RIP Midnight Rider

I’ve been looking here and there, searching everywhere, for a story idea to jump out from the bushes.

It’s either a way with words or a war with words–never in-between.

Couldn’t get on WP for a time, and was going to use that for an excuse.

I can’t reflect on the passing of Gregg Allman, without strains of “Midnight Rider” running through my head.

Bluesy, Southern Rock from the land of hot, humid summers, kudzu, and sweet tea–my favorite genre of music.

Turn Down Day

As a teen, the sixties rock band–The Cyrkle wasn’t a favorite.  They were contemporaries of the Beatles–never as popular.

“Turn Down Day” struck a chord as an anthem to nonconformity. Perhaps an ode to late night revelers that slept till noon the next day?  “Red Rubber Ball,” shall I compare thee to the bright summer sun?  No way–it wasn’t my groove.

I like to think remembering details from childhood is more a sign of my OCD tendencies, than senility.  There were several “hometowns” during these early years, as my father changed careers.

There were kids that stood out from the crowd–remembered because they seemed world-wise beyond their years; were bullies or neighborhood troublemakers.  Johnny Farkas, from Miss Kramer’s, Garfield School first grade class, in Canton, Ohio–why did I remember your name?

In Greenville, it was the Graves brothers.  During the early fifties, they terrorized my older brother with tales of Russian invasions.  They took advantage, hogtied him to a tree, with the warning, “When the noon fire siren blew, the Russians were coming to get him.”

The McNamara brothers lived next door in southwest Canton, Ohio.  They had things we didn’t have–a television, and BB guns.  The father, apparently had, had some run ins with the law.

In tiny Medora, IL there was a family at the end of the block with a brood of feral, firebrand children.  The youngest boy was three, roamed the neighborhood in his diaper–if he wore clothes at all.  He could typically be found on their front porch smoking smelly cigars.

Why did some of these little geniuses have all the answers about birds-and-bees?  Not that the information given was accurate.  Repeating their risqué jokes risked being overheard, and subsequent punishment.  Were you one of those guys–Johnny Farkas?



What sort of music was played in your house when you were growing up?  What effect did it have on your musical tastes?

Everything But the Kitchen Sink”

My mother played piano and was a talented vocalist.  All, of us four children, had the opportunity to take music lessons.  Consequently, I was surrounded by an eclectic mixture of musical genres.  Piano lessons with Mrs. Ryan didn’t work out for me.  My attention span was too short.

Mom and Dad were active in the church.  Mom practiced gospel songs on our spinet piano in the living room.  My two brothers and sister, practiced piano lessons.  Later, came band instruments–clarinet, flute,  and trombone.  The air was filled with endless clumsy renditions of “Chopsticks” along with screeching sounds from wind instruments in the hands of neophyte musicians.    

Father watched the “Lawrence Welk Show” every Saturday night. They had an ensemble group called the “Hotsy-Totsy Boys.”  As a teen, that was the epitome of weirdness.  Perhaps, my father relived memories of playing baritone saxophone in high school dance band.  When “Hee-Haw” was popular, Dad became a fan of corny humor and country music.

Just about every type of music was played in our house. Mom chose from a vast collection of sheet music–ragtime, jazz, show tunes, movie theme songs, gospel, classical, polka, folk, rock–and I’m probably leaving something out.  My father hated rock music.  Mother liked some of the tamer rock tunes–especially ballads.

There was a local rock DJ in the fifties, that played “Hot Rod Lincoln” all night and locked himself in the studio as a publicity stunt.  Of course my brothers and I couldn’t resist listening to this madness.  My father almost came unglued, as he shouted for us to “Turn off that racket and go to sleep!” for the umpteenth time.            

Dad liked big bands.  Good music, and musicianship, transcends generations.  And, doggone it, the Lennon Sisters were cool.  I liked Myron Floren, and others on “The Lawrence Welk Show”–just couldn’t admit it to my friends.

My playlists, now include a little bit of everything, from–“Swinging On a Star,” by Bing Crosby, to Buck Owens,’ “Loves Gonna’ Live Here Again,” to, “When nothing else could help, Love Lifted Me,” to, “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie.”  I’ll be lulled to sleep tonight, by Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata.”


wwii dancesThat’s all servicemen and women wanted–respite from harsh realities of war.  Reminders of home came in different forms–movies, USO shows, books, and music.  Music, sweet big-band music, assured that all was well.  There was still a place called home and someday this madness would end.

Nino Temple and April Stevens did a sixties cover version of “Deep Purple.”  Like, just about every aspiring guitar player, I aspired to master Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”  Coincidentally, the rock group adopted “Deep Purple” as their name.  My mother didn’t particularly like top-forty rock music–mostly ignored it.  Dad simply dismissed all rock music as “noise.”

It wasn’t cool for rebellious teenagers to like their parent’s music and vice versa.  Big bands and swing music characterized the previous generation just as rock did for my generation.  Mom mentioned that “Deep Purple”–as sung by Helen Forrest to the accompaniment of the Artie Shaw Band, was one of her favorites.  Then, she sang along with the April Stevens and Nino Temple version playing on my transistor radio.  She remembered every word–I was stunned!  This would remain our little secret.








deep purple

“Deep Purple,” by Helen Forrest album cover

Lest my nostalgic bent get the better of me–I’ll get to the point.  What songs brought back memories for my parents?  Was “Deep Purple” their song?  Had my mother and father slow danced to the big band version of this song?  In my mind’s eye, I could picture the two of them, as they danced–gazed into each other’s eyes.  Promised their love would last forever.

Popular music of the forties wasn’t always about sweetness and romance.  Several popular tunes had darker meanings.  For example: “Flat Foot Floogie” and “Minnie the Moocher” were about unsavory characters.  The original title “Flat Foot Floozy” was changed to something deemed more appropriate.  There were several wonderful novelty songs, among them, “Three Little Fishes,” “Cement Mixer,” “Swinging on a Star.” The latter, my mother sang to me as a child.

My mother sang and played piano.  At family singalongs voice quality was secondary to enthusiastic participation.  It’s funny how music brings back memories–of people, places, events, moods–even smells.  “That’s What Friends Are For,” was written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, for the Disney movie “Fox and Hound.”  The song is perhaps best remembered in a benefit performance by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder during the mid-eighties.

–Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always
Count on me
For sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for–

“For good times and bad times–I’ll be on your side forever more.”  Those words, described my mother’s giving spirit–she’d been a war bride, teacher, mother to four children, and a good friend.  These words comforted me, after her death in January of 1986–and applied to the greatest generation.  Through good times and bad times they pulled through.  Most importantly, they left the world a better place for having been here.


mississippi lightning--alex northThe ghostly
Figure, of a man
Walked, hunched
Over, up and down
The beach sand
On stormy nights
Still, searched
For something
He’d, never found

Sharecropper’s son
From hard-time
Mississippi, when
Things was rough
The day he left
Like to drove
His mama
And daddy, insane
Boy, he could
Sure, wail those
Blues, like
No one else

That, was
Because, of
Troubled feelings
Hidden, deep
Inside, big
City darkness
Took ahold
Of, his soul
Wouldn’t, let go
When, he died
It seemed
As though
Folks, would
Never stop cryin’

Now, his
Blues wailed
In the midst, of
Howling winds
His tears
Lost, in
Driving rain
Played, to the
Of, thunder
And Mississippi

–Photo by Alex North–


The Logical Song
The Logical Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Write whatever you normally write about, and weave in a book quote, film quote, or song lyric that’s been sticking with you this week. 

I may, yet, be committed to the “Home for the Terminally Nostalgic.”  Until that day happens, I can’t help but think, that in several ways, personal electronic devices enslave us, make us work more, and communicate less interpersonally.

Before the internet, there were movies, television and radio–all served to mass-culturize and make the world a little smaller.  In the not-too-distant future there won’t be anyone that remembers what pre-internet days were like.  Some days, I could do without the excessive drama, in my hectic, twenty-first century, day-to-day life.

Would the world go on without an internet?  For some people it already does.  From today’s “New York Times” the
“Quote of the Day,” “For me, internet doesn’t exist.  I’ve never seen it.  I don’t know what it does.”  From Ana Marie Hernandez, a retired nurse in Cuba, where web access is rare and costly.   

Maturity is not always what it’s cracked up to be, either.  When I was addressed as “Sir” on a regular basis, I knew the express train to Geezerville had left the station.  There’s a finiteness about being sixty-something.  It calls for savoring every day–finding things to be grateful for.  I would like to go back to a simpler time–especially when my gadgets go kaput and I can’t fix them.  There’s no way, I now, could handle teenage angst.  Maybe that’s why it’s visited on the young?  When did it happen?  When did I become predictable, dependable, responsible, and logical?  The lyrics, steadfastly sticking with me, are from “Supertramp’s” “Breakfast in America” album.


When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees
Well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully
Watching me, but then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Clinical, intellectual, cynical
There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep for such a simple man
Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd, but please tell me who I am 

I said now, watch what you say, now we’re calling you a radical
A liberal, fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable
Respectable, presentable…

Accordions & Monologues

making musicBasil’s monologues, respectfully borrowed
From the likes of–Jack Benny, Rodney Dangerfield
Began, from a shady park bench
“I grew up in a tough ethnic neighborhood”
“Learned to play accordion to keep from getting beaten up”
“Could I have a rim shot, please?”  “Wow, tough crowd”

Self-deprecating humor worked well
At parties, social events, until laughter faded
His marriage failed–she claimed, she needed more
Than he could give, lawyers, ex-wives, blah-blah-blah!
Drinking, masked pains of failure, until DT demons
Came to call, left behind, hallucinations, shaking, cold sweats

Several vagrancy arrests later
The Salvation Army took him in
Basil survived, self-esteem, only
Slightly wounded, by the celebratory
Gunfire, of his formerly overinflated, ego

Any, remaining, self-righteous inclinations
Quickly disappeared, his dark red accordion
And music remained, reminders of former glories
Park bench performances became routine
The take, on good days, enough for hot meals
And lodging at better transient hotels

His only true love, the dark red accordion
With mother of pearl inlays and ivory keys
There’d been a couple of minor dustups
Basil’s personal space, had been invaded
By outsiders, too touchy-feely for his liking

In his mind, still fancied himself, as nine-year old
Basil Rominski, in front of an adoring audience
At Mrs. Holtzmann’s fourth-grade music recital
As he played, spirited renditions, of
“Flight of the Bumblebee,” “Beer Barrel Polka”
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” recently added to his repertoire

Until, one day, street thugs
Waited In ambush, whacked him
Over the head, stole his money
Left him on the sidewalk, unconscious
Sprawled out, over his accordion case

The next thing, Basil remembered, was
An echoed, booming, bass voice
“Don’t ask, unless you’re willing to listen”
“How much is this advice going to cost me?”
Basil, asked the disconnected voice
“How much money you got?”
Came the curious answer
In the form of a question

“Everything, everywhere in”
“The universe, is in motion”
“Millions and billions”
“Of atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons”
“Are spinning around inside your body”
The thought made Basil nauseous
“Stop it! I’m going to throw up!”
Boris pleaded

“You’re a family of one”
The voice droned on, with
More unintelligible mumblings
A blurry, angelic figure, enshrouded in white
Called out, “Mr. Rominski, Mr. Rominski”
“You’ve had a concussion, you’re dreaming”
“Come on, let me help you get back to bed”

Basil’s mistake, looking out a broken window
At the wrong time–witnessing a crime
Intimidated, to insure his silence
There were fewer and fewer places to hide
Basil hid in a mechanical room, above a
Storefront, in an abandoned shopping center

The parking lot lights were on
He watched from a vantage point
Heart pounded, as a car stopped
Thieves, looking for things to steal?
Had he been followed?
Was it the same people as before?

Basil held his accordion closely
This is the last good thing I’ve got!
You thieving bastards can’t have it!
He was in grave danger, if spotted
Without his accordion and music
He was dead, anyway


Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Photo credit: ladybugbkt)

Yesterday, it was “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty.  Because, every day I’m learning to fly.  Sometimes I fall flat on my face, but I get up and keep going.

Spent years flying for someone else
Now, I’m flying, only for myself
If my fanciful flights fizzle and burn
Imagine all the things I’ve learned
Where I’m bound, I don’t know where
There’s no rush, I’ll wait till I’m there

Poignant lyrics stick in my head.  I’m sixty-four, and days of popular music having a “good beat and being easy to dance to” are long past.  My workshop radio is tuned to an “adult contemporary” local station.  It takes something outstanding to catch my attention, to the point that it sticks with me.  Sometimes my earworms morph into obsessions–demanding expression.  I have to find music for said earworm, sing, play air or real guitar.  For me, earworms aren’t always a bad thing.  Today, I was captivated by “She Talks to Angels” by the Black Crowes.  The lyrics obviously described someone on the downward spiral of addiction.  A while back it was “I Believe in Love” by Don Williams.  Where and when it happens, there’s no rhyme or reason.  I’ve stopped and parked my car to savor music and lyrics.  It could even be background music from a TV commercial; “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers is currently playing on the jukebox between my ears.

Bach, Baptists, & Persian Cats

victorian houseWillow Branch, with its eleven hundred citizens, was normally a quiet place.  Calls to the Sheriff’s department were routine–cars with loud mufflers, stray dogs, wild animals scattering trash.  The phone rang a little after seven, one summer evening.  Mrs. McNary, the caller, was frantic.  In the Sheriff’s department she was known as a “frequent flyer.”  “Now, Mrs. McNary calm down.”  “I’m sending someone out right away.”  Mrs. Gertrude McNary was eighty-seven, lived alone with “Winston Jeremiah Puffington,” her white Persian cat.  The frisky tom cat, “Mr. Puffy,” had somehow gotten himself tangled in the wires of her television set.  Deputy Jim Bell was on duty.  He grumbled on the way out the door.  “So, now I’m rescuing cats?”  The dispatcher couldn’t resist, “Call if you need back up.”  The squad room roared with laughter.  Jim wasn’t amused–left without saying another word.

Jim arrived at the familiar white, neatly kept, Victorian home with its wrap-around front porch.  Mrs. McNary met him on the porch, grabbed his arm and pulled him inside.  “I’m glad to see you.”  She sobbed.  “It’s Mr. Puffy.”  “Please hurry, before it’s too late–he could strangle or electrocute himself.”  “I’ll do everything I can,”  Said the slightly confused deputy.  “I was watching the “Huntley-Brinkley” report like I do every night.”  “I went to the kitchen for a cup of tea.” “When I got back Mr. Puffy was gone.”  “I heard scratching and growling from inside my TV set,”  “There he was, trapped, and there was nothing I could do.”  She sobbed frantically.

mr puffy

Do you have any long-cuffed leather gloves?”  Asked the deputy.  I’ve got to stay away from those sharp claws and teeth.  “No, I don’t,”  She answered.  “Eldon, next door, might?”  She quickly dialed the black rotary hallway phone.  Eldon brought leather welders gloves–which proved invaluable.  Mr. Puffy fought his would-be captors valiantly.  Eldon took the front end and Jim took the back-end, shielded by a towel wrapped around his arm.  After a few tense moments, the frisky feline was finally freed.  “Oh, thank God!”  “My poor scared baby.”  Mrs. McNary attempted to console the frightened kitty.  Mr. Puffy wasn’t the least bit grateful.  With ears laid back, tail twitching in disgust, he growled, hissed, ran under the nearest bed.

Gertrude Frances McNary survived her husband Oliver by nine years.  She’d taught three generations of music students.  While a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music she fell in love with, Dr. Oliver Langston McNary, senior professor of music.  Rather than suffer disgrace from the conservative board of regents, Oliver resigned his position.  They married and settled in Willow Branch.  Oliver accepted a position as high school band and chorus director.  Oliver’s crowning achievement was an annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah.”  The tradition lived on.  His sudden passing left her lonely and unprepared.  There had been no children.  She sang arias while hanging laundry.  Her voice had not aged well.  It didn’t matter–most villagers couldn’t distinguish between vibrato and violets, anyway.   

A Steinway baby grand piano sat prominently in the parlor.  Busts of the master composers surrounded it in a semi-circle.  Schubert and Mozart held positions of prominence.  Lace curtains rustled gently in the large bay schubertwindow.  Music students not only mastered the piano, but also learned the names of composers and their works.  Only the most skilled students were allowed to play the baby grand.  Others plunked away on the spinet.  For their final recital, graduates played selections from their favorite composer.

From the large two-story house on the bluff, Gertrude McNary kept a wary eye on the community.  Her neighbor, Eldon Price, left his attic light on one night.  Some people in the neighborhood put their rubbish bins out too early.  Mrs. McNary abhorred most popular music and television shows.  She did, however, have a strange affinity for Victor Borge.  His antics at the piano reminded her of Oliver during their courtship.  Popular music, according to her, contributed to cultural decadence.  In a town of mostly blue-collar and farm workers, she was quite a contrast–Willow Branch’s self-appointed guardian of culture.  Nothing escaped scrutiny–not even hymns at local churches.

Mrs. McNary met the new Baptist minister, Rev. Lawrence Turner, at the post office.  She accepted his invitation to attend Sunday services despite reservations.  Sunday broke bright and beautiful.  Gertrude dressed appropriately in a dark blue dress with a black hat.  Her seldom-driven dark blue ’54 Desoto sedan faithfully carried her to church.  A warm welcome awaited her.  Rev. Turner acknowledged her presence during the service.  Most of the congregation already knew her.  Margaret, the pianist, had been one of her students.  Why didn’t she play music as it was written by the original composers?  That certainly wasn’t how she was taught. 

baptist church

The service ran long.  There were too many interruptions for spontaneous amens and hallelujahs.  Jill, the pastor’s wife, sang a solo.  She had a beautiful voice–in spite of being of the Baptist persuasion.  Rev. Turner’s sermon concluded with the warning, “The fires of Hell and eternal damnation awaited unrepentant sinners.”  The invitation was given for individuals to come forward and pray for forgiveness of sins.  After the benediction, Rev. and Mrs. Turner shook hands with departing parishioners.  “I’m so glad you could join us today, Mrs. McNary.”  Said the good reverend.  “It’s nice to finally meet you.”  “I’ve heard so much about you.”  Said Mrs. Turner.

Mrs. McNary put away the dishes after lunch.  She sat quietly on the front porch swing reading.  Afternoon changed to evening.  Like most evenings, Mr. Puffy joined her on the parlor couch.  Mr. Puffy groomed himself with a front paw.  He closed his eyes as Gertrude McNary stroked his long white fur.  “Mr. Puffy, sometimes I think you’re my only friend.”  “Those Baptists were nice, but I didn’t feel comfortable.”  Mr. Puffy purred contentedly–as if he understood.  “They shouted and clapped during the service.”  …And that banging on the piano…That was the worst of all…Fire and brimstone preaching was too much like the Damoclesian sword in Greek mythology.  I think God would want us to be more dignified.  I feel much more comfortable around my fellow Episcopalians.   

Gertrude read quietly, oblivious to the setting sun.  Mr. Puffy twitched the end of his tail–watched the mantel clock pendulum.  Soon Gertrude slumped over sound asleep.  The house was dark, the clock chimed nine, she promptly awakened.  “Are you a hungry boy?”  She asked Mr. Puffy.  Mr. Puffy jumped down–followed her to the kitchen.  Mr. Puffy gobbled down his “Little Friskies” cat food.  Gertrude Frances McNary got ready for bed.  She glanced reverently at their wedding portrait.  Ollie, if there is a heaven, I know you’re looking out for me.  You were the only one I ever loved.  We understood each other.  She pulled up the blanket, reached over, and turned off the light.