Closing in on the truth and it looks like maybe it's all light and mirrors. I've got more to investigate- the holocaust, heroin, the chitlin' circuit. I've found that the smallest particle is love. The largest, too. All the rest is our imagination. Shame and guilt are tools for control.
Art is what we create to share truth. You work hard, you show your work, then you paint over the canvas.
There was only one Michelangelo. One Tiny Tim. There was only one Candy Barr but there were two Sonny Boys.
Boy, I loved the British invasion. All of it. Once the Beatles opened the floodgates, American music, the good stuff, came pouring back in. . Rock'n'roll, hillbilly music, rhythm and blues. Even artists who were long forgotten or, in some cases like Arthur Alexander, had never had their day at all. It served to remind the U.S. that our tastes mattered, not just Dick Clark's finances. In fact my favorite part of it all was that Brian Epstein, taking a page from Col. Parker's playbook, never allowed the fab four on American Bandstand.
Feeling a part of it all, I scoured the ephemeral press for the most obscure tidbits. One of my favorites, of course was the Who. I felt almost as frustrated as Mr. Townshend who seemed to be obsessing over his band's failure to succeed in America. By the release of He's A Boy they were stars in every part of the world except the states. I remember reading in one of the trade papers that Decca had forgotten to ship the promo copies of He's A Boy.
Forgotten? Isn't that a bit like forgetting to punch a hole in the middle of the record?
Of course by this time my band, Noah's Ark, was on Decca. Uh oh.
Well, Boris The Spider brought the Who the fortunes that Pete had longed for. And whined about. Yeah, Substitute should have been a hit right out of the chute. The Kids Are Alright and My Generation, too.
Regardless of my distaste for the music business, I eventually grew weary of Pete Townshend's grumbling and moaning.
Now, some fifty years into a career, I hope I've learned a little something from Pete. Oh, I've whined. Looking back, though, I wouldn't change a thing. I hope that all of my "just missed" and "that close" stories don't begin to sound like sour grapes. Nobody's been luckier than I have.
I think I told you before that when I was kid, growing up in Birmingham, I thought that when you turned on the radio, once the tubes warmed up, Hank Williams sang. In those days competition was fierce for children's shoe sales.
I must have been four or maybe five years old. First my mom took me into the Red Goose store. Their gimmick was a little recording lathe. You could have your kid's foot measured and leave with a two-sided record. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that my mom was starting her push to make me a hillbilly singing star. My first ever recording was Hey, Good Lookin'. Of course it was. My b side was a rollicking version of Someone's In The Kitchen With Dinah, not to be confused with I've Been Working On The Railroad, which appropriated the original.
We left with a little pair of those sandals that kids wore back then and my little 7", 78 rpm record. Poll Parrot was our next stop.
They had an x ray machine that allowed the mother and the kid to look at the green glow of the kid's skeleton foot to see just exactly how the new shoes fit. I'm guessing that some weird spikes of rare foot cancer in men of my age from Birmingham still puzzle the medical establishment.
In my excitement taking my Red Ball Jets from the shop we left the bag with my record in the store. Neither of us noticed until we got home.
It's probably a good thing that I never became any kind of showbiz sensation. Can you imagine what that record would bring on eBay today if my name had become a household thing.
Oh, I suppose I would go back if I could. Honestly though, I'm glad that I've seen Cuba and don't have that experience to look forward to. The state department gave me a license as a journalist twelve or fifteen years ago. My plan was to write about Cuban music. I can't begin to tell you how naive that quaint notion is. Let's just say that it's kinda' like planning to write about "American music" in two weeks. I considered myself something of an expert having grown up watching Ricky's orchestra rehearse most weeks at the Copacabana on I Love Lucy.
Turns out that there is no "Cuban music." Actually, there is so much Cuban music, of every style in the world, that it would take volumes to document it.
Well, it got me to Havana ahead of the hipsters, the shysters, the politicians and the opportunists.
There was so much love and so much to love. I met people I will never forget. It was the dogs, though, that broke my heart and captivated my soul. The mixture of hunger and innocence is overwhelming.
Everything that I have come in contact with has changed me. Every person that I've met, every song that I've sung. A few things have disproportionately affected me. President Kennedy's assassination. Grandma's prayers. Right up at the top of the list, along with the women I have loved, is the power of the Beatles.Yesterday I saw a clip of them doing She Loves You and I experienced an emotional re-run that changed me again.
Wisdom is fine and success is, I suppose, to be valued. Innocence, though, is joy. Those guys reeked of it.
It wasn't until someone at my mom's little memorial service mentioned it that I realized how often she said, "I love you." I don't know that I'm much like her. I'm not sure that I inherited very much of her personality. It has taken all these years to come naturally to me and I surely don't say it as frequently as she did.
Oh, I've noticed that I make some folks squirm. I'm pretty sure that lots of my audience could do without it. It's likely to get my nose broken again in some biker bar- not that I get to spend much time in biker bars.
I love you, though. If I tell you that, I mean it. She did, too.
Hey! It's only radio. Everything is new again. I've never been more excited about the music. I am reminded again that I have the best job in the world. Rock'n'roll may be out of fashion- so am I. Hot dog!
Living in the moment is pretty much the same as stopping time. Cynics seem to prevail while they still talk and write about "fools in love." All that you risk is your naiveté. Let them have the government, the diamonds, the music business. We have the joy, the lightning bugs, the music. The currency is love. Always has been. They make fun of us because they're jealous. They can't steal it. There should be plenty to go around. Make more!
My life is a seventh grader's dream. Specifically, my seventh grade dream. I never wanted to be the king of the cowboys. The singer in the band didn't really interest me. My mom took me to rock'n'roll shows and I always had my eye on the bass player, the drummer. My favorite race car drivers frequently spun out on the last lap.
Oh, I loved Elvis. There was only gonna be one Elvis. Ever. Johnny Horton, except for that dying part, now there was a star. Marv Johnson, Curtis Lee, Prince Lala.
Another big draw for me was the bachelor's life. Bachelors seemed far more interesting. You know- smoking pipes, Playboy, meals at the diner. Single guys travel and see the world. They hang out with a loyal dog. They don't work boring jobs and complain about it.
For the sake of disclosure here I should tell you about how I got to this fantasy life. I've been married for nearly forty years. Oh, not to the same woman and not lately.
Between rock'n'roll stints I've scooped mud from the bottom of barges, managed real estate offices, attempted to save the world as a civil servant and written an automotive column.
My role as what is often and kindly referred to as a cult artist hasn't come from some intricate career plan. No, this is the best that I can do. I don't mean to complain. I wouldn't change any of it.
I've seen a lot of the world and I've got the best dog in the world. The cat is a bonus. I eat at the diner so often that a waitress recently asked, "Do you have a home?"
I spun out well before the last lap. Just to make sure that I get it right I spin out every decade or so.
Of course nowadays men really do buy Playboy for the articles.
I'm hoping that this doesn't read as though I'm warning you to be careful what you wish for. I've had it all. No, wait- I have it all.
The sweetest, kindest folks have filled my life. I've known love. The most magnificent musicians in the world have shared everything they had with me. They've often been the sweetest, kindest folks.
I've played rock'n'roll for a lifetime. Follow that dream, indeed.
Control your thoughts and your destiny is yours. Let me know how that works out for you, huh? Loss runs the show and the longer you live the clearer it becomes. Look to the children for your inspiration. The puppies and kittens, too. Love with abandon. Don't pay too much attention to too much advice.
If any of our pop gurus ever had their way we would all achieve peace of mind simultaneously and total calm would envelop the planet. Looks to me like mother nature worries that polar bears would slip up on us and devour our flesh.
At this point I can't tell if I'm moving towards enlightenment or merely running out of steam. Let's just call it wisdom and let it go at that.
In the grand design I am provided Hallie Jackson and Lakshmi Singh to keep the veins pumping. My fascination with biology runs deep.
Don't be caught at the last call with love you haven't used. There's plenty more where that came from.
Don't take anything for granted. Me? I miss cafeterias. I hurry home on Sundays so that I won't miss Ed Sullivan. I miss Ed Sullivan.
I'll never be welcome at the kids' table again. That's alright. Jamaica and Angel and I are all getting a little long in the tooth and they don't much care where they sit.
I miss Europe and Oklahoma and Texas and New York. I have to say, though, that I don't miss the airport.
Maybe I'm lucky that I never worried about any sexually transmitted disease. Oh, I mean I worried about them but not for any real reason. Most of my social life involves my head on the cartoon body of the guy with the action. Before the girls in class informed me of my shortcomings, before I was deemed socially awkward, there was really only cooties. Somehow I got through the sixth grade cootie-free.
Mostly I miss the ones I've loved, the ones who loved me. Some had two legs, some four.
Schizophrenics don't always distinguish between reality and fantasy. Most of my favorite movies blur those lines. Good and evil, as a concept, is subjective. Most of us agree on a general line.
Read up on psychopathy. You probably know more nuts than you think.
Remember all those tales about fewer muscles being required to smile than to frown? Doctors can't verify any such thing. Still, it seems easier to smile and it gets to be a habit. Seems easier to love than to hate, too.
Oh, look at me. I'm babbling again. That's what I do.
Either we'll get through it or we won't. Judging this era based on the grammys, the presidential debates, current wars and the state of the environment we're hanging on by our fingernails. Sometimes it's hard to be hopeful.
One thing I've noticed, though, heroes show up when you need them.
Col. Parker had Elvis. Brian Epstein had the Beatles. Donald J. Trump has.... well, he has Donald J. Trump. The press is easily manipulated, the public, easier. This ain't rocket science. Look! The emperor has no clothes. I don't know about you but I see his little bitty hands.
Here it is again- that feeling in the air. Beautiful weather brings me melancholy that threatens to drown my soul. The blooms on the azaleas and the birds sweet songs call up visions of loss for me. Oh, I'll get through it. I always do.
These are the times that remind me of just how much I wish I believed in heaven.This is the time of year that makes me wonder whether the joy of romance could ever justify the drama of despair. Again I struggle with the demons and I wonder, "How do you make the love stay?"
We all tell ourselves that we want the best for everyone. Do we really? I'm hearing the Republican debate as I sit here, trying to tune it out. When one of these guys say something mean the crowd roars. I was raised by women who didn't know hate.
There must be a hundred new songs lying around here. As usual I won't finish them unless I go into the studio and tell myself that I'm making a new record. There's always that tree falling in a forest thing that reminds me that it's all silly.
Then there's this blog thing, too. Could I be so arrogant as to imagine that it matters, that someone cares?
Well, now sir, I'm pretty sure that I've told you this before- I do it for me. Oh, I want somebody to like it. Desperately, I want someone to like it. My life's work, though, and I use the term loosely, is to be Ronny Elliott. You'd think it might come easily to me.
I probably tell Jamaica and Angel that I love them a dozen times a day. They probably get tired of hearing it. Blah, blah, blah, Jamaica. Blah, blah, blah, Angel.
I love you, too. I know, I know- blah, blah, blah.
Contrary to appearances, I'm not much of a nostalgist. Oh, yeah I listen to old music. I read old books. I watch old movies, too. I love old cars. I wish that I had all my old hot rods back... so that I could sell them again.
All these old guitars around the house? If they still painted palm trees on the new ones, I'd buy and play them.
In my world I don't have much interest in fashion or trends.
I remember going to see a show at the armory, here in Tampa, in 1960 or '61. I remember that Brenda Lee was on the bill with Johnny Preston. I don't remember who else was there other than Benny Joy. It still seems sad to me that Benny seemed to be out of fashion. I was a little bit embarrassed for him. That rockabilly thing had come and gone.
Well, years later, Benny and I got to be very good friends. The last time that I saw him was in a record store. He had his collar turned up. He had a ducktail.
None of us are ever gonna be as fashionable as Benny. Ever.
You smell coffee. It's England! You fell asleep after all. You didn't go crazy and you didn't die. Another memory that is just another memory. File it there with marbles and dancing and love. There comes a time when it occurs to you that it really does go by too quickly. Now it's your turn to tell the story. Oh, they don't want to hear it. They will remember that you told them though.
Tell them about love, too. Try to convince them not to take it for granted.
Beautiful weather tends to make me sad. Listening to the blues cheers me up. Maybe I was born in the wrong hemisphere, the wrong century. I have everything I've ever wanted. More. Rumi suggested that it was better to love from afar. Maybe that's how you make the love stay.
Sometimes I would lie awake in bed worrying about the body on my '32 Ford coupe rusting. I always gave away old Levis when holes appeared in the knee.
Now, young attorneys with too much disposable income pay the custom shop at Fender an extra three or four grand to bang around a telecaster before they take it home. Prissy designers place the love seat right behind the crack in the marble floor, in front of the crumbling plaster wall, for the catalog photographer.
Those lawyers that I mentioned spend extra cash for Levis that have already been distressed and come with holes conveniently worn in the knees. They don't want to appear inauthentic while they pick out southern rock on their telecasters in their media rooms.
Getting old ain't so tough. I feel downright fashionable in my distressed state.
More love, more kindness. I just heard Hillary Clinton call for just that. As a kid I had no cynicism in my little heart. Oh, I learned it. Learned it well. Folks will live up to, or down to, your expectations.
Science is real. So is love. That and hunger, pain, beauty and gravity.
Hillary Clinton has been quoted as saying, "It's always surprising to me how many young women think they have to be perfect. I rarely meet a young man who doesn't think he already is."
Really, I can't say that Ms. Clinton and I agree on very much very often. Oh, I suspect that if she weren't trying to please someone, herself, trying to spit further than the men around her, that we would most likely see eye to eye on most things. Ambition is a terrible thing... or not. Depends on which of us you ask, I guess.
I doubt that you will hear many quotes like that one from Hillary again any time soon.
My favorite men in history are the ones most like women. Oh, I'm not talking about cross dressers or drag queens, even though they're all fine in my book, too. I'm referring to men who are in touch with their feminine side, the ones who are secure in a pink shirt. You know, the ones who will pass on a fishing trip to help paint a house for Habitat For Humanity.
My favorite women seem to be the ones most comfortable with their feminine side, too.
There's no need for pant suits. Your team's better.
By 1957 I was becoming something of a rock'n'roll snob. I knew that the Sun sides were finer than anything that RCA was gonna be able drag out of Nashville or New York. I was certain in my half-developed mind that western culture had peaked in 1956.
It would be decades before I ever saw video footage of the "real Elvis" from 1954. In relative terms the social phenomena had already begun to morph into an act. The first Elvis impersonator.