Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Baby's Getting Married

It’s official, my baby’s getting married.  Thus, flashbacks.  Memories pour faster than beer at a packed sports bar on game day.  My life has been far from conventional.  Traded from my baseball team at age fourteen, graduated from high school early, owned a Mini-Cooper in 1971, got married on April Fool’s Day, went to the airport instead of the hospital to become a dad twice, few have accused me of being Ward Cleaver.  Like him, I provided for my family as the kids grew up.  Now they have and are waiting for me to do the same.  Like that’s going to happen. 
That frail, little four-and-half month old arrived with pneumonia and a mystery prescription bottle of brown goop is getting married.  The same one who needed speech therapy in grade school and became the speaker at her grade school graduation.  The girl who could dance and was a team captain in high school.  Except for cleaning her room, she’s the one who always had a plan, a focus, a goal.  She only applied to one college and graduated with two degrees in four years with a grade point average that was nearly perfect.
She’s had the same boyfriend for almost ten years.  He tried to ask me for permission for her hand a few weeks ago.  I could tell by his body language and nervous grin what was on his mind and said yes before he performed his whole speech.  I have since retracted it, agreeing instead to sharing her.  They went together to Korea, where my baby was born twenty-four years ago for some college friends wedding.  He proposed to her in the Seoul Tower and because of the time difference, we got a phone call at two in the morning from our baby to share her good news.  I had promised to keep the plan a secret from my family and succeeded. 
So, I have an unknown future date for a formal weeping, crying, sobbing, balling session.  Investors, buy Kleenex stock now!  Her husband-to-be, who I dearly love, is of Chinese decent and I have been told there will a tea ceremony.  He also wants to roast a whole pig.  It should be an interesting celebration.   
Further reflection inspired me to pull out some old poems I wrote about my baby.  Put Kleenex on the shopping list please. 

Who Are You?
Can’t say I didn’t have something to do with you
Our bloodlines are different, that much is true
You’re my daughter, I’m your Dad
Joy and pride I never would have had
Without you loving me and me loving you

I’ve loved you longer
You can’t beat me on that one
Born in Korea, growing up in Washington
We play the “I love you more” game
Without you in my life
It just wouldn’t be the same

So sick and fragile you came to me
Now you’re reading and writing novels
Dabbling in poetry
It’s been a miracle to see you grow
When you first came
You weren’t much bigger
Than my little toe

You are an angel that Heaven sent
A chosen child with rhythm and style
A loving, gentle temperament
This is my answer to your question
“Who Am I?”
You are warm sunshine and my big blue sky
I will love you forever
Even after I die

Chosen Child

My big nose doesn’t hang on your face
You’ll never grow a blonde hair
My eyes don’t sparkle under your lids
When you’ve got trouble
You know I’ll be there

I didn’t make you
I don’t know whose who
Didn’t take me long though
To fall in love with you

Got the same color blood
Share one address
Your picture’s in the dictionary
Defining happiness

Recital Day

Floating around with rhythm and grace
Great big toothy grinning face
Innate talent can’t be denied
Emitting an inner glow impossible to hide
Once again a proud dad cried
A performance so great
It’s a miracle dad didn’t dehydrate
Your audience in a soulful trance
Watch you every time I get a chance
My child, you can dance

My Baby

Small bones swelling with rhythm
Heart the size of the sun
Sensitive as a third degree burn
Brings out the best in everyone

Sings like an uncaged bird
Free and clear
Overflowing river of positive words
Contagious smile from ear to ear

Tender as a cool breeze in summer air
Dancing through kidhood
With a passionate, electric flair

A rose, a rhododendron, a lilac tree
Full bloom in June
Million times more vibrant
Than the sun, stars and moon

Smarter than a P.H.D.
Full of life outside and in
Endless love and energy
The essence of relentless beauty

Thursday, June 23, 2011

God Smack

There are others, but I vividly recall three times that crimes have been committed against me.  My Canadian cousin spent Christmas with me one year.  I drove him to Vancouver to catch a flight home and returned to find mine robbed.  It was a shame to discover the holiday gifts had been stolen.  A few years later, I was sent on a business trip to Europe alone for a long weekend.  Walking down a city street, I was tackled from behind and my wallet was stolen.  Was it my fault for exploring the my hotel’s city block?  It was a shame I no longer had a credit card to pay my hotel bill.  Fast forward a few more years, my business partner, turned crook, found a way to steal nearly thirty years of my blood, sweat and tears and half a million dollars.  Although only one of these crimes was violent, in every instance I felt violated.  I didn’t ask for or deserve to be the victim of their selfish greed.      
Rape is a violent act by one person against another.  It is inexcusable behavior by the perpetrator, yet too often the victim is blamed and carries shame.  It wasn’t my fault that somebody broke into my house, stole my wallet or swindled me out of a small fortune.  I blame them and them alone.  It is a shame they are so empty of values and conscience.  They all probably go to church.  I was robbed because robbers stole from me.  Rape victims were raped because rapists raped them. 
               Slut Walk Seattle was a rally to protest rape.  The provocative title raised eyebrows and confused many.  The local media was kind enough to give it a little attention and raise awareness of the issue.  Men and women marched, some in revealing costumes, others more modestly.  Unfortunately, there was one male maggot who took the opportunity to take photos up women’s skirts.  It is sad that we judge people by what they choose to wear.  I may be attracted to someone including their attire, but I would never think to pull out my camera or anything else.  One in six women will be raped.  Some are asleep in bed, some are wearing sweatshirts and baggy jeans.  It’s not about somebody’s perception based on clothes.  The Toronto police officer who sparked this and other marches around the country apologized for his statement that women should dress less slutty.  I did not ask or deserve to be robbed and no rape victim, whatever they were wearing, asked to be assaulted.  We were both violated and should claim no blame or shame for the assaults.  I realize my abuses are far more lame than rape, but it makes me empathize with the victims of violent acts. 
The Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest the rally.  I guess they are pro-rape and according to them, I am Bible ignorant.  The six who were supposed to be there were ignored by the media after the event.  Heard an interview leading up to the day of the walk with a daughter of the pastor.  Her message was it’s a God smack to rape victims, implying they deserved what they got.  I think I’ll pass on reading their book.      

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dads and Dogs

One of the perks of buying overpriced medical insurance is I receive a bi-monthly newsletter with tips to live a healthy lifestyle.  The cover story in the recent issue supplies five tips to being a super dad.  They are:

1.      Be a team
2.      Spend time with your children
3.      Chat
4.      Guide with love
5.      Show affection

I have two points of reference on this subject, having had one and being one.  I will start with my dad.  My dad played the traditional team role of the era by being the provider and sometimes stern disciplinarian.  He spent a great deal of time with us teaching baseball and coaching our teams.  There was always plenty to talk about, especially baseball.  As an educator, he always wanted updates of our school progress at the supper table.  He showed his love and affection through actions instead of physical gestures.  I also took the role of provider, but seldom the disciplinarian.  My dad may have spanked me once or twice, but if he did, he must have been lame because those memories have faded away.  I never spanked my children, instead I perfected the look that projected disappointment and it was just as or more effective than corporal punishment.  I was the bedtime story parent, the sports coach that went to every dance and choir recital.  Dinner was always at the kitchen table and we all discussed our day.  My mom taught me the art of love and affection, she was definitely the nurturer.  As wicked as my disappointment look could be, I could freely display my dad pride and love for my children.   I became much more of an initiator of hugs as a dad than my dad ever did.        

On the side column of the newsletter, next to the dad advice article, were rules for being a good dog.  As I recall, none of the mutts who have owned me have been able to read, but it sure is nice to know my insurance company feels compelled to offer them advice with my premium dollars.  I read these rules to my fury best friend:

1.      Live in the moment
2.      Take a nap and sleep hard
3.      Discover the simple joy of a long walk
4.      Celebrate each snack with anticipation
5.      Get outside as much as possible
6.      Greet everyone always, no matter long they have been gone
7.      If you love someone, show your affection

Apparently it is more difficult to be a dog than a good dad because there are more guidelines for our canine friends.  Some of the tips overlap, but I am thinking all twelve suggestions apply to good parenting.  Our busy lives can get in the way of celebrating the moment or enjoying a long walk.  My dog has trained me well with the importance of routine and the highlight of his day is when we hit the trail.  I think I’ll leave it to his species to sticking their nose into somebody else’s crap.  There are endless studies of the benefits of sleep, healthy snacks and getting out there and moving around.  Fresh air, a soft summer breeze, a trek in the rain or snow can be glorious.  When my daughters were teenagers, I waited up for them when they were out at night.  Maybe a few times, they had wished I wouldn’t have greeted them.  As a dad, it was a sign that I actually cared about them.  It is always gratifying to be eagerly greeted by your puppy at the door when you return home. They provide unconditional love and it is good for the soul.
I cried when my yellow lab fell asleep on my chest one night and never woke up.  My tears were plentiful when my dad passed away.  I still observe those sad anniversaries when the calendar rolls around and I still weep for my loss.  On the eve of another Father’s Day, I urge anyone who is lucky enough to still have one, or a father figure of some kind, to show them you love them.  Maybe I just have a dog’s heart.  Words of wisdom by musician, Garnet Rogers:

If you love someone, let it show
Hold them close to you
And tell them so they know
It’s too late by the grave
Give them all the love
You have everyday

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Twelve

The outside world is often far more harsh than my loving and ever-growing Greg community.  The economy took a downturn and the opposite spectrum of human behavior was exposed with the greed and demise of Enron.  Generous donors of In Harmony took a step back.  With a new administration in the White House, funding assistance for projects that could fix a broken system evaporated, even though the solution was more cost effective.  Bombs were indispensable, children at risk weren’t.  In Harmony was doomed.  It literally broke the heart of the director and her dream to make the world a better place.  I was among many in tearful grieving.  News sources today report crimes committed by former foster kids because for some reason that sells advertising.  Heaven forbid they broadcast worthy, viable solutions to our society’s problems.  Shame on all of us for priorities gone amok. 
Even though the dream was never realized, I had learned much. The rewards of volunteerism are immense and come in unexpected ways.  There was a continual affirmation that many good, decent people exist.  I made countless new friends.  Given a chance, I can do good things, sometimes in very unconventional ways.  Perhaps fate, maybe all random, but this significant part of my life was the result of being a fan of Greg Brown’s music.
I kept buying Greg’s studio recordings and going to his concerts.  It makes a difference what kind of venue he plays in.  Sterile locations seem to make the audience more reserved, while venues with some character loosen up the crowd.  Greg seems to be able to feel the crowd vibe and translate it into his performance.  Half the fun of going to a concert was reuniting with old friends and making new ones.  Perhaps it’s best to save the confessions of those escapades for another time. 
There have been numerous times I have had the chance to talk to Greg before or after a concert.  We bumped into him and Bo at a record store one time.  They both gave me a warm welcome behind the stage at the zoo concert in Seattle before performing.  Ran into him before one show in downtown Seattle.  He was heading to the venue, so I went to greet him.  I told him I just celebrated my thirtieth wedding anniversary.  He asked if I had a song request.  When he had asked me this question before, I always said play what you feel like playing.  But, this time I suggested Goodnight Maureen, since that is my wife’s name.  He got a good laugh out of that one.  On stage, he dedicated Band of Gold to us instead.  It was total coincidence that we lodged in the same hotels multiple times on road trips.  When he was scheduled to perform in a town again where we had been before, I called the hotel we had stayed in to make a reservation.  On the phone, I turned on all my charm and played violins to explain my sad financial condition to negotiate the best rate could I get as I told the desk clerk how important it was to go to Greg’s concert.  The clerk looked up the date and said there were two rooms in his name and would I like to be in booked in the room between them?  I thought it was a ploy to close the sale, but I agreed.  It turned out to be true and although I never saw Greg, I had a nice conversation with his booking manager the next morning and got that night’s show recorded.
Like Bo had said, it’s all about the music.  That’s what drew me in, especially the lyrics.  I was so in tune at one point, I recognized a song in the first three notes with extreme accuracy.  One night, I amazed a fan and friend with this ability at a concert.  There were many more superb musicians I discovered on this journey who played with or opened for Greg.  My collection of CDs grew accordingly, but far and away, the bulk of mine are Greg recordings.
Recently, the Harvard Radio Broadcasting station played thirty-something hours of Greg’s music over two days without repeating one single cut.  Their library is dwarfed by mine if you count live recordings.  However, they had one record I didn’t, Greg’s first.  I found out about this orgy, as the station called it, after it had begun and since they broadcast them in chronological order, I missed hearing that rare missing vinyl from my collection.  While the program progressed, many from the list were commenting.  I joined in with a comment and innocently lamented missing the beginning.  Shortly after, another long time member of the list offered to gift me their LP if I accepted graciously so as to not spoil their pleasure of giving.  Well, I had received posters and souvenirs from the Midwest and even the autographed BVDs a friend won at the Solid Heart auction, but this present was the grand prize.  Twenty years I yearned for this and a few days later it was spinning on my turntable.  The original price tag is still on it, a whopping $5.98 and it was marked down to $5.29.                   
I have more true friends through the community Greg’s music produced than any other single aspect of my life.  There are plenty more stories where these came from and more to be made, since I have tickets for a show four months away.  Choose your path carefully, follow it passionately, fill your heart with music and keep your lip corners up.      

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Eleven

The second Ani DiFranco benefit concert was a monster production in Gill Coliseum on the campus of Oregon State University.  Tickets in hand, we headed down the road once again.  At our motel, we hooked up with the pixel farmer and his dear wife.  He had created a poster to sell at the show with both Greg and Ani in it.  He also made a very limited edition of them transposing their bodies and putting Greg’s whiskers and hat on Ani and her hair and nose ring on him.  This artifact alone is worth the price of admission to my imaginary museum.  
When we arrived on campus, there was a never ending line of tattoos, chains and rainbow hair.  Being the seemingly only unpainted people amongst the swarm, an In Harmony volunteer recognized us and let us in through a side door.  We sat in the nose bleed section with a good site line of the stage and what would become a mosh pit.  Greg played even less tunes to open this show.  The crowd was there to see Ani.  Bo rocked out with her for a few songs, she did solos and also brought out her band.  All 10,400 seats were bun-filled, plus the sometime basketball court was wall-to-wall, standing room only bedlam.  It was impossible for anyone in the mosh pit to fall to the floor.  This trip, we discovered an eatery called Nearly Normal.  A person on the list once described me as nearly famous.  At this Ani concert and beyond, the reality check, I was far from normal or famous.  I sure had a good time though.
Now I had Ani-Greg posters to promote.  Of course, I went marketing on the list and as usual, got lots of support from the website master.  That was just part of the equation.  Online, I found Ani fan pages and groups much like Greg’s.  I signed up and marketed the posters to Ani fans.  More orders flowed in.  Since my mailing address was published as the place to send mail orders, one day a guy knocked on my door wanting to buy a poster.  It was his girlfriend’s birthday and he needed it right away.  I had him write out a check to In Harmony and he was set.  Normally (whatever that is), I got orders in the mail, so this was an anomaly.
Another unique event was the night my dad went to a Greg concert.  Like everyone around me, he knew I was a big Greg fan.  I let him listen to my birthday song one time as I drove us to the ballpark.  He was less than impressed, more anxious to see Edgar Martinez’s magic bat at the plate that night.  For some reason, he decided to come to one concert.  That was the same show we had Greg fans from Hawaii stay with us.  It was far from the first time we had opened our house to Greg fans.  After confirming online I wasn’t the murderer next door, I picked them up and their case of fresh pineapples.  Got them settled into their rooms upstairs, had a bite to eat and headed downtown for the show.  I had announced a watering hole meeting place and ten of us showed up including my tee-totaling dad.  Everyone fit in nicely as I got pre-show antsy.  It had been arranged that I could sell CDs at this event and snuck over to the venue to see if I could get in and set things up.  As I approached the main entrance, I ran into the promoter, Greg, a woman who I think was his sister and his youngest daughter at the time.  Once again, the opportunity was there to ask if I could record the show and I was given the thumbs up.  This was going to be a special night.  I went back to the bar to get some help hauling CDs into the venue and prepare my wife to have the mini-disc recorder at the ready when she came.  The soundboard guys were kind of snobs until the promoter checked in and told them it was cool. 
The show was great and I headed for the CD table before the last chord was strummed.  There was another guy selling all of Greg’s other Red House recordings and I only had Solid Hearts.  He seemed nice enough, but turned out to be nothing more than a cashier.  When the crowd poured out, the rush was on.  People would say part of a song lyric and ask which CD it was on.  I handed them the corresponding unit and the other guy took the cash.  I sold a pile of Solid Heart CDs that night too.  Greg stopped by and watched the action at the CD table.  He probably signed a few.  In a short lull, Greg stood behind me.  My dad came up to him and introduced himself as Glenn’s dad.  My whole life I was Mr. Stenson’s son, so this was a radical role reversal.  When the fans had all departed, I packed things up and my Hawaiian friends decided they wanted to give Greg a pineapple.  They asked me to deliver it.  As I began walking down the hallway in a restricted area of the theater that I was unauthorized to be in, I had a relapse of being unable to “get over it”.  Uncomfortable about knocking on the door of the musicians private space, I set the pineapple outside the door and retreated.     

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Ten

Whatever the term is for an adrenalin hangover is, I sure had one the next morning.  I showered, threw on some clothes and went to grab some coffee in the lobby.  It was, after all, too early for gin and I hadn’t touched that stuff in twenty-five years anyway.  A number of out-of-town Greg fans stayed in the same hotel and I joined them in the outdoor garden area.  They all raved about what a great time they had the whole weekend with all the festivities and how glad they were that they came.  It was gratifying to hear that I was a small part of providing them pleasure and making it fun to raise money for foster kids.  One of the people in this group admitted he recorded the show from the audience as he handed me a CD.  He said my birthday song was on it.  This kind of precious gift is enough to cure any kind of hangover.  Sad goodbyes proceeded as we checked out of the hotel. 
It was off to a farewell breakfast with In Harmony’s leader and few of the other primary volunteers.  The stage manager for this weekend’s concerts and her husband were present, just like they were for the other two Solid Heart events.  There weren’t many of us non-Corvallis residents that actively participated in making all three of these celebrations come together.  At the breakfast meeting, we were informed that the bean counter’s initial calculation of funds raised far exceeded anybody’s expectations.  At least some of us had the energy to raise our glass of orange juice and toast our collective success.  The inevitable so longs and until we meet again hugs were painful.  Everyone got in their cars and headed in different directions home.  It didn’t take long to throw the new CD in and play my song over and over as we drove away.  About the time we crossed the Columbia River into Washington state, my wife got concerned my head might not fit through the door well when we got home.  She put on some less narcissistic Greg music for the rest of the trip.  Luckily, my swollen ego had subsided and I was able to get out of the car when we pulled into the driveway.  As always, the kids greeted us.  Years later, my oldest one and her friends confessed to having parties when we were away.  They had honed exceptional housekeeping skills because they never left a trace of such shenanigans.  The only time that happened was when I had a boyfriend of a different exchange student house sit.  The kids were with me that trip.  I found a cigar butt floating in the hot tub. 
The inventory items of the In Harmony distribution and shipping center I was in charge of multiplied with posters, various t-shirt sizes and colors, as well as, ultimately, a video of the show.  Admittedly, I was disappointed my song didn’t make the final cut, but in retrospect I regret more my failure to sufficiently support the DVD format over VHS.  The pixel farmer supplied the artwork for the cover and I spent many hours printing them, cutting copies to size and inserting them.  Orders were received almost daily and I got to be friends with the guys at the post office.  My packaging supplier at work provided me with the right sized cartons and bags for each item at their cost.  I paid for all of the packaging supplies and the postage.  Later, there would be an Ani DiFranco-Greg poster added to the list of inventory items. 
Ani did a couple benefit shows for the cause.  The first one was in Eugene.  It was another party opportunity for my daughter and her friends as we headed south again.  Upon arrival, we walked from our motel to the concert hall.  Along the way, my wife and artist friend noticed a sign in a record shop.  Harry Manx would be performing there the next afternoon.  That night, Greg played six songs, equal to about each hundred miles I put on the car that weekend.  I knew Ani was an anti-establishment rebel who had already built a financial empire.  My experience with her music was limited to the first two words she shouted out on one of her CDs.  My teenagers had never heard my say eff you and it was inappropriate for them to it hear blaring out of the stereo.  That night, she displayed her musical talents and won me back.  On the way back to the motel we passed the record shop again.  As much as I wanted to hit the road early the next morning, I was outvoted.  My wife and our artist friend, who donated the artwork for the Solid Heart CD, wanted to stay and hear Harry Manx.  Since I was the driver, I supposed I could have used veto power, but our artist friend had given me a copy of Greg’s free writing as he modeled for her in her studio once.  Add up another artifact in the museum vault. 
The next morning we enjoyed the open air farmer’s market before Harry’s performance.  Maybe a dozen people showed up for it.  With his permission, my wife recorded the first Harry Manx concert in the U.S..  With such a small crowd, we had a good chat.  We told him we were in town to see Greg and Ani.  A few months later, we went to see him perform in Seattle.  As he prepared to take an intermission, he announced there were CDs available in the back and he’d be glad to sign them and Greg Brown ones too after the show.  Although the audience was ten times the size of the day we met him, he recognized us in the crowd.                                        

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Nine

               Solid Heart 3 was open for business.  The attendees mobbed the concession stands and auction/raffle item displays.  One of the functions of a concert house manager is crowd control.  I dimmed the house lights three times to instruct all to find a seat.  Special touches were evident everywhere including the stage that included large, potted house plants.  Justin King, a youthful master of the guitar, was the first performer.  Then like the year before, Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman did a set and also accompanied Greg during his performance.  Pete later told me the music was better this evening than the next, but I was just relieved that everything went smoothly. 
               The next morning, I missed the ceremonial ground breaking of the property that was supposed to be the first In Harmony neighborhood because I was doing last minute preparations for my Trivia game.  I did make it to the record shop appearance the performers attended to promote ticket sales of the last few seats available for that evening’s show.  Then I was off to Squirrels to host the first and only Trivial Greg contest.  Squirrels, located across the street from where Solid Heart was born, is a restaurant bar.  They donated their entire upstairs for this event.  Twenty-seven people signed up to play and it seemed like just as many just came to watch.  To get things started, I thanked everyone for coming and introduced myself.  Then I had everyone introduce themselves around the room.  Since I was the creator of the game and it had never been played before, I could make up the rules as I went.  I explained I needed some assistants.  A couple people in the audience offered to be my spotters as to who raised their hand first as I read the questions.  Another audience member offered to distribute tokens to the person who answered the question correctly.  I considered using fish eggs or worms as tokens, but went with candy corn since at least the corn part had an Iowan theme.
               I read the questions and my wife held the answer sheet to confirm the first correct response.  The candy corn was used to keep score.  I had amassed two-hundred Greg related questions.  Prepared to make part of the game a written contest, I suggested that concept at the halfway point.  This idea was vetoed by all in attendance, so it was completed orally.  There were only two protests during my one day game show host career.  Perhaps too much time was allowed for a contestant to correctly answer and the other issue was the syntax of whether it should be “who” or “what” was on the jammer in a lyric question.  In the end, a king and queen of stalkers were crowned.  The event raised $1,000 and everybody had a good time.  As I said before, the game can still be played on Greg’s website.
               Said goodbye to the Bob Barker role and put on my house manager hat as I drove back to the concert hall to reset and prep for the major event of the weekend.  Everything was scheduled to be bigger and better than the night before.  In addition to all festivities the night before, this show was going to be webcast with the capability of those listening to chat as it progressed.  Two wiz kid computer geniuses were setting things up in a back room.  These were definitely not the Oregon State University students who had upchucked in the parking lot a few years back.  The great bunch of volunteers all readied their stations for a repeat of the night before.  I was asked to delay the door opening as was originally planned because things were not quite in order somewhere internally.  I went outside and walked down the long line of ticket holders and told them the doors would be opened shortly.  And they were.  Once again, the omnipotent house manager had to dim the lights three times to coax all to get seated.  The performer line-up was the same, but interspersed with raffle and auction winner festivities.  At one point, things seemed to be calm on the main floor, so I went to check on the balcony.  I notice one empty seat and in between songs, I asked the guy next to it if I could sit there for a minute.  The guy turned out to be the high school janitor, taking a break too.  Greg’s next song was Wash My Eyes and all 1,199 people there were completely silent as he sang it sweetly.  The balcony was in perfect order, so after that song, I went back down to the main floor.  After a quick check on all stations, which were deserted, I went to see to the status of webcast room.  It was live streaming the concert online and people across the country were chatting away.  I sent a message or two out and headed back to the auditorium.  Inside, I planted myself up against the back wall.  It had been a long day.  That’s when Greg started a tune I didn’t recognize, which is rare.  When he uttered the first few syllables, Karen Savoca laughed into her microphone and the crowd hooted.  Now it was me washing my eyes and creating a wetland at my feet.  If not for the wall I was leaned upon, I’d have fallen over and drowned.  It has only been performed once and it went like this:

Glenn’s Birthday Blues (Wake Up Glenn)
Hey Glenn, wake up
I know you live in Seattle man
It can be a little rough I know
And a little cloudy
Kinda rainy, kinda misty
Not bad, it’s really, it’s beautiful, it’s great
Another misty, rainy, foggy
Kinda cloudy, cool day
Comes rolling in
And it’s your birthday

But you gotta wake up
Gotta wake up Glenn
You gotta get out of bed
You gotta get out of bed again
You gotta grab some coffee
It’s a little too early for gin
Another whole year rolled by
And it’s your birthday again
Wake up now Glenn, come on

Well now let me tell you about Glenn
He’s really done his part
He’s been all over the place
Trying to sell those Solid Hearts
He stands out in front of places
Where you and I would never go
He says, “Have you bought this Solid Heart CD yet?”
“I, I didn’t think so.”

Now Glenn is a bird
And he lives in his rainy nest
I think he’s got one of the biggest hearts
In the whole northwest
He’s got his shoulder to the wheel
And that’s OK
So this little blues Glenn
Is just to wish you a very happy birthday
Oh, play him a little birthday blues here now Pete
It’s hard getting old

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
To you, to you, to you
Happy Birthday Glenn

Dehydrated, delighted and delirious, I went outside for some air.  The best poet on the planet had just performed a song about and for me.  Best I could, I composed myself and went back inside to complete my duties.  A number of songs later, Greg wrapped up his long set.  The full house demanded an encore.  He reappeared with a banjo that had been loaned to him by a person on the list and invited the other three performers to join him on stage.  He started strumming another new song and the other musicians were as awestruck as the audience.  Nobody was joining in and the crowd was silent, except for one volunteer who nudged out into the lobby.  I was informed the school alarm system was set to go off at midnight if the facility was not all locked up by then.  Midnight was minutes away.  As Greg performed Lull It By  for the first time publicly, I was racing to the balcony hoping to find the janitor to disarm the system.  He was not there.  I went back downstairs and raced to his office where I found him.  We hurriedly got to the control panel and like an Ian Fleming novel, had 007 seconds to spare.
A very satisfied crowd exited orderly into the night.  As everyone was leaving, one attendee  overheard a conversation I was having and figured out I was the birthday boy and sang me a solo version of the traditional birthday song and went on her way.  With the crowd gone, it was now time to clean up the auditorium.  This was when I was grateful food and drink were not allowed into the area.  Little more than discarded programs scattered the floor.  As I was going aisle to aisle picking up debris, I discovered one of my former exchange student’s boyfriend helping out.  I had no idea he came to the show.  While we finished cleaning up, I asked him if he believed me now that Greg Brown knew me.
                There was one more function to attend, the volunteer appreciation party at a local deli.  We mingled in a room full of hugs and laughs and smiles.  Greg came up to me asked if his song was okay and I told him it was perfect.  Out of nowhere, a birthday cake showed up and everyone began to sing that familiar song.  Slowly, I turned in full circle to acknowledge everyone in the room as they sang.  It is rare to be surrounded by so many solid hearts.  What a great birthday and I bet there are very few who can say Greg has sang happy birthday to them twice on their natal anniversary, although technically the second time was long after midnight.                       

Monday, June 6, 2011

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Eight

Burned out from constant touring, Greg announced his intentions to take a sabbatical.  His last performance would be at the Century Ballroom in downtown Portland.  To show love and appreciation, a fan or two organized the creation of a community quilt.  Those with the talent of crafts produced a square and the organizer put it all together.  After the performance, this thing of beauty was presented and it left the man of so many wise words speechless.  Prior to our departure for this farewell show, this Seattle nut was asked to transport Bo Ramsey to the airport in Seattle the morning after the show.  Of course, I said yes.  My previous interactions with him indicated he was the man of few words.  We packed a hundred hours of music in anticipation of filling the silent air on the two-and-half hour road trip. 
In front of his hotel, I saw Greg and him exchange the firmest hug two individuals can make.  There was a true respect and love for each other.  My spouse, Bo and I climbed into the van and I started driving.  My wife started showing Bo various CDs and he selected something.  Before I got to the freeway, a conversation erupted that would only end upon arrival at the airport.  It’s all about the music.  Bo goes beyond just saying it, he lives it.  That’s how the conversation started, but we talked about a thousand other things too.  It was so tender to hear his end of a conversation when his cell phone rang.  It was his son, Ben, who called to warn him of snow storms in Iowa.  Bo ended up being stranded in Colorado when his flight there was canceled due to weather.  I had a new, real good friend and it turns out, a customer.  He bought a few road cases for his amplifiers and that led to some more case orders we built for Lucinda Williams.  All I can say is that was the shortest and most enjoyable cruise between Portland and Seattle I ever had.
Even though Greg intended to take some time off, he agreed to do a couple more back-to-back benefit concerts for In Harmony.  Solid Heart 3 was set in motion.  Organizing a concert is much more elaborate than most attendees realize, as I discovered when I put a benefit concert together in my own backyard.  But, Solid Heart 3 was destined to be a gala on a much larger magnitude.  Besides the concerts, plans were put in place to include an auction, raffle, refreshment stand, webcast and videotaping with multiple cameras.  Massive amounts of volunteers would be needed to pull it all off.  But, the In Harmony army had multiplied making everything seem doable.  The pixel farmer, like he had done the previous year, donated his graphics skills to create posters and tickets.  The master of Greg’s website was again supremely supportive, spreading the word and feeding the fire.  Auction and raffle items came from near and far.  Baskets of live recordings, professional 8 X 10 glossy photos, charcoal drawings twice that size, were a few of the items received from fans.  Greg donated a few of his pieces of art, a handwritten version of some of his song lyrics, a railroad cap, a worn shirt, and a mystery pair of autographed underwear. 
Midst all this prep work buffoonery, I decided to let Greg keep his Scrabble crown, questionable as it may have been, and created a new fund-raiser game for this occasion.  I put together a couple hundred trivia questions about the man and his music.  Ten years later, there is still a link to it on his website.  My Corvallis contacts set up a meeting place to conduct this event and I was set.  This was going to be a weekend to remember.  Packed the car, left my high school aged kids at home and cruised on down the road.
The Peter Principle was alive and well when somehow I was anointed the title of house manager for the concerts.  The morning of the first one, we checked in early at the In Harmony office.  Lots of volunteers came and all pitched in to deal with last minute details.  I answered the phone and took ticket sale orders.  When I answered once, an unmistakable voice was on the other end.  Greg asked what I was doing there and I told him it was my job.  Shortly after, he arrived at the office to sign the auction and raffle memorabilia.  Before he put the cap on his Sharpie, somebody suggested he autograph my brown, Slant 6 Mind t-shirt that I was wearing because tomorrow would be my birthday.  Along with his signature, he wrote “Happy Birthday Boy”.  That shirt has never been worn again and is proudly displayed in my museum with many other artifacts.
There was much work to do moving into the old Corvallis High School auditorium for the next couple nights.  Teams of volunteers each had a mission.  Although nobody had really done much of this before, everyone took charge and just got it done.  The refreshment stand, sound equipment, auction and raffle ticket table set-up, video cameras, concession table with the new Solid Heart sleeveless t-shirts designed by Greg himself, ticket takers all just came together.  For the next two nights, a line formed in the shape of a slithering snake outside the doors of this 1,200 seat theater anxiously waiting to get in.  When all the stations confirmed they were ready, I opened the doors and fans poured in like a raging river.     

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Confessions Of A Greg Brown Fan Part Seven

               Groggily, I boarded a plane destined to LA early the next morning for my twenty-third consecutive Winter NAMM show.  It is the largest music products tradeshow in North America, although it is dwarfed by the one in Frankfurt, Germany that I attended eight times.  For nearly thirty years, I was in the business of promoting the joy of music making.  I actually had a life outside of Greg, Solid Heart and In Harmony.  On the tradeshow floor and after hours, there were plenty of music options and even ones that matched my tastes.  I either met or saw perform artists like John Gorka, Rory Block, Cephas and Williams, Elton John, the Beach Boys, Roy Book Binder, Alicia Keyes, Doug MacLeod, an Iowa City resident named Catfish Keith to mention a few.  Catfish told me a story about visiting Greg at his home once in Iowa City.  It was winter, so Greg had a fire going inside.  As they sat and talked or whatever musicians do when they get together, he said Greg grabbed a pile of his writings off the table and fed the fire.  I have always wondered what might have been on those pages. 
Okay, so I don’t really have a life outside of my references to Greg.  Some say he mumbles when he sings, I admit I have struggled reading his penmanship at times.  More than once, I have had the opportunity to sit at a bar or restaurant with him amongst others.  One night, somebody pulled out a notebook and started a game.  A sentence was written and handed to the next person to write the second one.  You were allowed to read the previous sentence, write one and pass it along.  This night, I was sitting next to Greg and he handed it off to me.  I confess that muskrat and possum are seldom used in my vocabulary, but for the life of me I was unable decipher the word.  Sheepishly, I had to ask him.  It was, after all, an integral part of the sentence and I am sure the story that I never saw in its final state.
So many things would have been different if I had faded off the list as I seriously contemplated in 1997.  Red House Records used to send those on the list new releases before their “official” release date.  Slant Six Mind  was one of those units.  Everybody, but one guy got their copy in a timely manner.  I empathized with him for awhile because the postal service can mess up, but I do applaud their efficiency most of the time.   Daily, this guy moaned and complained and ultimately got absolutely obnoxious.  The President of Red House offered to do everything, but hand deliver a copy to this guy.  Whatever was said in condolences by others and what Red House offered to do was never good enough for him.  Fed up with this guy, I wrote a rhyme based on the song  Enough from that album.  Needless to say, his fury grew exponentially and his flames were now directed at me.  Confrontation is far from my preferred form of interaction.  Feeling bad, I apologized, but what amazed me was the tremendous support I received from others on the discussion group at the time.  It is nice to be loved.  Many wonderful contributors to the list in the past have fallen silent for various reasons.  I miss them, but there’s one guy who I’m glad has moved on. 
   I continued to do extended road trips in Oregon, Washington and even British Columbia.  Everywhere I went, I sold Solid Heart CDs and recorded shows if they’d allow it.  It was exhausting to follow Greg from town to town.  How did he find the energy to perform each night?  My mailbox continued to be a surprise gold mine of live recordings from across the country from others to the point of ridiculous.  I loved my community of Greg friends and it continued to grow.  Every concert I went to I seemed to bump into people I knew.  That streak almost ended one night in Olympia.  Me and the wife were window shopping to pass the time near the concert hall.  As we walked by a music instrument store, she said that is Greg playing in there.  She didn’t see him, she just heard the guitar playing.  We turned around and went in.  Sure enough, Greg was test driving some of their instruments.  He knew our names by now and we had a nice conversation.  That night, he was the only person we knew at the show.  A completely different night in Olympia, he and Bo Ramsey performed.  It may have been Greg’s first performance after his dad passed away.  He and Bo were on fire and I got that show recorded.  We ran into them after the show at a nearby watering hole.  Actually, they ran into a group of us.  After I extended my condolences, I thanked them for allowing me to record the show and politely asked if they’d like me to send them a copy.  Why was I so tickled to have Greg’s mailing address in my pocket?  Geez Glenn, get over it, remember?  I was able to read his penmanship this time.