Happy Other’s Day!

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, which really cheats moms out of 364 days per year of the respect they deserve. But it’s better than nothing.

My mom died young (she was 33 – I was 3), so I’d like to start my own little annual celebration called “Other’s Day” to honor all the folks who stepped into the Grand-Canyon-sized breach after my mom passed away.

The list is mostly women, yet it starts with a dude… but not because I’m trying to reinforce any sort of patriarchy. My dad had to take on both parental roles starting when his kids were ages 6, 5, 3 and 2. No easy task. He worked sporadically (at best) but was mostly a stay-at-home dad back in the day when “stay-at-home dad” didn’t really exist as a role, and certainly didn’t have the street cred it has now. God bless him.

We spent several childhood summers living with my Aunt Virginia and her family in Houston, Texas. She and her husband (Uncle Don) had five kids of her own, yet somehow managed to add my three siblings and me to the mix for three months of the year without missing a beat. God bless ’em.

We were as well-behaved as the kids in this clip…

My other Aunts – Pat on my dad’s side, Inez and Rosetta on my mom’s side (the Italian part of the family, in case you couldn’t tell by the names) also provided room and board (which included heaping helpings of love) whenever we’d head back to New Jersey for a visit. God bless ’em.

My sister Jeanne had to take on a lot of extra responsibilities as the oldest child (and oldest female) in a motherless home. Heck, she drove my older brother and me to high school every day for two years… which may not seem like that big a deal until I mention the fact that our Catholic high school was 60 miles away from our house. I’m no math whiz, but that’s a 120-mile round trip. Every. Friggin. Day. In a hooptie car, no less, like an ancient Chevy Bel-Air with the rusted floorboards and no heat. God bless her.

In grade school, the school “lunch lady,” Mrs. Rinke, used to surreptitiously slip us the peanut butter sandwiches that were leftover from lunch as we were heading to the public library after school. It was an unspoken acknowledgement that she knew cash was tight at our house. In hindsight, I’m not sure those sandwiches were really “leftover” at all… she probably made them specifically for us out of the kindness of her heart. God bless her.

In high school, I spent a ton of time at my best friend Mark’s house, often staying there for the weekend instead of making the 60 mile trek back to our house. Mark’s mom Dixie (if that isn’t an Arkansas name, I don’t know what is) put up with our high school shenanigans, offered wise counsel (which we usually promptly ignored) and treated me like a member of the family. God bless her.

After college, when I was living on my own in my sparsely furnished studio apartment (ah, the benefits of a meager radio station salary), there was Billie Jean (not the Michael Jackson one). She was (and still is) heavily involved in outreach for the church where I attended Sunday services. She quickly picked up on the fact that I was a “stray” in Cincinnati (my nearest relative was 600 miles away) and started inviting me over to join her and her family, not just for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but also for random family outings. God bless her.

Later, when I went from on-air DJ at a tiny station in Oxford, Ohio to glorified errand boy for a cluster of corporate conglomerate radio stations in Cincinnati, I needed a cheap place to stay (ah, the benefits of trading one meager radio station salary for another). My friend and co-worker Kate let me stay at her townhouse. In exchange for watching her dogs when she went out of town (she was in national sales ), I got my own bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, home-cooked meals, and my “rent” was so dirt cheap it was laughable. The townhouse was a half-mile from the stations too, so I could ride my bike to work. I was able to pay off my college loans and credit card debt and finally get on decent financial footing, all thanks to Kate’s kindness. God bless her.

There are several other “Other’s” who should be celebrated… the myriad folks who were kind to our family over the years. But I’ll wrap up here because my memory ain’t what it used to be.

Yes, Mothers deserve more kudos than they get… but for me, so do the Others.

Art for Art’s Sake

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut, in his book A Man Without a Country

May we skip this month?

Spring is supposed to be the season of hope.

But May has been a real Mother of a month. And last year was a bear… heck, the pandemic was just the cherry on top of the crap sundae.

One of my best friends from college had a stroke a year ago. He’s made great progress since then, but he’s still not 100%.

The same day my buddy’s wife told me about his stroke, John Erhardt, a guitarist/pedal steel player in two bands whom I adore (Ass Ponys and Wussy), passed away at age 58 after battling mental health issues. Four days later, the 18-year-old son of a friend from my radio days passed away after battling depression and anxiety. And Scott Hutchison, lead singer/songwriter for the brilliant band Frightened Rabbit, took his own life on May 9th of 2018 after battling… you guessed it… depression and anxiety.

It seems a cruel twist of fate that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Then again, maybe not. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but mental health challenges are a reality for millions of people.

The more we talk about it, the easier it is to break the stigma, and the easier it becomes for those in need to reach out.

A year-plus of pandemic isolation certainly doesn’t make it easier to deal with underlying mental health issues. But spring is a season of hope, right? So if you’ve got some hope to spare, please share it. And if things seem hopeless, please reach out.

(The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a wonderful resource for families.)

Getting Hip to Hops

Not that I need any more notoriety — this blog has thousands hundreds tens a few loyal readers — but I managed to get a byline in the April edition of Cincinnati Magazine by writing the text to accompany some really cool photos (by Aaron M. Conway) of a local farm that grows hops.

You can check out the full online version here.

The editor of Cincinnati Magazine, John Fox, is an old friend of mine. When I was working at an alternative music station, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, and the station and the paper would collaborate, cross-pollinate, and co-promote events often due to the large overlap in audiences. John will throw me a magazine assignment every now and then – usually something fairly straightforward and not too time-consuming. I enjoy the challenge, and I always wind up learning something new while doing research and interviews. For the hops farm piece, I got to interview one of the growers and connect with brewers at several local breweries… it’s a really tight-knit community and it was cool to witness the spirit of collaboration among them. I also learned quite a bit about the process of growing hops, and I found it quite fascinating.

“The more you know…”

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now done four pieces for Cincinnati Magazine over the past couple of years, and two of them have been beer-centric. I think I’m being typecast. Then again, if the shoe beer mug fits…

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through

Jim Steinman passed away this week. This lede from American Songwriter sums up his oeuvre pretty well:

Jim Steinman, the songwriter famous for the super-charged operatic rock epics he created for Meat Loaf and other artists is dead at 73. He was a songwriter proud of his lack of restraint in his songs. Subtlety was not the aim. It’s how he proudly earned and owned his distinction as “The Richard Wagner of Rock. ” Like Wagner, his songs were epic, operatic and always with a dark grandiosity.

“If you don’t go over the top,” he said, “you can’t see what’s on the other side.”

Wagner, however, never wrote any hit songs. Steinman wrote many: The grand statement was the entire song cycle of Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell. He also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.”

From this American Songwriter tribute

Jim was over the top, but it took him to the top. He accomplished a real rock and roll rarity that I don’t think anyone else has matched: for a while in 1983, two songs written and produced by him, but recorded by different artists, held the top two positions on the Billboard singles chart, with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at number one, and “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” in the number two slot.

Not many songwriters get credited on an album cover. But Jim’s contribution to Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album was so crucial that he got cover props.

That album is one of the best-selling releases of all time.

Source: Wikipedia

And it almost didn’t see the light of day. Here’s the album’s producer, Todd Rundgren, on the Sound Opinions podcast, talking about how many music biz “experts” passed on the album, and how it finally caught on.

The full podcast episode is here.

Jim Steinman also worked in musical theater – his bombastic style was tailor-made for the stage. And he released a solo album back in 1981, called Bad for Good. One of the songs on that album was “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (later sung by Meatloaf and released on Bat Out of Hell II):

We’d be listening to the radio so loud and so strong
Every golden nugget coming like a gift of the gods
Someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs…

Keep on believing
And you’ll discover baby:
There’s always something magic
There’s always something new
And when you really
Really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
The beat is yours forever
The beat is always new
And when you really
Really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
For you

“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” by Jim Steinman

Jim Steinman wasn’t a Dylan, he wasn’t a Springsteen, but that wasn’t his goal. And he deserves a lot of credit for having a unique vision and sticking to it, and making his rock and roll dreams come through.

Obit from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/apr/22/steinman-obituary-bat-out-of-hell

Publish or Perish

“Shoot for the moon,” they say. “Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Well, sure, but then there’s also this:

Sign up to receive a weekly dose of Bizarro cartoons here: https://www.bizarro.com/

Heck, I’m too ADHD to even put together the basis for a lackluster novel. But I’m OK with that. Lackluster blog posts are right in my wheelhouse. And there’s something to be said for that. Putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard to the ether — is worthwhile to exercise those writing muscles. Even when the end result is lackluster.

Last Night It Snowed

Last night it snowed in Cincinnati.

I mention this for a few reasons:

  1. It’s like, totally far out to get snow on 4/20, duude.
  2. Global climate change is real.
  3. “Last Night It Snowed” is a song by the Cincinnati band Ass Ponys. Their lead singer and main songwriter is Chuck Cleaver. He’s brilliant – right up there with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon. I love, love, loved the Ass Ponys – still do, in fact, even though they faded into the sunset back in the early aughts.

Chuck Cleaver’s lyrics can be twisted, sardonic, off-kilter… downright weird. His voice is an acquired taste. But spend some time with his songs and you’ll come to appreciate his brilliance. “Last Night It Snowed” is the lead track off the Ass Ponys final studio album, Lohio. That release is a good place to start your College of Chuck courses.

Chuck’s in a band called Wussy now. They’re as amazing as the Ass Ponys were. Chuck and Lisa Walker, the other lead singer/songwriter in the band, have done nearly 40 livestream shows on Facebook over the past year, on Friday nights. Combined with a few shows from bassist Mark Messerly, members of Wussy are approaching 50 free shows. Each one’s a gem… and a lifeline in this pandemic-cursed year.

Wussy can’t tour. They have a tip jar but they never mention it. They all have day jobs. If musical genius equated to cold hard cash, they would be billionaires. But it doesn’t work out that way. We could focus on the cold, cruel music biz that’s buried them and the Ass Ponys.

A blanket white

At least it was when it came down last night

The morning brings the rain

The blanket’s washed away

Now everything turns back to grey

But instead I focus on the inherent beauty of the music. And pray that someday the world will come to appreciate it as well.

What are you looking for?

The worldwide web (remember when we called it that?) is wonderful for helping us connect. It also can be infinitely overwhelming and a colossal waste of time. It’s all in how you use it. Don’t just be a looker, be a learner.

“You can’t expect somebody to become a biologist by giving them access to the Harvard University biology library and saying, “Just look through it.” That will give them nothing. The internet is the same, except magnified enormously.

The person who wins the Nobel Prize in biology is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It’s the person who knew what to look for. Cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track, that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and internet, or pencil and paper and books.”

Noam Chomsky in The Purpose of Education

It’s not just the ol’ interwebs we’re talking about. It’s what we read, what we watch, what we listen to. It’s easy to stuff your senses with “stuff”… but the key is knowing how to sift. You can find whatever you’re looking for… so what are you looking for? This concept doesn’t just apply to learning; it applies to life in general.

Artwork by Austin Kleon

The Noam Chomsky quote came my way via the James Clear 3-2-1 newsletter. The Amy Krouse Rosenthal tweet was highlighted in Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter. Both are worth your attention. And if you have yet to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s books Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, seek them out.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Hey Bubba, I have a question for you: Who exactly is the “they” that gun nuts enthusiasts like you always refer to right after yet another senseless act of violence, one exacerbated by the presence of assault weapons and/or mentally unstable shooters? As in “every time one of these incidents happens, the first thing they want to do is take all our guns away.” It’s usually the second sentence out of your mouth. (The first one being “Now is not the time to politicize this.”)

For the record, I don’t want to take your guns away. Heck, I couldn’t even if I tried. There are more than 393 million guns in circulation in the United States — approximately 120.5 guns for every 100 people. I don’t think they’d all fit in the Rubbermaid storage bins in my basement. And it’s not like I could melt them all down and use the metal to repair the crumbling bridges in the U.S. (Or could I? It seems like a win-win….)

Sorry, I’ll stay on message. I don’t want to take your guns away. Got it? Good. Now let’s get in to the nitty gritty of this problem. You know, the issue that reared its ugly head in Indianapolis. Or was it Boulder? Or Atlanta? (It was all three, and dozens more, but you already knew that.)

If you think a handgun will help you protect yourself, sure, have one. Wait, what’s that you say? You need more than one? Oh, OK, but unless you’re some sort of Hindu goddess… or you’re especially dexterous with your feet… two should be sufficient, right? One for each hand?

And of course it goes without saying that you’ll be a responsible gun owner, right? So you’ll have no problem demonstrating that responsibility by taking a safety course, and purchasing your guns legally, right? And because you’re a sensible gun owner, you’ll want to make sure that gun owners don’t get a bad rep from a few “bad apples” who are mentally ill or have a history of violence, so you’d obviously be in favor of universal background checks and waiting periods. You’d also want to shut down gun shows, because buying a gun shouldn’t be easier than casting a vote in a democratic election. Right?

“It’s not a slippery slope if we don’t let it become one. Remember when they instituted the 55 mph speed limit? Yeah, we’re not all standing still on the freeway now, are we?”

The always-brilliant Rickey Dobbs in this great post about the gun issue on his Hitting the Trifecta blog.

By the way, people who report “firearm access” are at twice the risk of homicide and more than three times the risk of suicide compared to those who do not own or have access to firearms. (Source) So tell me, how are your handguns helping you “protect yourself”?

OK, let’s move on to hunting rifles. Sure, if you’re a “sportsman” then by all means have a hunting rifle too. Same deal, right? Safety course, legally purchased after background checks, ideally stored in a locked safe when you’re not out in the field going eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe with all manner of fierce animals.

So now we’re up to assault weapons. They were made for the battlefield, so I think they should be relegated to the battlefield. Want to shoot one? Join the National Guard. (After all, the Second Amendment that you hold so dear is really about arming folks who are willing to perform soldier-like duties , not everyday civilians. Look it up… I’ll wait.)

You know what, in the spirit of compromise (look that one up too, I’ll wait), how about this: if you get your jollies firing off six bullets per second and shooting 154 rounds in less than five minutes, then you can own an assault rifle. But you have to store it at a licensed indoor shooting range that’s locked up tighter than Fort Knox. You can swing by anytime and shoot “The Tick Licker”* but you can’t take it home. Or to the FedEx facility. Or to the grocery store. Or to the spa.

*That’s what ol’ Daniel Boone called his rifle… it was not a semi-automatic but somehow he managed.

By the way, if you think my reference to 154 rounds in less than five minutes was eerily specific, that’s because those numbers match the stats when a 20-year-old with significant mental health issues gunned down 20 first-graders and 6 school staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut back in 2012. Lest we forget.

What’s that? You find indoor shooting ranges to be too sterile? OK, taking a page from Jonathan Swift, I have A Modest Proposal of my own. Because gun violence is estimated to cost the U.S. $280 billion a year in hospital bills, physical therapy, trauma counseling, legal fees, prison costs and the loss of productivity, perhaps the vast majority of Americans (roughly 2 out of every 3 people) who favor greater restrictions on gun ownership can all chip in and purchase a plot of land in an isolated area in every state in the union. And you and your assault weapon pals can grab your guns (from the biometric gun safes on premises) and shoot them there — and only there — to your hearts’ content. Speaking of hearts and other vital organs, there will be a lot of lead flying through the air at these sylvan shooting sanctuaries. But hey, if you happen to get hit by a stray bullet or three, that’s just the price you pay for living in a free society… right?

(Please spend some time here. And then consider backing up your thoughts and prayers with some common sense action.)

The Write Stuff

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, had to psyche himself up about writing .

“Writing isn’t so bad really when you get through the worry. Forget about the worry, just press on. Don’t be embarrassed about the bad bits. Don’t strain at them… Writing can be good. You attack it, don’t let it attack you. You can get pleasure out of it. You can certainly do very well for yourself with it!”

Douglas Adams

It’s great advice for any writer. This blog may be 99% “bad bits” but still we press on.

The note above and other Douglas Adams archival content will be published in a forthcoming book called 42. Read more in this article from The Guardian.

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