Not just another terror attack

I’m going to acknowledge that I write this collection of words sitting in a place of white privilege. It’s not said often enough, and unfortunately when it is, it’s usually in the wake of tragedies like the terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday evening. Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge, because when I still went to church, I never had to worry that a human being with subhuman thoughts and motivations would walk into choir practice on Wednesday night and gun us down. That’s largely because everyone I went to church with looked like I do.

So, let’s stow the rhetoric about the Charleston church shootings being an “attack on faith.” This was a mass lynching and anyone who tries to cast it as persecution against Christians should just check themselves out of the conversation right now.

They won’t, of course, but I’m not going to let that stop me from lecturing to them.

I have hated the continued slaughter of Americans by Americans, even more than I have hated the murder of Americans by foreign nationals. We have a horribly paradoxical attitude, though, about the former and the latter. Foreign terrorists fly planes into our buildings, and we are ready to rain down thunder upon them and do everything we can to remove their ability to do it again. American terrorists gun down innocents in schools, churches, theaters, places of business and we call it an isolated tragedy and do very little to impede similar groups from repeating the carnage. We hold up the Second Amendment as our excuse, and we bastardize and corrupt the words “freedom” and “liberty.”

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result every time, then America has first-class tickets and is living it up in the bar car on the crazy train. Let’s put to bed the myth that we are the “greatest country in the world,” because this is not the behavior of a great civilization. Greatness does not respect the beliefs espoused by that racist slime, that feckless thug. Greatness may tolerate it in our midst, but not without saying “you’re wrong, and we are not going to allow you to fester and hamper our progress.”

We aren’t the greatest country in the world, but we can become better than we are.

In my short life, I’ve been around for too many of these, but I’ve always been insulated from them because of distance, either geographical or relational. I never knew anyone personally involved. That changed on Thursday morning, when I read a post from a friend, a former classmate at Morehead. She teaches in Charleston and was coworkers and friends with one of the shooting victims, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, who was a speech therapist and track coach, and who was also a pastor in the church. I’m trying not to make this about me, but I can’t imagine I’m the only person in America for whom the degrees of separation from these massacres of Americans by Americans are getting fewer and fewer as time marches on. Yesterday it was a friend of a friend. I’ll admit, I grieve when these things happen, but there’s always an arrogance about it because I somehow feel that it will never happen to me or to someone I know. And no one ever does.

Well, that’s not true. African-Americans do. There have been enough church burnings, lynchings, and other atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout American history to justify the fear they might have. As I said, though, at the beginning, I do not know that kind of fear because I sit in a place of white privilege. Sure, if I was fighting for my country, I could sit in a bunker and be afraid, but at least I know that the fellows on the other side are trying to kill me. But because I’m white, I can come home from that war, move into a home and be completely ignorant that my neighbor is a white supremacist with a Klan hood hanging in his closet. We’re not going to bother each other because I’m ignorant of his views and he’s ignorant of my views. I don’t know that I’m living next to a terrorist.

I can’t imagine that a black family who moves into a predominantly white neighborhood can feel that kind of security. I may wonder if any of my neighbors are domestic terrorists, but it doesn’t directly affect me. I can’t fathom that level of fear.

Yet there are people, high-level people, who seem to thrive in ignorance in the wake of these domestic terror attacks. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – you know…the one who won’t retire the state’s treasonous flag – wrote on her Facebook page that “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

We’ll never understand? Gov. Haley, this is not one of life’s great mysteries. A guy wearing the flag of pre-South African Apartheid went into a church with a gun and slaughtered human beings whose skin color was different than his own. He is reported by the only living witness to have said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you’ll have to go.” He confessed to authorities that he executed this terrorist attack in order to start a race war.

This one is open and shut, governor. Lieutenant Columbo has left the building.

Presidential candidate, former Florida governor and brother of a famous idiot Jeb Bush said on Friday “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.”

Either he is genuinely as stupid as his brother, or someone on his campaign staff (the guy who buys cigarettes for Satan) advised him to be purposely nebulous (ignorant) for fear of losing the slackjaw neanderthal vote.

Rick Santorum (is he still relevant?), to his credit, called it what it was – a hate crime. Unfortunately, he missed the mark when identifying the group that was being targeted, taking his cue from Fox News. On Thursday he told radio host Joe Piscopo “We don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be? You’re sort of lost that someone would walk into a Bible study at a church and indiscriminately kill people.”

What other rationale?

To this trio, and others like them who are dancing around the elephant in the room, I ask this: Are you intentionally ignorant, or can you really not make the connection between a white supremacist domestic terrorist and his intent to gun down members of a black church? Are you aware that people listen to the words coming out of those holes in your heads? How many other terrorist attacks like this must we endure before you have the grand epiphany, before you grow up, before we can finally have an honest discussion about racism in America.

We aren’t the greatest country in the world. Wednesday night proved that. We can become better than we are, though. As soon as our leaders can do as the struggling alcoholic does and admit we have a problem, then we can truly progress.

To the class of 2015

As I look out at this massive crowd I see the tops of mortarboards.

Put the phones away, kids.

I cannot help but look at this sea of fresh faces and think of the soul-crushing pile of student debt you are about to collectively accumulate. I mean huge. I mean so big you should probably start shopping around for a funeral home now while your credit is still good.

The good news is that somewhere in this throng of wide-eyed terror lurks a few future white collar criminals. My advice is to make friends with those guys (or gals…it’s an equal opportunity world). You’ll get a better interest rate from those loan sharks than you ever would from a bank.

If you are one of those future white collar criminals, my advice is don’t get caught. If you do get caught, don’t drop the soap. I wouldn’t worry about that too much though. You can always follow the career model of the poster boy for white collar crime, Enron’s Kenneth Lay, who had the good sense to die before he could get raped in prison by a hairy behemoth the other cons call Twinkie.

To the kids who almost had a perfect GPA for their high school careers, except for that one “B” you got this semester in music appreciation, you got what you deserved. You probably would have received an “A” if you hadn’t asked – five times per class – “is this going to be on the exam?” In case you were wondering if your parents are secretly disappointed that you didn’t make a perfect 4.0, they are. Don’t worry, though. That disappointment is nothing compared to when you tell them you’re changing your major from accounting to Sanskrit. Keep your chin up.

To the overachievers I say: yes, it’s true. Your friends have been making fun of your anal retentive obsession with grades and accolades this entire time. Before you make that same mistake in college, here’s a little joke for you. What do you call the person who finishes last in their class at medical school? Doctor! So if you’re a dude, go on panty raids. If you’re a chick, go kidnap a fraternity pledge.

By the way, that actually happened to me in college. I got dragged off the street by a carload of sorority girls, and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds.

But I digress…

My point is this: you should have gone toilet papering a little more (or at all).

For the “C” students, take heart. It is possible to become gainfully employed. If you have enough personality and know how to bullshit, you can one day supervise a straight “A” student. And won’t that be fun? Please, though, for the love of whatever it is you believe in, let’s make a pact right here and now that you “C” students will never, EVER accept a nomination by your party to be President of the United States. You’d be like the toddler going on the grocery shopping trip with his mom. She only had a list of things she needed, but she ended up spending more money because of the stuff you broke, and the lives you ruined, and the international reputation you took a dump on.

In closing – because like most of you writing your own essays, I’m too lazy to think up a more thoughtful transition to the concluding paragraph, so I’m just taking the obvious route – I’d like to point out that there are some very serious high school graduation speeches being given today by extraordinarily well-credentialed and distinguished speakers. If just one person in any of those audiences, listening to those sage words, was so moved as to decide, right then and there, that they were going to turn from their slacker ways and lives of mediocrity, I would be utterly shocked.

Thank you and God help us.

‘Of all the souls…’

Leonard Nimoy directs Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) in Star Trek III.

Leonard Nimoy directs Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) in Star Trek III.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the soul of Star Trek just died.

That’s not to denigrate the performances of the other six cast members. There was diversity unlike anything else on TV during the 1960s and everyone, to a person, had their moments. When you look at it, though, from the early 21st century they were really just standard issue humans on a spaceship.

But not Spock, and the job of making Spock nonstandard fell to Leonard Nimoy.

Like a lot of Trekkies (or Trekkers as Nimoy preferred calling us), I came to

Spock in his office.

Spock in his office.

Star Trek years after the original series had been canceled. I wasn’t even born yet when it aired its last episode in 1969. And, like many, the thing that drew me to the series wasn’t the ship or the rayguns or the space battles. It was that pointy-eared fellow with the funny haircut.

A good friend of mine, Wes Flinn, wrote today that “if you were different in any way, you had Spock as someone to look up to.” Spock set the standard for science fiction. He was the alien character who served to reflect humanity, and even American culture, back at itself, seen through the prism of an intelligent alien.

Spock's parents, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) and Sarek (Mark Lenard). I can't believe network executives let this scandalous interracial marriage be on television.

Spock’s parents, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) and Sarek (Mark Lenard). I can’t believe network executives let this scandalous interracial marriage be on television.

Well, half-alien. Spock was human on his mother’s side and Vulcan on his father’s side, but as much as this flies in the face of the paranoiacs at Homeland Security and the CIA, we’re all alien to somebody.

I doubt there’s accurate polling data to support whether people would have tuned in to Star Trek if Spock was not on the show, but I probably would not have. I was surprised to learn, when I was researching Star Trek’s history for a speech I had to give in a college class, that NBC wanted to axe the Spock character because with his pointed ears and upturned eyebrows he appeared too satanic.

Mister Spock, cleaned up for the Bible Belt.

Mister Spock, cleaned up for the Bible Belt.

Indeed, in the publicity stills released before the series aired, NBC had airbrushed out Spock’s pointed ears and eyebrows for fear of offending some viewers. I view that as an anthropological curiosity about American

corporate culture in the 1960s that they would worry about offending an audience segment that probably wouldn’t watch the show to begin with. “If you don’t like our resident alien, you’re definitely not going to like our African communications officer or our Asian-American (Sulu was born in San Fran) helmsman. And hang around for season two, where you will lose your shit over our commie navigator.”

That’s a not-so-polite way to say that Star Trek isn’t for everybody.

It’s difficult to write about what Spock, and by extension Leonard Nimoy, meant to me without writing about Star Trek itself. As I postulated above, I believe Spock, with Nimoy as his conduit, was the soul of the show, there to reflect our human (and American) values back to us, warts and all. He was the good at his job, yet he was a misfit, a man without a country, neither fully Vulcan nor fully human. Put in the context of growing up in the 80s, he was a nerd in a world of jocks and preppies, and I think that’s why those of us who never felt like we were “standard issue humans” gravitated toward Spock, Nimoy and the show. If it were not for the lack of longevity that would allow me to live into the 23rd century (and not be a blubbering senior senior senior citizen), I would have wanted to be Spock when I grew up. It seemed to be a better gig than cop, fireman or race car driver, and you got to do more traveling.

But you can’t be Spock. None of us can. Leonard Nimoy already did it, and he put his signature on it. He invented the Vulcan salute and the customary Vulcan “blessing” (I can’t think of a better word…admonition, maybe?) to “live long and prosper.” When a script called for Spock to brawl with an evil duplicate of Captain Kirk, Nimoy objected. He rationalized that Vulcans, steeped in logic and general emotional control (no one ever said they did not have emotions) were above such primitive fisticuffs. Thus, the Vulcan nerve pinch was born. It was a nonlethal maneuever by which Spock would apply pressure where the neck meets the shoulder, rendering a foe unconscious without unnecessary and excessive force. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it in action. It was at my granny and granddaddy’s one weekend. They live in Cox’s Creek, which is a few counties over from Louisville, so they picked up Louisville television stations. WAVE 3 aired Star Trek reruns on Sundays. My granddaddy and I were watching and Spock felled some poor soul with the nerve pinch. Granddaddy looked at me and said “that Spock’s got a helluva grip, huh?”

Gene Roddenberry may have thought up Spock, but Leonard Nimoy made him true, from the measured cadence and controlled tone of his voice to the way he carried himself, to the way he sat at his station on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It’s hard to say goodbye to the guy who gave birth to one of the most – if not THE most – iconic characters of American television.

3323375_Spock_Dress_Uniform

I know it’s Christmas when I hear…

There are things I do every year, neighborhoods I drive through, houses whose decorations I look for, trees put up in public places, just out of a sense of holiday tradition. They are unique to me, though I’m sure some of my traditions overlap with other peoples’. It’s a small world, after all.

More important than the sights of the season, to me, are the sounds. There are certain holiday tunes that, unless I hear them, it’s not Christmas for me yet. I’ve compiled a list of what is probably the bulk of those songs. If I do this again next year, there might be a few changes, but I can’t imagine it would be more drastic than that. These are fairly iron clad.

In no particular order…

1. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams

The first time I ever heard this tune was in sixth grade when we had to learn it in chorus. I still have trouble reconciling scary ghost stories with a Christmas song, but maybe it was just prophetic of how much the holiday season has encroached upon Halloween.

My own personal War on Christmas aside, I like this tune. It was probably Andy Williams’ “Freebird,” with tipsy octogenarians shouting out requests for the classic Christmas tune at every Andy Williams concert.

2. There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays – Perry Como

Also in the arena of classic Christmas tunes is this gem from Perry Como. If you discount the square-ish chorus section in the middle (it must have been really difficult to get choral backup singers to groove in that decade…swinging ’60s, my ass), this tune is very playful, with its use of percussion toys to underscore the joviality of packing the family into a station wagon for a five-hour trek to grandma and grandpa’s, listening to the Carpenters’ “Christmas Portrait” album over and over again, while your little brother can’t keep his feet to himself.

I think I even heard a brake drum.

Most of all, I like the brass build up at the very end. It’s those few measures that are the fanfare ushering in the holiday season for me.

And speaking of the Carpenters…

3. Merry Christmas Darling – The Carpenters

Far be it for me to call Karen Carpenter sexy, but her voice certainly is in this holiday love letter. If I was a swingin’ bachelor in the 1970s, and I was trying to corner the last available, sober woman at my holiday fondue party, this is the track I’d play on the hi-fi. Come on! The tune has a mellow sax solo in it. That’s better than booze. If fabric isn’t hitting the floor, or the chandelier, or the ceiling fan blades, you might want to reconsider your taste in women (or men, depending on your persuasion). “Sax” is just one vowel away from something that can be equally noisy and offensive, if done right. It was named that way by design. Look it up!

4. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole

From smooth and sultry to sweet and innocent. My appreciation of this Mel Torme classic, sung and immortalized by Nat King Cole, originated in the early 1990s. I was home from college for Christmas vacation, up late on Christmas Eve attempting to write (some things never change) and “The Christmas Song” came on the radio. The first few bars – the piano followed by the strings – brought to mind the visual of snow blowing around in the wind and Santa driving his sleigh through the quiet night sky. I still think of that every time I hear the tune. If I can hear it on Christmas Eve, that’s just a bonus. I’m crossing my fingers for that this year.

5. All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey

I’ll freely admit I’m a pig, and this tune proves it. If Raphie Parker has his soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window, I have Mariah Carey in a form-fitting red snowsuit against the backdrop of a lovely winter’s majesty. I make no apologies for it. MTV was born during my childhood, so, yes, I sometimes associate music with music videos. At least back then they still played videos on MTV, but I digress.

I would sometimes, in my college addled brain, imagine Mariah Carey, or a similarly curvaceous songstress, singing this to me. I’m not getting any younger (and, let’s not kid ourselves, neither are you, Mariah), yet I still hold out hope that I might hit the lottery because, as Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) so eloquently put it in the movie “Office Space,” “if I had a million dollars, I could probably hook that up, tool; ’cause chicks dig dudes with money.”

I live in hope.

6. White Christmas – Bing Crosby

It’s the top-selling record of all time. I don’t really think I need to say anything more about this tune. It’s not Christmas without Bing-buh-buh-buh-buh.

The linked video is not the most famous recording of this, but it is my favorite, and it is from the first movie in which “White Christmas” was ever performed, the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.”

7. Same Auld Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg

Take a musician’s chance encounter with a former flame at the market, add alcohol and a story about a marriage gone tepid and the resulting sexual tension can only be topped by…a sax solo!

Granted, this tune can be seen, by some folks who store their umbrellas in the number two excretion zone, as promoting public intoxication, and even driving under the influence. Infidelity is only vaguely flirted with, but I imagine on New Year’s Eve, shit happens. I like this tune for its story and for its somewhat wistful melody, and yes, the soulful sax rendition of Auld Lang Syne at the end, not performed by Guy Lombardo.

8. Celebrate Me Home – Kenny Loggins

Why is this song on my list? Probably because I’m a pussy.

No, that’s not it. It’s really nothing special. Once upon a time I thought about what it would be like to travel home for Christmas from much farther away than I currently live from my hometown. There was that reason, and also the fact that it took me a few listenings of this tune before I came to the realization that “hey…this is Kenny Loggins.” In terms of the holiday canon, he’s not as prolific as, say, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, so whenever you hear this song on the radio, even with holiday tunes broadcasting from the day after Halloween through Dec. 25, it’s like a little collector’s item.

9. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Dean Martin

I have to begin my remarks on this tune by lambasting the version done by Michael Buble and Idina Menzel, in which they rewrote some of the lyrics to make it more “kid friendly.” Because that’s exactly what we need in this country – to have a decent example of consenting adults enjoying a little musical foreplay watered down for the under-8 crowd. In case anyone was wondering, “kid friendly” is one of the reasons we can’t have nice things.

If you want to read about the G-rated version or see the video, go here. I assure you, it’s quite SFW.

For the record, I have an 8-year-old nephew and an infant niece, whom I love dearly. That doesn’t mean I want to get rid of adult swim. Again, I digress.

Dean-o really shines in this arrangement, backed by a chorus of what must have been women who were rejected by Ray Conniff for having too much personality. I can picture it clearly: Dean walking onstage, looking sharp in a black tuxedo, holding a solid glass of liquid that looks like it might be bourbon and a lit cigarette…in the same hand! He’s flanked on either side by the glitziest, leggiest showgirls you’ve ever seen, trying to convince each of them that it’s just too damned cold to leave his pad and that they ought to, for safety’s sake, stay the night. Isn’t that thoughtful?

And for those of you who want to believe that this song is about date rape, please don’t infect me with your stupidity.

10. O, Christmas Tree – Vince Guaraldi Trio

I’ve never liked the traditional version of “O Christmas Tree” (or O Tannenbaum or whatever title you ascribe to it according to your nationality), because I just couldn’t get into the lyrics. It’s amazing, though, what chucking the lyrics and giving the tune over to a jazz trio will do to my attitude. It’s very smooth, very mellow and effortless to listen to. The players keep it simple. The solos are very tasteful and not excessively showy. I’ve not heard this one yet this year, and I find that I’m missing it.

And, yes, this list goes to 11. It’s one louder, isn’t it?

11. The Christmas Waltz – Nancy Wilson

I first heard this tune many years ago on a Rhino Records recording called “Christmas Cocktails,” which was a compilation of jazzy Christmas standards performed by names like Lena Horne, Wayne Newton, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. This album was also instrumental in introducing me to the voice of Nancy Wilson, which I can only describe as musical sex. This is a waltz in the academic sense. It’s in 3/4 time, but that’s about it. The arrangement, and Ms. Wilson take expressive liberties with the tempo, and it becomes a seduction between the musicians and the listener.

That’s a very long-winded way of saying “I would totally make out to this song.”

Thoughts and memories of Jay

I took this photo in March 2014 just prior to a Lexington Singers performance of "The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass." I was seated and Jay was just noodling around and I thought it might be one of the last times I'd get to take a candid photo of his hands at work.

I took this photo in March 2014 just prior to a Lexington Singers performance of “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.” I was seated and Jay was just noodling around and I thought it might be one of the last times I’d get to take a candid photo of his hands at work.

I don’t get it when I find out that some people who went to college don’t have memories of an inspiring professor. I guess they just coasted through, did their time and got out, as if the whole exercise was just a perfunctory step one does after completing high school. Those folks should probably get their money back.

There are a handful of professors I hold dear. One of them died this week after a yearlong battle with liver cancer. When I was in the music program at Morehead State University, I only had Jay Flippin for one class, Music Theory IV. It’s not as though that was my first exposure to Jay though. He didn’t live in the lofty tower of academia, descending only occasionally to impart wisdom on us unworthy plebes. Jay was a working musician who happened to be really good at teaching and nurturing musical talent in college kids.

In the wake of his death, much will be said about his world-class musical talent. The man has a shelf full of awards (including an Emmy) and accolades attesting to his abilities as a performing artist.

Jay also was possessed of a boundless generosity. Many of us have often observed that he made piano playing look easy. It was the same with his sense of human decency. His legacy ought to remind us that being a decent human being ought to be effortless.

I played bassoon in college, mostly, so I was never formally in Jay’s wheelhouse. He taught jazz studies, jazz and classical piano, composition, arranging, history of rock ‘n’ roll, and the aforementioned theory class. As a result, I didn’t always have the student-teacher relationship with him, even in college. I was, as I continue to be, one of the lucky hangers-on who got to be a small part of his life.

Anyone who has been paying attention to Facebook the past few days has been regaled with tales of “The Van” and periodic sojourns from Baird Music Hall to nearby Jerry’s restaurant with Jay. As I write this, I am smiling at the memory of seeing him in his characteristic stride walking along University Boulevard toward Main Street on the way to lunch. We called it “JayWalking” and some of us effected our own imitations. It was what we did to amuse ourselves when we weren’t in class, a rehearsal or a practice room.

“The Van” was simply a yellow cargo van that had, in a former life, belonged to the rental company Hertz. You could barely make out the logo pattern on the vehicle body from where the decal had been removed. I helped load and unload that van more times than I care to remember, and I still couldn’t tell you how to pack it. I should pause for a moment and explain that in college my workstudy position was stage manager of Duncan Recital Hall. It was a difficult job that involved bringing down the house lights when it was time for a performance to begin, opening the stage door so the performer could go out on stage, sitting for the duration of the piece (I got a lot of listening in when I had that job) and then looking through the peephole when the piece was finished so I could open the door and let the performer backstage. Repeat for the next piece until the recital was over. That was it. Technically (and for worker’s compensation reasons), I probably shouldn’t have been loading or unloading The Van, and Jay never asked me to do it himself. I did it because it was Jay and for at least a couple of hours I was a tiny part of his jazz fusion ensemble or whatever group he was performing in. I was a bassoon-playing roadie trying to hang with the cool kids, but Jay treated me with the same respect he showed his student players. It was illustrative of the way he treated everyone. At the end of the performance and after all the equipment was snug in The Van, sometimes he would entertain whatever stragglers who had not gone back to their apartments or dorms with stories about life, music, people he met, or whatever. For me, that was the reward for unloading and loading The Van.

When I finally left Morehead in 1997, I embarked on what would be a 14-year career in journalism. I won’t bore you with the autobiographical details of how I went from wanting to teach high school band to wanting to be Irwin M. Fletcher. It happened. So there I was, right out of college, new career but no horn. I had, for the first time since second grade, turned my back on music.

It was maybe a couple of years after I left Morehead, I had moved on from my first job to become an editor for a sports publishing company in Lexington. One of the duties of that job involved going to University of Kentucky basketball games, sitting on press row and watching the action. There was a little bit of actual work involved, but mostly it was a lot of sitting down. At one of these games, I ran into Jay. We caught up, trading stories about what we were doing, life and all that. It was different running into him outside the context of school, and me being a professional. Before we parted ways, he said to me “you should really think about auditioning for Lexington Singers.” I told him I’d think about it, and put the idea in drawer in my brain for a while.

Again, I need to pause and relate a story about Jay from one of my former classmates. Neil Laferty, who is originally from Rowan County, but now lives and works in Chicago, is also one of the finest jazz guitarists I’ve heard. Morehead State is widely renowned for its wind ensembles and choral program, but it also attracts students who are very promising and talented jazz soloists. Neil was one of those musicians who played (and still does play) with a Flippin-like effortlessness. Once upon a time, however, Neil was fretting over his impending graduation, as we all did, and whether he was going to find a steady gig making music. What Jay told Neil is something that all of us who play or sing ought to take to the bank. “Neil, here’s the thing. You are a musician. For better or worse, YOU are a musician. You might have a hundred gigs a year, or you might hang it up tomorrow and never play again. But, you’ll still be a musician, whether you like it or not. So, you just have to deal with that.” I apologize to Neil for plagiarizing, but of all the Jay stories that have been in circulation, that one resonated with me the most.

I am not as talented as Neil, but I could relate to the advice he received. Jay never stopped nudging me back toward music whenever we would run into each other. “I’m a bassoonist, Jay,” I’d try to explain, but he had the added advantage of knowing where I went to college and from whom I had learned to sightsing.

In August 2000 I bit the bullet and decided to give it a try. It was the first time I had auditioned for anything in about four years.

Here’s one more thing about Jay that no one who knew him will likely disagree with. When he was happy to see you, you knew it instantly. He was one of those rare, genuine human beings. When I walked into that audition, it was Jay at the piano and Jeff Johnson, the Lexington Singers’ musical director seated at a makeshift desk. It was good to see Jay again. It was always good to see Jay. It was especially comforting to see him that day, because I was nervous as hell. Like I said, I was a woodwinds player. Apart from a non-audition choral ensemble and an opera workshop in college (OperaWorks was a lot of fun though…a great musical sandbox without the cat poop), I had no other real vocal training. I did my audition, thanked Jay and Jeff, and left.

The next day I got a phone call saying I’d been accepted into the group.

Seeing Jay in Lexington Singers was like learning that your dad had a second family somewhere that you never knew about, only without the creepy, family traumatizing adverse effects. I always knew Jay was married, but for whatever reason I never got to know his wife while I was at Morehead. That changed when joined Lexington Singers. Nancy is a proud member of the alto section, and possibly the most patient woman alive. He spoke of her with the kind of enthusiasm and admiration that I hope to be able to someday. I will miss Jay, to be sure, but I will also miss seeing Jay and Nancy together, because what more does the world need than a couple still in love with each other after decades, modeling that love for others to emulate.

I was only in the group for about three years when a change in my work schedule and marriage caused me to drop out. Nine years later I auditioned again. It was like I hadn’t even been gone. In my life that’s how I’ve known my really good friends. The passage of time does nothing to erode the friendship.

I’d love to be able to say that I felt like I owned a piece of him, but that’s really just folly. Jay didn’t really belong to any of us, outside of Nancy and his daughters Vicki and Emily and their families. What he didn’t reserve for his family belonged to the world, and God bless him for that. I could develop a headache trying to comprehend the true impact of his influence on so many musicians, on so many people. I knew Jay the musician and Jay the teacher, but there are roles he played I will never know, but they meant something to others. He was a Sunday school teacher, church leader, business partner, trusted giver of sage advice. And he was our friend.

I don’t get it when I find out that some people who went to college don’t have memories of an inspiring professor. I’m grateful, though, that I realized Jay was one of mine.

A helpful tool for my followers

I like to have fun here, but from time to time, I will throw in an obscure reference that doesn’t really translate well for a general audience. It’s more likely to resonate with a handful of people. And that’s…ok. I make no apologies for where my mind may choose to go in the course of writing, but I do not wish to alienate folks who come here for a laugh, and not for a comparison of Beethoven’s third composition period and Star Trek: The Next Generation season five.

For those who need it, I have devised a universal footnote of sorts to help navigate references that are not immediately understandable upon first or second reading. I’ve installed this tool on the blog, and you can access it here.

You’re welcome. Happy reading.

Counting down to 2015

Comedy is the closest thing I’ll ever have to religion.

I want to talk to you about Dionysus, but first let me feed you these grapes.

No. That’s not quite true. It is my religion. Many, many moons ago I took Dionysus – the Greek god of wine, women, song, ritual madness and religious ecstasy – as my lord and savior and he has delivered unto me a bounty of jokes, japes and merrymaking which this world today, with our TSA lines at the airport and pistol-packin’ mamas strolling around Target, could stand to pay a little more attention to.

Dionysus is not a vengeful god. If you choose not to laugh, he doesn’t fault you for not having a sense of humor. There are enough of us believers to send up the requisite tribute of laughter to Olympus on high.

mac-culkin

CGI reconstruction of the exact moment I learned about circumcision in Vacation Bible School.

Not to take away from modern organized religion. If not for my spotty exposure to that peculiar institution known as Vacation Bible School, I would not have learned about circumcision or prostitution. Yes, that’s right. The same VBS teacher who had to explain to me how God has commanded that all little boys have the tips of their little baby penises lopped off following birth, also had to spell out a definition of the world’s oldest profession. So the next time the folks in the ignorant tight-ass club want to complain about all the “horrible things” kids are learning in the public schools, I’ll be sure to send them the bills for the therapy sessions resulting from my post-traumatic stress disorder associated with lessons about streetwalking and torture porn that I learned in Vacation Bible School.

I’ll stick with Dionysus. At least he’s up front about all his debauchery.

Having said all that…

The groupies have been urging me to write something here again, and I although I try to keep the material light, I’ve been having a hard time trying to be funny on purpose lately. It has been a trying year, not only for me, but for several people about whom I care a great deal. They range from friends I see every day to folks I have not seen in years who live several states away. My crap isn’t even that bad compared to what some friends have gone through or are still going through.

No matter the degree of the shitstorms that life blows our way, I’d like to think that all of us in this handbasket bound for our own private hells have uttered the following phrase at least once.

“I sure wish 2014 was over.”

bullshitdetector

As long as it doesn’t go above 1, we ought to be OK.

It may surprise people to learn that I am a fairly optimistic person. Sure, 14 years in journalism has given me enough of a dose of reality that I am no longer impressed with anything less than, say, the Apollo moon landings, but overall I think people are good and as long as they don’t feel the need to tell me how good they are, my bullshit/attention whore detector will not spike to 11. I don’t think the world is quite the cesspool of doom and gloom that the CIA and Homeland Security want us to believe, and I try not to let all the intrigue going on in the world affect my mood. There are things that piss me off, but I’ve gotten to an age where those things are not worth growing another grey hair over. I’m a happy person most of the time, and in those times I’m not, I’ll generally lie to you and say that I am, just to avoid an uncomfortable conversation for both of us. Also because – and I can’t overstate this – there are some parts of me that are off limits to most folks. So, unless you want me to get snippy and say “nunya bidness,” just accept the lie.

But, as I said, I’m an optimist.

This year has been trying though, and even my generally pleasant nature has not been able to prevail over my desire to declare 2014 a wash, on behalf of myself and friends whom bad fortune has visited in the past 10 months.

The universe doesn’t work that way though. This is not Monopoly. You can’t flip over the game board just because you’re losing. You have to play this game to completion.

Since I can’t go into a coma for the next two months and 23 days, I’ll just try to enjoy myself. I’m in a performance group and between now and the end of the year we have enough planned that, between rehearsal and the actual gigs, I ought to be sufficiently distracted. There are other diversions I have planned and, as much as I love my parents, I really hope I am not the guy stuck at their house on New Year’s Eve. If I have to spend that night alone, driving in my car listening to my tunes though, it will still be ok. I will have survived this year.

It is my hope that all my friends who have suffered calamities this year will take this message to heart: we are all in this together. Even if we have to walk toward the finish line in last place, we can do it arms linked singing “You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party.” We may be bruised and broken when we get there, but you’d better believe 2015 is going to hear us coming.

It’s just the kind of party Dionysus would be proud of.