I'm so happy to be here!

The Day I Was A Cub Scout

So clear. I can still see their tattered covers—one torn almost completely off the book, age-stained masking tape all that held it together, and the other badly water damaged, its pages swollen and discolored. But inside? 

Old Boy Scout Manuals my big brothers had used back in the day. They contained cool stuff: How to start a fire from scratch; How to tie cool knots; How to splint a broken bone; and my personal favorite—How to treat a poisonous snake bite.

I’d pretty much memorized them. 

Mom suggested that maybe I’d like to join the Boy Scouts like my brothers before me. Hell yeah! But at 7, I wasn’t old enough yet. I’d have to start out as a Cub Scout, and then when I was older I could become a full-fledged Boy Scout. “It’s similar,” she promised. “It’s all about honor, integrity and courage.” Whatever. But then she said Cub Scouts get to wear uniforms and can earn colorful badges for skills you learn for everyone to see—Sign me up, Mom!  

I brought my brothers’ books with me to our first Cub Scout meeting. Wanted all the kids to know where I was headed: If any of you guys ever get bit by a viper … I’ll save your ass!

Met our den mother, Mrs. Lane. I was confused. A den mother? A mom? I expected a dad. Scout stuff, like hiking, camping … something. Nobody is going to get bit by any snakes while a mom is looking after us!

Mrs. Lane had “an exciting project” for us. A chance to earn a badge. “We’re baking sugar cookies,” she announced. The skills we’d learn? Measuring flour, sugar, mixing in eggs and oil, greasing a cookie sheet. “Okay boys, everyone put on our aprons!” I was so grateful Greg Griffin wasn’t here to see this—he’d have called Cub Scouts sissy shit for sure. Girl scouts make cookies. They even call young girl scouts Brownies

When our cookies were just about to go in the oven, Mrs. Lane announced our next activity: “We will be making holiday cards.” She pointed to a table in the corner, a stack of old magazines, a pile of construction paper … and a box of safety scissors. Sissy scissors? We used those when we were in pre-school! Are you kidding me?

Youngest in a large family, I’d gotten to do a lot of dangerous things already in my 7 years of life. At home I used the sharp scissors. Knives. Garden sheers. Saws. Hell, my old man was teaching me to cut the grass and edge the sidewalks—using machines with spinning blades! You could lose a finger … or a limb, even. But I’d have your back—page 134, How to tourniquet a bleeding wound.   

Cleaning up the cookie mess, I licked a spatula. Mrs. Lane freaked. No baking badge for me! And then it happened; my brain thought it and my mouth declared it … out loud: “Cub Scouts is SISSY SHIT!” Mrs. Lane called my mom to come pick me up.

My career in the Cub Scouts ended the same day it began. Sure, I wanted to be a boy of honor and integrity and courage. But I also wanted to be a boy of adventure, tying knots, helping accident victims and … sucking poison out of snakebite wounds! 

All the stuff what I like.

Influential IV

What fun it has been, looking back and recalling the musical encounters of my earlier years. This fourth entry in the ‘most influential albums I listened to growing up’ series takes me way back—I was maybe six or seven years old. In no particular order, here’s—

Post four of ten: Diamond Girl by Seals and Crofts

This album makes my list for more reasons than its tunes. For me, it’s connected to a larger collection of memories surrounding a hero of mine—my big brother Dave. SC

There is a season in every child’s life that is so very frustrating. It’s that window of time when you know you’re capable of doing something on your own, but no one trusts you to do it by yourself. With the old vinyl records in my house, this was especially true. No one wanted to risk allowing the kid to scratch their records, so the oft heard refrain was DON’T TOUCH!

My oldest brother Dave broke ranks. He wanted to share his love of music with me—his fourteen-years-younger little brother. Dave took the time to teach me how to treat vinyl records, how to pick them up, hold them, put them on the turntable, apply the needle to them, and put them away when I was done.

And, here’s the most memorable part for me: After the lesson, Dave allowed me to play his records on his record player any time I wanted. Daredevil or hero? Yes!

Which brings me to Seals and Crofts. Among Dave’s many records was one with two hairy-faced men standing under weird green lamps with some scary looking gold ball with a face on it between them. I’m not sure what all that was, but to a little kid it was intriguing. I chose that as my first album of choice to play.

Musically, I loved the way these guys blended their voices. I also remember this album as my first experience of other stringed instruments beyond a guitar—they had mandolins and violins and maybe even a banjo or two in there. And of course, my true artistic love: story.

One song in particular caught my fancy. I’ll give you a verse:

Dust on my saddle, mud on my boots;
Couple of empty saddle bags except for two old suits;
I’m tired and I’m hungry, worried as can be,
Last night I saw a poster and they’re still after me.

[Note: Just gave you that verse from memory and I haven’t heard that song in more than forty years. I’m impressed even if you’re not.]

As a kid, that did it. I wanted to know this lonely cowboy/outlaw. I wanted to join him on the run. This may be the song that turned me into the western buff I became—it is true, I love every television western series ever made. In fact, if you’re ever on Millionaire and a question comes up about old TV westerns, make me your phone-a-friend. I’ll win you the cash, baby!

ALI’m sure, also, that the song served as a reminder to me of one of my favorite western characters in all the world, Big Al. Who of course sang, “Blood on my saddle …” A story for another time.

I do recall Dave telling me (and probably after he’d heard Dust on My Saddle for the fortieth time in a row), “You know, there are some other great songs on that record.” Hint, hint.

He took the time to play the rest of the record with me, pointing out the title track, Diamond Girl. I eventually came to appreciate the entire tracklist. We May Never Pass This Way Again became another favorite of mine, for all of its talk about dreams and their worth.

Here I am some forty-five years later. These tunes take me back. And they point me forward. Story does that. I’m grateful for this album and the recollections of my childhood which are connected to it, for their influence on my writing life … and my real life.

All the stuff what I like.

Influential III

Another blast from my musical past. Continuing this series on the most influential albums I listened to growing up (in no particular order), here’s …

Post three of ten: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

It’s always best to start at the beginning – and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road. –Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, The Wizard of Oz

A vivid childhood memory I’ll share with you, and honestly I shiver a little even as I write this–I was terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West. Her and her creepy crooked fingers, green skin, and those flying monkeys! I had nightmares about her after seeing the Wizard of Oz.

If you could only imagine my hesitance when my first girlfriend–I was five, she was six, so … an older woman–invited me into her bedroom to listen to a rock-n-roll album entitled Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadGYBR

I remember looking at the cover. It was a man in a pink jacket–back in a day when men didn’t wear pink jackets. And he was stepping out on to a Yellow Brick Road wearing shoes … I thought my sister had a pair just like those, actually. I’ll admit it, I was confused.

Then we listened. I’ll tell you what, this dude was a crazy piano player! I’d never heard anything like it.

It was a double album. You know that whole thing about little girls not having little boys in their bedrooms? We didn’t get to the end of the first record of the double album before Katherine’s mom protested. I was shown the Yellow Brick Road … home.

But me and Katherine were mischievous. We did wild and crazy things our parents never knew about. Like brushing her family’s Pug dog’s teeth … with Katherine’s little sister Melinda’s toothbrush. And putting masking tape on her cat Marvella’s paws and watching her dance. I’m telling you, you cannot possibly have any more fun at five and six years old!

Of course, every chance we had over the next several days, whenever her mom was otherwise occupied, we were back at it–Elton was spinning on her little record player.

That double album contains some real gems. And story–every tune tells a story! I wasn’t aware of it then, but I’ve since learned about the partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin–it was John’s musicianship and Taupin’s storytelling lyrics that I fell in love with.

I recommend the whole double album, not a bad tune on it really. But for the writing side, the storytelling side, let me give you just one–Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Taupin paints a picture. John’s vocal takes you there–

[Verse 1]
It’s getting late, have you seen my mates?
Ma, tell me when the boys get here
It’s seven o’clock and I want to rock
Want to get a belly full of beer
My old man’s drunker than a barrel full of monkeys
And my old lady, she don’t care
My sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A handful of grease in her hair

Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Going to set this dance alight
Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright, alright, alright

[Verse 2]
Well, they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight
I’m looking for a dolly who’ll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
I may sink a little drink and shout out “she’s with me!”
A couple of the sounds that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I’m a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats at the bottom of a glass

Unfortunately, my romance with Katherine ended just a few months later. It was like Elton John shared in another song: “she went and left me for some foreign guy” … or at least that’s how my five-year-old self understood her family’s move to St. Augustine.

But the memories remain. And the influence of these songwriters/musicians is indelibly written on my literary life.

All the stuff what I like.


I’ve recently been experiencing a bit of a rennaisance where my musical past is concerned. It’s been fun listening to songs from the 70s and 80s that were the soundtracks of my childhood and adolescence. You know how songs can take you back? This has been a fun time of recollections and remembrances–scenes, settings, people and places I’d long ago forgotten. What a trip down memory lane.

I’ve awakened to another realization along the way. Much of the music of my childhood and adolescence inspired me because of its storytelling and characters. As a writer, the characters and storylines I discovered in lyrics abide with me–as fresh when they come on a classic rock station today as when I was that imaginative kid–flying into outer-space with Elton John’s Rocketman or Bowie’s Major Tom.

CTAThis trip down memory lane has given me pause to consider: What were the most influential albums I listened to growing up? Which ones made an indelible impression on me? Which would I recommend to others as “musts” from days-gone-by?

I’ve decided to post a series–top ten albums of all time as I’d rate them from my life and experience. In no particular order, here’s a musical walk through the halls of my past.

POST ONE of TEN: Chicago Transit Authority (or Chicago I if you remember it that way)

Might as well start with a  double LP, right? I was only two when this album was released–and with it came my very young introduction to the band Chicago and rock-n-roll. My brothers–in their teens at the time–brought the album home.

I remember Terry Kath’s voice on the first track, Introduction. I remember the horns. My brothers were both horn players, so that’s likely where they became interested. Then the transition to the second song, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Still one of my all-time favorite Chicago songs and referenced here.)

The characters and storylines of Does Anybody Really Know were among the first I discovered in rock music. The people passing each other on the street, all with schedules to meet … and the sadness of marching to such schedules as to miss what’s really happening all around them … informed my very young and impressionable lens of life, for sure.

And then into Beginnings. What a song! The horns, the percussion–I marveled. These are those first recollections of moving to the beat–me–tapping feet, bobbing head, air-drumming. Hard to be still. Of course, if you hear this one on classic rock stations today, they usually cut the great percussion outro out of the tune. That’s a shame.

A double album, I definitely wore out side one of record one.

Questions 67 & 68 was another eye-opener. It was the first time I heard Peter Cetera’s voice. If you only know Cetera for his post-Chicago, sappy Karate Kid ballad/anthems, you’re sorely missing out. And again, the horns. Wow!

Later tracks–and admittedly played less often as I was enthralled with the tunes mentioned above–like Prologue and Someday (both referencing political events in 1969 that I was far too young to realize the significance of) did prompt me to think about popular music as a chronicle of life’s stories.

This is an album that holds a very special place in my heart. My intro to rock-n-roll, and I couldn’t have picked a better inroad. What’s really cool is that playing the album today, I’m transported back … to four, five years old, some of my earliest life recollections. Oh, and then there’s this–I didn’t recognize it at that tender young age, I do now: What an amazing guitarist Terry Kath was. If he hadn’t died so early, I bet he’d be considered among the great guitar gods in rock-n-roll.

Go back. Take a listen. Chicago Transit Authority. This is classic rock!