Tribute Bands

I once heard some cynically conclude that being a tribute artist is a “waste of a life.” I disagree, for several reasons.

  1. They help diminish the grief of losing our favorite artists, and there are fewer higher purposes than softening the burden of grief.
  2. On one hand, it’s sad that nobody on the stage was actually in the original band. On the other, these are people who have obsessed, even more than the biggest fan, about every detail of their music. This makes them worthy of respect. After all, it’s the love of the music that matters, not who’s singing it. Of course I’d rather see the actual artist up there, but someone who loves them that much is worth watching too. We can’t bring them back to life, but capturing their spirit sure helps lighten the load of missing them. It’s about love and celebration of all they were and all they gave us.
  3. If the band/artist absolutely nails the original band’s sound down to the smallest detail, we can close our eyes and remember our own smallest details – of when that music first grabbed us, made us feel more deeply, learn something new about the world or ourselves, and gave us the kind of joy only music can.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about when I say “nailed it.”

When I listen to a Beach Boys tribute band like The Fendertones, I remember driving home from the beach (I was born and raised in Southern California) with my high school girlfriend, stroking her hair as she lay sleeping on my lap (cars had couches for front seats back then), the sun setting in my rearview mirror, and The Warmth of the Sun playing on a cassette tape. I think of laying on lounge chairs by my parents’ pool, drenched in Tropical Blend tanning oil, my eyelids bright red from facing the sun, friends jumping off the roof into the pool while Fun Fun Fun blasted from a radio. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m listening to the actual Beach Boys. These guys loved them as much, maybe even more, than I ever did.

Very few artists had a greater influence on me than John Denver did, particularly his love of the environment, and promotion of sustainable ecology and human compassion. For that, there’s this guy – Jim Curry – who has John Denver’s voice DOWN –

Or Ted Vigil, who looks like John’s twin brother and does a darn good impression of him too – 

 

I suppose I just love people who love the same things I do. They’re my family whether or not we’ve ever met. I love surfing culture thanks to The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, The Surfari’s, Frankie and Annette movies, and access to Malibu, especially now that I’m leaving California due to overcrowding, crime, gangs, etc., I love the people who help keep my memory of it alive, and who make me feel like maybe all is not lost after all. 

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California Screamin’

 

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My usual jogging path along the railroad tracks in Burbank, California, has gotten worse and worse in recent months. Trash everywhere and a lot more homeless people.

I walked by a couple who were living in a very nice tent. They even had a generator. He was chewing her out about something as I approached, then she furtively pointed at me and he stopped, but as soon as I passed he went back to yelling at her. The part I caught was, “Look at this right here! If I didn’t pick it up, it would sit there for a year!” He then picked up some item on the ground. (This did not distinguish the item at all because there was no furniture in the tent and everything was on the ground. )

Apparently, they were having marital issues because he doesn’t think she’s a good enough “tentkeeper.” I can’t blame the guy for wanting to maintain some dignity under those conditions, but I couldn’t understand why he would be so abusive to the one person on earth who is willing to suffer with him.

Bob Marley said, “Everyone will hurt you. The trick is finding someone worth suffering for.” I suppose the message here is to appreciate the people in our lives. They suffer when we suffer, and that’s worthy of respect, at least.

Real Life vs. The Movies #1

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I had another “no wonder I’m a writer” moment recently.
In movies, the candy man sings, rides a rolling ladder and showers happy children with candy.
In real life, a pimply teenager stares at an iPhone constantly, ignoring the one child customer right in front of him, and doesn’t smile when you buy his damn candy.
Conclusion: Real life can really suck sometimes. 

My Last Night in Athens

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It was my last night in Greece and I only had fifteen dollars in my pocket. I had to decide between a meal and a bed. I chose a meal, and one last night of wandering. I could sleep when I was back in L.A. It was a Saturday night in July so there was plenty to see and do. The Greeks love to celebrate, and they don’t need a reason.

After dinner, I went to a music festival for an hour, then walked over to the Acropolis to get one last look. I was momentarily disappointed when I found the gate locked, but there was only a chain link fence around the base of the hill. Not exactly a fortress. I walked to a secluded spot at the perimeter, threw my sleeping bag and backpack over the fence, and crawled under it. I would have to keep my eyes and ears open because I saw armed guards with dogs there a few weeks earlier when I first visited.

Once inside, I walked to the Theater of Dionysus, talked to the statues holding up the dais, and delivered a monologue at center stage under the stars to whatever forgotten gods on Mount Olympus might be listening. For a theater major, it felt pretty amazing to have this stage all to myself, the same stage Thespis, the first actor to ever play a character in a play on a stage (according to Aristotle), once stood. (For those who don’t know, this is where the term “Thespian” comes from.)

Then I chose one of the cracked seats (sixth row, center, thank you), pulled a half-full bottle of red wine from my backpack, and imagined I was an ancient Greek watching some passion play. It wasn’t difficult. All I had to do was look at my feet and the brown leather Greek sandals I had bought on Mykonos months earlier.

The wine and the hour made me drowzy, so I hiked to a cave in the uncarved stone at the base of the hill supporting the Acropolis, laid out my sleeping bag, took a candle and a book of poems from my backpack, and invited some great company over (Frost, Longfellow, Dickinson, et al) as I watched hot air balloons glowing against the night sky in the distance, at some other festival.

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Finally, sleep took me until I was awakened again by a high-pitched squeal. I held my candle up to the sound and saw . . . bats. Dozens of them, clinging to the walls. Though the night was warm, I got inside my sleeping bag and zipped it over my head, hoping they wouldn’t try to bite me through it.

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I awoke at dawn, and went out the way I came in. I was spotted by a guard from the top of the hill. He yelled but I just kept moving. Thus ended six months in Europe. I arrived home twenty pounds lighter, with less than a dollar of change in my pocket, but with a heart and soul filled to bursting, and a mind filled with dozens of new stories to tell my grandchildren. If I had spent that last fifteen dollars on a bed, I would have had nothing to write about. That old saying is true – “It’s better to wear out your shoes than your sheets.”

Just a House

 

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I found a photo online today of one of the four houses I lived in as a child. (Chimineas Street In Northridge, California.) Just a house to anyone else but much more to me, of course.

I played Frisbee with my brother (now gone) in the summer on that grass.

I helped my dad (now gone) wash his car in that driveway.

My dog Skipper (a black terrier mix) pulled me on my skateboard down that sidewalk.

I planted a pine sapling in the front lawn because it was growing by a block wall and I knew it would be pulled out and thrown away when it got too big. It is now that giant pine tree on the right. It’s a strange thing to be able to climb a tree you planted. (One of those things that lets you know you’ve been around a while.)

I rushed home from school at Darby Elementary to eat scooter pies and watch Scooby Doo in that living room.

My brother and I shared the bedroom on the left. My bed was by the window. I used to look at the stars and pray, certain God heard every word. Lots of comics read under the covers with a flashlight, too.

I would trade a year for five minutes in that house again, at that time, with my brother and father. So much changes, and memories can be so clear that decades feel like days, even minutes.

Those of you who have lived long enough to know what I mean, have a listen to this song by my favorite singer/songwriter, David Wilcox. I think you’ll like it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9L5iP0R2Zqo

New Publishings!

 

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Please look for my stories The Radio That Couldn’t Be Stolen and A Word Whispered to a Toddler in this book, now available in bookstores and online. 

These make 23 of my stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s inspirational books, but only the second time I’ve had two stories in one book. I’m always very proud to be part of their inspirational collections.

There was an expression in the 60’s – “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” These books are part of the solution. All of life’s great questions can be found in them, collectively. With over 250 titles released over the past twenty years, they are the best place to find stories about extraordinary events written by ordinary people. 

Tim Conway

My father died in the same condition comedian Tom Conway is currently in. His daughter doesn’t expect him to last much longer. As a child, my parents, older brother and I laughed uproariously at his performances on The Carol Burnett Show. It was a time when comedy was still clean and free of attacks on others. The last gasp of innocence in America. Carol is still good and decent, as evidenced by her new Netflix series about children, similar to the 60’s show Kids Say the Darnedest Things.

I was once interviewed on the radio by Tom Conway, Jr. so I feel an odd connection to his father, though I never met him.

So another light is going out, and that’s what it is in a world filled with dimmer bulbs. A soldier friend of mine once shared a photo on Tim Conway’s Facebook page of himself holding an 8×10 signed by him. He actually re-shared it saying, “Here’s one of our fighting men with a signed photo of me he’s not trying to sell on eBay.” (Or something to that effect.) He went on to say some nice things about veterans in general. The man was old school in that way, too. The current crop in Hollywood, at least most of them, are either conspicuously silent or outright critical of the military. I suppose they think that’s more hip.

Here’s more about Mr. Conway’s life right now.

http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2018/08/27/carol-burnett-star-tim-conway-is-battling-dementia-and-is-almost-entirely-unresponsive-report-says.html

And one of his most famous skits –

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away
of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been,
time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go;
but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen,
the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.
I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes
than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.
– Edna  St. Vincent Millay