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The Loss of a King

BB RAH

The Loss of a King

I was awakened last night by the news…the distinct and jarring tones of the BBC News World Service alerts. One of only two that I allow my phone to chime.  When it goes off, I know it’s likely important.  (Except the day the royal baby was born…I silenced my phone that day)

I got the chime around 10pm PST.  It simply read “BB King, legendary blues singer, dies in his sleep at 89 confirms manager.”

I talk a lot about parenting, loss, home all that here.  It is no small thing, no subtle metaphor to say that this man was a hero of mine.  He was, without question, an icon – a uniquely American form of royalty that spread throughout the world.

I grew up with Mr. King playing in my home.  His records played all while I was growing up in Nebraska.  His 1970’s LP Completely Well was completely worn out.  When we would go to the mall and I’d walk out with a Clapton or Van Halen record my father would have a cassette with a live BB King show.  We always listened to it . . . and it first.  None of us ever complained, either.

I went to my first BB King show in high school.  My older brother had procured tickets at Red Rocks Amphitheater and it was a triple-bill: Taj Majal, Stevie Ray Vauhan, and BB King, with BB being the headliner.  Taj was good as always.  SRV was amazing, but a bit hesitant.  We found out later that he’d spent hours the night before jamming with Jeff Beck and worn off his callouses.  He’d super-glued his fingers in order to get through the night.

But BB King…the man was just brilliant.

Years later I learned to play guitar and it was important to me to learn who the influences of my influences were.  When I looked at Clapton, Beck, Green, Vaughan, Allman, they all did songs I recognized.  They all recorded BB King songs…but yet somehow, not quite BB King songs.

That tone.  That crying . . . that singing tone . . . only he could do it.  I learned from this master of the instrument and musical mediums (plural, lest you be fooled that all he could do was sing in 3 chords) that one note was all you needed if it was the RIGHT note.  You could play 1,000 notes in a single song and he would tell you more by wringing a tone from Lucille than the best of guitarists.

When I met an amazing woman who loved me and cared and treated me well I sang her a song one night on stage.

“I got a sweet little angel…I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I called my wife, Andrea, that all our married life.  Even in death, on her headstone, carved on the back, it says “fly on my sweet little angel…I love the way you spread your wings.”

In the late 1990’s I worked the phones, pushed, screamed and begged until I got the opportunity – during his tour promoting Riding With the King – to interview him.  While he was supposed to give us just 5 minutes in a dark corner, deep in the bowels of Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, the maestro of the blues ushered us onto his bus.  He gave us close to an hour there and we did almost a half-hour interview with him.  He talked about how he had an incessant appetite to learn as much as he could.  He toured with a laptop computer and a library of books he read constantly.

My father was unable to come to the show and I asked, rather sheepishly, if I could bring him my father’s worn-out copy of Completely Well and have him sign it.  He insisted I bring it backstage after the show.

I told King that my daughter asked to see him for her birthday . . . and he insisted I bring her along.

Abbi and BB

My daughter was scared to meet this man . . . this American King.  You can see it in the photo we took with him.  But after we walked into the dressing room – following a stellar show – he said “you don’t have to worry about coming in here, Princess…” and he gave her a hug.  He took her arm in his and sat down on a chair.  He asked her “do you have a brother or sister?”
My daughter nodded.  Her sister was just a baby.  “I have a little sister, Hannah,” she told him.

King tipped over a cup on the counter, filled with guitar picks and plastic pins.
“Grab something out of there for your sister Hannah,” he told her.  She obliged.
“You probably want something in there, too,” he told her.  She nodded.  “Well, I’m not going to give you any of that,” he said, a twinkle growing in the corner of his eye.

My daughter looked at him, crestfallen but quiet.

“You know why,” he asked her?  She shook her head “no.”
He pointed to his lapel, where an enamel pin of Lucille hung…gold-embossed with her name on the headstock and his on the pin.
“I’m going to give you this one,” he told her.  He unpinned it and put it on her collar.

On the way home my daughter just repeated, in hushed tones, “BB King called me Princess!”

My daughter marks the 3rd generation of my family to love this man and his music.  For an American King to call her Princess is simply beyond description.

We saw him several more times…each time floored by the energy, tone and warmth this man projected.

When I put the phone down tonight I could only think . . . a beautiful woman is silent tonight. Lucille cannot cry, she cannot wail, she cannot shout for joy.

She cannot sing.  The man who says his only love is Lucille left her behind, and she will be silent.

But for years they made music together, sang together, were sad and angry and sarcastic…and joyous.

And what an amazing body of work they left us.

A tuxedo and a shiny 335
You could see it in his face, the blues has arrived
Tonight’s everybody’s getting their angel wings
Don’t you know you’re riding with the King!

A Change in Tone

Typing

A Change in Tone

Three years, six months and five days ago our lives changed in an instant.  I’m not counting the days, by the way, I had to grab a calendar and do the math.  I am terrible at math – which is why I went into journalism – so I must have wanted to really make the numeric point, by the way.  Still . . . that’s how long it’s been since life for me and my four children changed dramatically.  My wife passed away suddenly and everything went a bit crazy.

Just about three years ago I started this blog and wrote about difficult events that transpired in my home.  My theory then, as now, was that it was for me . . . a healing process.  I had neither the time nor funds for therapy and wasn’t really looking for therapy, I suppose, not in the typical sense.  Yet . . . I might have benefited from it simply because I knew then that I had issues I needed to get out.  My children had issues and I was trying to hold it all together.

The worst part was the evenings.  My four children would go to bed knowing school was coming all too soon the next day and I would be in the house with silence surrounding me.  Even when you have another person in the home with you, say if they’re sleeping or resting, there’s no complete silence.  You hear them breathing, you feel the atmosphere in the home change.

I didn’t have this.

So when 9, 10 or 11pm rolled around the silence was maddening.  I made lunches, baked, played guitar, wrote (terrible) songs, but none of it helped.

Then someone gave me the idea to write it all down.  It’s like chronicling your life in a journal, I suppose, except the world gets to see it.  My theory was if it helped me it might very well help one or two other people so why not?

What I see now, when I look back at those early posts is how much it’s all changed.

I wrote far more colorfully in those early days.  I also wrote about a lot more issues.  The thing is, as sad and colorful and emotional as those posts were . . . our lives were not as bleak and grey as they appeared in those posts.

I have also noticed something else: the tone has changed.

The language and adjectives are not as colorful, no, but our lives and the posts are more colorful.  There’s far more about what we’re doing than what we did.  There’s a lot more about how we live than how we lived.  There are many more solutions than problems.

This wasn’t a conscious shift.  I didn’t wake up one day and say “damn, that’s bleak!  I need to be happier!”  We just adjusted.  We just learned to live the life we have and not focus on the life we had.

That makes a lot of difference.

Dano

I have written a lot of new music and started the process of demos for  all of them.  I hope to have a Kickstarter after the first of the year and maybe enter the studio in the Spring.

We have been on trips, visited family, moved one child to college . . . life has literally continued.

That’s the thing about it.  I guess it’s safe to say we didn’t fight what was coming, we just let it happen.  If we’d lived totally in the past and continued to bemoan what was missing the tone would still be a bit bleak.  Instead…it’s less prosaic but more colorful.

The tone changed, but I’d argue the people changed a little with them.  Some of those changes had started long before my wife passed away.  Three years hence we don’t talk so much about how much we miss Andrea, we talk about the things that she did.  We talk about the things we did together.

We have seen the darkness and are feeling the light, if you’ll excuse the really bad cliche of symbolism there.

Perhaps, though, the better way of putting it is we’ve changed the tone.  No minor key in a droning dirge.  We’re moanin’ the blues, wailing out the excitement, and rockin’ at midnight, so to speak.  We may have been grey, or blue, in a funk.  The thing about those musical styles, though, is that blues – to quote the King of the Blues, BB King – is “life as we lived it in the past, as we’re living it today, and I hope as we’re living it in the future.  As long as there are people there will be blues and it will live!”

We have our moments of sadness and extreme gladness.  So we write the melody to what we have.  It may be the raucous, lively, happy swing of Caledonia or it may be the sad, droning wail of Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (and She Could Be Jivin’ Too!).  

The tone may have changed . . . but then . . . life changes all the time, doesn’t it?

A Daughter’s Tears

Hannah on Guitar
Hannah on Guitar

Hannah, my middle daughter, is quite the musician.

I say that not just as a proud father, which of course I am, but also because she’s found an outlet, something to channel her emotions into.  I didn’t have that at her age and there’s part of me that, today, realizes what an amazing thing it would have been to have that.

When I was about five years older than she is now I bought my first guitar, a used 1985 Fender Stratocaster.  It was made in Japan, had a cruddy bridge, didn’t stay in tune very well, and I had no amplifier.  Just the guitar.  I loved it, by the way.  It was tobacco sunburst, looked just like the guitar on the back of Clapton’s “Layla,” which was my favorite record.  It took me until the age of 19 or 20 to be able to play with enough authority to channel those emotions into the guitar I slung around my shoulder.

Today, the guitar is like my left arm.  Others may scoff or ridicule but I don’t care.  When things go wrong, right, indifferent, I play it.  When my wife passed away the only thing that brought me even the tiniest bit of solace, in the numb, foggy expanse of grieving was my green Fender Stratocaster.  I didn’t plug it in.  I didn’t even play in front of others.  At 2 and 3 in the morning I stood on the floor of my living room and beat on it.  Unceremoniously.  I treated it like absolute hell and it reacted as always, in tender response, in-tune and able to withstand my beatings.

Hannah isn’t a lead guitar player, she’s one of those singer-songwriters.  At fourteen she’s already writing her own material, something I didn’t do until I was in my twenties.

Then on Sunday, her sister Abbi’s birthday, her brother mistakenly said that Hannah had written a song for her birthday.  Abbi was nonplussed when Hannah told her it wasn’t for her birthday.

Then she asked to borrow my Dobro, an acoustic guitar with an aluminum cone instead of a sound hole, and recorded it and sent it to Abbi.  I was informed some minutes later that Abbi was crying.  So was Abbi’s roommate.

Hannah, you see, had taken a leap that even I couldn’t do very easily when I first started writing.  She took everything that had been bothering her over that last couple years and put it into a song.  In a staccato rhythm and muffled vocals on her iPhone she sang in metaphoric terms about how someone left but she left them, too.  She talked about how she wanted them to know she needed them but didn’t want to need them.  She sang, voice cracking, about how she looked up one day and realized that she watched you leave but she left herself.

She wrote a song about what it was like to live without her mother.  More than that, she wrote what it was like to know that she’d learned to live without her mother, learned to survive without her, and learned to face what was coming with what she had available to her.

And she ended . . . by saying “but I still love you.”

That sparked all the tears.  My daughter’s realization, one  we all had to come to eventually, vocalized and in verse.  It’s been a hard two years . . . but it’s been an amazing time too.  Seeing her embrace this outlet and become an amazing songwriter . . . that’s worth the tears.

Inspiration: What’s Your Spark?

Hannah
Hannah

My middle daughter, Hannah, had an assignment for this week in school.

That, obviously, should come as no surprise to anyone.  School is in session, she obviously has assignments…but hers was particularly interesting.  She had to pick something as a prompt for writing that initially was a low point in her life that then led to a high point.  A moment that pushed you to be inspired or a burst of enthusiasm or . . . what have you.

It’s no surprise to me, of course, that her mother’s death was probably the lowest point of her very short life.  It’s an interesting thing to see the differences in all my children in how they treat the loss of their mother.  Noah doesn’t talk about it and the grief almost overtook him at times.  He had a hard time at school.  He got into trouble.

Abbi, my oldest, doesn’t like to talk about it much.

Sam, Noah’s twin, doesn’t either.

But Hannah always had no problem letting it out when she was sad.  Usually, though, that was simply to say “I miss Mom” and left it at that.

Her writing, though, was deep and poignant and sad . . . and uplifting.

Our Little Jam Session
Our Little Jam Session

Hannah is my guitar player.  She has a 1953 Supro student model guitar that I gave her and a black Fender Stratocaster that I built from parts that she uses as her mainstay.  She uses them both, which makes me happy, because I bought the Supro a number of years ago because it matched a tiny tweed Supro amplifier that I own and have recorded with in the past.  I gave it to her when she showed a propensity for the guitar.

The essay she wrote centers around the guitar lessons she took initially, when her Mom was still alive.  I stopped the lessons the summer Andrea passed because a) Hannah was going to spend the summer in Nebraska with her grandparents and b) she was not progressing as much as I knew she could.  On top of that the music director at her elementary school is amazing.  The man was a session player in the 1980’s and ’90s, he plays tons of instruments, and he’d seen Hannah play and thought she had a spark.  She had intensity not a lot of other kids her age do to play the guitar.  I knew then what he knew already: Hannah needed to be a little uncomfortable and to that end I stopped the guitar lessons.  I had her join the school choir band so she was forced to play with people who had more experience than she did.  Now she’s writing her own stuff.

Hannah started with the tragedy and some things I hadn’t realized.  When Andrea first took a turn for the worst the kids were all in our king-sized bed.  Hannah was snoring, I thought.  In her essay, though, she describes in great detail hearing me get up at 3am, rush out the door, and speed off down the road.  She talks about how I came home and told them Andrea had gone into cardiac arrest but was still alive.  She recounts the hopeful tone I tried to give the day before she died because her mother had reacted to my voice.  She avoided the funeral or the day Andrea died, simply stating that she passed away.  Hannah also wrote how we weren’t well-off then, but were even less-so now and that’s part of why I made a decision to pull her from her guitar lessons.  She’s not wrong.

But Hannah wrote about the period just between when I stopped her lessons and when she picked up the guitar again.  Much like her father (me, if you’re not paying attention) she didn’t know what to do.  Inspiration didn’t hit her and she wasn’t sure if she would keep going.  Where I wrote one song over a 2-year period and that’s it . . . she just stopped.  It was then one of our family friends told Hannah about a conversation she’d had with Andrea.  The Mom told her how proud Andrea was of Hannah.  She said that it made Andrea smile, something she did reluctantly those days due to paralysis from Bells Palsy.

Hannah heard that her mother loved her progress…even though she knew that Andrea hated the fact that I was a musician.  Hannah took that as a prodding to move forward.

Move she did.  She took the 1953 Supro off its stand and began to play with a vengeance.  Santa brought her a guitar amplifier and she plugged into it, playing constantly.  She learned Barre Chords, which is no small feat.  She began writing.

In the end, she wrote “I learned as much as I could, even though I know I have a lot more.  I did it knowing, hoping, that somehow she can hear me playing . . . and she’s proud of me.  I have a black guitar, but I still pick up that 1953 Supro, and I play it at home all the time.  It’s my connection to my Mom, and I hope she knows that she’s helped me to learn and be better than even I thought I could be.  I hope she can hear me playing and singing to her.”

I couldn’t ask for better sentiment.  I couldn’t have provided a better spark, and hearing what she plays and writes . . . it’s near a roaring flame now.

When It All Comes Down

When It All Comes Down: BB King, Live at the BBC

How can I criticize the life I chose to lead or a woman who is no longer here to defend to talk about the life once lived?

That’s a question I get asked in a whole myriad of different ways; different permutations.  They all ask the same thing, though: “how can you possibly be moving on?”

I’m not moving on.  I’m living.

I stated this before: I honor my past . . . all our shared past . . . but I still have to live.  That’s the biggest thing.  When it all comes down, I’ll still be around.  I don’t just survive the loss of my wife, I came to the determination that I need to live as well.  So where in the past I’d watch life go sliding by and be comfortable watching the parade go by it’s not something I can do now.  It’s not a reaction to the loss it’s a realization that I have to live my own way.

Noah Hamming it Up
Noah Hamming it Up

Sometimes I think others fail to realize that the things they’re seeing me do and try and live are new to them.  I’ve had two full years to come to terms with this.  That’s the hard part they don’t realize.  In the days, weeks, and months after you lose your spouse people come up and give you the sympathy and – God help me – the pity.  What they often don’t realize is the fact that the small things that spark their memories: seeing me and the kids; smelling a perfumed lotion; hearing a song; all those things may make them think of Andrea.  They may get sad and it may affect their day in some way.  What they don’t realize is that they get to go back to their day.  Our day, mine and the kids, particularly in the days and weeks after losing Andrea, was totally up in the air.  Our lives – our daily lives – were intertwined with this person.  There wasn’t a singular thing, not one, that didn’t involve her.  Hearing music; doing the laundry; reading a book; watching television; hell, even making toast was something that on every given day involved having that person in the room and part of your life.

Then two years ago that part of my life was over.

The musician in his home studio
The musician in his home studio

Where most people get to go back to their lives and the affectation that touched them is gone, like a singular bullet that may have grazed them in the ear, for my kids and myself we were in the bottom of a crater, hit by emotional bombshells even the minutiae of the day dropped on us.

So early on I did things that didn’t touch the trigger.  I played the guitar and made music.  Those things Andrea only barely tolerated, and while they were cause for many a fight, I still did them.

For the last four to five years we were content, sure, but more than that we were complacent.  I cooked more than the same 3 or 4 meals, I got adventurous.  I cooked desserts and made dinners and got wild with cakes and cookies and whatever I could find.

So by now, two years later, I’m not just surviving, I’m seeing the parade approach and I’m joining it.

That’s not to say all my kids are in the same place.  Everyone grieves, you see, at a different pace, in a different way and we all see the world and the emotions affecting us in different ways.  Some have dealt with the loss and are seeing the wound turn to a scar.  Others are still bleeding.  But I recognize that and can only do what I can to comfort and help.  The best thing I heard this week was my oldest, Abbi, tell me that she and the kids had so much fun on our vacation that they totally forgot, until the end of the day on the 26th, that it was the day their Mom had died.  It wasn’t I was trying to get them to forget, I was trying to get them to live.  They did it, and the day came and went, with honor, love, and dignity.  That was the goal.

But my kids and the world need to know, as the King of the Blues so aptly states up there, “when it all comes down, look for me, and I’ll still be around.”

My amazing kids, taken by "Hunny Bee Photograpy": Amy Renz
My amazing kids, taken by “Hunny Bee Photograpy”: Amy Renz

Sam I Am

This isn’t a Seuss style post, though I’d like that the most.
It’s about my son Sam, my youngest little man.
He never speaks out,
Hardly ever shouts
Usually quiet and still as a post.

Last night was a first
While his Dad quenched his thirst
Sam and the choir did sing.
An amazing small voice
From the back row by choice
Throughout the room did ring.

Okay . . . I’m done I can’t find a way to carry on the Dr. Seuss theme for the entire post.

Sam...smack in the middle, back row.
Sam…smack in the middle, back row.

This is, of course, a post about my son, Sam.  Late in the week last week I was told he was supposed to sing at a parents’ meeting at their school along with the choir, guitarists, band, violinists, etc.  When I had to leave work early to pick up the other kids (long story) and get them home, fed, and left to their own devices (another long story) and head back to see Sam perform and attend the meeting.

What’s the old line?  The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?  That’s not Sam.  Samuel, my youngest twin (by like – 15 seconds) is like his sister Hannah in that he always has a smile on his face.  That’s a big feat for him lately.  He lost his Mom, and he was insanely close to her.  He lost his Grandpa, and though he doesn’t want to admit it, that affected him, too. After losing Andrea, Sam shut down, and I mean, went upstairs, hid, and wouldn’t come out except to eat and talk when he needed to.  That’s all.

But he changed.  Occasionally he’d come to the banister of the staircase and should “Hey Dad?”
“Yeah, Samwise?”
“Love you!”

That always made me smile.  Yes, I know that was still grief he needs to deal with, and some fears that he’s coming to terms with.  I’ve gleaned all that knowledge in the last couple years.  But it still melted my heart a little, and mine had gotten a little cold.  He’s moved to coming up and hugging me at random times, which is just as good in my book.  He’s smiling . . . a lot.

So when Sam wanted, halfway through the year, to re-join the choir I couldn’t tell him “no.”  I’m a musician, I like that he wants to be there.  I also think the kid has near perfect pitch – better than mine even.  When tonight came up, even thought it meant a mad-dash scramble, I was eager to be there.

And there Sam was . . . voice ringing out, and once in awhile looking over the head of the little girl in front of him to check if someone was there to watch him.  About a minute in he noticed I was there, front and center, and his eyes, face, and smile lit up.  He sang louder.

The Choir
The Choir

He was happy.

We’ve had a rough few weeks in the household, and it would be easy to fall into despair.  I wish I could say I had the chance to sink into it myself, but when your kids are hurt worse . . . you put your face to the wind and weather the storm.  This storm was far less grating than the one two years ago.

And in the end . . . I got that smile . . . and an excited, verbose recitation on the way home from my son, Sam.

And I loved every minute of it.

Kind of Bird

In 1999 or 2000 I was working on a story – on my own time with my own gear – on the kinds of musical acts that still came to Omaha, Nebraska, even without an arena or convention center.  The city had just started an exploratory committee on the subject of replacing the city’s Civic Auditorium.

In the midst of this, the band Gov’t Mule, fresh off the release of their album Life Before Insanity sent a release saying they were playing in Omaha.  I contacted their management and managed to get the band to play an acoustic song for the piece.  I just had to pick them up and get them to a studio, which I did.

This is that performance.  Singer, songwriter and guitarist Warren Haynes said he’d had a hard time since the gig the night before and wondered if they could do something instrumental.  When they had no ideas, Allen Woody, the bassist, threw out the idea of an Allman Brothers song from Shades of Two Worlds simply called Kind of Bird.  Warren and drummer Matt Abts agreed but said they’d likely never get through it since they hadn’t done an acoustic version before.

They were wrong, though.  It came out brilliant.  The old Carson-era mic was sitting in the corner and used at Warren and Allen’s insistence (which I later regretted, it sounds pretty bad).

The song never saw the light of day due to the fact that less than a month after shooting this, Allen Woody passed away.  With him died my story as I never had access to another band like I did with Gov’t Mule.  I also moved to Texas shortly after, resigning this performance to my personal tape archive until now . . . where I present it to you!

Fear and Loathing

By all accounts what was supposed to be a great year – I have to admit – has gotten off to just a s***ty start.  Andrea’s father is terminal and we don’t know how much time he has left.  Then very early this morning my Grandma passed away.  Don’t get me wrong, she had a very long life, she’s been ill and is (sorry, was) in her nineties.  Others would say “she had a full life.”  Wouldn’t make it easier for me to deal with, though.

All this has really impacted our home.  I wish I could say it hasn’t but I’d be lying and our family isn’t big on that.  I found out first thing in the morning about my Grandma but didn’t tell the kids.  Still, my oldest, Abbi, came up to me and said “you okay Dad?  You look like you need a hug,” and proceeded to squeeze me until I smiled before leaving the house.

Abbi
Abbi

But the day couldn’t stay that way.  I had a shoot in the San Francisco Bay area.  I should know better than to ever set anything up there because every time I’ve gone there for work – and I do mean every time – something goes wrong.  Once Noah got sick.  The second time . . . Sam had a migraine so bad he was throwing up in the school office.  Each time I was either in Menlo Park or the Presidio or . . . yesterday in San Jose.

Noah, one of the twins hasn’t handled the grief well.  Not grief over his Mom passing, nor dealing with waiting for his Grandfather to pass.  It’s created a situation that nobody can fix.  He’s awful in school.  He’s talked back to his teachers, something that would have had me beaten senseless (an exaggeration, but I’d have been in major trouble) and forced to contend with being good from then on.  Unfortunately, Noah not only misbehaved, after misbehaving and talking about it and dealing with it . . . turns around the next school day and does it again.  I received a call in the middle of a shoot in San Jose and was asked to come get him.  Noah was refusing to do anything at school and the teachers didn’t have the time to deal with him.  Nor should they, it’s not really their problem, not that extreme a problem anyway.  They’ve been amazing, his teachers, and far more tolerant than he deserves, in my opinion.

 

Noah
Noah

In my own grief I just couldn’t deal substantially with it last night, which actually might have been the best thing.  Noah was waiting for me to lecture, get angry, get upset, hell even just say something.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  Hell, I didn’t even cook tonight.  I bought a couple frozen pizzas and threw them in the oven.  I had cookie dough left from the night before and used those for the lunches tomorrow.  I just couldn’t deal with his grief, I wasn’t sure how to deal with myself right now.

But I am writing now at about 3am.  Noah came into the room crying uncontrollably.  He was scared, though he wouldn’t tell me why.
“Bad dream?” I asked him.
“(sobbing) bad dream!  I’m really scared!”

I patted on the pillow next to me.  He climbed in and immediately fell asleep.  I, however, cannot, for a couple reasons.
First: he’s shaking.  Even though he fell asleep, the poor little guy was horrified by something and though with me he feels safe enough to sleep, the adrenaline and the fear have him shuddering even now, a half hour later.
Second: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s an old Yogi Bear cartoon where a little bird can’t fly south for the winter so he sleeps with Yogi.  Yogi snores, then the bird does and ends up right against Yogi’s side.  The bear moves, the bird moves.  The bear moves, the bird moves . . . until finally Yogi falls out of bed.  He sits up, watches the bird, and as the bird snores he meets the end of the bed and moves back to the middle, never falling.  That was me last night.  I’d move Noah, he’d end up right against my back.  I’d turn over and his head would be on my chest.  I feel for him, but now I can’t sleep, so I write.

But nothing knocks you back to reality like your kids being threatened.  Even if it’s an imagined or dreamed threat, I went into “Dad” mode and immediately held him until he calmed and fell asleep.  I look at him and wonder how a kid who can have so much love and be so sweet can also have such issues.  We know he hasn’t – almost two years later – dealt with the loss of his Mom the way he should.  But I can’t force him to deal with it, I can only tell him how much I love him and get him help the best I can.

So as I finish here I’ll lie back down, pray he’s rested and able to deal with school like everyone else tomorrow, and realize that sometimes grief, fear, and loathing all meld together, whether you like it or not.

Before You Accuse Me

When I was just in a rock & roll band in 1989 I owned a Fender Stratocaster – because it was Clapton’s guitar of choice.  But when I found out he had a signature model – one that came with a warning sticker that Fender, the guitar’s maker, was not responsible for the damage that the guitar could do to your amplifiers – I was starry-eyed!  I saw Clapton onstage with a fiery red one.  He favored a pewter/silver one.  I tried one out, turned up the bottom tone knob and the amp blew even more volume and distortion out its speakers.

I wanted one!

I spent weeks . . . months even just scrimping and saving.  Every penny from every gig that didn’t go toward guitar strings and new guitar cables went to savings for that guitar.  Finally, at the end of the year I made a trek to Kansas City – the only dealer that had Clapton Stratocasters in-stock.

I walked in and went straight to the expensive, hands-off section. While it was a year old, never bought from the dealer when I got it, I had no intention of buying the sparkly, bright-green strat. I walked in looking for a Torino red or a Pewter colored EC. Then I saw her . . . a 7-up green strat, lace sensor pickups covering the normally exposed pole pieces, and it spoke to me. I had to ask to try it out and must have looked like a non-sale because they handed it to me and walked off.  I plugged it into a Fender amplifier like my own and started to play.  It didn’t take me five minutes.

I was hooked. Just a few weeks after owning it it fell off its guitar stand on stage and the wood of the neck split, right in the middle.  Fenders are known for durability.  I was beside myself.  I called the dealer who told me “too bad.”  I called Fender customer service, angry, and was connected to a man I thought was simply a member of the company.  He asked me the dealer’s name.  Then he asked me to send him my Clapton Strat.

“That’s an expensive strat, it shouldn’t do that.”  I agreed.  I sent it off and a couple weeks later I got a call . . . it was Fender’s custom shop.  A few minutes later I was on the line with the very man who’d taken my initial phone call.  He was one of their chief luthiers.  They’d “taken care of” the dealer, which made me smile.  Then he informed me that my strat had shown a flaw in their design . . . the bodies were routed wrong and put too much tension on the neck.  They could split.  He personally crafted a new body for me, grabbed a new neck off the line and then asked me what color I wanted.

I still said green.

It’s my favorite guitar, my old standby, the wood aged, the pickups perfect, and the neck fitting my hand like a glove. A couple years later my older brother looked at it and remarked that it was like the 7-UP commercials and their campaign with the “dot” in them.

From that point my EC was affectionately dubbed “Dot.” It’s been the reference ever since. I’d never seen a video of Slowhand playing a green one . . . until now.  To this day, it’s my old standby . . . and I pair it with the amplifier my brother Adam built . . . and it’s perfect!

2012-06-22 07.57.32

Fat Man in the Bathtub (the Track)

I referenced the Little Feat song at the end of last night’s post . . .

Here it is at the end of a double-song set from 1976, I think, in Germany.  Lowell George there on guitar, wearing his Craftsman socket and Tele pickup at the bridge position of his Strat.