The message is simple and the choices are hard… even 41 years later

Apparently, it really wasn’t time to change.

Remember the Brady Bunch episode when Greg writes a song, all the kids plan to record it, but Peter’s voice changes? Honestly, how can anyone forget the line, “When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange”? (And can you tell the Brady Bunch  is a very popular show at my house?)

What you may not remember is that at the beginning of the episode, Greg had written a different “guaranteed hit”. “We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter,” was a lovely tune about making the world a better place. I had forgotten all about this until I was walking around my house going about mundane tasks when a line from the song struck me… something about not cutting down trees. And then the line, “Don’t you know, it’s now or never.”

But it is, in fact, 41 years later. As we reflect on what has transpired in the past four decades, I think we can say that we did not heed the Brady kids’ warning.

People have been talking about changing the way we treat our world for as long as I’ve lived. It’s not that I didn’t know that the environmental movement began before the first Earth Day in 1969. Marvin Gaye was singing about it before the Brady’s did, and given the time it takes for a movement to enter pop culture, this had to be going on for quite a while. But since this time, we have chopped down more trees, our fish have even more mercury (and a bunch of other stuff too), and our air isn’t any cleaner.

People do recycle now. The crying Native American convinced us to cut back on littering. Eco-friendly products are taking up more shelf space in our stores… even in our big box retailers. Yet, there are so many ways our society has become more wasteful. Think about all the cheap plastic toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals and the Dollar Store, for example.

Our economy depends on people consuming. Many people still feel good about abundance. The image of the Christmas tree from which a river of gifts flows onto the living room floor… it’s iconic.

I wonder how many people out there are like me, who feel the push-pull of our culture and the conveniences the American lifestyle feeds? I bet there are plenty who cringe when they pick up a box of Uncrustables, knowing they should take the two minutes in the morning to make the sandwiches themselves. Maybe there are others who drive around in their (non-hydrid) SUV, lusting after the Prius in the parking spot next to them. I often find myself slapping my own hand when considering my choices as a consumer.

We all probably realize that our individual efforts are drops in an ocean without our government and the big players in our economy making major changes. And when this thought crystalizes, do you get frustrated to find yourself in this position? Do you give in and hope a more powerful entity will change? Or do you live your values, even though the world you live in makes it tough to do so? I wish the answer was as easy as a song.

Backstage Pass Gone Bad



When I was a teenager, there was no greater testament to a guitar player’s skill than the following statement, “He can play ‘Eruption’!” (Yes, it was always a he.)

When Van Halen came to my hometown in 1984, it was a colossal event. My friend’s older brother was allowed to stay overnight in line at the venue to score tickets. We got one for everyone, except the guy I had decided to date just because he wore the same hat John Taylor did in the “Hungry Like The Wolf” era. Although he was a drummer, he didn’t care for Van Halen. But, he ended up buying a ticket from a scalper for a lot more money simply because he want to tag along.

On the afternoon of the show, Mr. John Taylor Hat was working his usual job as an usher at the movie theater.  He was sent in to take care of some loud viewers on whom the rest of the crowd’s pleas for quiet had no impact.  Alex Van Halen was one of the offenders.  They talked about the concert that night, and my date mentioned that he was taking me.  Alex handed him two backstage passes and told him to come by after the show.

After a great performance that was not hindered by my very grumpy seat-mate, we walked to the backstage area to see how well the passes worked.  The opportunity to meet Eddie Van Halen was worth having to hear my date heckling David Lee Roth throughout the show. Among the girls I knew, few understood the magic of “Eruption,” so with that and  a story about meeting Eddie, no one would dare question my right for a seat at the rock-and-roll table (the one that dudes sit around posing questions like who’s the greatest guitarist or who’s the best drummer, etc.)

As we walked through the threshold, no one seemed to notice us, so I said to my companion, “Let’s just be casual and walk around like we belong here.  No need to get the passes out unless they ask, right?”  But he seemed determined to ruin everything.  He said, “No, we need to wear these,” pulling one out of his pocket and putting it around his neck.  Within two seconds, a very large security professional escorted us out the door.

The minute we were out of earshot, I started yelling at him for blowing our chance.  Two guys from my high school were lurking around the area and heard us arguing.  They offered to take the passes off our hands… for $100 each.  My soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend moaned in disgust at the whole incident and wouldn’t let the passes go.  Tragedy was a great motivator for his art, and this was the best that our short relationship had delivered.  He shook his head, slumped his shoulders and dragged his feet toward the parking lot.  Only because I needed a ride home did I follow him.  (If only texting existed in 1984!) We never went out again.

Years later, I’ve seen Van Halen two more times with my husband who is as appreciative of the band as anyone I’ve ever met. I can’t say that he could play “Eruption”… at least I’ve been told not to.

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.

Remembering John Lennon

John+Lennon++Yoko+OnoThe morning of December 9th was frigid in the suburbs of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Inside a school bus, I strained to listen over the shouts of middle- and high-schoolers what the newscaster on WOWO was saying.  I couldn’t hear full sentences.  I barely heard the words — not with my ears anyway.  But an ulcerative pit expanded in my gut as I tried to confirm.

Did he just say that John Lennon was shot? Did he die?

I pushed my face against the window. I can still smell the metal and grease from the frame that hovered just below my nose. A single tear that escaped my eye cut a clear path through the opaque frost. The tone of the broadcast rose above its words. I knew John Lennon was dead.

I walked into the school with my face down, wishing I could bury it in a scarf or behind sunglasses.  But I was too cool for extra winter layers, and the sun hadn’t even risen yet. Several kids approached me.  “Did you hear what happened to John Lennon?” I hoped that one would tell me that he’d survived.  I had only heard that he had been shot.  But, no one relieved me.

I was a preteen, deeply passionate about this band I “discovered,” but I knew I couldn’t cry. None of the teachers would excuse me to the girls room to recompose. The other kids wouldn’t understand why I was so saddened by the death of someone I didn’t really know… someone that their parents, aunts and uncles listened to, not kids in the 80s.

John Lennon was an interesting character.  Many reports indicate things that make him seem not especially likable. I know that I’ve cringed when viewing documentaries, reading biographies and even hearing Lennon’s representation of himself in interviews. His talent made us pay attention. His message made him endearing to many of us.  I count myself among those who miss his work. The best years may have been ahead for him, and none of us will ever experience what would have transpired had his assassination been only an attempt.

Generations are, in part, defined by markers in time like this one. Younger GenXers probably won’t remember, because they were likely too young. But, if you do, where were you when John Lennon died?

What is Rod Stewart really trying to say?

Is there really an American Songbook III by Rod Stewart?

Is there really a Great American Songbook III by Rod Stewart? On of the songs on the album is “Isn’t It Romantic?” I guess Rod learned a thing or two about love since “Hot Legs.”

The push-pull between misogyny and female worship in rock music is classic. If you listen to lyrics from some songs, it’s hard to consider how someone had the nerve to sing them, let alone put them down on paper. And sometimes I end up laughing out loud imaging such words stripped of their melodious backdrop and left alone to be judged on their own merits.

This morning, it was Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” that put me in this frame of mind.

Who’s that knocking on my door? It’s gotta be quarter to four. Is it your, my friend, coming ’round for more? Hmmm… so someone is seeking something he has, at a time to seems to be rather inconvenient. And by “quarter to four,” does he mean a.m. or p.m.? This would reveal a lot.

You can love me tonight if you want. But in the morning make sure you’re gone. Ok, question answered, though if he said a.m. in the first place, “love” would have been one of my three guesses as to what this visitor sought. Yet, he tells this person to leave in the morning, so how long does he think this is going to take? Because sunrise is on its way.

I’m talking to you. Hot legs… wearing me out. Hot legs… you can scream and shout. Hot legs… are you still in school? I love you honey. Clearly he wants us to think that this woman is young, because I don’t think he’s talking about graduate school. Yet, he never does refer to his visitor as female, so I guess I am making some assumptions with this one.

Got a most persuasive tongue. You promise all kinds of fun. But what you don’t understand… I’m a working man. Are we supposed to believe that Rod is concerned about his ability to concentrate on the job after his early-morning rendezvous with Hottie? Perhaps he wants us to think of him as a responsible individual who’s considering the big picture of this encounter. But, given his indications that he thinks Hottie might be a minor, I’m not buying it at this point.

Hot legs… you’re an alley cat. Hot legs… you scratch my back.  Hot legs… bring your mother too. I love you honey. Really? Hottie’s mother? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

It gets worse…

Imagine how my daddy felt… in your jet black suspender belt. Seventeen years old… he’s touching sixty-four. There are so many ways one can go with this, and none of them bode well for Rod, in my opinion. Either Hottie is a paid professional or Rod’s dad is a better-looking dude at 64 than Rod is at whatever age he’s supposed to be in the song. The best-case-scenario is that his dad is young-at-heart (as in he’s 17 years old and just shy of 64). But with these parental references, I don’t think Rod has a chance of wooing anyone with these lyrics at this point.

As the song wraps up, Rod goes on to tell Hottie to keep her hands to herself and asks a couple of more times if she’s still in school. Ultimately, he does admit to her that she’s making him a fool. And that’s the most truthful thing I heard in the entire three-plus minutes that I subjected myself to this song. One can only hope that this was a sarcastic message from Rod to his fellow songwriters about the perils of chauvinistic rock-n-roll cliches.

I must add that the flip side to “Hot Legs” in the UK was “I Was Only Joking,” so perhaps Rod just had a cheeky sense of humor all along.

Thankful that you never stop growing

Every once in a while, I consider if I am at midlife the person I expected to be when I was younger. Prior to my twenties, I didn’t imagine much past 28. It’s not that 28 was some sort of deadline, but it was an age that resonated in my head when I thought about the future.

In many ways, I’ve fulfilled the visions of my youth, but given that I didn’t consider life past my late-20s, I can’t say that I am who I reckoned I’d be. I had few expectations.

But one thing I imagined about midlife in the generic sense was that people settle into a loop that plays over and again as they head toward their golden years. Don’t think that by “loop” I mean “rut,” because I choose that word very specifically. A rut is like that saying about the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My dependence on sweets is rut. A loop is more like a routine, I imagined, though not in the strict sense of a schedule. It’s that point that one gets to when they have established a rhythm in their life, a collection of interests and responsibilities, and a community. Together these elements comprise their world.

To my great delight, this loop doesn’t exist, even when interests, responsibilities and community have a solid role in one’s life. The number of changes I made between my high schools years and 28 do not compare to what I have done between 28 and now. Though I haven’t earned any diplomas or degrees during this time, I’ve had an education that has been just as valuable as the one that comes with a transcript. I still like to learn. In fact, I may enjoy it more now than I did then. My desire to succeed remains. But my definition of success is more complex.

I am settled in ways that I wasn’t at 28. I don’t move apartments every year as a result of salary increases. My responsibilities now include lives other than my own. But, I probably embrace new things more easily than I did then. I am more open-minded. I have greater expectations of what life should deliver.

I find that in midlife, I am in less of a loop than I was at 28. It’s exhausting sometimes. And it’s easy to blame that fatigue on age. I didn’t test myself in this way as a younger person, though, so I can only assume that I have less energy. Maybe I just know how to drain the cup and ask for a refill now.

Thankful for those quirky little treasures

This morning a friend and former co-worker of mine posted a YouTube video that reminded the old account team of a project we did back in our quick-service-restaurant promoting days. We created this contest called Wendy’s Search for Sizzlin’ Sounds, asking musically inclined hamburger lovers to put together tuneful odes to the American classic. It was a fun project and definitely ahead of its time (several years before YouTube, Glee and American Idol existed). And, apparently, it is a gift that continues to give, because seeing this video about one woman’s passion for fried chicken has been a highlight of my day.

Thanks to social media, I have many bright spots brought to me by total strangers who put a little piece of themselves on the interweb for all to enjoy. Blogs are definitely a part of that, but I am not sure I could pull off anything as rich as this. Not only does this woman have an awesome voice, she has crafted a heartfelt dedication to something that apparently means the world to her. After all, as you will learn in the song, she is such a good customer at her local fried chicken eatery that the manager opens up the drive-thru window at her request after it had closed. She even goes so far as to add a benediction thanking Jesus for all manner of chicken-related blessings, asking Him to pass the butter and praying to Him to not die skinny. She also claims that the chicken died so that she might live.

Maybe this was tongue-in-cheek. I don’t know. But it is precious and has provided me with a bright spot, especially this evening after addressing a 15-towel plumbing accident. If I had such a gospel song in me as this woman does, I’d sing one equally as devoted to quirky internet finds as she has to poultry. Though I am chicken-adverse, I am waiting for the karaoke version. Enjoy!