Monday, November 28, 2016

Harvest Home

 The room did not smell like a traditional Thanksgiving morning when we arrived. Even after we started bringing in freshly prepared, aromatic food it was depressing. Instead of pumpkin pie, turkey stuffing and green bean casserole, the house smelled like poverty and hopelessness.

But somehow this family of five was all smiles as we began the small talk and introducing ourselves We identified every dish we set on the card table that was to be their meal for the day. Their kitchen had no table or chairs and what substituted for an eating station was some sort of three by three foot platform that stood only a foot off the ground.

Styrofoam KFC containers and plastic cups from Dickies BBQ sat on the end table where the husband appeared to have taken up permanent residence because of his many ailments. We instantly knew the family either had limited access to bathing or had just become so accustomed to doing without that their appearance took a second to getting food and paying their rent and utilities.

We had to leave briefly to find an open store so we could get plastic utensils, plates and napkins for them to eat their food. When we returned, the small talk continued as I learned their story, but not before I noticed they had already opened the envelope we intended to leave with them that contained a Visa gift card along with a few bags of other food, personal care items, toiletries and things none of us probably ever run out of at home.

The little girl was talking enthusiastically about how her mom said they could use the gift card to get her some new clothes; not a toy, not a trip to the movies, not a Netflix upgrade…but new clothes.
The fifty-something diabetic husband also had COPD and required a breathing machine and hadn’t worked since his stroke eleven years ago. He flat lined on the operating table and said he was beckoned back by his unborn daughter to return to earth. She was born a few days later.

One of the boys had a graduation sweatshirt on from 2013 and his brother appeared to be close in age though I didn’t know the extent of their education or if they even graduated. My first impression was that they had not but it wasn’t because they were not old enough.

Whatever the case it was it was clear that they were not in college and there was a good change they were not interested in it. The truth is they probably had no time for it and my guess is they worked some menial job to help support their family in this three bedroom house on a slab that should have been knocked down a long time ago.

Though their pending eviction was not eminent, it was something the wife had discussed with me on the phone a few days earlier when I called offering to bring this family a Thanksgiving dinner. The owner of the house they rented was trying to sell it so it could be torn down and something new rebuilt in its place. There was no question it had to be demolished. Eventually something would be rebuilt on the lot and though the shadow of the wrecking ball had not yet appeared, I wondered what this family would be doing once they were forced out. Lives are not simply rebuilt like new construction.

The father told us about the last job he had; delivering the Free Press and the Detroit News in upscale Franklin Village and the surrounding area. He spoke enthusiastically of the job and recalls it with pride. Often his boys would help him in after school, especially in the summer. The generosity of one well known family let him know they were always welcome to enter their garage anytime to sit down and take breather and help themselves to cold drinks on the sweltering summer days. It was clear the community was generous as he shared with me that during his last Christmas before his stroke he received generous Christmas tips along his route. That money, combined with the wage he made delivering newspapers was the last time he recalled that the family had, in his words “not been poor.”

As my wife and the boys retrieved food from our vehicle I asked the man if he was going to watch the Detroit Lions game and if he thought they’d win this year. As he replied no, I looked around the house and was embarrassed when I realized they didn’t have a TV set, clean clothes or any number of things 99% of the people I know had in their home.

I thumb wrestled with the little girl for a few minutes after watching her laugh as she did the same with her father. She laughed hysterically as we joked together and I wondered if that was the extent of her entertainment. One of the boys said he had completed all his Christmas shopping for the family already and only spent twenty dollars. The father told a story they’d all heard a hundred times about when he played Santa Claus at a school many years ago. I swear to you, hearing him tell it and watching the family react in laughter was like something out of an episode of the Waltons.

It became immediately clear to me all this family had was each other. Not once did they complain about slow internet speeds because they didn’t have a computer. The mother never complained about rush hour because they didn’t have a car. I honestly believe this is the only family I know who has never complained about anything. They were dirt poor in material things but appeared quite rich in spirit.

The conversation shifted to the coming winter and the kids all told us about the fun they had in the past, sliding down a small hill at the side of their house in the snow. The little girl didn’t complain but in a cheerful way said she said she looked forward to winter because the chain kept falling off the old bike she had and nobody could repair it. She loved school and though I don’t know how her grades were, it was obvious she liked being there. Maybe it was because she had friends at school or maybe being in a warm building with a free lunch was a welcome break from the tiny house she lived in with her two brothers who were named after people in the bible.

The friend of mine who led us to this family sent me a message today asking how things went. She told me someone at her church said they were the poorest family they had ever met. After being in their cold, dark house with the absence of any luxuries, I had no reason to doubt him

Time went on. . .it flew and when it came time to eat I asked them if we could pray together we all joined hands. I pray every day but this time I was filled with a reluctance. After hearing their story and seeing how they lived ,what did they have to give thanks for other than the warm meal we had just brought? I wanted to just say “It was nice meeting you, good luck and I hope things get better.”

This was a family who had their immediate needs met (food) but I knew they had a mountain of struggles waiting them at the bottom of the plastic bowl. Out of nowhere, I was reminded of a bible verse (can’t recall the book or verse but think it is in the book of James) and it says something like “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and you tell them to depart in peace and hoped they’d be warmed and comforted but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, how does that help? Suddenly I was living the lesson of faith and good works first hand and I felt moved.

We all joined hands and I didn’t know what I going to pray for. How can a family facing hardships at every turn want to bow their heads and give thanks for the squalor and the seemingly dead end life ahead of them? This was making me uncomfortable. What I really wanted to do was leave. I wanted to go home and cry.

We joined hands and words began to flow. . .my lips--- Gods words and with each sentence whatever it was I was saying seemed to be full of wisdom and created a hope even I believed. They must have believed it too because when I was done, my wife and I were fighting back tears but the family seemed uplifted and happy.

As we walked out the door we all hugged. There was laughter and cheer.

The little girl, picked up a pie that took two hands to hold and flashed a big toothy grin at me. She put it down and hugged me again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why I will never set foot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and why I will never set foot in it.

Last week there was another round of inductees of the Rand Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF.) Among the list were some artists who really deserved to be there. Also among the list (as with years past) there were some entertainers who made me shake my head by their inclusion---and not in a good way.
Mitch Ryder is not in the RRHOF.

Face it, the RRHOF is an organization run like an exclusive country club by some good ole boys of the industry. I don’t believe any of them were musicians in their career but they wrote extensively and in many cases wonderfully about rock music. Contrary to what most people think, being a rock critic is difficult and requires talent and creativity. Those guys did it well and that's where it should have stopped---at the by line. Because quickly it became obvious that the good ole boys were playing favorites. But it wasn’t so much that they were bringing all the crappy bands in; it’s that they were leaving too many great artists out.

A full disclosure: I hate rap and loathe hip hop with dance music a close third.

Kansas is not in the RRHOF.

Steve Miller’s tirade went viral last week as he described the terrible experience of his induction. Some people criticized him while I backed his sentiments 1000%. It wasn’t the people in the induction class he had a beef with, but rather, the entire process. The entertainers “the Black Keys” now regret inducting Miller into the RRHOF. Fuck You Black Keys. Come back when you grow up and write something relevant like Steve Miller has done for 40 years.

Electric Light Orchestra is not in the RRHOF.

After Miller’s complaints became widespread, the responses from the RRHOL representatives were arrogant and offensive, downplaying Miller’s beefs rather than responding by saying “Sorry you had a bad time Steve, we agree with you that this process that we’ve been running has some major flaws and we know it really sucks, but we’ve only been doing it 30+ years., so give us a break. . .oh, a new Green Day record is coming out? Excuse us while we start a circle jerk.

The Moody Blue and Yes are not in the RRHOF. Getting mad yet?

There are still many of us too naive to know what a fucked up, dysfunctional place the music industry is and believe bands should be inducted upon merit. If that were to be true, then what merit are we talking about? Record sales? Records made? Pffft. The group Chicago has created arguably what is one of the most versatile and compelling catalogues of music by anyone. They’ve melded jazz, fusion, big band, pop and rock and roll all into a well-traveled and well received revue. But up until last year when they were inducted, their career was ignored --- and you can thank the good ole boys for that.

The Doobie Brothers, Bad Company, the Guess Who and Journey are not in the RRHOF.

On the other hand bands like Green Day and. . .well, let’s just use them as an example for now, as they are probably the biggest offender of terrible music there known to exist on the planet. Chicago already had 18 albums under their belt by the time Green Day was formed and rode some novelty act wave of success while delivering such memorable tunes as---wait, there aren’t any. Like the world really needed a punk rock opera. Green Day is and was nothing more than an exploited brand of God awful noise who somehow rose to success shouting incoherent drivel, you guessed it, thanks in part to some of the good ole boys.

America, Jethro Tull and Dire Straits are not in the RRHOF.

In the meantime, Chicago’s early work driven by Terry Kath went unnoticed (they've been eligible for almost 30 years.) Don’t believe me? Go to youtube and watch Chicago, live at Tanglewood from 1970 and come back once you’ve been schooled in rock and roll. The omission of Chicago and so many other bands is a crying shame and injustice of magnitude proportions. Meanwhile. . .Joan Jet? NWA? Guns and Roses? Who’s next Bjork? The Dixie Chicks? Miley Cirus or will it be the Gogos for that amazing body of work (3 albums) that totaled just over 94 minutes of music?

King Crimson, Roxy Music and ELP are not in the RRHOF.

Ever hear of Bert Berns before last Sunday? Didn’t think so. As if Van Morrison and Neil Diamond wouldn’t have been discovered by someone else. But at least I was glad to his his work acknowledged.
Yes, I understand they have different categories in the RRHOF to broaden the spectrum of what acts are inducted. This year the pissing wars were between Gene Simmons and NWA. Simmons didn’t think the “music” that rappers and hip hoppers make would be around in ten years. God, I hope he is right.

The inimitable and scarcely elegant Ice Cube said this in response to Gene Simmons, citing how Simmons predicted (or hoped) the novelty or rap and how it will be gone and how music is cyclical.

“The question is, 'Are we rock 'n' roll?' And I say — you goddamn right we rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is not an instrument. It's not even a style of music. It's a spirit that's been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock 'n' roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.”

Thank you Mr. Cube. It that’s the criteria, by that logic shouldn’t Pavarotti, Domingo and Maria Callas in the RRHOF too?

Gram Parsons, Dan Fogelberg, Joni Mitchell and Glen Campbell are not in the RRHOF. Neither is Ted Nugent, the MC5, Todd Rundgren, Warren Zevon, The Spinners, Boston, Three Dog Night, The Guess Who, J Geils band, Joe Cocker and Peter Frampton.

I am not alone in thinking NWA (and other entertainers of that wretched ilk) should not be included in the RRHOF. While I am not a huge fan of Simmons I agree with him 1000% about what he hopes will be the death of rap and hip hop. Hip Hop and Rap “artists” and I use that term lightly should not be in the RRHOF anymore than Madonna or the Beastie Boys. I know at least one friend who will call me a racist, close minded old white guy for saying that, but my response is let Hip Hoppers and Rappers start their own Hall of Fame hopefully in a place as far away from me as possible, like Florida. It can be funded by the gangs, thugs and drug pushers and pimps it is made up of.

I am still hoping the next big trend in the music industry is talent. I’m glad a few of the 2016 inductees are finally there. At least the good ole boys club gets it right once in a while.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Franklin Elementary School, Royal Oak, MI

I still dream about Franklin Elementary School in Royal Oak. It was where I learned to read, write, play kickball and occasionally build up enough courage to jump off the swing to see what it was like to fly.

We lived at 821 Mohawk, about 12 houses away from Franklin and though it was an easy walk, sometimes I’d catch a ride with our Twin Pines delivery man or our neighbor, Mr. George, who drove a cab. I don’t know why I did, then again, who remembers these things from their youth?
My mother went to Franklin, as did my brother and sister. I absolutely loved that school and remember almost every inch of it in great detail, from the marks on the gym floor and smell of the gym to the tiny room we used for band practice.

I remember the Campbell’s Soup label drives, the Scholastic book orders, Dynamite Magazine, hot dog lunches, fluoride treatments, the area near the fallout shelter where they kept the used erasers, the multi lined chalk holders, Mr. Penrod’s goalie equipment that he kept in his office, the Sesame Street record being played by Miss Meyers, the magic square across the street, the square someone painted on the side of the school that we used for a strike zone, the barrels, Ms. Hooker, the lunch monitor who meticulously went through the milk money to separate the wheat pennies from the others, Saturday morning basketball in the winter as the smoke chugged from the tall stack on the building and how Mr. Judd, the music teacher, picked me twice to dance during the special concerts. One was a waltz and the other was a square dance. Pfft.

In kindergarten I could not skip, as was often required, so I’d ditch into the bathroom/coat room until Miss Meyers came and dragged me back out. I remember my friend Freddy giving her grief one day when she did not perfectly fill in her drawing when she was teaching us to color. She promptly and defensively gave the excuse that it was “much harder to color on an easel.”

Like most of the schools south of 11 mile road in Royal Oak, Franklin is gone and newer homes now occupy the sacred space where we learned, played and reminisced.

The first photo is a classroom as it appeared in the 1930s when my mother attended. The second photo is my mother’s “class photo.” She is in the first row, second from the right.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Remembering Mike Kudreiko

I remember the first time I saw my friend Mike Kudreiko naked.

I’ll bet you’re thinking, did he really just say that? Yep. And when you examine that statement you may wonder what is more shocking---that I saw him naked or that I saw him naked more than once.
Like all of you I was upset with the sad news we received last week. Mike and I had not seen each other or spoken in several years. It was simply a common drift that happens with a lot of friendships over time with kids, careers, family and life. And when I think about Mike’s life I truly believe the world was cheated when he left us.

If you knew him, you know he wasn’t shy about mincing words or telling you what he thought about things. Though we were polar opposites in politics in the last meaningful message I had with him (when we agreed to stop talking about politics) was that friendship is more important than partisanship. He agreed.

So back to the naked part.
Actually, no, not just yet.

For reasons unknown, March has always been Robb Roy month in my house for at least the last ten or more years. I don’t know why and can only guess that one March I was obsessing on one of the CDs and from that point forward I always associated that time of the year with the band. I was fortunate enough to work a bit with the band back in the late 90s, helping them get their records out etc.

When “Heroes and Cocktails” came out I was blown away. When “Happy” came out, I was like “fuck, these guys are awesome.” When “Days of Pride and Hunger” came out I was like, shit, I’ve know that for ten years! I continued to beyond blown away and marvel at how those tall dudes could make such great records, with high production values and songwriting that was as good as anybody’s.

 Truth used to be forever, in the days of pride and hunger.
It’s sweeter when the task is harder
In the days of pride and hunger.

Since you were a fan of Mike’s you know their music was not of the ephemeral. The title track Days of Pride and Hunger is a tune that has always stuck with me for its simple complexity and poignancy. Like a majority of their songs it will always remain lyrically relevant.
Euphoria never tasted better, in the days of pride and hunger

Days…became my mantra for a while as I struggled and worked hard on my own path while becoming a writer. It is not an exaggeration to say that some days that song made me see through the very obstacles that made me want to give up, or helped me work around them.

All of us know the struggles of musicians and creative types. We have this bullshit music industry that gets worse by the day and those most deserving continue to suffer for their art.
Hold on just a little longer, to the days of pride and hunger.

So back to our friend Mike and being naked. It happened not because of a “bromance” but because we played hockey together and shared a locker room. He was a great player and always stuck up for his teammates. In fact, he excelled in everything he did from music to film to hockey. He was a unique talent, with the Pete Townsend nose, rock and roll guitar moves and the chops to back them up. Those are just a few of the things that I will miss about Mike.

I was always hoping for a Rob Roy reunion, but I will continue to cherish the CDs I have and the memories tucked away in my Robb Roy rock and roll reservoir. Thankfully there are plenty of them--- far more those those that took place when we were naked.

Don’t lose yourself to the past.
Cherish the road and don’t look back.
It’s not the end but how you arrive.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Open Letter to the Kids of Today

An Open Letter to the Kids of Today

I’ve owned a house in Royal Oak, Michigan for over 15 years and I cannot tell you how many times a kid has come to my door to inquire about being hired to shovel snow, rake leaves or cut my grass.
This is because the number of times this has happened is zero.

Yes, you kids are spoiled and living in a world of entitlement. But hold on--- I think I understand why you are why you are. It's because you say "today the world is different" and you're right. It is a different world today from when I grew up. I know this because:

Today you get a medal for just showing up and a trophy for finishing the race.
Today you get a graduation ceremony and flowers for finishing pre-school.
Today you get dropped off and picked up from school because a mile is too far to walk.
Today you have 496 channels of cable TV and still complain there is nothing on.
Today you can’t even spell because U R 2 lzy to learn thx 2 Ur parent.
Today you bitch because some new technology that was only invented five minutes ago does not work perfectly.
Today you get a car and a phone because your parents are too gutless to tell you that you really need to work for things and the reason they do this is because they are competing for your love because they are probably divorced.
Today you can’t hear “Hey batter, batter” on the Little League field because it is considered taunting and bullying.
Today you could buy a second hand snow blower or lawnmower for a fraction of what you spend on video games and work your way into prosperity---oh wait, that is no longer the goal of our country because prosperity is a bad word.

So today you get to hear people like me bitch about you because you’ve either been allowed to grow up in a culture of entitlement or this is now the norm. Either way, I am sick of it and the fact that you will one day be running this country scares the shit out of me.

Maybe I am being too harsh. I realize you are at a great disadvantage because you’ve come to idolize entertainers like Kanye West and the other jackoffs and you know more about the Kardashians than you do the three branches of Government, how to balance a checkbook or apply 4 A Jb.

Kids growing up in America today are in for a shock when they get older and have to enter the real world. This is probably why colleges have created “safe zones” so when a student gets their feelings hurt because someone disagrees with their political belief or ideology, they have a place they can run to and be coddled. And why not? This is what America has become.

But I’m sorry. My bad. I know some of you work hard to get into college and I admire that as long as you are not acquiring degree like these being offered at major colleges and universities:

Hip-hop Appreciation (need I say more?)
Queer Musicology (ditto)
Madonna Studies (which is actually injected into the gender course at Harvard)
Parapsychology, perfect for starting a career with Ghostbusters. Oh wait, Ghostbusters are fictional – Well, that’s four years wasted.

But maybe I should step back about the college thing. After all, certain presidential candidates are telling you your student loans will be forgiven and that college will be free if you vote for them.

So what I am saying is, this country is doomed and we have you and your parents to thank for it all because you decided to take a snow day and keep your lazy butts in bed texting your friends and all I can do is SMH.

By the way, that thing in the picture is called a shovel and the thing next to it is called a sidewalk.

Maybe one day your parents or your government will give you one.

Now get off of my lawn.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lighten up while you still can--remembering Glenn Frey

Light up while you still can----- 

That’s good advice to heed in our hyper-sensitive out of control country, don’t you think? Thank God we have rock and roll music to help navigate us through this quagmire of dysfunction, which is why we all need practice what the late, great Glenn Frye preached and “Take it easy.”

That song was the Eagles first single and it was a smash hit, paving the way for one of the most storied and successful rock bands of all time as they forged their indelible career in the meat and potatoes days of rock and roll. 

By now, everyone knows that Glenn Frey grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan.  He lived a block away from my family’s first home but was cutting vinyl on Hideout Records by the time I was a toddler. Still, nearly everyone in the neighborhood had a story about him. He graduated from my high school, Royal Oak Dondero and the stories about him were plentiful, even though a good many of the people who said they remembered him graduated several years after he did. But so what. That’s ok. We’re all getting old and our memories are getting fuzzy.

The simple truth is that we want to be connected to greatness and rightly so. Glenn Frey was the epitome of rock and roll greatness. “He went to my high school” was something nearly everyone who went to Dondero bragged about over time. Face it, when you tell people you grew up in Royal Oak it was much cooler to say it was the boyhood home of Glenn Frey rather than the place Jack Kevorkian lived and worked.

Though the Eagles created a new hybrid of what many call “Southern California Rock and Roll,” only one of them was from California (Timothy B Schmidt) and a part of each of their youth was evident in their music. Frey was a protégé of Bob Seger and though he was never laudatory of growing up in Royal Oak, he never forgot where he came from and neither did we.

The Eagles were real musicians who wrote their own songs, played their instruments and created a body of work that brings me to the universal conclusion that it’s not that I am getting old; today’s music really does suck. 

The Eagles had something special and it wasn’t just a “right place at the right time” sound. This was evidenced by the fact that despite the amount of acrimony that existed in the band, they continued to make great music together even after they reunited for zillions of dollars.  Ultimately, they cared about the music and cared about each other. When Joe Walsh tried to sum up his grief about Glenn’s passing he said “It’s not that I can’t find the words, it’s that there are no words.” 

Very recently (and quickly) the powers that be in Royal Oak passed a resolution to rename the street that borders Dondero High School (now Royal Oak Middle School) in Frye’s memory and yesterday the sign was unveiled. There was and will continue to be a tremendous feeling of pride all of us Oaks have for Glenn and for how the Eagles music helped provide the soundtrack to our lives. I can’t help but think about Frey whenever I drive in through my old neighborhood in south Royal Oak---east on Lincoln Ave then past Longfellow, Mohawk and Wyandotte Avenues.

Royal Oak is a far cry from Winslow Arizona, but you can bet there will be plenty of people stopping to grab a picture at this corner, after all, it’s such a fine sight to see isn’t it?