Reminds Me of You is from Back on Top, another great Van Morrison album. Don't Call Me Stranger is from Chris Smither's album Time Stands Still. Both guys are great writers and great singers.
I was sitting in the garage recording myself trying to play whatever songs came up on Pandora and this tune really caught my ear. The last 30 seconds made the song for me.
My father passed away shortly before his 58th birthday in January 1989. I'm 59 now so I am living years that he was denied. I think about him every day but this last year he has been on my mind even more than usual. Just today I realized that all the things I've ever worried about in my adult life, my father also navigated, and arguably from a much less advantageous position.
I've invested my life in trying to build a safe and happy environment for my family. My dad did the same thing. Three of my siblings have ventured four children, the other three of us less than that. My mom and dad handled six with spectacular aplomb by comparison to the sometimes fretful ways in which the six of us have approached parenting.
Putting food on the table; clothes on our backs? Well, entirely apart from the volume considerations, my dad chose a life of service rather than one of financial gain. He enlisted during wartime. Taught school as a still young college graduate with a wife and four kids. When our then small town needed someone to create a Recreation Department to provide its citizens with concerts in the park, winter bowling leagues, and programs for the elderly and handicapped, they entrusted that responsibility to my dad. He fulfilled it spectacularly with a range of programs that were a big part of the town's growth over the years. So while it wasn't surprising that our dinner fare occasionally consisted of Velveeta cheese melted on toast with bacon and tomatoes, and once in a while some very thin Sloppy Joe sandwiches, we never went hungry. And if our school clothes sometimes fell a cycle or two behind the fashion trend, they were always clean and more or less the right size.
He did what it took. Night jobs tending bar. Umpiring 20 softball games a week. Saving his pocket change in Skippy peanut butter jars so we could take an annual vacation. He minced no words when setting expectations and rarely wasted any expressing his disappointment when they were unmet. Not to say that he didn't get his point across, just that words rarely figured into the exercise. If a look of disdain seemed inadequate to the task a sharp smack to the back of your head generally proved the perfect escalation.
All the years of my youth, he was a fairly heavy drinker and ne'er do well. He was a dutiful but unreliable husband to my mother, who suffered mightily for it, but he was never an inattentive father. I often learned from the oddest sources that my dad was fully aware of my shenanigans and had chosen to allow them to continue until I received my just desserts. No helicopter parenting there. His comments in the aftermath of some of my less auspicious endeavors generally ran towards "well what the hell did you think was going to happen?" Followed by the aforementioned look of disdain or sharp smack.
But once I was gone from home and in college, then the Army, then raising my own family, he changed while I wasn't looking closely. Without acknowledging any of his earlier failures much beyond the occasional sheepish look when an old story got told around the table, he became more accommodating to my mother. He quit smoking successfully after many previous failed attempts. He cut back on the drinking and card playing, or at least did them with a slightly less disreputable group of acquaintances. He returned to the Catholic church from which he had long ago drifted.
The most challenging thing my dad ever said to me was "faith is a gift; you can only keep your heart open to it and hope to receive it". He never proselytized. Never poked or prodded. He just imparted what he hoped was good advice: keep your heart open to the gift of faith. He and I long enjoyed a common interest in some of the same books but while our earlier "shares" included such trifles as Robert Ludlum stories, Tom Clancy epics, and the various cop and military series of WEB Griffin, later we both found the John Irving classics Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany and enjoyed swapping stories of our favorite parts.
In Cider House Rules that, for me, was the theme of "waiting and seeing". I'm still doing that in regards to the question of faith. My heart is open to it and I eagerly await its arrival. As for A Prayer for Owen Meany, I am always drawn back to it's quote of Psalms 37:8. I recite it to myself from time to time to try to make the same transformation my dad did in his life: Leave off from wrath, let go displeasure. Fret not thyself else shalt thou be moved to do evil.
I hope I am as good a man as my father was. I have my doubts.
Happy birthday Dad!
I recently posted a recording of this tune but wasn't happy with how it sounded so I went back to the drawing board. First, some background. Van Morrison is one of my favorite artists and this is one of the songs on what I consider to be his best album, Down the Road. He plays harmonica on many of the tracks and it is some of my all time favorite harp work. Since he plays harp on the album, any harp you hear on this while he is singing is me. Also, he does do two harp solos during the song and I am tentative and wobbly on the first (around the 3:00 minute mark), but faithful to the second, although a little late in starting it (the last 40 seconds of the song). I used a Low F harp and it made a lot of difference. I really enjoyed this.
I heard this great blues recording by Pat Donohoe today and decided to try to play along with it. I've been recording myself out in my garage and I did this inside the house, so it sounds a little different.
This is a great Van Morrison tune. I accidentally deleted the first few bars so it starts abruptly and there is a spot in the recording at about 3:52 where a beat or two is dropped because I had an incoming email. I play too much and have to learn how to hit highlights instead of tracking the vocals so much, but I still really loved playing this.
In 1987 I got out of the Army and took a job as a traveling salesman. I was spending as much as 20 hours a week in a company car, driving all over NY, NJ, PA, MD and DE. It wasn't long before I'd heard every song on the radio and gotten tired of listening to my own cassette tapes (I had a lot of them). On a whim one day I bought a Hohner Marine Band harmonica and started tooting away on it. Within a couple of days I decided I was going to learn to play like Sonny Boy Williamson so I bought a neck rack and played Row Row Row Your Boat for hours on end as I drove around the Northeast doing my job.
I've been playing ever since, though in different times of my life I've put more or less effort into actually learning new techniques or skills. Over the last year or so I've had a lot more time to play and I also started to record the stuff I was playing to see if I could learn from listening to myself. I bought some backing tracks, guys playing no frills guitar, bass, piano, and drums in varying styles and rhythms to play over and got a lot better a lot faster than ever before. Here's an example:
A little over a year ago I started seeing a Chiropractor, Paul Brugger, for back pain. I had known Paul years earlier from our local gym and also from a neighbor of mine with whom he occasionally played guitar. Paul invited me to come to Wednesday night jam sessions at his office with 4-5 other guitar players, a bass player, and drummer. Again, by doing something new and different I learned a lot faster and soon was able to play things I had never dreamed of playing. For months, we wrapped up every session playing Blue Sky by the Allman Brothers and I fell in love with how it felt to play the tune. I tried to record our playing but the volume in a small space (these guys use some BIG amps) overwhelmed the microphone on my iPhone and you couldn't really hear individual instruments...it was all one loud howl. I loved playing the song so much though that I started playing alone in my garage to that actual Allman Brothers track:
I was loading these recordings to Facebook but they have done a couple of things to make that impractical. They don't accept audio files and they stopped accepting the video file format I was using. Also, one time when I posted a version of Santana's Black Magic Woman, another song we play on Wednesday nights, they rejected it because they said it was copyrighted. I'm sure it is, but I hope the band won't mind my fiddling around trying to play it.
I really enjoy the Wednesday night group, and recently one of my best friends, Glenn Thaller, has been coming along to play guitar, making it even more fun (although just that much louder since that's one more amp in a very small space). I believe I will start posting any recordings I make here so that when I am too old to play anymore I will be able to listen to myself and dream of the roadhouse lifestyle that I never had.
Here's a thought experiment:
Imagine that your life circumstances have caused you to decide not to own a car. Radical right? Doesn't everybody have a car? Isn't that part of being an adult...having your own transportation?
Play along with me though. For whatever combination of reasons...where you currently live, your day-to-day routine, your financial situation...you've decided to forgo a car. Now, that doesn't mean you don't still have to go places...you do. Sometimes you pay out of pocket for transportation...you take a bus or a taxi or an Uber to get where you want to go. You don't do this indiscriminately; you only part with that much money when getting somewhere is the most important thing for you to spend it on.
When you don't feel like paying for dedicated transportation you use less convenient but equally effective methods like the local metro bus system or a subway. Sometimes you even have to swallow your pride and ask family or friends for some help getting to an event or carting home the groceries. In the worst case, you might even take advantage of a church van service or a local community organization's ride share service...charity if you really think about it.
But you patch it all together because that's the choice you made and for all the inconvenience, not having a car is the best decision for you right now.
Then, you hear on the news that there is a new law, and you are required to buy a car. If you fail to buy a car, you are going to have to pay a penalty. You start to do the math and realize that you can afford an old clunker that gets you around, but there's more news. The only kind of car you can buy that satisfies the requirement is one that has a high end stereo, A/C, and power locks and window. Each of those features pushes the cost of the car higher, to the point that you simply cannot afford the monthly payment for the car that you now MUST buy. But the news goes on and you learn that you "might" qualify for a government subsidy to buy the car that you don't want and can't afford. Just how much you'll get and whether you will qualify are not really clear, but you're hoping for the best.
So what do you think? There are some compelling reasons why the government decided that everyone needs a car. People buying cars is good for everyone and people buying more expensive cars is really good for some people who make cars. You don't really understand all the details (on the news they said the new law has 10,535 pages) but you shrug your shoulders and start car shopping. You find out that there are only two car dealers in your state that sell the kind of car that meets the requirement of the new law, so that means your price is actually a little higher than you anticipated because of a lack of competition, but what the heck, it's the law right?
Here's the second step in the thought experiment.
Reread the post with some word replacements and see if it still makes sense:
Imagine that your life circumstances have caused you to decide not to own have health insurance. Radical right? Doesn't everybody have insurance? Isn't that part of being an adult...making sure you can pay for health care?
Play along with me though. For whatever combination of reasons...your age, your healthy life style and exercise routine, your financial situation...you've decided to forgo health insurance. Now, that doesn't mean you don't still have to get medical care...you do. Sometimes you pay out of pocket for care...you visit a local urgent care facility or go to your old doctor to get the care you need. You don't do this indiscriminately; you only part with that much money when getting care is the most important thing for you to spend it on.
When you don't feel like paying for care you use less convenient but somewhat effective methods like consulting an online source such as WebMD. Sometimes you even have to swallow your pride and ask family or friends for some help getting paying for a doctor's visit or prescription. In the worst case, you might even take advantage of a local free clinic or a health day set up by a local church...charity if you really think about it.
But you patch it all together because that's the choice you made and for all the inconvenience, not having health insurance is the best decision for you right now.
Then, you hear on the news that there is a new law, and you are required to buy health insurance. If you fail to buy a policy, you are going to have to pay a penalty. You start to do the math and realize that you can afford a catastrophic care policy with a high deductible, but there's more news. The only kind of policy you can buy that satisfies the requirement is one that has a a specified list of services that must be covered, like preventive care and certain prescriptions and tests you are either unlikely to ever need or that are simply impossible for you (pregnancy test for guys; prostate exams for women). Each of those features pushes the cost of the policy higher, to the point that you simply cannot afford the monthly premium for the one that you now MUST buy. But the news goes on and you learn that you "might" qualify for a government subsidy to buy the policy that you don't want and can't afford. Just how much you'll get and whether you will qualify are not really clear, but you're hoping for the best.
So what do you think? There are some compelling reasons why the government decided that everyone needs a policy. People buying health insurance is good for everyone and people buying more expensive policies is really good for some people who sell them. You don't really understand all the details (on the news they said the new law has 10,535 pages) but you shrug your shoulders and start shopping for a policy. You find out that there are only two insurers in your state that sell the kind of policy that meets the requirement of the new law, so that means your price is actually a little higher than you anticipated because of a lack of competition, but what the heck, it's the law right?
Neither version sits well with me. I recall a time when decisions like whether to buy a car or health insurance were mine to make. It feels like I am giving up some freedom, becoming less autonomous. The whole thing rankles. I really feel I should be free to not buy either a car or a health insurance policy. My transportation and my health care are my responsibility, and thus should be a matter for my choosing.
This evening I was on social media a lot. I do that more these days...spend 3-4 hours switching from Twitter to Facebook to RealClear to Apple News to Reddit...you get the point. When I took a break I sat on the front stoop of my house and thought of myself as I would appear in an overhead Google Earth shot...and then just pulled the zoom lens back. There was a Kevin Costner movie that did that as an opening and closing shot. No Way Out. Good flick.
When I was a kid I didn't have a sense of a world so big that could be made to look so small. I was well schooled and genuinely inquisitive, but I couldn't imagine much more than I could see most of the time. To the extent that there were no real boundaries keeping me from from expanding my "bubble", there weren't a whole lot of streams of information flowing into it either. Now, I routinely log in and out of 14 or 15 apps on three or four different devices every day.
Not only can I do my job for a major bank without ever leaving my home, I can run a small business from there on the side. My location is no longer a factor, let alone a limiting one, in my ability to do almost anything. At the same time, while I am at home, saddled with two jobs, I can be carrying on three different conversations with people in far flung homes and offices of their own...and we are actually getting stuff done.
This blog, my business and personal email traffic, my Facebook posts, my Tweets...they are a journal of my life now. It all persists ***in the cloud*** and my biographer will have more to work with than the most prolific minds of history. Were someone so inclined, they could recover almost every moment of my life since the mid-'90s.
I wonder about the trade-offs. Privacy for mobility? Yeah, to a point. I don't think I've come up on any limit that I am not willing to cross. I like that I can see, in near real time that my Florida relatives are visiting my niece in Colorado and order pizza from my phone while I am out and then gamble on whether I will beat the delivery guy to my house. I like that I can get a picture of my granddaughter in Oaxaca, Mexico every morning before I've finished my morning coffee. And I really like arguing politics on Twitter with people who could be anywhere!
I know that large and mysterious entities are capturing digital traces of every aspect of my life. I also have a pretty good sense that the only reason they could possibly want to know that much about that many people is because it will increase their ability to influence me. But as my instructor pilot told me when I asked him about flying in Viet Nam, "big sky, little bullet". While I could never display Jose's insouciance about death, I agree with the thrust of his response.
Fiscally conservative, security minded libertarian