Sound Track of My Life

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Welcome to today’s totally self-indulgent blog. Should I become uber famous and “they” make a movie of my life, I want to make sure “they” get the songs right. Here goes–sixteen songs that define my life.

My Tweenage Years

1. Convoy by C.W. McCall http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gI5eT4UmyFY
CB radios were the craze during my adolescent years, and my neighbor and I spent our afternoons making up new lyrics. He sang. I played guitar. It was just a totally stupid thing to do. Surprisingly, a few kids today have heard of the song because their parents still play it. One of my newspaper kids put it on our classroom iTunes playlist last year.

2. Chevy Van by Sammy Johns  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiEIToOWr64
Remember 45’s? I would put on a stack and turn up the volume then sit and listen on my front porch swing. By far, this song was the most provocative, scandalous song of them all. But it was my favorite. I didn’t have a clue what the song was about. There was also a little boy I liked whose parents owned a Chevy van. He lived across town  near what used to be Dairy Queen. Sometimes his parents would drive down my street, and I always remember looking for his van.

3. The Joker by The Steve Miller Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmVusVh4TRQ
Quite possibly, the best song EVER. I think I wore out the album. I spent a lot of time alone, listening to this song, picking the needle up on my record player, starting it over and over and over again. It was so nice decades later to go to a Steve Miller show and to have Steve Miller himself put his guitar pick in my hand. I did a lot of  dreaming to that song.

My Teen Years

5. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9TGj2jrJk8
Best birthday present during my teen years? An eight-track tape of Van Halen’s Women and Children First, hand-delivered by a couple of Thieves. Afterwords? Snow falling, a ride home in a shop-painted pick up, and a guitar lesson of Stairway to Heaven. A defining moment.

6. Love Hurts by Nazareth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZhNW_jKrQY
This song brings back memories of The Barn, a backdrop, and a couple of broken hearts. Ah, love hurts.

7. She’s So Cold by the Rolling Stones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrx_55SgwAY
One of the best decisions I ever made as a high school student? Becoming a band geek. When I think of this song, I think about my sisters on the flag corps and a group of incorrigible drummers. I hear us singing this song at the top of our voices and see us trudging out the door to afternoon practices, and remember wreaking havoc on a very young, very kind (and very forgiving) band director who changed my life by opening my door to music.

The College Years

8. The Stroke by Billy Squier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS-oyLm-_fg
I HATED my college years—the music, the clothing styles. I have nothing good to say about this time except for one moment. My friends and I were in B&L Pizza, The place was crowded, and there were these guys there who were ina typical unknown garage band. The lead singer lept up on a table and sang along with the music. I don’t remember the dude’s name, but I remember his very eighty-ish white jacket and white gangster-type hat. I’m sure the moment didn’t happen like I remember it, but the moment was like a music video.

9. Rock You Like a Hurricane by The Scorpions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxdmw4tJJ1Y
I do not know why my roommate and I liked The Scorpions. It was a short-lived infatuation, but I can’t think of college without thinking of Domino’s pizza, braided headbands, leg warmers, and The Scorpions.

10. Celebration of the Lizard King by Jim Morrison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMDYRNUV7o4
Self confession –I spent a lot of time in my door room listening to Jim Morrison’s Lizard King. Always the loner, I was fascinated by what made Morrison tick, so I tried to psycho-analyze him through his music.

The CCM Music Journalist Days

11. Cross of Gold by Michael W. Smith http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1CI8P1MHS0
When the church convinced me secular music was evil, I shut the door, but then this thing called contemporary Christian music appeared on the scene. Michael W. Smith was at the forefront. I was walking down a Nashville street, and I saw this man who looked me square in the eye and smiled. I just KNEW it was Smitty. Whether it was or wasn’t, the blip in time changed my life. I dove  headfirst into CCM and started writing for magazines. I met everyone and anyone associated with the business and probably interviewed almost all of the artists from the 90s. But Michael W. Smith was my hands down favorite. His love for teens changed my heart. I admired him so much, I named my younger son after him.

12. This Is Not My Home – Three Crosses http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzkfZziiZqM
Serendipity, my favorite word, comes to play here. I went to a bookstore with a meet and greet because the store was giving away tickets to a MWS concert. We won! My son had his picture made with the lead singer of Three Crosses. I bought the CD and absolutely FELL IN LOVE with the music. The vocals were/ are IT, everything I like in music. As for the serendipity part of the story, my son now frequently works with the lead singer. I’m still the geeky fan.

13. Black Bird by Third Day http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmZ38HehKxE
Other than Three Crosses, I had never heard a CCM artist sing songs the way I like them, i.e. a bluesy rock style. Third Day introduced me to the Black Crowes. As I mentioned, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting just about every 90s CCM artist, but Third Day was a special treat. Even though I don’t listen to CCM much anymore, I will forever be a Third Day fan.

My Journey to the Crossroads of Rock and Blues

14. Crossfire by Stevie Ray Vaughan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p77e2_0fUyo
When I finally realized that God would not send me to Hell for listening to mainstream music, I finally realized my true passion was The Blues. My all-time favorite is SRV. I think Stevie had a gentle spirit with a troubled soul. But he found his way back to God. I will meet him someday.

15. Voodoo Chile (blues version) by Jimi Hendrix http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C6wSGcFEmA
Another troubled soul. Another life lost too soon. I can’t tell you why I like the blues, but I can show you—Jimi Hendrix. Mystery. Imagination. Fodder for my creative writing.

16. Thorn in My Pride by The Black Crowes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmWtBTX8rhc
Some of you wouldn’t put this song in the blues category, but it is my all-time FAVORITE song. I melt.

P.S. Anyone who knows me well, may notice I left out one very important artist–Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I’m still waiting on Steven’s personal visit and phone call. I wouldn’t call myself desperate, but….take a look at this video and, you’ll see how desperate a teacher can be. No students were harmed physically (can’t guarantee emotionally) in the making of this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D_n6nTn1AU

TODAY’S CHALLENGE
Suppose someone stumbled across your diary and decided to make a movie about your life. Create a soundtrack for the movie of your life. Be sure to comment on WHY these songs mean something to YOU. And share! We all love comments on our blogs. Comments remind us SOMEONE is reading.

FINAL THOUGHTS

BBK

Nobody gets outta this place without singing the blues

Adventures in Babysitting

Ten seconds.

Pick a movie that could be the story of your life. Mine? Adventures in Babysitting, starring Elisabeth Shue. If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t rent it. Buy it. I hear there’s a remake on the way, but I can’t imagine anything being as good as the original.

Adventures in Babysitting is the story of life’s little habit of going from bad to worse.

Cry or laugh. Either way we have to get through circumstances. Our earthly problems never fade away forever, and just when we think we’re cruisin’, that’s when get a flat—kind of like what happens in the movie.

Here’s the movie’s premise. Chris Parker plans a romantic evening with her boyfriend, but when her date backs out, she’s stuck babysitting three bratty kids. Chris’s crazy best friend goes off the deep end, runs away to the city, and then calls Chris to rescue her. What else can Chris do but load the kids into her mom’s car and take off on an adventure?

Along the way, the car gets a flat, and Chris and the kids hitch a ride in a tow truck but end up at chop shop. They befriend an amiable car thief, who tries to save them, but they find themselves moving targets of ruthless
thugs. Their only means of escape is to duck in a back alley door, the entrance to a hardcore Chicago blues club.

The four find themselves on stage, and as blues guitarist Albert Collins tells them, “Nobody gets outta this place without singing the blues.”

Sometimes that’s all any of us can do. When life goes from bad to worse, we have to sing. And sometimes the singing or the situation is so bad, we have to laugh to keep from crying.

Chris Parker and I have a lot in common.

Just recently I found myself lost in a big city with my crazy friend. I had signed up for a SCBWI conference as a writer and talked my illustrator friend into going to share the costs and the fun. We had Saturday evening free, so we signed with other conference attendees for a walking tour around downtown Nashville. We rode to the tour with one of the organizers, whom we had met moments before. She could have been a sociopath for all we knew.

The tour took us to several legendary sites, including the Capitol and the oldest church downtown. But then our guide led us to the notorious Printer’s Alley, the site where a man named Skull ran his business and walked his painted pink poodles until the day he was murdered.

Everyone in our tour took turns taking pictures of the entrance to Skull’s now defunct club. My friend I obliged several passers-by and took their photos so that they’d have a souvenir of their trip. We were so pleased to help others that we lost track of our group. They left us.

Panic.

We were lost on Printer’s Alley with no clue how we got there and no clue how to get back to our hotel, which was too far away for walking.

But I remembered our tour guide saying the tour would end at the Ryman Auditorium. All we had to do was find it. My friend and I serpentined from one back alley to another and found our way to a main street. We could see our group standing in front of the Ryman, and we ran to them.

When we finally made it back to our hotel, we were famished. The polite man working the front desk showed us the hotel restaurant, the bar, and the tiny pantry/ convenience store. My friend headed straight for the pantry’s
freezer and Ben and Jerry’s.

But I was feeling rather sassy and proud of myself for having saved the day with my keen navigational senses. (My friend’s story may differ, but this is MY POV.) Anyway, when the man asked me what I wanted I slapped the
desk and smiled big and boldly said, “I want me some chocolate.”

Awkward silence. I cringed. I panicked.

For was it then I realized there was no smile on the man’s handsome, genteel dark brown face, emphasis on dark brown, the color of chocolate.

More awkward silence.

And then I babbled.

“You know what?” I said. “I really don’t think chocolate is such a good idea. I’ve had way too much chocolate lately. I like chocolate—don’t get me wrong. It’s just I’ve really been consuming the calories lately. I don’t
need chocolate. I don’t really want any chocolate. I think I’ll just skip the chocolate.”

I must have gone on and on for 15 minutes mumbling about chocolate. Every word that tumbled out of my mouth was the wrong word. I finally caught my breath and said, “You know what? I think I’ll just get a
bottled water.”

I crawled away from the counter, grabbed a Dasani from the pantry, dug a buck or two out of my pocket and crawled back to the desk.

“How much?” I squeaked.

“Go ahead. Take it,” the man said, smiling now.

“Really?” I squeaked.

He nodded. And I slunk into the elevator, where my friend awaited. By the time I explained the whole ordeal to her, we were laughing hysterically.

I was sooooo embarrassed. But considering all the other troubles life has had to offer, I have to admit, a little embarrassment is nothing—except reason for a good laugh. And who doesn’t need that every now and then? Rather than sweat the little situations, we should do what the man says—sing. Or laugh.

After all, nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.

Click on this Adventures in Babysitting clip for an added treat.

What movie is your “theme” movie? Please share your thoughts and a smile.

Where I am now

When I lost my mother on March 25, I fell into a state of numbness. As much as I tried to function in this fast-paced world, I couldn’t keep up. I fell further and further behind. I managed to do my job, to my job well, but I feel as though I failed at everything else. By the time I returned home each evening, I had nothing left. I was an empty shell.

When my father passed away unexpectedly on June 27, my strong emotional pillars collapsed, and I realized for the first time in my life what it feels like to be lost.

If it weren’t for the grace and mercy offered by members of my family and select friends, I think I would be stuck in neutral, totally unable to move. I’m an only child, and I always feared the day I would lose my parents. But that day comes to all of us.

I’ve learned the great toil grief takes on writing. Last year at this time I was on the fast track to learning how to get published. The future was bright. But I’ve been stopped in my tracks in a dark tunnel. I can’t see the light at end. Maybe it’s after the bend. Despite my love of and appreciation for my writing groups, I can’t participate. I have nothing to offer.

I’ve signed up for the writing conferences. Maybe I’ll serendipitously stumble on what I need.

So instead of writing fiction, I have picked up my guitar and have found a different type of outlet for creative expression—writing lyrics. I consider myself one of the privileged few who is on a first-name basis with a a couple of the very best, award-winning songwriters in Nashville. They have what it takes to pen a hit. I don’t. But That’s not my goal. Sure I know you need a catchy riff, a hook, plenty of imagery, a few metaphors thrown in, and God’s grace shining down on you to make a song-writing dream come true.

But all I really want is to tell the truth—to write what I’m feeling even if I don’t understand it. Even if it’s the worst song in the world. Even if my syllables are a bit off and it only has three chords.

Lately, I’ve been on a blues kick as you can probably tell from my earlier posts, so a lot of what I have written lately uses a blues-type progression. But what I write is inspired by life itself.  Life is unfair. Our dreams are unfaithful. Our plans often fail. But there’s always the chance hope will prevail.

If I could write the ultimate song, I would write it for the people who have taken time to listen to me. I guess that’s what all writers want—a good listener. I guess that’s what all friends need, a good listener who really cares, who never lies, and who always understands.

If could share any tidbit of advice with a reader going through a difficult period, I would strongly suggest finding some outlet of expression. You can’t keep feelings bundled up forever.

What you write, what you paint, what you play doesn’t have to make sense to anybody else as long as what you express is the truth and you give yourself a chance to purge itself of whatever you’ve been holding back.

Memphis metaphor

“Blues is easy to play but hard to feel.” ~ Jimi Hendrix

What do I know about Jimi Hendrix? What do I know about playing the blues?

The truth? Nothing. Not really. But I do know how to feel the blues. I’m not talking about sorrow. Both of my parents passed away in the last three months, my father on June 27. I’m immersed in sorrow.

But the blues is more than sorrow. The blues evokes a yearning, a wanting. The blues evokes every feeling imaginable, even that twinge of hope that resolution is just a note away. Everybody wants resolution. Everybody feels the blues, but I think writers, artists, and musicians truly get it. It’s like another dimension of communication.

So many people see life in black and white. If you know anything about graphic design, you know photographs, if not in color, are best viewed in grayscale, not black line. Such is the blues, such is life. The blues finds itself somewhere between heaven and hell, and while the singers may stand undeniably on one side or the other, the fact is people are neither black nor white.

Read Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Then read James 1:17 and Romans 8:28. A war rages. Notes bend. There’s a need for resolution. Fulfillment. Redemption.

I just got back from Memphis. The first thing I did was visit Memphis Music, my favorite Beale Street shop. An elderly gentleman in his 80s, Mr. Clyde Hopkins, “the Godfather of the Blues,”  greeted me with his CD, Don’t Mistreat a Friend. He told me he’d autograph it if I bought it and said it would be special because I got to meet him in person. How could I resist? I bought it. My only regret is I didn’t get a picture of him. But I took plenty of others.

As soon as I stepped out of Memphis Music, I headed  to Handy Park, where I found the Juke Joint Allstars on stage. They’re so cool they autographed a CD for me right in the middle of a song and extended an invitation for me to join them on stage. Another trip to Handy Park, one of many, gave me the opportunity to snap pictures of a young girl in the audience who wanted to sing the blues. One of the band members handed her his guitar, and another set up a mic. The girl could sing.

Deciding what to eat on Beale Street is never a problem–catfish or ribs, occasionally oysters. Deciding where to eat is a challenge. The Blues City Cafe is a must for all first timers, but Miss Polly’s is just as good and has the best catfish around. The cornbread is good too. Ever tried it with a little jalepeno?

I asked the cook if I could take a few pictures inside the place. All the tables pay homage to the blues greats. The cook was quite gracious. He even offered me a chance to take a picture of him then and again when I saw him standing outside the restuarant. Memphis folk are twice as nice.

I mentioned oysters. My grandmother used to make fried oysters, and maybe that’s how I learned to like them so much. But you can’t get fried oysters around here. Memphis truly has it all, even an Irish Pub called Silky O’ Sullivan’s, and it serves delicious fried oysters. I didn’t make it there on this trip, but I was standing out front when the owner pulled up in his sportscar. Wow. I’ll probably never stand that close to a car like that again.

For the first time in years, I took a walk along the riverside, and I think the walk was the best part of my trip. It gave me a chance to think about life, about people in my life.

When I’m in Memphis, I do a lot of people watching and analyzing. Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in folklore–stories handed down from one generation to the next. Memphis is rich in tradition and lore. Some of the supernatural lore is commercialized; some of it is the real deal. But it’s nothing to play around with.

No matter where we live, everybody has a story. Everybody sings the blues. We may want to see life in black and white, but truthfully it’s all shades of grey. And if we want to see it in living color, colors we’ve never seen on this earth, well, we’ll have to wait for heaven for that.

 
 

Memphis mojo

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”   Samuel Johnson

Maybe it was three years ago when I took my newspaper staff on a writing adventure, a change of scenery. We took our notepads and writing utensils to an outdoor spot where no other students, staff and faculty were around, and we sat. And we listened. And we wrote.

My goal was for my students to listen to nature and to listen to their own imaginations so that they could find the story that lay dormant within their minds. I never imagined that I would be the one to benefit most from the excursion. Sitting there in the quiet of the outdoors on the bleachers in front of a ball field, I came up with an idea for a story that refused to go away.

As I sat on the bleachers in the silence, I watched my students drift away on their on journeys, and then my own thoughts flooded my mind. What if a couple of teens snuck out to the ball field behind their school to find a quiet place to write? What if they saw a couple of teachers sneaking out too? What if the students caught the teachers doing something that was clearly against school rules? What if what they were doing was so bad that it was a crime?

I didn’t actually write that story, but I did write a story about a couple of student journalists who witnessed their peers and their teachers take part in activities leading up to the deaths of three of their classmates. Actually, when I first made up my mind to seriously pursue my heart’s desire, I had two other stories in mind as well. I even started one of them, but the YA story wouldn’t go away. It latched onto my heart.

When I knew that I could not NOT write my YA story, I decided to learn as much as I could about my characters. The main character, TJ, grew up in Memphis, probably my favorite place to escape, so I went to Memphis and followed TJ’s tracks wherever they led. I’ve been to Memphis quite a few times, but I wanted to see Memphis with fresh eyes, my character’s eyes.

I started with Beale Street and headed straight for the soul food, Blues City Café and then Miss Polly’s. I go to both on a regular basis, but I’ll never forget my first visit to Miss Polly’s. I have sweet memories of greens, catfish and Joe Walsh. No, he wasn’t there.

If he were, I probably would have written a totally different story—from within my cell. I’m sure I would have stalked him the rest of the trip. Joe was playing on some West Coast stage, and I watched him on a little TV as I sat at my table that paid homage to one of the blues greats. But my laid-back experience allowed my mind to wander so that my story could develop.

During my journey I met an old man at Memphis Music, who had the warmest smile I’ve ever seen. I could have talked to him for hours. Then I stepped outside and put a few dollars in the tip bucket after watching the Beale Street Flippers do their thing.

The sun had set, and the moon had risen. I ventured into Tater Red’s, probably the scariest store in all of downtown. I don’t think I would ever buy anything there because I believe you can take the “bad” with you, but I saw what I needed to see.

Picture mojo and voodoo and then mix it with the crossroads and Robert Johnson. You see where I’m going. There’s a lot of other gimmicky, crass items in there as well, but I can’t help but wonder if evil truly lurks behind the voodoo shrine in the back of the store. I may never know, but should I write a sequel, perhaps TJ will return to his roots and tell us all.

I couldn’t miss hanging out at the Pepsi Pavilion to check out the band, and the later it got, the louder the women sang. Not the band, mind you. I’m talking about the older “girls” who had partaken in their own spirits—and I’m not talking about the ones at Tater Red’s. I wouldn’t have minded staying there until the band members packed up their equipment, but it was getting late.

I had to get back to my hotel, but before I left I took a carriage ride with a driver from Austria. He didn’t have a dog. Most of the other drivers do, but he had a cool accent and shared lots of cool stories about his life and about the history of Memphis. I could have ridden in one of the lighted carriages shaped like pumpkins, but I chose to save it for another trip. (Yes, I did go back and try out the pumpkin. How could a romantic like me give up the chance to play Cinderella?)

I haven’t taken my current students on a writing journey this year. But maybe I should do that as soon as possible. I can’t help but think of a quote by St. Augustine:

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

It’s time for me and my students to set out on another adventure. Even if we only go a few steps beyond our classroom, there is no limit where our imaginations will take us.