Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steamy night en route to Junior's Farm with a 68-year-old genius singing along with Dylan

Paul and I rolled hard and fast into the steamy night. It had been a great concert and he had some time to kill before he went to Charlotte to do it again.
“I don’t want to think about the next show just yet,” he said, looking into the glove box of my old Saab and fishing out a cassette tape of volume one of The Beatles Anthology.
“Don’t you have anything else in here other than this old batch of odds that me, George, Ringo and Yoko fobbed off on Americans,” he said, with a laugh, slapping the old cassette into the slot and waiting for it to rewind. “John would have loved how everyone in the States bought all of our outtakes and junk.”
I shrugged. Heck, I’d bought it all, a couple of times. Cassettes for the car, CDs for home. Even have the old TV promo kit with the series on VHS tape.
Sure, I bought the junk, as I am a Beatles completist. But on this night, as we cut through the steam of downtown Nashville, I knew I was going to get the last laugh on the 68-year-old knight.
“Lay lady Lay, lay across my big brass bed,” Dylan, doing his sort of Nashville/Perry Como thing, escaped from the 26 year old speakers.
“That’s Bob, don’t you know,” said Paul. “Not us.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, smiling as I took a left, jamming the car the wrong way up a one-way street through the dying industrial district near the condos where Steve McNair died last year.
I pointed that fact out to Paul and he shook his head. “I really like American football, you know. British football, what you call ‘soccer’ is pure crap. Don’t you hope Favre comes back one more year?”
Ever since I’d known him, I knew he was more than the so-called “cute Beatle,” because he likes the real game of football. And, since he is 68 and had just put on the show of his life, or at least one of the shows of my life, at the Bridgestone Arena, I could understand his affinity for Favre.
I have the same feeling. Heck, I’m going on 59. Paul’s not even a decade older than I am. And, as most of us know, Favre is now 83 and yet he still can throw a clutch pass or an interception just like he did when he helped Vince Lombardi establish the Green Bay Packers Football Club and Bocce Society.
I smiled, because Paul was singing along with Dylan’s voice. He hadn’t even mentioned that a copy of Nashville Skyline had found its way into the plastic container for Anthology. He didn’t change it either.
“I like this album. Kinda reminds me of why I came here to record all those years ago,” he said, patting his sweat-stained black Beatles jacket and coming up with a peppermint stick. He broke off a piece and handed it to me. “Breath, Flap,” he said. “What’d you have for dinner, bloody fish and chips?”
I jammed the stick into my mouth, remembering the days before we became peppermint-stick guys and we would cruise into the Nashville nights, giggling, searching for watermelon stands and Thai food.
We’d avoided the arena traffic after the concert. I’d rolled down in the tunnel that sinks into the guts of the arena and picked him up.
Speaking of arena traffic. Has anyone ever seen the kind of pre-concert human congestion in the plaza outside the Bridgestone/Sommet/Jagger Center before? It was dangerous, sweaty people pushing against each other for two or more hours in 100-degree heat, the ones at the very front knocking on the door, telling the guards to do them a favor and let ‘em in.
Course no one did. The crowd suffered. Tornado swirls were in the clouds above. If that rain broke loose while we were jammed out there, there would be a stampede. Blood on the streets in the town of Nashville.
A guy with a Predators jersey and a Beatles ballcap said to me: ‘’leave it to Nashville to make things dangerous. I wonder why they don’t let people in to buy merchandise, beers and get in their seats.”
Sounded reasonable, but I had no answer. And besides that, I already had the aftertaste of my fish and chips dinner, washed down by three liters of jelly-bean-flavored cold water. All I wanted was to get in the arena, find my seat and find out if Paul had gotten my message that I’d pick him up when the show was over.
I didn’t know for sure until a few minutes after the red and pink confetti filled the arena and he disappeared in a sort of “Elvis has left the building” fashion. I sprinted to my old car and cranked it up, rolling it from my secret car-stash spot and right into the tunnel to the guts of the arena, the place where the Zamboni is king. Paul signaled to the security that I was OK. So they holstered their weaponry, allowing Paul to climb down from the big ice-making tractor – “I’ve gotta fit Zamboni into a song soon,” he said.
“I got a girl named Bony Maronie, she’s got a butt like a big Zamboni,” I offered.
He laughed and said: “Flap, hit it!”
Before we knew it we were on Lebanon Road, on the way to Gladeville. Paul, pumped up by the evening’s performance ,was looking forward to waking up Curly Putman Jr. and serenading him with the song named for the spread where the McCartney family and the band Wings stayed back in the summer of 1974.
“I want to sing him Junior’s Farm,” he said. “I need you to play guitar and sing harmony.”
Well, I have to tell you at that point I thought I probably was dreaming. Very seldom in my life has anyone, not even a Beatle, asked me to play guitar and sing along.
The main thing, I’ve been told by my friends in show biz, such as The Musician Peter Cooper and Brad “I love to sing show tunes” Schmitt is that I can’t play guitar, otherwise I’d be very good at it. That’s true enough. If I do something, I do it as well as I can, work hard to make sure it’s the best I can offer. But, as Duane Allman once told me before I turned down that spin on his motorcycle: “Flap: You suck as a guitarist.”
And then there’s the fact that it sounds like I got my vocal training from Kris Kristofferson, who is a friend and can write like the devil, although the devil carries a tune better. And you remember how bad the devil sounded when he played fiddle with Charlie Daniels. Kris: you’d better rosin up your throat, man.
Of course, “I’ve always been a word man, it’s better than a bird man,” as Jim Morrison used to tell me when we looked at the moon from the rooftop in Venice Beach and he told me how he thought he’d probably grow up to be the President of the United States of America. Instead, he’s sort of a bearded, fat puppet dictator over a colony of Lizard worshipers at the edge of Uganda.
Speaking of the Presidents of the United States of America, where were any of them when I needed help this summer?
Oh, I know, my pal the Big O plays a mean game of “H-E-Y-J-U-D-E” on the basketball court here behind the house.
But he also promised me he’d get me help to escape from what has been the most horrible summer of my life.
The flood devastated my home and tore away what little income I have. The Big O told me FEMA would help me.
I’ve been neglected, inspected, rejected and suspected by every sort of evil and ornery G-Man since the days after the flood.
FEMA has been here four times. The first three visits led to them declining my pleas for aid. But then I decided to take one more crack at it, compiling a very professional looking portfolio that included the square feet damaged, the materials hauled away, the materials and cost it took to replace. I got the whole 29-page package of documentation – including a letter from the Big O and another from Muhammad Ali asking them to cooperate with me – notarized, certified and sanctified and mailed it off about five weeks ago.
I have a collection of FEMA rejection letters that almost equals the collection of rejection letters I got from publishers, girlfriends, the NFL and the Greater Wichita Falls Association of Acupuncturists and Toe Suckers.
Those of you from outside of Nashville may not know about it much, but we had one of those “Who Built the Arc” kind of events in early May and a lot of my friends and myself are still bailing out. Well, not literally any more, but scrambling for another day and another dollar.
My own losses were, as you probably know, in the millions of dollars. Well, maybe a lot lower than that, as the only thing worth in the millions of dollars in my house was my best friend, my cat, Pal, and he died of cancer as we still were rebuilding. I’d rather be homeless and still have my cat.
And just as the rebuilding reached an end, there was that big old BAM, when the woman ran the red light at what appears to be a high rate of speed and hit my family’s minivan squarely in the driver’s side door. It was such a fierce impact that the frame was bent, the car deemed irreparable and insurance settling for what it is worth to them rather than what it is worth to a real family that needs a vehicle to carry them around town and who has taken care of the vehicle from day one.
Oil changes at 2,500 miles, new tires whenever needed, belts, hoses, brakes … Keep it running at most costs because we can’t afford a car payment.
After all, thanks to Sarah Palin, all efforts to help the little guy in this country have been put on hold until she decides when she wants her little girl and that young punk to make their man and wife public appearance. Of course, it depends on how much money she can get from the hate-mongers at Fox.
Hate-monger a little strong? OK, ask Shirley Sherrod about the edited tape provided by one of Washington’s many wacko right-wing opportunist bloggers – some of them are Vandy grads, by the way -- and then thrown on the air by Fox.
Saw today that one of those outfits was ranting and railing about Paul McCartney’s dig at Little W’s lack of intellect, charm and integrity during a White House bash for the Big O.
These self-important fascists said they thought it would hurt McCartney’s concert tour, as if anyone cares what kind of verbal shot you take at Mr. “Mission Accomplished, so now let’s just let the soldiers die and rot in the desert for another decade or two and we’ll pretend war is over.” Yeah, if you want it.
Big O, you could fix that, by the way. As Paul said the other night, “All We Are Saying is Give Peace a Chance.”
I used to sing that at anti-war rallies back in the Vietnam days, when music and politics and social upheaval had a perfect union, when the world changed, briefly, for the better.
Of course that has changed now, and students primarily get up in arms about tuition increases and other criminal acts. The whole world’s watching and ashamed.
Hey kids: See the boxes they’ve been flying home to Dover? There are former people in there. War heroes to be saluted and buried. Not for their war, but for their sacrifice.
Oh yeah, back to the car. We haven’t gotten the check yet, but you all know what happens. A car is worth thousands to you, because you have paid it off, kept it up and don’t plan on getting a new one any time soon.
Then someone runs a light and that car is now worth pennies on the dollar. Bad damn summer, at least until Monday’s concert.
“Paul you know it ain’t easy,” I said, fudging a line from the last real session Paul produced for The Beatles, The Ballad of John and Yoko.
“Yes, Flap, I know how hard it can be,” he said, reminding me that I was with John when we made that song up after a night of bowling near Gilley’s in Pasadena, Texas.
It was about then that my good pal Rob “Death” Dollar, who took me to the concert, tapped me on the shoulder and I returned to the weird reality of the crowded confines inside Bridgestone. I stood up and sang along. My voice still sounded bad. There were fireworks and explosions. Peace signs and a cheerful dancing drummer. Big smiles and great entertainment from a genius, who even offered up tributes to his fallen pals, Georgie and John.
I watched for awhile. Then I shook off the reality and returned to the Saab, where I looked over to Paul and goosed the car.
We sped toward Gladeville, the moon roof open in the old Saab, the passenger standing up, fiddling with the strings of his Hofner, and yelling Moroccan curses into the night.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sharing wisdom with John Glenn and avoiding death at the hands of bloodthirsty Secret Service

John Glenn simply scratched his bald head and nodded approval. At least he didn’t want us to be gunned down like dogs on the tarmac.
The Secret Service agents gave me and my buddies menacing Lee Van Cleef stares, obviously patting for their holsters, thinking maybe this would be a good day to kill. Dead burnt bodies, veins in their teeth…. Oops, wrong story …. Not wanting to face down His Majesty’s Secret Service in a remake of The Good, the Bad and the Way Too Ugly – especially as we had no guns and too much guts -- I had to appeal directly to the gentler side of the First American to Orbit the Globe.
“Senator Glenn! Senator Glenn!” I said as we ran toward the gun-toting G-men, our hands in the air, showing we were not only unarmed but quite possibly impaired.
“Hey, I want to talk to these boys, let them through,” said Senator Astronaut Glenn, then a presidential candidate, who stopped to visit the News Brothers at the appropriately named Outlaw Field, the then-depressing little civilian airport in North Clarksville, not far from the mammoth air strips of Fort Campbell where Space Shuttles frequently stopped.
You didn’t know about that, did you?
While the world’s eyes were turned to the very public Space Shuttle flights, it is well documented by those of us who care about adventure that when they needed to take it easy, cool off a bit from the pressure of interplanetary exploration and killing of Russians and Libyans, the intergalactic pilots would nurse the big old ships onto the runway in the middle of the night. These were not your “TV missions.” These were secret. And deadly. And sometimes the pilots just needed to come down to rest before being hurled back toward space from the launch pad hidden way back in the woods of the post that’s the size of about three counties.
Those landings did spark a lot of talk of space invaders and little green men around the post, but those were generally laughed at as so much hillbilly hoo-hah.
Even Space Pilots get that wired/melancholy feeling, now called “the Sully Sullenberger Syndrome,” and they need a place to rest. So they drop in from outer space, land at top-secret places, particularly Fort Campbell and that little spit of land outside of Amsterdam , where hashish is legal, to refresh, perhaps grab some coffee at the Hilton or eat chocolate cake in a bag.
I’ll bet you thought all those guys stayed out there in space for a week or two at a time. Pure farce, staged by the various Presidents of the United States of America in order to pump up national pride so we’d pour more money into the space program and forget about things like feeding the poor and making sure the people in New Orleans have ample public health and safety facilities and even can read.
But those are side issues today. Sometime I’ll tell you about my time on the Challenger. That was before it crashed and everyone died in one of our saddest days. No joking about that day. I just was proud to have spent time on that ship.
But there is some lightness to be found in the time I spent with John Glenn. Yes, I know the senator and astronaut is loathed by those in the insurance and oil industries, the vile demons who follow the whims of Shotgun Dick and addled radio hosts who have hypnotized so many of America’s older and whiter men. Many of the hypnotized used to be in the Greatest Generation and they deserve acclaim for that. You’d have thought that sometime, while they were saving the world, they would have gotten some common sense and wouldn’t listen and follow, mindlessly, ignorance and hate. I mean, one, two , three, what were they were fighting for? Dump Hitler and his like. Hang Mussolini up by his privates (and his majors and colonels, too). Get rid of the Emperor. They saved the world. Now they let fat billionaires on painkillers tell them how to think? Sure. Why not? Better than figuring out stuff for themselves.
Of course, they may be right. I may be crazy. I’ll have to say that I, at times, have felt like the lunatic they were looking for with their implements of destruction, floods, speeding cars and other misfortune.
Anyway, back in the days when the News Brothers were in season, we spent time with our most famous astronaut.
Oh, as for News Brothers season, well it’s not over yet, as everyone seems to be gunning for us now, either running into us, not helping us find work (although I do appreciate the real friends who do try to help), flooding our houses, not paying out insurance and conspiring with Shotgun Dick to hope we rot in Misery & Bankruptcy (Steven King’s upcoming 600th novel, written in a day. It’s more than 900 pages, with plot hidden in gibberish. All work and no play, indeed, Stevie boy. Congrats for pulling off this literary prank for all these years, ol’ Cujo, my lad.)
You wouldn’t believe it, given the state of the media “culture” now, but there was a time when the “Don’t Back Down” mantra actually did work and flourish, mainly because our publisher, The Big Guy, was happy that we were producing prize-winning newspapers and raising circulation. I’m not sure if those figures were ever matched after the “new way of newspapering” (fewer pages, less local copy, fewer people to do the work) began its cancerous devour of the only profession I ever loved, my calling for as long as I can remember. As a result, my pal Rob Dollar and I, the News Brothers’ sad and weary “brains,” have been dispatched repeatedly on the road to eventual ruin. At least we keep our heads high and very seldom light our hair on fire or pass by a homeless guy without giving him whatever’s in our pockets. Some of them use to be newspapermen and women. The rest are victims of heartless oil demons and Mad Dog 20/20.
It was in the “don’t back down … give them real stories” era of journalism almost three decades ago that John Glenn came into my life. I was the associate editor of the newspaper in Clarksville and, among other things, I made sure the Sunday paper got on the street before Buford at the Camelot bought the last round for the collected cops, newsmen and Apache helicopter gunship pilots.
At the time the News Brothers were making a documentary about the making of a newspaper. Some of you who have seen that movie, Flapjacks: The Motion Picture, will vouch that aside from All the President’s Men, Deep Throat, Citizen Kane and Flashdance, it is the most important and true-to-life tale of journalism ever told.
It’s a pity that it was released in the heart of the era of trickle-down, trickle-down, trickle-down-down economics and ferocious hero-worship of my favorite childhood TV show host. He did for America what 20-Mule-Team Borax did for Death Valley Days. I’m not sure what that means, but I actually liked Ron Reagan. Not as a president, but he seemed like an amiable sort who ran America like a Talk Show. He was the Johnny Carson of the Oval Office. I was sorry when Ron died. But then in his final days, he and I didn’t have a lot of hearts-to-heart and every time we’d talk about the News Brothers, he’d roll his knuckles, like he had a fistful of marbles and mutter “Strawberries. Strawberries.” He did give me a bolo tie, though.
Similarly, The Big Guy, our publisher, while he knew the News Brothers would provide good newspapers, was so frightened by stories of escaped monkeys, serial killers, Santa-clad heroes and prostitutes with hearts of gold, that he often would stare at his office wall – which had the Flapjacks movie poster on it – and say “Rosebud. Rosebud.” Of course, he’d also count his bonuses when the bottom-line tallies came in. He’d call me to his office, thank me for a good story or tell me “I’m not sure I’d have done it that way,” and encourage me to continue this course, always adding “be careful out there, Flapjacks” while he jangled the change in his pockets.
But we’re talking about John Glenn here. As the anointed leader of the newspaper, I decided that a former astronaut and genuine American hero who was coming to Clarksville to stump for the presidential nomination -- that I think eventually went to George Stephanopoulos, W.J.Souza, George Costanza, Anthony Quinn .. . Heck, I can’t remember who that guy was, a Greek geek of some sort, as I recall, no match for the Gipper. Oh yeah. Dukakis…. Say it slowly. Speaking of which, do you ever giggle when Joe Buck pronounces Albert Pujols’ name?
Hold it. The Duke took his shot four years later. The astronaut lost his nomination bid to Wally "The Big Mon" Mondale. I still like to say "Dukakis" three times quickly.
Regardless, I dispatched top political writer Harold “The Stranger” Lynch, a straight-shooter (at least eventually) and a warm and dynamic human being with a mustache that covered half his face to the airport to interview John Glenn, the great American hero.
It was while talking over that story in the budget meeting – the name news organizations used to give to the meetings where we hashed out what ought to be covered and where it ought to be played. I think they still have them, but instead of editors, they are run by the advertising department and the folks from the demographics department from corporate headquarters in Bangladesh.
Anyway, the meeting was normal. I was the guy wearing my high school football jersey and ill-fitting jeans and shades. Top Saturday reporter Rob “Death” Dollar was there, as he had to go to the cop shop and then go out and cover all of the redneck murders and gut-shootings as well as the normal Saturday night soldier highway death out on Fort Campbell Boulevard.
Also in the meeting was Jerry “Chuckles” Manley, who has gone on to have quite a career in corporate journalism, though I love him dearly. He was the copy editor. I think John Staed, now some sort of corporate success story in South Carolina, also was present, but I’m sure he still regrets it to this day.
“So, John Glenn’s in town, what do you think we ought to do, other than send Harold out to cover it and Robert Smith go shoot a handshake picture?” I asked our News Brothers attorney, Court Agate (real name, by the way).
He was just a friend and eventually ended up defending the News Brothers in numerous legal fights against corporate America. Not a very good attorney, obviously, judging by my personal yardstick. I understand he eventually retired to pan gold in the Yukon and live on the flesh of polar bears (or likely vice versa).
Again, another story.
We decided, as you probably expect by now, to go see John Glenn. And get him in our movie about newspapering. Problem was, he was landing on a runway, behind a locked gate and was being escorted by Secret Service agents and also by the Queen City’s friendly coppers (Motto stenciled on their car doors: “Happiness is a Warm Gun”), who were there to escort the city’s mayor. By the way, that same mayor endorsed me to be his replacement, but we re-elected him instead. So who really had the most power?
Again, another story. Great man.
I can tell you already know what’s coming.
As noted above, we followed Harold in when the security cops tried to lock the gate to the runway behind him. And while Harold spun the ends of his mustache and smiled at our behavior, for he was a good and honorable man -- and I was his boss -- we approached the Secret Agents.
Harold by now was interviewing this great American hero and future failed presidential candidate. But we continued to press forward. It was as if in Sam Peckinpah slow motion. The gunsels patted their waistbands and armpits (they were fat and sweaty perhaps or maybe they were readying to gun us down). The Senator and American Hero stepped in their way and said he wanted to talk to us.
The gunmen tried to push him into his limo to take him to the campaign stop. They eyed me angrily as I stepped into the door opening, preventing the hero from being pushed by an agent into the back seat. As I leaned on the door, we all talked with John Glenn, told him how proud we were to meet him and explained that he was going to be in a movie about newspapering.
He laughed until he cried. I rubbed his bald head and wished him luck against The Big Mon or whoever it was who got the nomination, and he just smiled.
Then he hugged us. “Boys, this was one of the best treats. Usually when I get into a town, I don’t have this kind of airport welcome. I’m proud to be in your movie about newspapering.
“And, when I’m president, I want you to come visit me at the White House. We’ll have hot dogs and kraut in the Rose Garden.”
Of course he wasn’t elected. But we used to gather regularly, whenever he came to Clarksville for those secret shuttle missions. We’d go to the Poor Man’s Country Club, enjoy pickled eggs and pigs feet and do Jimmy Carter and Dick Nixon impressions….
Sometimes Ron Reagan would come along, which was OK, except for his annoying knock-knock jokes and obsession with bowel movements.