, I'm not bragging. I don't have good taste. I don't have bad taste. I just have taste and I'm stubborn.
I suppose that I didn't order the phone because I don't need it. I don't want it either. What if I became one of those souls scrolling through e-mails at the counter in the diner. When I try to justify it in my mind with GPS it occurs to me that I don't go anywhere.
Oh, I would like to get a new car, too. I drive a 2001 Toyota that I got from my ninety eight year old aunt when she decided to quit driving. Great car. If I really go deep I suppose that it seems that I will never attract a woman with this car. It's the most boring automobile that I've ever owned and it may be the last car that I'll ever own. Then it dawns on me that I wouldn't want anything to do with any woman who judged people on the cars that they drove.
As for the blog and Facebook, for now, nothing changes. The more outdated those things are, the more fun they seem. Matches my hairdo.
Our heroes all die at the same rate of speed, I suppose, but it surely seems to me that they're dropping like flies. Of course I realize that most of it has to do with the stage of life that I'm in.
There are only a few of the pioneers of rock'n'roll who walk the planet. Soon it will all be for the history books. Well, except that we don't really have history books, do we? I hope somebody keeps an eye on Chuck Berry's Wikipedia page.
Really I'm just grateful for You Tube. How would you ever explain Little Richard to the next generation? How about Fats Domino or Jerry Lee Lewis?
Wrong? Yeah, it's funny. I don't mind being proven wrong. I'm dying to have you change my mind. I would shutter to think about me at this stage in life with all of the opinions and convictions of the twelve year old Ronny Elliott.
There are things that I'm sticking with, of course. All of that stuff about peace and love from Grandma and all of that rock'n'roll from Mom, that's forever.
Now that I think about it, everything else is pretty superficial.
Oh, I was the loudest, big mouth critic of American Idol. I've never seen a single episode of any of those shows. I never thought it was beneath me. I just never cared. Now my pal, Joshua Davis is a finalist on The Voice and there's not a twelve year old girl in Michigan more excited about this thing than I am.
B.B. King confided in me that he had regrets about his failures in romance. He had several failed marriages at that point and blamed his life in the music business. I thought it was odd that he was so personal with us, a bunch of immature punks. It puzzled me that someone so sweet, open and honest could have failed in marriage. Over and over.
Now after four failed marriages and several other disasters in romance I have nothing to blame. Well, me. It certainly hasn't been any music business.
When I look back at the last two presidential elections and I think of all the angst that I went through; all the angst that I caused, it seems ridiculous. American politics has nothing to do with me. Nothing. Oh, I will vote and like you I will half-heartedly support the lesser of the two evils. I just have to keep reminding myself that if Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed were alive, they certainly would not be contributing to the Democratic or Republican party.
When you show me a candidate who denounces war and advocates for the poor and the planet, you'll change my mind and I'll be happy to do so.
Meantime, I've got a radio show to get ready for this afternoon and I'm gonna play that stuff my mom brought me.
This drivel has been good for me. The season finale of Nashville reminds me of just how happy I am with the biggest decisions in a long life. Why didn't I move to Texas, New York, California, Tennessee? Who cares? Drama is where you find it. Success is doing what you love.
From my middle seat in the back of the Mustang I could see clearly in the rearview mirror. Problem was, I wasn't there. It was the first time that I had experienced psychedelics. I was in Atlanta checking out the Hampton Grease Band for Phil Gernhard, my boss.
My friend, Gary Dobbins, had come along with me. His girlfriend, Peggy, was going to school in Atlanta and she had given us each a three way tab of psilocybin before we went to Piedmont Park to hear the band.
Well, to say that I saw plenty that day would be a wild understatement. I still see lots of things through the lens of that day. The mystery of not being here began, for me, that day in Atlanta.
The scientists may call it "energy" or "waves." I call it all love.
The drama that veils the magic is sometimes hard to ignore. There's not much worth fighting about. Life is too sweet to miss anything, too short for despair. You've got love and there's more where that came from.
It has fascinated me since I was eleven or twelve years old. No matter what kind of magazine I picked up, there he was, staring benevolently into my eyes from a small ad in the back- Paramhansa Yogananda. You know the ad. Autobiography of a Yogi. The whole thing seems to disappear every decade or so. Of course I've been trying to read it since I first became aware of the thing.
I've had a giant lecture poster with his picture on it hanging on my wall for years.
Turns out that he writes the same babble that I do. Oh, he's got better stories and he turned himself into a major rock'n'roll star in his day.
While some of it seems dated and some of his scientific "facts" have since been disproven, Yogananda weaves all kinds of magic and wisdom into his life story. First published in 1946, yes '46, not '47, his story is compelling and timely.
Just the idea of ignorance disguising itself as faith has explained southern voting in this country to me far better than any editorial in the New York Times.
As a poet I know. I know love, I know peace. As a hillbilly who struggles with science, peace and love elude me.
Everything is changing in my life and I seem to be along for the ride. That's probably always been the case. I'm not sure if it's my good fortune or my bad luck that makes it so apparent now. I'm a solo act in every facet of my life. Oh, sometimes Jamaica decides to go counterclockwise around the block or Angel declares that we're all getting up at 3:00 am instead of 4:00.
I'm working less. That's not by choice.
I'm thinking that I need some jackets with patches on the elbow and a pipe. They say that writing is the loneliest profession. I'm lonely.
The German writer was right from central casting- black turtleneck with greasy hair waving over the edge. Black sunglasses in the candlelit booth.
"Why do you write such dark songs, such sad songs?" he asked in a voice that I thought I recognized from Hogan's Heroes.
Well, he was a nice guy and I surely wanted to be accommodating but he had me stumped. I didn't know that I did write sad, dark songs. I finally managed to explain that some of them were meant to be funny. Most of it was my idea of black humor.
Over the years I've been asked the same question and usually from someone whose first language is English. I don't have an answer. I like to think of myself as a positive, happy guy. I wish I wrote novelty songs. I like that stuff.
Sometimes you have to face it. I have never gotten over anything. At least not anything that hurt. Every loss, every slight, every single fight.
Oh, I'm not mad at anybody. I figure we all hurt other people because of the hurt that we have in our hearts. We justify our feelings so that we can carry on without being crippled by guilt.
Now, somehow, I feel like I'm learning to forgive myself. I wish that I had never said an unkind word, passed an outstretched hand, ignored a plea for love, for understanding. It would be comforting to claim that I've done the best I could. That wouldn't be true. I had the best teachers for love who ever lived.
For me, now, that's more than half the battle. To expect "forgiveness" from someone else is to presume that I have the power to determine that someone else has done something wrong. I don't have any such power.
Sometimes you just have to live by the bumperstickers even if it takes fifty years to understand them. For me it's all "peace and love and rock'n'roll."
Watching the derby on TV reminds me that there's nothing to even get excited about until the home stretch. Keep an eye on me.
Ankle-deep in mud I worked to get under one of the big circus tents where music was blaring. It was August 13th in 2005 and we were barely into this little tour that was to last about a month. Terry Clarke had put his idea for a romp through England, Scotland and Ireland with me and his old pal, Wes McGhee together and convinced, somehow, the two of us that it was a sound concept. The Unholy Trinity he called it.
Here we were at a festival for about 50,000 music fans somewhere near Inverness, Scotland. The Belladrum Tartanheart Festival.
We were just getting news of tour changes on Terry's phone when the skies opened. My biggest concern was my new yellow shoes and the aforementioned mud.
A radio programmer with a brogue so thick that I couldn't understand anything he said was trying to get Terry to bring us over to meet the couple that his station had flown over from Ireland as contest winners.
Well, they seemed to be lovely folks. George and Manda Craig. From Coleraine. I honestly questioned their sincerity when they proudly told us that they had come just to see the three of us. At least I think that's what they said. Their brogue was thicker than the dj's. They offered to put us up at their home while we were doing the dates in Northern Ireland.
Within the hour everything Irish was in pieces. Money was wrong, accommodations were gone and expenses were rising. To cancel the Irish portion of the tour would have been a disaster. Especially for me. It would have left us with a two week hole in the schedule with no work and no place to stay. We had started in Newcastle and then started up through Scotland. Ireland was the middle piece of the puzzle before we headed back through England, ending the tour with a show at the Borderline in London before I headed home.
Luckily Terry had taken George and Manda's cell phone number. The invitation had, indeed, been sincere and Terry got directions to their home in Coleraine.
We had one more show to do in Scotland. We played in this tiny, magnificent theater in the lighthouse keeper's cottage in Dunnethead, Caithness. There are no people there. Heck, there are no trees there. This is the furthest North point in Scotland. No, no, not those tourist spots that they show you. This is way up there. As in, "Is that Iceland?"
Well, as usual, I digress. That's another blog.
We packed all of our gear and luggage into Wes's Jaguar so that we could take only one car on the ferry to Port Stewart. We left Terry's car parked in the public lot, packed to the ceiling with all the rest of our belongings, and hoped for the best.
The drive from the ferry landing into Coleraine was a geographer's nightmare. Terry yelled out directions from some 1950's roadmap while Wes tore through forests and fields on mere ruts that looked to me as though they might never have felt the weight of an automobile.
We arrived at the Craig's lovely cottage just after dark. Manda had kept dinner for us. Let me say here and now that I will never have better friends than these four, Terry, Manda, George and Wes. I guess we stayed with them for about a week. A fine week it was. We had plans to stay in Belfast the first night that we were playing there. Oddly and sadly, the "troubles" had flared that very week for the first time in years. When we asked if we might come back after the show, George replied, "I'm glad you asked. The place where you were planning to stay is right in the middle of the riots. A Jaguar? British plates? They would have rolled your car out into the middle of the street for the bonfire."
Well, we drank all their whisky and sang all our songs. We laughed and we cried and we told more stories than I can remember. Manda showed us the Giant's Causeway and Castlerock Station. They showed us where the show bands had played, where they fell in love. Manda made me porridge with homemade jam. I always thought porridge was just for bears and little girls in fairy tales.
George and Manda came over once to visit a couple of years later. I always get birthday and Christmas wishes from them. My goal in life is to live long enough to eat avocados from the little tree that they bought me while they were here. I moved it with me to my new house six months ago. It's fertilized with my mom's ashes. She would like that.
You're tired of me telling you that I wanted to be a rock'n'roll star by now. Well, that's alright. I'm a little tired of telling you. Oh, I always zigged when I was supposed to zag. I played psychedelic music before there was any such thing and I put out hillbilly records when Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience came along. Still, I always knew what I was. I was a rock'n'roll musician.
There was a time that I moonlighted as a promoter. Now, that's something that I never wanted to do.Worst job in the whole world and that's from someone who has scooped mud from the hulls of barges.
My record producer, Phil Gernhard, had hired me to find talent and produce big hits from the local pool of artists. That seemed, at first, to be a dream job. The Tampa Bay area has always had wonderful music. By the time that I began to realize that Phil's ego wasn't going to allow any of my artists to even record, we were both frustrated. He was paying me a hundred bucks a week and neither of us was getting anything out of it.
Back in his days in South Carolina around the time that he produced "Stay" for Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, he had dabbled in booking and promotion. When he moved to St. Petersburg in the mid-sixties he slipped into some booking and promotion just as he began to produce records again. I think that it was probably the thrill of doing a Ray Charles concert that fired him back up.
Well, to earn my keep around the office, Phil began to have me promote concerts for Gernhard Enterprises. I was, in fact, the promoter. Phil signed most of the contracts and handled the bank account. He bought some of the radio time. Everything else, for the most part, was left to me.
I have nothing much to say in any positive way about this experience. Well, I did get to see some really good shows. Really good shows from really good seats. I met some really nice people, too.
When I start these stories the jerks always seem to come to mind first. By the time that I finish ranting about John Fogarty I'm out of steam.
Almost every musician that I promoted shows for, including a series that I did after my Gernhard days, brought me into contact with unbelievably nice folks. I still run across some people from those days and it's always a thrill. John Mayall, the Byrds, Donovan, Elton John, Commander Cody, Dion, the Allman Brothers, Cat Mother and the Allnight Newsboys, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Terry Reid, the Kinks, the Outlaws, Derek and the Dominoes. Lots of 'em.
In November of 1969 we were bringing Janis Joplin to Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa. She had just released her first album after leaving Big Brother, "I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!"and was poised, after Woodstock, to be a super star. Of course that would come a few months later with that big career move, death.
We were using the Outlaws to open because that was one of the bands that I had brought Phil in my real job. I decided that we should get B.B. King for support. "The Thrill Is Gone" had come out in June and was getting pop radio spins. ABC Bluesway had begun a push to make B.B. a star beyond his natural blues market. I had seen him in Tampa many times but it was always at a predominately black show at the armory. The hippies were just beginning to figure out where Eric and Duane and Peter and Jimi had been getting this stuff.
Well, Janis, being Janis, got arrested as she tried to leave the stage and that particular nightmare has always been the star of this memory.
Looking back now, the time that I got to spend with B.B. King was a true highlight of my life. He was such a gentleman with a kindness and shyness that glowed. He spent time talking to us about music. Our music. When we asked him about providing some liner notes for the album that we were working on, he stammered, "Duckbutter!?"
I asked if he knew what duckbutter was and he laughed and replied, "I was a boy once, myself, you know."
He had a pocket full of picks that he proudly handed out branded, "B.B. King." Of course that's common today but I had never seen anything like it at that time. We sat around and shared a drink with him after his set and he insisted that we come to his hotel room the next morning to visit before he left. We did and he talked about regrets. Failed marriages and life on the road.
Now, with news that the Blues Boy is with home hospice care it all seems like yesterday. He was a young man then. I was a kid. Great guitar players? Dime a dozen. Oh, not like B.B. King but great, nonetheless. I have no idea what they will put on his gravestone.
I'll never be a great guitar player. I hope they'll put something about being a nice guy on mine some day.
Maybe rock'n'roll dies when I say it does. Oh, that sounds arrogant. Let me rephrase that. Rock'n'roll was born in my heart in 1947. All that baloney that I rant and sing about was never serious. Obviously we don't know what the "first" rock'n'roll record was. It depends on your definition, your perception, your taste. What about the things that were recorded that we no longer have copies of. Maybe my mom knew of a couple of older ones that she never mentioned to me because she just didn't like them. Nah, my idea of that glorious stuff beginning in 1947 has always been just my way of poking fun at those bozos who take this stuff seriously and think that they have an answer to this mystery.
It's all just holding mirrors up to mirrors.
Back to the bozos whom I accuse of taking this stuff seriously- put me at the head of the line. When the magic ends for me; when the joy doesn't rise in my soul, drag my corpse to the compost bin. Yesterday was a reminder for me that the magic is there as long as I can see it, as long as I hear that melody and feel that beat. Rock'n'roll hearts beat in 4/4 time. Mine still beats hard.
Listening to some great songs from my pal, Gary MacDonald, last night I was frozen with his idea that all that any of us want is "to go home." Now, what "home" is may be different for each of us. I know for me it's where the love is.
Funny thing is I live alone now with my dog and my cat. I suppose it's still where the love is.
There are folks that I miss. I guess that's why we come up with concepts of "heaven."