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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Pat Benatar And Neil Giraldo Will Get House Of Blues All Fired Up June 30


benatar_giraldo

By Brian M. Howle

Rock ‘n Roll is one of those entities that tends to stamp a time date on things, due to the shear force of great music merging with great memories. And for millions of rabid rock ‘n rollers who preferred their music with a touch of femme fatale overtones, there was one power player who topped everybody’s list of uber power vocalists (who partnered with a prolific guitarist/arranger) to virtually monopolize the music biz.

Those of you born during and after the mid ‘80s may have missed the heyday, but now’s your chance to make up for that unfortunate time warp – and find out what your elders already know – when Pat Benatar, along with husband/guitarist Neil Giraldo, takes command of the storied stage at House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 30, 2009.

One of the most dominant forces in music in the late ‘70s burst onto the scene with the emergence of Pat Benatar. Her distinctive vocals, smoldering Ukrainian good looks, and powerful arrangements by band leader/guitarist Neil Giraldo launched a career that powered on into the ‘80s and ‘90s. And now, in this new millennium, both are still a force to be reckoned with.

With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s her journey to rock superstardom:

Born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski in Brooklyn, New York, Benatar’s family moved from Brooklyn to Lindenhurst, Long Island when she was 3 years old. The daughter of a sheet-metal worker and a beautician who once sang with the New York City Opera, Pat became interested in theater and began voice lessons, singing her first solo in elementary school at age eight. She participated in musical theater in high school.

Her musical training was strictly classical and theatrical, and literally was cut off from the rock scene in nearby Manhattan. She said her parents were “ridiculously strict – I was allowed to go to symphonies, opera and theater but I couldn’t go to clubs. I was singing Puccini and West Side Story but I spent every afternoon after school with my little transistor radio listening to the Rolling Stones…”

She was accepted to The Juilliard School, but surprised family, friends and teachers by deciding a classical career was not for her and pursued health education at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. At 19, she dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart Dennis Benatar and later worked as a bank teller.

After attending a Liza Minnelli concert in1973, Pat quit her job the next day and pursued a singing career. Gigs as a singing waitress and singing in a lounge band helped her prepare for her big break.

Pat’s rousing rendition of Judy Garland’s “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” at an amateur night at the renowned comedy club Catch a Rising Star in New York in 1975 earned her a call back by club owner Rick Newman, who would become her manager. She went on to be a regular member of Catch for close to three years.

Halloween 1977 proved a pivotal night in Pat’s early, spandexed stage persona. Rather than change out of the vampire costume she had worn to a Greenwich Village cafe party that evening, she went on-stage wearing black tights, black eyeliner and short black top. All of a sudden, despite performing her usual array of songs, Catch’s audience was hit with this strong visual image that matched her exceptional singing and powerful vocal range. This time she received a standing ovation. “The crowd was always polite, but this time they went out of their minds, Pat recalls. “It was the same songs, sung the same way, and I thought, ‘Oh my God…it’s these clothes and this makeup!’”

In between appearances at Catch and recording commercial jingles for Pepsi Cola and a number of regional concerns, Pat Benatar headlined New York City’s famous Tramps nightclub March 29 – April 1, 1978, where their knockout performance devoted to original rock material and ballads, plus a few rearranged favorites, including “Bird of Paradise” and “My My My” by Taro Meyers, Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” and a reggae arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” impressed representatives from several record companies. They were signed to Chrysalis Records the following week. “There was a long period of three years, when I spent my time taking demo tapes around and being rejected by one record company after another,” Pat said. “Then just two days after the debut concert with the band, we were signed to a record contract…”

As with many artists, Pat’s ambition to write and sing original rock material was not shared by record company executives at first. Further contentious flames were fanned with battles over material, plus disputes over advertising manipulated to make Pat appear nude, and her image after she remarried and started a family. (The Benatars divorced in 1979. Pat and band leader/guitarist Neil “Spyder” Giraldo married February 20, 1982. The distinctive lead guitarist of the band – his “Spyder” nickname becomes obvious when you watch him attack the neck of his guitar – he was in Rick Derringer’s touring band in 1978. Giraldo has performed on all of Benatar’s albums. Neil also sings, plays keyboards and harmonica, and has many writing and producing credits on Pat’s albums. The Giraldos have two daughters: Haley Egeana born February 16, 1985, and Hana Juliana born March 12, 1994).

Recorded in June and July 1979, Pat Benatar debuted the week of August 27, 1979 with the release of “I Need A Lover” (If it rings a bell, it’s because it was written and also recorded by John “Cougar” Mellencamp), from the album In the Heat of the Night. It was a flop in sales, as was the second single, “If You Think You Know How To Love Me.”

But the third time was the proverbial charm – “Heartbreaker” was released in December of 1979, and the legend was off and running.

She won an unprecedented four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Rock Performance: 1980’s Crimes of Passion (“Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, “Hell is for Children”, “Treat Me Right” and a Rascal’s cover, “You Better Run” which gained later notoriety as the second music video played on MTV, after the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”); 1981’s Precious Time (“Fire And Ice” and “Promises in the Dark”); 1982’s Get Nervous (“Shadows Of The Night” and “Little Too Late”), and 1983’s Live from Earth (“Love Is a Battlefield”, with its iconic, shoulder-shimmying dance number that was custom-choreographed for MTV).

Benatar and Giraldo made a break from her “hard rock” sound and featured a softer, gentler sound with 1984’s Tropico (“We Belong”). Seven the Hard Way gave us “Invincible” and “Sex As a Weapon” in 1985. 1988’s Wide Awake in Dreamland featured my all-time personal Benatar favorite, “All Fired Up” (pop this puppy in your CD player when you’re heading out on a road trip if you want to start out right!), as well as “Don’t Walk Away”, “Let’s Stay Together”, and “One Love”. A jump blues record, True Love, was released in 1991. Gravity’s Rainbow came next in 1993, with “Everybody Lay Down” and “Somebody’s Baby”. 1997’s Innamorata featured “Strawberry Wine (Life is Sweet)”, and 1993’s Go featured the 9/11 charity single, “Christmas in America” as a bonus track.

Of the ten Grammy Award ceremonies in the 1980s, Benatar was nominated for Best Female Rock Performance eight times, including for “Invincible” in 1985, “Sex As A Weapon” in 1986, “All Fired Up” in 1988 and in 1989 for “Let’s Stay Together.” Benatar also earned Grammy Award nominations in 1985 for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female with “We Belong” and in 1986 for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Duo or Group as a member of Artists United Against Apartheid for their single “Sun City.” Benatar is also the winner of three American Music Awards: Favorite Female Pop/Rock Vocalist of 1981 and 1983, and Favorite Female Pop/Rock Video Artist of 1985. Benatar was twice named Rolling Stone magazine’s Favorite Female Vocalist.

Pat also has several stage and screen credits, including playing the character Zephyr in Harry Chapin’s futuristic rock musical “The Zinger”. Set in a recording studio sometime around the year 2000, the production, which debuted on March 19, 1976, at the Performing Arts Foundation’s (PAF) Playhouse in Huntington Station, Long Island (renamed the Harry Chapin Center), also featured Beverly D’Angelo and Christine Lahti.

Pat has also appeared in numerous TV appearances, mostly as herself, and her songs have been featured in film and TV. In 2007-2008 “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was put into the songlist for Guitar Hero 3 in the first tier of songs, also in Guitar Hero On Tour, and is available as a downloadable song in the video game Rock Band. Her song “Heartbreaker” is a playable song in the 2008 video game followup Guitar Hero: World Tour as well as also being downloadable content on Rock Band.

Benatar was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame at the Second Induction Award Ceremony and Fundraising Gala held October 30, 2008.

Pat is a walking testament to good genetics (despite the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle), who – in my humble opinion – looks even better now than when she released her debut album in 1979 (and, she was fine in 1979, folks). And she’s kept the pipes. She has kept the whole package intact – and again, from my perspective, I think she might even sound stronger now.

Hey, come hear for yourself and join Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at House Of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 30, 2009. Doors open 7:30pm. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit http://www.houseofblues.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com
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This article also appeared in the June 18 – July 2, 2009 issue (Page 25) of Alternatives and Coast NewsMagazines (www.myrtlebeachalternatives.com).

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The Christmas Lesson


By Brian M. Howle

Once again, doggone if Christmas didn’t just sneak right up on me like so many times before. It seems to blink its presence known a leetle faster with each passing year. But, I guess that’s just the way it’s supposed to be …

Poor Barbie.jpgSo, here we all are, revved up and ready to go, scurrying here and there in search of that perfect holiday gift idea, and buying groceries in warehouse-capacity amounts in anticipation of the big family dinners. Mothers and fathers and all of Santa’s helpers scour the offerings out there in mallworld, and Sunday newspapers get heavier with the avalanche of full-color flyers and mini-catalogues. Packages in transit from one corner of the world to another are handled more often than a Florida ballot, and television and radio stations begin (well, now that this election mechanics lesson has passed, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt) to play more holiday-themed background songs on station and client commercials.

And of course, all good little southern boys and girls tweak their leetle noses in the cold, crisp December air, straining for their well-developed snow radar to catch even the faintest glimmer of hope that this year, it just might be a white Christmas.

Everybody seems to just fall right in line when the “Christmas Spirit” gets a full head of steam. And every year, the same thought echoes through my mind:

“Why can’t folks be this nice all the time?”

The only reason I have been able to ascertain – for why folks have to be so nasty all the time – is shaky at best, but I’ll run it by you anyway.

See, I think these poor individuals have somehow been dealt a cruel hand of fate at an earlier time in their lives. When the opportunity came for them to come to understand the true meaning of the “Christmas Season,” it somehow slipped past their comprehension, and without the realization that a lesson had even been missed at all, it is all but impossible for that person to ever get around to a second chance
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When my friends and I were growing up in Andrews, we didn’t exactly have an inside line on compassion and tact. One of those basic facts about human beings … they tend to run in “packs” when faced with intellectual challenge and change. And children peg the scale on reaction to challenge and change.

I’m one of those who believe that we’re all born with some degree of prejudice or racism. Now, maybe a few lucky ones out there aren’t, but I can honestly say that most folks I’ve known in my life have harbored some bad feelings towards some group or individual for some reason, at some point in their lives.

For me, that point in time came during my fifth grade year.

Andrews was, at the time, still a very small town – and we didn’t get a lot of “trendy” or “radical” information from the national or world front. For us, Andrews was the center of the universe, and the universe ended just past the town limit signs.

As with children everywhere, we developed our own pecking order of leadership … and of friends. And the one cardinal rule – that was social suicide if broken – was never to step away from the pack and think for yourself.

Once I began to think about it, it occurred to me that our entire class was pretty much one big group of friends. It had its own little cliques, of course, but all in all, almost everyone was involved in our daily routines of study, play and interaction.

Except for one little girl.

I don’t know if she still lives in the area, so I won’t use her real name. I’ll call her (appropriately enough after the years of rote with the Dick and Jane books), Jane.

Jane was the poorest little girl I ever knew during our school years. And while many others didn’t have the greatest of environments to grow up in, Jane’s world must have been absolute hell.

Her wardrobe consisted of maybe six dresses, which she wore in quiet repetitiveness. Her shoes were scuffed and cut, having long since seen that showroom shine, with the obligatory newspaper shoved in the worn-out souls in a feeble attempt to ward off the wet and cold of the elements.

She came to school each morning a pure mess. Unbathed, clothes soiled, torn and stained, she almost always had dirt smudged across her face, and wielded fingernails that could make a diesel mechanic cringe.

She had bad teeth and bad breath, and lacked any inkling of the concept of dental hygiene – or personal hygiene, more importantly. Because there was one thing that created more teasing for her than any other reason:

She smelled like a garbage dump.

No, I don’t mean she had a little B.O. … I don’t mean she was just a little bit anti-odoriferous … I mean, you would literally gag at times if you happened to brush up against her.

As bad as these things were for her to cope with, I’m sure they paled in comparison to the anguish and cruelty that my friends and I heaped upon her in a daily theater of teasing and taunting.

And so, Jane continued to endure our daily diatribes against her uncleanliness and lack of good manners. Why she didn’t go Postal on us, I’ll never know. Because Lord knows, we made that poor girl’s every waking moment seem like an eternity.

Now, during our fifth grade year, our teacher decided to have everyone write their name on a small piece of paper, and put it in a box; and then have each student draw the name of a person that they were to give a class Christmas present.

I don’t know if it was because of where I was standing, or that maybe I just happened to be accidentally paying attention that day, or exactly what … but as one of my friends drew out a little scrap of paper, it unfolded itself out for all to see the name scribbled on a page of greasy stains.

“Jane.”

As fate would have it, our teacher had momentarily stepped out into the hall to receive some message from another teacher. But, the reaction from my classmate was far beyond anything I had ever imagined – or witnessed before.

“I’m not getting her a present,” he viciously snarled, “she’ll just make it stink by the end of the day!”

Now, normally, the vast majority of insults hurled towards Jane were the “behind-her-back” variety. She was still shunned, never picked for games, and teased – but no one had ever been quite that brutal to her face. I would look at her sometimes, when someone would rag on her, and she never seemed to really have any reaction at all. She would just continue her vague stare and hide off in some corner.

But I was looking directly at her, just by chance, when my friend made that ugly declaration.

I had seen my friends fall in play and battle on a regular basis. We kept the local doctor busy enough, and some of the instances were particularly gruesome. But I had never seen another human being’s spirit and soul so devastatingly ripped from them in the cruelest throes of public humiliation. I could swear I heard the breath leave her thin, dingy body, as if she had taken a mean right hook to the stomach.

Jane ran away to the back of the room, behind the free-standing coat rack that graced each classroom, where she muffled her cries and suffered alone.

And then the teacher returned. No one mentioned what had just transpired, we all just continued on with the selection process.

After the names were all chosen, our teacher noticed that Jane didn’t have anyone exchanging with her. I heard her murmur Jane’s name to herself as she double- and triple-checked the list. But before she asked out loud, I slipped up beside her chair – terrified that someone would overhear my words – and whispered to her in a voice so light that not even God could hear me: “I’ll get something for Jane.”

She asked me to repeat myself.

I pointed to the name she had circled while making the final tallies, and just nodded at her, hoping she would make the connection and leave it at that.

I sighed a mighty breath of relief when the teacher acknowledged my request non-verbally, sparing me cries of “Brian loves Jane! “ if overheard by the rest of the pack.

When the big day came for our class Christmas Party, I made sure to slip inside our room before anyone else. I quickly placed the brightly wrapped present underneath the tree among all the other glittering and shining packages, and then blended back into the pack.

Much like the feeding frenzy inherent in sharks, when it came time for us to open up the presents, it was pure mayhem. Everyone was awash in squeals of laughter and anticipation, as the bows flew and the shredded paper showered through the air like confetti.

All the while, I kept one eye on Jane. By habit, she didn’t go to the tree and look for her present, because there was never one there for her. But our teacher noticed Jane’s name on a package, and motioned for her to come up and take the gift.

And two, separate worlds unfolded before my eyes on that day. In the background, the normal din of my friends’ raucous laughter, paper ripping, acknowledgements graciously exchanged. Same as always.

But my focus was on Jane, as she cradled the package and retreated to the safe confines of the coat rack.

I eased down one wall of the room and casually watched her, keeping one eye out as to not be caught by my peers.

Jane took forever to open that package. Unlike us, she took great pains in removing the tape, carefully peeling it off without tearing the edges of the paper. She rolled up the ribbons and tied them around the large bow, and neatly tucked them away in the pocket of her grimy coat. And as she did this, I became aware of what seemed to be a miraculous change that swept over her.

She didn’t look quite as dirty. Her hair seemed light and flaxen for the first time. And an aura of peace and joy absolutely beamed from around her. With the precious paper safely stored, she slowly opened the box. Her smile widened to a point I had never seen before. And I realized, when she smiled, she was actually sorta pretty. But normally, we didn’t give her much cause for smiles.

As she delicately retrieved the clean, new Barbie doll from its box, she abruptly looked up and zeroed-in directly on my eyes, as if she had been aware of my shadowy presence the entire time. And then she softly formed the words “Thank you” … then returned to cuddling and talking to her Barbie.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe, Not only that, I couldn’t talk or signal for someone to help me. I didn’t know what was happening, but I figured I better bail into the hallway. Unnoticed, I ran into the hallway, as the celebration continued among my friends. I burst through the outer doors and fell to my knees, gasping for air and fighting off unfounded waves of nausea. Truly frightened now, I began to pray to God to save me, to explain what was happening to me. And then, He did.

I was overwhelmed with guilt and embarrassment, for all the times that I had teased this poor child with no provocation. I finally understood what “needy” truly meant, and at the same time came to be thankful for the things I had taken for granted. In short, I became a better person.

Some of you may still be a bit confused. This isn’t a story about something that I did that was great and wonderful. I only gave Jane a small, inexpensive, material gift.

She gave me the Christmas lesson.

So, as each of you head out for the holidays, I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Find the ones you love, and let them know how much you do. And please – find a child who needs a little Christmas. Participate in Toys for Tots, or one of the many other programs for the disadvantaged. Remember the reason for the season.

And, please … feel free to pass on the lesson.
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The previous article was originally published in the December 12, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Memoirs Of A Parrothead: Part I


The album that was recorded at the Fabullous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, (8, 9, 10 August 1978), and the Maurice Gusman Cultural Center in Miami, Florida (14,15,16 August 1978). The album was released in Ocotber, 1978.

The live album that was recorded at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, (August 8, 9, & 10 – The night we attended), and the Maurice Gusman Cultural Center in Miami, Florida (August 14, 15 & 16, 1978). The album was released in Ocotber, 1978.

By Brian M. Howle

One of the neatest things that ever befell me occurred only because I had – at the time – an incessant need to collect as many different T-Shirts as possible, including the hordes that the local radio stations provided like cheap cotton crack.

It was the Summer of 1978, right here in good ol’ Myrtle Beach. I had been living here for about two and a half years, working first in ‘75-’76 with the Sun News (never work at a daily paper during a Presidential election year) and then as Production Manager and graphic artist for the long-defunct The Horry News & Shopper, located on 3rd Avenue in Conway at the time. I met a gal at the Sun News who followed me to the Shopper, and wouldn’t ya know it – her brother, Richard, played guitar.

Now, I played a little guitar in a garage band in high school (mainly chords and the burning lead to “Wipeout”), so I still had my old piece-of-crap Teisco Del Ray guitar and an old Norma 40-watt amp. Soon, I was fighting the urge to recite that old Godfather III line in my head: “Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in!”

The band bug was back.

Of course, we were working for pretty small potatoes in ‘78. It wasn’t like living in Russia or anything, but we essentially lived paycheck to paycheck during those days. And in case you’re not familiar with the requirements for musical groups wanting to get out and play around the local area of the state or region, that means you need lots and lots of expendable income to feed the insipid beast that is known as the “Band Kitty.”

Richard had a Gibson SG and a Traynor amp, and played inside his parent’s house at about 2 zillion decibels on Sunday afternoons. I needed to save some bucks so I could finally get a real, honest-to-peanuts “grown-ups” guitar and amp.

At the former in-laws' house, with my former brother-in-law, Richard Rhodes, around the time of the contest/concert.

At the former in-laws’ house, with my former brother-in-law, Richard Rhodes, around the time of the contest/concert.

So while the other guys (the single ones) struggled to sign away their lives into servitude in their quest to obtain a bitchin’ P.A., monitor system and all the assorted and sundried necessities that go along with the deal – I tried doing my part by assembling part of my wardrobe via the local radio stations’ giveaway contests.

The really cool part about having OCD when it comes to radio contests is that, because you’re calling and at least qualifying for everything that they’re giving away, you almost always get a T-Shirt. True, some of them were ratty, straight-to-buffing-the-wax-off-the-car rags that you wouldn’t bother giving to the less fortunate. But the vast majority were usually pretty hip in that vapid ‘70s way, most trumpeting getting a major and sustained party buzz in some form or another – and Budweiser led the way in glorious “Bottoms Up!” fashion. Dang shame I didn’t keep all that stuff, because apparently there are some very rabid collectors out there in the shadows of e-Bay these days. All those little Bud Man puffy stick-ons – sigh

Anywho, I was a hard-core creature of the night by nature, and the graphics job with its inherent deadlines fed the beast even further. As a result, I listened to the radio a lot, and the station of choice for my peeps who were on the cutting of edge of cool was WKZQ, 101.7 FM (changed to 96.1 for today’s kids and grandkids).

For anyone who lived here at the time, these names will open floodgates of memories: Gary “Deacon” Dawson, Greg Fowler (later to become Tour Manager for country legends Alabama), Brian Phillips, Bob Scarborough, John “The Pilot” Van Pelt, and Jeff “Shotgun” Stone. Along with station manager Bill Hennessey, who was a fellow student of mine at Coastal Carolina in the early ‘70s, I came to know these folks on a first-name basis.

Especially “Shotgun.”

After moving here from Pennsylvania, he worked the Midnight-to-6:00 a.m. shift, and he had a neat little musical intro with the song “Shotgun.” There was some unspoken connection between us from the very first call. It was really late, and the oxygen in my blood was getting pretty tired before making it up to the ol’ noggin, and that just made my call to enter some contest even more, um, “entertaining.” We both agreed afterwards, the Radio Hall of Fame lost epic classics due to our lack of foresight in not recording these little tidbits of fun. We weaved some serious funnies in the wee hours of many a night and/or morning.

Then came the fortuitous night when my bud announced a new contest, for a local suntan lotion company by the name of Beach Buff. Beach Buff was the up-and-coming challenger to the Big Dog of the day in the world of big-time, Myrtle Beach Suntan Lotion Wars.

And they came up with one doozie of a contest: Simply write a Jingle for Beach Buff, and win a trip to Atlanta to see Jimmy Buffett live at the Fabulous Fox Theater.

Oh, nevermind that we were both Parrotheads from way back.

And don’t give a second thought to the fact that it was a completely all-exenses paid trip for two, for two days and one night at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, complete with limo service and a liberal food/room service budget. And who cared about the fact that Jimmy was recording a live album that weekend, and we would be there enjoying it all in the beautifully restored, art-deco acoustic masterpiece – The Fox Theater. (You know, the same place where Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded their seminal 2-record, 4-sided live album, One More From The Road.)

No, you see, the most important thing was – I could win a cool T-Shirt if I called up Shotgun with my rendition of a Beach Buff jingle.

Say what? Issue a challenge to someone who’s in the creativity field each and every day? Hey, advertising was my major at USC, and all those tedious hours at the paper racked my brain to come up with catch-phrases, slogans or logos for new clients, pushing everything from carpeting dealerships to the then-booming aftermarket accessories for the van phenomenon.

I grabbed my girlfriend’s little acoustic guitar and worked up a catchy little 3-chord romper, trying to hit on all the major selling points. Beach Buff was a little more expensive than their competitors, as it was the first to offer “Stages” of tanning – but all my friends who had used it really did get great results without burning. It helped to have some knowledge of the product.

The first verse came easily, as did the bridge, and the last verse was great right up until the last two lines. I fought the block and jotted down something that just barely rhymed for the ending, and then dialed the station (yes, it was a rotary dial phone; no speed dial or redial feature back in the technological dark ages).

The current incarnation of Beach Buff, the only image I could find anywhere online. The product came in dark plastic bottles that were shaped like pint liquor bottles back in the day.

The current incarnation of Beach Buff, the only image I could find anywhere online. The product came in dark plastic bottles that were shaped like pint liquor bottles back in the day.

When Shotgun answered, I excitedly told him I had a little song to offer up so that I could have my 100% cotton T-Shirt with the way cool Beach Buff logo on the back, and a cute little WKZQ logo on the breast pocket. My sweetie held the phone as I wailed my composition and frammed on the old acoustic, just hamming it up to the nth degree and squalling like an old bluesman without any talent.

Now, all I wanted was my T-Shirt. I had about three dozen of them, of different corporate campaigns in one form or another; but, hey, you can never have enough cool T-Shirts when you’re a young, happenin’ dude. To my surprise, Shotgun was just ecstatic about my little tune. He was adamant about making sure that I would show up for the big selection day at the radio station, where all the qualifiers would perform their compositions live, right inside the luxurious WKZQ studios on Ocala St. Honestly, I wasn’t going to get into the big contest. I just wanted my free T-Shirt.

But the more we thought about it – and the more we listened to other people’s offerings when they called in and sang their jingles in order to get their free T-Shirts – the more we began to think that, hey, maybe we just might have a shot at this thing. Heck, even if I didn’t win, maybe 2nd Place was a box of T-Shirts.

Well, the big day rolled around, and we showed up at the studio. There were about two dozen contestants, from what we could tell, since the contest had already begun by the time we got there. I had to re-write the last verse to fit the main contest theme; the one I used for Shotgun was just to get my T-Shirt that night – and I literally finished writing it on the way to the studio. We stood outside in the blazing August heat with all the other hopefuls, and listened to the muffled lobby monitors that carried the recording session. They placed a couple of microphone stands and a stool in the lobby, and the DJs ran the tape machines in the studio, behind the aquarium-like glass partition to the lobby.

When the time came, my girlfriend once again held the lyric sheet in front of me, and I warbled my tune:

“Tanning’s always been a hassle to me, 
Burning to a crisp was my destiny; 
But Beach Buff changed my point of view, 
The Starter Kit is really something new;” 
BridgeNow, it costs a bit more than the others do, 
But the tan that you get is dark and true, 
The difference isn’t just in the price, my friend, 
It’s like jumping from an Edsel to a Mercedes Benz! 
Last Verse 
Now that I’ve told my tale to you, 
Wise up and do the same thing, too; 
Sunshine and patience just ain’t enough, 
For the tan with the plan you need, Beach Buff!”

Now, when I opened my eyes again, the guys in the studio gave me “thumbs up,” and were smiling really big smiles. Suddenly, the door to the main office burst open, and Joe McVay himself – owner of Beach Buff – ran out in the hall, looked at me and yelled, “Wahoo! That rocks!”

Yeah, OK: considering he didn’t do that for any of the other folks, that just may have been a tip as to the outcome.

But we still sweated it out for a few more days, as the judges reviewed the tapes and scored their selections.

Finally, the Top Three entries were announced, on air, from Number Three to Number One. No. 3 was so horrible, it was entertaining; i.e.: William Hung. No. 2 was a guy who really did a great job of sounding like Jimmy Buffet and his style of tropical-rock-folk-country-R&B-beach music; but he never sang about the product. Tsk, tsk … And the winner was, well, by now I bet you’ve figured it out – Viola! – yours truly.

In all the celebration, it completely slipped my attention this whole fun weekend began with a flight to Atlanta on Piedmont Airlines. Now long gone, for you kids out there, allow me to acquaint you with Piedmont: It was the Yugo of Airlines back in the day .

Piedmont Airlines had a small PR problem at the time. Photos like this did nothing to assuage my consternation.

Piedmont Airlines had a small PR problem at the time. Photos like this did nothing to assuage my consternation.

Oh, and I had a major case of world-class, never-flew-commercial-because-of-it fear of flying. Actually, it wasn’t so much a fear of flying. It was more like a fear of impaling the ground like a 600-mph lawn dart.

Well, I already won, and my sweetie would have killed me had I backed out, and there was that fine concert and all those free goodies that went with it. And once we were at the Fox, I knew there would be more opportunities to acquire Jimmy Buffet 1978 “Cheeseburger In Paradise” World Tour T-Shirts.

Oh, well hell, that settled it.

And so, when the Thursday morning of the flight arrived, I had made arrangements with my physician to deal with all that fear-of-crashing stress.

Oh yes, I was prepared.

I mumbled through the pre-flight, live-on-the-radio interview with Brian Phillips between handfuls of Valium. For me, the boarding gangway to the waiting airliner was like walking The Green Mile.

– Next Issue – “Begging God Thru An Air-Sickness Bag At 35,000 Feet”

### The previous article was originally published in the August 10, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Memoirs Of A Parrothead: Part II


By Brian M. Howle

The live album, recorded from one of the concerts I had attended after winning a jingle-writing contest for Beach Buff suntan lotion thru WZKQ 102 FM, Myrtle Beach, S,C.

The live album, recorded from one of the concerts I had attended at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA, after winning a jingle-writing contest for Beach Buff suntan lotion thru WZKQ 102 FM, Myrtle Beach, S,C.

Last issue I began to recall one of the neatest things that ever befell me occurred only because I had – at the time – an incessant need to collect as many different T-Shirts as possible, including the hordes that the local radio stations provided like cheap cotton crack.

It was the Summer of 1978, right here in good ol’ Myrtle Beach. In one of my many calls to WKZQ 101.7 FM to win yet another free T-Shirt, my DJ buddy “Shotgun” Stone clued me in to a new contest: Simply write a Jingle for Beach Buff, and win a trip to Atlanta to see Jimmy Buffett live at the Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Well, sure enough, I won the dang thing.

But this was no ordinary radio giveaway, my friends. It was a completely paid trip for two, for two days and one night at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, complete with limo service and a liberal food/room service budget.

Jimmy Buffett was recording a live album that weekend, and we would be there enjoying it all in the beautifully restored, art-deco acoustic masterpiece – The Fox Theater.

But wait, it got even better: Joe McVay himself – owner of Beach Buff – was so impressed with my little composition, he upgraded the contest. We now had three days and two nights to stay in Atlanta’s Hilton Hotel. The food tab was increased to $500, and we received additional limo service and $200 cash to live it up like a couple of big dogs.

Man, that would buy one boatload of T-Shirts.

Of course, there was a caveat to this dream trip: We had to fly to Atlanta from Myrtle Beach on Piedmont, the Yugo of Airlines back in the day.

And of course, I had a major case of world-class, never-flew-commercial-because-of-it fear of flying.

So, when the Thursday morning of the flight arrived, I had made arrangements with my physician to deal with all that fear-of-crashing stress.

Oh yes, I was prepared.

I mumbled through the pre-flight, live-on-the-radio interview with DJ Brian Phillips between handfuls of Valium. I vaguely remember pounding home the importance for folks to enter contests in order to win, since all I wanted was a free T-Shirt in the beginning. But hey, if you don’t enter, then dammit, you can’t ever win. Sorta like, “you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!

Well, the time neared, and that boarding gangway to the waiting airliner was like The Green Mile.

My future ex-wife was a real trooper for the ordeal, I have to admit that right up front. She was the only one who knew how terrified I was.

Now, the most popular means of dealing with the fear would be by consuming large quantities of alcohol before and during the flight. But yours truly had developed an allergic reaction to alcohol a few years prior to all this, so that’s why I had gone the pharmaceutical route.

As the creaky jet rumbled down the runway towards the Atlantic Ocean, my left hand was trying to rip the armrest from my seat, and my right hand was trying to crush my sweetie’s left hand. I was in an aisle seat, as I didn’t particularly care to have a window seat for observing our impending crash into the waiting earth. When the pilot put full power to the engines, my blood pressure shot up and everything went fuzzy white.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, GA. The 4,678 seat auditorium was ultimately developed as a lavish movie theater in the Fox Theatres chain and opened in 1929.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, GA. The 4,678 seat auditorium was ultimately developed as a lavish movie theater in the Fox Theatres chain and opened in 1929.

A minute or so later, when my vision returned, we were high above Myrtle Beach, banking towards the West-Southwest and Atlanta.

Well, the seat still had a left armest, and my sweetie still had a functioning left hand, so maybe there was hope.

They announced that seatbelts could now be unfastened (Oh, are you sure? It’s so reassuring to know that seatbelt will keep me from rocketing through the twenty rows of seats in front of me in the event of a 600 mph impact) and that (say it with me), we were now “free to walk about the cabin.”

Well, it was more like being “free to walk about the tubular coffin,” but no one took them up on the offer.

As my breathing and blood pressure both eased off a little bit, another little signal light for my body went off in my head. Something that I should have addressed before boarding the plane, but nooooooo, I had to spend some quality time with radio boy, remember? And now?

Time to potty.

We had seats near the rear of the plane (hey, I read the newspaper – most survivors seemed to wander around the crash site after climbing out of the still-intact tail section), so it wasn’t that far of a journey.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would be able to walk the ten feet to the restroom or not; partially due to the paralyzing fear, and partially due to the amount of tranquilizers that I had consumed.

But I steeled myself, kissed my honey goodbye and headed down the tiny aisle. I could feel the eyes of every person on that flight on me, as I wobbled along, eyes focused straight down on the floor.

Ya know, they really shouldn’t be allowed to call it a restroom. It should be called an Emergency Relief Closet, because there were at least four closets in my house that were bigger than this thing was. And I had a teeny, tiny little house.

Well, there was business to attend to, so I just went ahead and tended to it. My breathing was pretty close to normal at this point, and I was just about to level off and feel like maybe, just maybe, I would survive the flight.

Silly boy.

The original architecture and décor of the Fox Theatrecan be roughly divided into two architectural styles: Islamic architecture (building exterior, auditorium, Grand Salon, mezzanine Gentlemen’s Lounge and lower Ladies Lounge) and Egyptian architecture (Egyptian Ballroom, mezzanine Ladies Lounge and lower Gentlemen’s Lounge).

The original architecture and décor of the Fox Theatre can be roughly divided into two architectural styles: Islamic architecture (building exterior, auditorium, Grand Salon, mezzanine Gentlemen’s Lounge and lower Ladies Lounge) and Egyptian architecture (Egyptian Ballroom, mezzanine Ladies Lounge and lower Gentlemen’s Lounge).

Just as I was about to stand up and make my way back to my seat, God decided to remind me of His immense power, along with His sense of humor.

You see, He knew that I was preoccupied with breathing and all that, so He knew I didn’t notice that the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign had come back on.

We hit some turbulence, and much like Tom Hanks in the initial crash sequence from the movie Castaway, I was pretty much pinned to the ceiling in the flash of an eye. Then, just a quickly, I was slammed back down to the floor. And just to make sure I was paying attention, the whole choreography was repeated. Several times. Sorta like lather, rinse, repeat.

They say that your life flashes before you eyes when you think your demise is imminent. In my case, all I could think of was, “Oh great, I’m going to die in an airliner restroom with my pants around my ankles.”

Deep into my personal relationship with God, I barely heard the “ding” that went along with “you are now free to move about the cabin” when it was announced. One thing was for sure – the medications in my bloodstream had been immediately neutralized.

I immediately stood straight up, replaced my trousers to their upright position and made a beeline back to my seat, where my sweetie smiled and gleefully announced, “You missed some turbulence while you were gone!”

Yep, she was a hoot, that one.

Well, I delved deep into my carry-on bag and retreived another replenishing handful of Valium, because although the flight to Atlanta was only about 55 minutes in duration, we had only been airborne for about 15 minutes.

Well, all that help in relaxation began to kick in just about the time we were landing in Altanta, and none too soon for yours truly. I never felt the “skeet” of the tires when we touched down, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. My ex had been downing cocktails all flight long, so we were just about on even par with our relative , um, “conditions.”

We hunted down our luggage on the big Luggage Carousel from Hell, then stumbled out into the snarl of airport traffic in search of our ride.

The view from the stage, looking out into the theatre. The 4,678-seat auditorium, which was designed for movies and live performances, replicates an Arabian courtyard complete with a night sky of 96 embedded crystal

The view from the stage, looking out into the theatre. The 4,678-seat auditorium, which was designed for movies and live performances, replicates an Arabian courtyard complete with a night sky of 96 embedded crystal “stars” (a third of which flicker) and a projection of clouds that slowly drift across the “sky.” A longstanding rumor that one of the stars was a piece of a Coca-Cola bottle was confirmed in June 2010 when two members of the theater’s restoration staff conducted a search from within the attic above the auditorium ceiling.

And there, on the way out of the terminal, was a sight that I never, ever in a zillion years thought I would ever see: A limo jockey with one of those little signs that read, “Mr. Howle.”

I approached the poor, unsuspecting driver and slapped him on the shoulder while pointing at his little sign. “Oh yeah, cuz, that would be me. Take us to the Hilton, and there’s an extra $20 in it for you for every pedestrian you mow down on the way!”

I don’t think our driver fully appreciated sarcasm as a means of comedic introduction.

So, after he tried to make that $20 several times, we were wheeled up to the big, bad Hilton, where the bellboys took a step back when we rolled out of the limo. Eventually, a young one felt brave and gathered up our bags as we checked in. After we were inside our room, he was still hanging around, and my sweetie whispered that he was waiting for a tip.

“Oh, sorry man,” I said, as I escorted him into the hall. “Here’s your tip … never unroll a condom before you intend to use it.”

I’ll never forget the look on that kid’s face as the door slowly swung shut.

We only spent half an hour in our 19th floor room, because at this point it was time to take the limo over to the Fox Theatre for the big show. Once again, we rolled out onto the Atlanta street from the limo and approached the ticket window, where I told them my name and received a little manila envelope with our tickets and a little note from Cecil Corbett, who was promoting the show.

I was sure glad that the concert wasn’t for another two hours, because I could barely see my feet, much less anything more than 4 feet in front of me. I shuffled over to one of the ushers and showed him our tickets, in hopes of being shooed in the general direction of our seats, which I was positive would be waaaaay in the back, since it was a radio promotion giveaway and all.

When the guy put his little flashlight on my tickets, he suddently straightened up and gave me that, “Yes, sir! Right this way, sir!” deal. I was somewhat confused. Well, now more than before he did all this “yes sir” stuff.

Our seats were dead center on the the front row, center section, seats 105 & 106, which are located at the center of this photo directly in front of the orchestra pit railing. Every year since Atlanta Landmarks took over management in 1975, the Fox has generated an operating surplus. An estimated 750,000 people visit the Fox every year.

Our seats were dead center on the the front row, center section, seats 105 & 106, which are located at the center of this photo directly in front of the orchestra pit railing. Every year since Atlanta Landmarks took over management in 1975, the Fox has generated an operating surplus. An estimated 750,000 people visit the Fox every year.

We walked and walked and walked, and when he pointed his flashlight to our seats, that was when I finally looked around and realized that we were seats 105 and 106, dead center front row in the gorgeous Fox Theatre And two microphones for recording the audience response were three feet in front of us. Oh yes, we are on that album.

Well, needless to say, that show was outstanding. Jimmy had broken his leg a few weeks before the show and was on crutches or a stool most of the night, but by the time he reached the final few songs, he ditched the crutches and stomped on that bad leg like he didn’t feel any pain whatsoever.

Sorta like my flight. Jimmy and I were of the same mind.

So now, 30-some-odd years later, the future ex-wife is gone, the old job is long gone, and even Piedmont Airlines is gone.

But in the deepest recesses of my closet, there hangs one mint condition “Cheeseburger in Paradise” 1978 Tour T-shirt.

Thanks, Shotgun.

###
The previous article was originally published in the August 24, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Can You Hear Me Now?


By Brian M. Howle

One bad case of an earache has given me cause to reflect on the life of my maternal grandmother, Ruth Reeves Martin of Branchville, S.C.

From my earliest childhood memories, I recall hearing every single living soul in Branchville addressing her as “Mrs. Martin” or “Mrs. Ruth.” But to every living soul in her family – outside of her five children – she was “Mama Ruth.”

There are stereotypes that Hollywood and writers in general just can’t help emulating when it comes to casting not just the consummate, patriarchal grandmother – but the consummate, patriarchal Southern grandmother.

Lemme tell ya, Mama Ruth was that woman.

In the mid-to-late 1950s, when I was just knee-high to a grasshopper or so, I had a somewhat narrow understanding of my mother’s mother and her pre-my-existence personal history.

There were three things that I did know, however.

One – There was always incredibly good ol’ artery-cloggin’, hypertension-inducing dinnertime orgies of what I came to know as “Religious Rhetoric Chants” from the adults around me, consisting mostly of cornbread-and-fried-chicken-stuffed-muffled murmurs of “Oh, My Lord” and “Jesus, this is dang good food;”

Two – We seemed to eat there an awful lot.

Three – Did I mention that it was like traveling to the Dark Side of the Moon when we loaded up the family sedan and hit the dusty trail for Branchville, to eat every Sunday?

Four – (Okay, so there turns out to be four – it was 45-some-odd years ago, after all) You do understand how long it takes to get to the Dark Side of the Moon, right? From anywhere, right?

Five – (Yeah, yeah, now it turns out to be five – so bite me. Before I could read or write, I sincerely believed I had earned the right to vote in Branchville, based solely on the time I spent there – which was dang near every weekend.

Well, maybe it wasn’t actually every weekend. But you know, when you’re in hell, time has a whole different set of physics going on. You can laugh if you want to, but I’m telling you all right here and now – the devil is one doggone good mathematician. He’s got the digits goin’ on in Purgatory, that’s for sure.

So there was my granny, Mama Ruth, the dutiful wife of one of Branchville’s greatest citizens, W. Claude Martin. My grandfather was a banker (a position he inherited as son of my great-granddad, who started the bank) and lawyer – and was zooming up the political ladder in South Carolina politics as a State Senator from Orangeburg. And rumor had it he was the leading front-runner for Governor in the next election.

They had five children in all, with uncle Claude Martin, Jr. being the oldest; then aunts Margie and Minnie Claire; my mother and the baby, my uncle G.W..

Living in Branchville as the town role models from the turn of the century, the family was rolling along just fine, until the late 1920s devastated all their lives.

The Great Stock Market Crash took down the bank and most of the wealth they had accumulated.

And then my grandfather was killed, along with another Senator, by a drunk driver as they were on their way to a legislative session in Columbia.

So Mama Ruth was left with five children, with no job, and with very little money.

I didn’t fully understand the true worth of places like Branchville at that time. Then again, most 3-to-9 year-olds don’t, either.

Straddling the line between a South that hung its head in shame from prior transgressions to the New South of inclusion and progress, mom’s family was one of the last generations to greatly benefit from the non-regulated wages and lack of fair and equitable compensation for domestic help.

Life was much easier for them, due in part to the hard work and equal love afforded each and every one them by Mama Ruth’s dedicated maid – and, ultimately, best friend – Daisy.

Without a doubt, some of the most vivid memories I possess are of those two women. Daisy was short, bulldog-tough and black as coal, with a wide, bright smile and bun-tied gray hair, who doted over all of us. Her laugh was so incredibly genuine, made all the more incredible by the reality of her surroundings.

And, men and women alike were known to readily kill for her fried chicken.

My grandmother was a relatively short woman, not really skinny but not really fat; “stocky” is the word that comes to my mind, but a recurring imprinted vision of being slapped for disrespecting an elder urges me to change that to describing her appearance as “minimally-width challenged.”

She had this great face that possessed a virtual living set of those “Comedy/Tragedy” masks. Her smile – which cranked up all those great crowsfeets and the sparkle in her eye that always made my father smile – was a sanctuary for every child, grandchild and great-grandchild, that mere words will never give due justice.

On the other hand, she also possessed an upside-down scowl that emoted a palpable sense of “let’s not go there.”

Her hair always seemed to have those perfect rows of perm waves, short and tight as they furrowed across her head. Her glasses had those gray-and-pearl plastic frames and were large, but didn’t have “Coke bottle” thick lenses.

And her official Mama Ruth uniform was, without fail, a plaid or patterned plain dress, accompanied by a white apron that had this eerie, and I mean really freaky particular ability to remain crisp, clean and white.

However, stashed into the pockets of her apron were the ultimate Mama Ruth accutrements – her handkerchief and her hearing aid.
Actually, the handkerchief was in her hand about 50% of the time. But that only meant that now, you could not avoid noticing her hearing aid.

And, the hearing aid was usually clinging to the upper part of her apron, or eventually found itself perched between … um … well, you get the picture, this is my granny I’m talking about here.

For those of you not aware of the early history of hearing aids, allow me to clue you in.

Back in the caveman days, the first hearing aid really wasn’t a hearing aid at all. You had to stand right beside the deaf person and scream into their good ear, and hope for the best.

Besides being really annoying for everyone, this came to be a critical faux pas when the earliest phrases like “Run before that dinosaur eats you” became all the rage of early language skills. Probably because it was their mom or grandmom, the first hearing aid was simply the cupping of one’s hands to amplify the scream.

Then one of Al Gore’s old relatives invented the phonograph, which later became the Internet – and one of the offshoots of the phonograph was the acoustic enhancing cone, known as the megaphone speaker.

Another Gore relative foresaw the need for Air America and invented radio, which fortuitously hastened the advent of the first electronic hearing aid in the early 1900’s.

Not a pretty picture, however, those first models.

Remember that famous Edison quote, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.”?
Little-known fact: While inventing the telephone, he called Watson to save him from a life-threatening hernia, induced after having the suitcase-sized prototype of the hearing aid – with its 400-pound vacuum tubes and battery pack apparatus – strapped to his back. Edison was stabilized, turned his head and coughed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

By the mid-’50s, they had whittled that suitcase down to the size of the first Sony Walkmans. It weighed about 4 pounds, and used batteries that were specially made; shipped to Branchville’s lone drugstore in Radiation-tagged, lead-lined boxes.

They looked like little miniature Wurlizter jukeboxes, with the obligatory Avant Garde, neo-modern spaceship metal case, rounded on all corners and sporting a gaudy, intricate grill that hid the ear-splitting blaster that was known as the speaker.

It had this little clip that scrunched in against that apron pocket, or top, or strap, and no matter what Mama Ruth’s center axis position was, that bad boy was hangin’ on for dear life
.
And the lifeline tether that made a baby’s coo or a backporch door’s squeak perceptible to Mama Ruth was always coiled under the apron straps, snaking around the back of her collar and up her neck, where the thumb-sized earpiece had been ratcheted into her ear canal, making her a pre-Star Trek Borg long before Captain Jon-Luc Picard started out as a bald little baby. The constantly intertwined black and white wires and the earpiece acquired a funky patina after a few years that became sort of spooky in its own right.

Now, what brought this all back up in my mind in the first place was this: A month or so back, I picked up that wicked flu bug that was rippin’ everyone a new one. As part of the grand tour, I incurred an earache and a completely closed eustachian tube – which has effectively rendered me deaf in my left ear.

My sweetie had reached the end of her rope with my constant “What?” after any of her statements, and – exasperated – implored me to “please get a hearing aid!”

And I immediately thought of Mama Ruth.

Before she developed Alzheimer’s in her early 90s, Mama Ruth would stay with each of the children for about 3 months at a stretch. She was not impaired, other than her sight and hearing; the latter being the worst affected.

When she stayed with us, she would sleep in my sister’s old bedroom, at the front of our house, down the hall from me, and opposite side of the house from my parents’ bedroom.

Mama Ruth had a set routine for bedtime. She placed her pocketbook in one of the dresser drawers, after she went through the entire contents as she accounted for her jewelry and cash. She placed her slippers on the floor directly below her reach from the side of the bed; glasses inside of her left slipper, and her hearing aid in the right.

One particular night, my dreaming was interrupted by loud demons, screaming deep into the dark and scary night. I awoke to find that the ‘demons’ were actually strange and very, very loud sounds emanating from Mama Ruth’s room.

I waited for the horrible squealing to cease – or for my parents to burst thru their door at any second, raising holy hell about the noise – alas, to no avail. But the nails-on-the-blackboard screeching just had to be stopped.

I tip-toed into her room (Stupid, huh? If she couldn’t hear The Apocalypse, my little feet damn sure weren’t going to startle her.) My ears were now actually bleeding, because the decibel level was unrelenting. Dogs were dying within a mile of our house.

I begged God to see me thru my mission, as I clenched my hands over my ears and finally located the source of the hellish screams- there in her slipper, beside the bed.

Her hearing aid!

That sucker was wailing like Jimi Hendrix’s stack of Marshall amps at Monterey. Somehow, she had left the thing on, at full volume, and (like any good amplifier left wide freakin’ open) now it was feeding back louder than a hot mic at Ozzfest.

For the life of me, I could not find the “off” switch, if it indeed had one. However, I had watched her check the batteries on that rascal many a time, so I knew exactly how to open it up.

But I was terrified of handling the radioactive batteries, so I just flipped one of them in reverse position, and – Viola! – the banshee was silenced.

I stumbled down the hall to my room and fell back into my usual comatose sleep, proud of my nighttime problem-solving skills.

The next morning, I was again awakened by rude noise around 8 a.m., and as I swept away the cobwebs, my mother’s voice boomed throughout the house from the kitchen.

“IT’S THURSDAY!,” she screamed with all her might.

I couldn’t make out the other sound, but then mom bellowed out again:

“THURSDAY! IT’S THURSDAY!

I tip-toed to the kitchen door and peered inside. Mama Ruth was huddled in her chair, vigorously tapping the side of her hearing aid, as she asked for the 34th time, “What day is it, Jewel? I’m sorry, I just can’t hear you for some reason.”

It turned out that this shouting match had been going on since dawn.

I may have only known three things (okay, five), but I also knew when to keep my mouth shut. Which is why I am still alive today.

I guess I had a sixth sense.
###
The previous article was originally published in the December 1, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

The Call Of The Game


By Brian M. Howle

And so, yet another college football season draws to a frenetic close. The upcoming weekend features a handful of the big, end-of-season rivalries, such as Army vs Navy. For many – including those of us in the Palmetto state – the big game was last weekend.

Anyone who has read my column on a regular basis knows that I am a faithful, lifetime fan of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. And I know that for most, reason should dictate that this would be a perfect time for someone like me to crow about that great, come-from-14 points-behind victory over in-state rival Clemson last weekend, as the Cocks notched a 31-28 win in Death Valley, where they had not beaten the Tigers since 1996.

But anyone who truly knows me, knows that is not the way I am.

Well, it’s definitely not because I’ve become accustomed to regular Carolina victories over Clemson, since the Tigers have taken the measure of that honor lately with greater frequency than I would prefer.

And it’s not because I’m too modest to expose the achievements of my long-suffering alma mater, since they proved themselves over the course of the season with a 7-5 record (look at the four SEC losses of a touchdown or less, each against nationally ranked teams) and an upcoming holiday bowl game bid.

No, it’s because of something far greater, and much more important to me.

It’s because of the way I was raised.

Allow me to give you the backstory, and maybe you will come to understand what I mean.

My team-affiliation lineage is rather straightforward: My mother attended USC in Columbia, as did my sister and I; my father and brother attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

But you would have thought that my dad was the Carolina graduate when it came to Gamecock sports, and football in particular.

Mama was just too rattled and skitish to deal with listening to games on the radio, or watching them on television. And games like this last one eventually took her away from attending the games altogether.

But not daddy. He and I listened to and watched football, basketball and baseball games with clock-setting regularity. And yes, we suffered through a lot of losses – but we also shared the joy of victory, enough to keep us hungry for the next season.

They had season tickets to Carolina’s home games for most of my young life. And they traveled to quite a few away games over the years – most notably one in North Carolina where USC was losing badly and they decided to leave early and drive back home to Andrews, only to be stunned to find me zooming out of the house in hyper-party mode, ready to celebrate the greatest come-from-behind victory in school history, which I had followed on the radio in true Gamecock rollercoaster-blood-pressure faithfulness.

When they decided to take me along to attend my first USC home football game, I was just a pup. The Carolina stadium was not the colossus that stands there now. It was the 1.0 version – just a big, low bowl made of tin siding that held around 35,000 people. Maybe.

But in my young eyes, it was the Roman Coliseum. Due mainly to the fact that, well, it was the biggest stadium I had ever seen. And that was due – in no small part – to the fact that it was the only stadium I had ever seen.

All that notwithstanding, it was also the greatest stadium I had ever seen, because it was the home of my beloved Gamecocks. And amid all the clamor and jocularity of the thousands of folks who amassed at the entry gates, I was in absolute awe of all that was around me. A sea of garnet and black flowed by us, with the school’s marching band playing the fight song as they filed through the surrounding parking lots and into the stadium.

But then I heard – horror of horrors – the Clemson fight song. What the hell was going on here?

Oh, gee, what do ya know … my first game was the Carolina-Clemson game.

Sweeeeeet!

I was truly in my own leetle version of heaven on earth, and had just about reached the happiest point of my young life, when …

An unfamiliar (to me) voice boomed over and above the din of the crowd:

“Jewel! Delbert! Don’t tell me that little scoundrel, Brian, is with you today!” The voice was kinda close, but not real close to us.

Mama smiled and waved to the voice, as did my dad, but I couldn’t locate the person, primarily because of my being about three-something-feet tall at the time.

They hollered at each other for a minute or so, as we shuffled slowly towards the clinking, metal turnstile that clicked in official approval as each person handed the attendant their ticket to be punched as they passed through the spinning arms into the stadium.

Just as I was about to hand my ticket to the smiling man in the official USC ticket-taking uniform, a long, boney arm in a pin-stripe suit reached down from some unseen point and literally snatched me up and over the turnstile and into the massive crowd.

“Don’t worry, I know where y’all sit … I’m going to give young Brian the Grand Tour of the stadium to mark his first Gamecock game!” the voice boomed, as I struggled to look back at my disappearing parents while also trying to get a look at the crazy man who had just abducted me in broad daylight, right out of my parents’ protective hands.

The voice kept rambling on about Carolina this and Carolina that, but I was too terrified to make much sense of anything he said. I think it’s fair to say this was the first time in my young life that I was completely and totally freaking out.

We stopped for some reason, and the boney, gray-haired man who had kidnapped me finally came into focus and looked down at me. Then he smiled when he realized that I was crying.

“Now, now, son, no need to cry. Don’t you know me? I’m your cousin R.C., on your mama’s side, remember?”

Well, no, I didn’t remember him because I don’t think I had ever been around him before. I had heard his name mentioned when my parents, aunts, uncles were gathered at my grandmother’s house, usually accompanied with a sudden adult cough and the children being excused from the room. And at this point, I was beginning to understand why I had never been around him before.

Adding to the confusion in my leetle mind was his claim of being my “cousin.” See, up till then, my definition of cousin was pretty cut & dried: they were all kids, like me, within a window of 3 to 11 years of my age. And I had actually met all of them.

This guy was, in my definition, about 100 years old. So “cousin” was not fitting into the gameplan that I knew.

And on top of all that, he reeked of bourbon. And he was loud. And he wore a bow tie. A patterned bow tie with a pin-striped suit.

Fortunately, before I could have a massive breakdown, my father suddenly appeared and pulled me from R.C.’s grip. I quickly scooted behind daddy and peered around his leg as he quietly – but firmly – explained to R.C. that I needed to stay with them for my first Carolina game, but thanks for offering to take me “off their hands” for awhile.

We made our way to our seats (and mama), and daddy explained that R.C. was one of mama’s cousins, and how that whole second, third, fourth cousin, etc. thing worked. I didn’t care, I was just relieved to be with my parents.

Wide-eyed and wired for sound, I soaked in every large and small event of the day. The marching bands, the scantily-clad baton twirlers and cheerleaders, the emotionally-charged teams running out onto a sun-drenched field in colorful abandon. The palpable sense and smell of electricity that raced throughout the capacity crowd. And the frequent insults that were hurled back and forth between rival supporters.

I’ve never been very good at understanding why God chooses to bless us when he does, or when he chooses to crush us when he does. But on this day, he smiled on my Gamecocks, and they came away with a slim victory.

Although every stadium has designated “home” and “visitor” seating areas, when it comes to the “Big Game”, you get a ticket where you can find one. That’s just the way it is, and anyone wanting to attend doesn’t really mind.
But in our overwhelmingly pro-Carolina section, there were several Clemson fans. One group in front of us consisted of a family of five, with a little boy and girl just about my age and size.

The boy had stuck his tongue out at me early in the game, when Clemson took the initial lead. A Gamecock of class, I ignored him for the duration of the game, even when Carolina took the lead and eventually won.

As my parents turned to offer and accept congratulations from their fellow Gamecocks, I was still drinking in all the sights and sounds around us.

But when the family in front of us turned to leave, the father was quietly comforting the little boy, and the mother was doing the same for his little sister. They were both crying deeply, and for a second there, I almost laughed.

But, because of some unruly, uncouth Gamecock fans, two little kids were just beyond being crushed. Those people had said just terrible, insulting things to them as they left the stands.

But then I heard the mother say, “Now, sweetie, don’t cry like that. Those people didn’t mean what they said about us.”

My dad tuned in to their conversation about that time, and he reached over and wiped away tears from the little girl’s face.

“Sugar, your mama is right, you know,” he said in his wonderfully consoling voice. “Not everyone is as ugly as those folks you heard. Our team just had a little bit better luck out there today. You’ll get us next year, little one, don’t you worry about that.”

And before they were swallowed up by the departing throng of people, I saw her manage a weak, small smile at my father. And then they were gone.

Yeah, I understand rivalries. I even understand friends having good-hearted fun with each other and all the picking that goes with it. But it’s just a game. And when one team wins because the other team’s kicker misses a field goal – when one player is subjected to glory or goat status – you don’t rub it in.

Because that’s the way I was raised.

After leaving home and started my adult life, I called my dad – without fail – during every Carolina game. He got to the point where, when the phone rang during a game, he would just answer “How ‘bout those ‘Cocks?” instead of “Hello,” because he knew it was me.

He passed away two years ago, and that first year was the toughest. But this year, when that last second had expired and the Gamecocks prevailed, I picked up my phone and asked him about the all the great plays of the game, as I had done for all those years before. Why?

See, now, his long-distance carrier is forever free. And he’s got the best seat. Ever.

Because that’s the way I was raised.
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The previous article was originally published in the December 1, 2006 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 

Andy & Opie & Daddy & Me


By Brian M. Howle

Back during this year’s Fourth of July celebrations, it happened yet again. Someone within my earshot – quietly and discreetly – gently admonished one of their young in the midst of the large gathering awaiting the Murrells Inlet fireworks show. I watched with interest, because I don’t have much faith in that particular means of parenting. Sure enough, the child continued to misbehave – only to receive another hollow, meaningless admonition.

An elderly couple had set up camp beside our viewing spot, and the husband leaned over to his wife and whispered, “Too bad that child’s never seen Opie being disciplined by Andy.” When I noticeably laughed out loud, his startled eyes quickly jumped to mine – and then eased into a wide, understanding smile that spoke volumes of oneness between us without speaking a word.

I’ve mentioned my fondness for the The Andy Griffith Show many times over the course of writing this column. In particular, about a former co-worker – fresh out of college – who took on the task of interrogating everyone in the office to illicit intelligent reasons for watching The Andy Griffith Show. Seems she found the show to be dated, doting, cornpone, unrealistic and bordering on ignorance glorified, with no socially redeeming values at all. Appropriately, after she approached me for my opinion, she never returned to work.

Yes, the truth will set you free
.
Now, I am in no way condoning the unwarranted infliction of abuse and pain on any child, under any circumstance. And my friends and I all knew that no matter where we were, there was an unspoken understanding among our parents. See, it didn’t matter if you were at a friend’s house, far from your parents’ edicts and control – because your friends’ moms and dads had the green light to discipline you in the same manner in which your parents did.

Of course, in today’s world our parents and teachers would all be sent away to prison for child abuse. And my mother and over half of my teachers – and principals – would get life.

But when a youngin’ has the palpable threat of getting their little hide tanned – for blatant disregard of parental or adult instruction – well, one tends to come around a tad quicker.

More importantly than that, they come away with an appreciation of consequence for their actions, and a healthy little fear of wrongdoing. And for the most part, everyone I’ve known who had such an upbringing came out of it in once piece. The challenges of adulthood may have brought on issues that proved to be too much to bear, but the current vogue of blaming one’s childhood for all of one’s troubles is just a crock.

Fortunately, I have the perfect example – my old hometown of Andrews. I have to admit that the mythical town of Mayberry’s southern locale was a plus – as far as getting Neilsen ratings from viewers in communities not far removed from Andy’s hometown. And so, it wasn’t a long stretch to put ourselves in many of the settings which the fine folks of Mayberry encountered weekly. More bias on my part lies in the fact that Opie and I are the same age. Sometimes the parallels were scary, but most times they were reassuringly comforting.

Besides being a champion of values and morals – while making us smile – The Andy Griffith Show was one of the first spin-offs. The pilot episode was actually an episode of Danny Thomas’ Make Room For Daddy, with backwoods, homespun Andy nabbing the city slicker for speeding within the posted sanctuary of Mayberry. Griffith’s folksy southern drawl and common sense personified had already won over viewers with his performance as the affable, unflappable Will Stockdale in the 1958 movie, No Time For Sergeants.

The show premiered on Oct. 3, 1960 in glorious black & white, with the infectious whistling theme song that makes you tap your foot and invariably whistle along – as Andy oversees Opie’s rock-skipping prowess on the lake before they cast their lines in the local fishing hole. It was entitled “The New Housekeeper,” where Aunt Bea wins over Andy and Opie, after she moves in to take care of the boys. (Unlike Disney’s in-your-face reality trauma of Bambi, the loss of Andy’s wife/Opie’s mom was acknowledged, but left uninvestigated.) I was hooked.

Why?

Because Aunt Bea was a compilation of dozens of women I knew: aunts, teachers, grandmothers, friends’ mothers – all very southern, all very feminine, and all very proper. Andy was the ultimate role model for the everyman and every child: understanding, honest, kind, fair, firm, handsome and funny. And Opie was just a cute kid, who happened to be my age – so there was my connection. And it all unfolded, every week, in a small, tightly knit southern town – a familiar, comforting set of circumstances that seemed to mirror the lives of those around me.

Most episodes reflected (at the time, it was amazing) so many situations I encountered in my daily travails. “Opie’s Charity” (#9, Nov. 28, ’60) brought out Andy’s exasperation when Opie ponies up a whole three cents for the Underprivileged Children’s drive. After that show, I made it a point to never go less than a quarter for the collection plate on Sundays (For the younger readers, a quarter was equivalent to about $500 in 1960).

Practical applications for me abounded from Mayberry. “Opie & The Bully” (#34, Oct. 2, ’61) taught young Opie and me about self-confidence, self-defense, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. “Opie & The Spoiled Kid” (#85, Feb. 18, ’63) showed the pitfalls to pettiness, rudeness and self-centered egotism – and, in an epilogue not frequently heard of today, how parents ultimately are responsible for their children’s actions.

There were many episodes where Opie learned from Andy’s example. “A Medal For Opie” (#52, Feb. 12, ’62) instilled the spirit of sportsmanship, following Opie’s poor behavior after his last-place finish in the 50-yard dash (Talk about your lost concept in today’s sports world). “Mr. McBeevee” (#65, Oct. 1, ’62) put Opie’s honesty on trial, with his stories of a magical, singing man with a shiny hat who descended from the trees to bestow him with small gifts. The adults were all concerned that Opie’s “imaginary friend” was getting out of hand, and it brought the little tyke to tears because no one believed him. It turned out to be a jovial, Irish lumberjack working the forest on the edge of town. And it showed how parents, teachers and adults in general need to understand that sometimes a child’s interpretation of real experiences needs not be questioned.

An episode that bears directly on what’s basically wrong with Americans today was “The Ball Game” (#194, Oct. 3, ’66). Andy incurred the wrath of the town when he called Opie out at home plate in a baseball game against hated rival Mt. Pilot. But he made the call, and he stuck by it – proving that even when his own son’s (and the town’s) team and dreams were at stake, sometimes what is right and true outweighs selfish desires.

As we got older, Opie’s path and mine crossed in Twilight Zone eeriness. Occasionally, it was just too obvious for me to grasp. “Opie’s First Love” (#221, Sept. 11, ’67) showed a crushed Opie, when a girl accepts his invitation to a big dance – then rejects him for another boy (If VCRs had been around back then, I would have taped this show and watched it twice a day until I got the drift). “Opie’s Group” (#229, Nov. 6, ’67) was a direct reflection of my “posse” at the time. Opie and his friends form a rock band, and with it comes the adulation of the girls, the adrenaline of the performance, and the inevitable nosedive on the report card (Obviously, Opie and his friends weren’t as handsome, gifted or studious as us).

The episode that would eventually be a precursor to my adult career was “Opie’s Newspaper” (#154, Mar. 22, ’65), where an entrepreneurial Opie publishes his own newspaper for the citizenry of Mayberry. When things get a little slow, he decides to boost sales by printing the myriad of gossip he overhears around town (Was the National Enquirer around back then? Or did they steal this concept from Opie?).

There were some episodes that, well, didn’t exactly parallel my life. “Opie Loves Helen” (#129, Sept. 21, ’64) featured the lad with a case of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” when he experienced enraptured puppy love for Andy’s lady, history teacher Helen Crump. Let me be perfectly clear – Opie and I did not share this particular experience.

Also, “Opie’s Ill-Gotten Gain” (#104, Nov. 18, ’63) produced a true conundrum for the kid: As a reward for receiving straight A’s on his report card, he gets a new bike. However, when he learns the grades were a mistake, he decides to run away from home rather than disappoint his proud father. Umm … I’m pretty sure I would have kept quiet.

And as for the classic “Opie’s Drugstore” (#239, Jan. 15, ’68), where responsible Opie is left in charge of the local drugstore while the owner is away? Trust me … there are friends of mine who will suffer rib injury from laughing when they read this, just imagining the possibilities of this juxtaposition.

But for me, there are two episodes that epitomize what television programming could be, in a perfect world. “Opie the Birdman” (#97, Sept. 30, ’63) was a poignant tale of poor judgement, worse behavior and subsequent consequences. Opie, after being specifically told not to by his dad, kills a mother bird with a slingshot in his yard. He immediately regrets his action, but is still subjected to his father’s punishment: his bedroom window is opened, so that he can hear the woeful chirping of three orphaned baby birds (This episode was personally painful for me, as I had done the exact same thing the previous summer – only with a BB gun. Don’t tell me a 9-year-old can’t fathom a guilt trip). But he atones for his misdeed by raising the birds until they were able to leave the nest. The great message here was, listen to your parents; but even if you mess up, you can still make amends if you dedicate yourself to accomplishing your goal.

And the episode that sums it all up? “Opie’s Most Unforgettable Character” (#219, Apr. 3, ’67), where a perplexed Opie wrestles with angst, when he attempts to write an essay about his father. On the one hand, there are tons of good things to write. But how do you write about your father, honestly, without having the prejudice of trying to avoid displeasing him? Will others think it to be factual, or simply a fluff piece to please Andy? He comes to terms with his feelings and composes a wonderful essay, and in doing so finds his steady compass in life.

I could write volumes upon volumes about my dad, and never come close to imparting on the world what a class act he has always been. The adjectives for his virtues are endless – honest, fair, supportive, kind, wise, compassionate, firm, corny, funny, reliable, loving, responsible and reverent – all mere beginnings at expressing how lucky I am to have such a man in my life. But back then, I found a simple way to do so.

So when we loaded up dad’s Piggly Wiggly delivery pickup at the crack of dawn and headed down to his hunting & fishing club on Jack Lake near Jamestown, I always jumped out where the boat was tied up and scooped up a nice, flat rock to skip out across the glassy water, through the morning mist that rose from its shimmering surface.

And, together, we whistled Andy’s theme.
###
The previous article was originally published in the July 15, 2005 issue of Alternatives NewsMagazine.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2009 in Along The Watchtower

 
 
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