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Category Archives: Philosophy

Love Takes A Friend

As Hermes Trismegistus warned in the Emerald Tablets “Know Thyself” – but within knowing oneself is an unparalleled challenge of making decisions to do things which one might have stated 24 hours earlier that one would never again do.

Knowing oneself is not as easy as it may at first seem. I am still learning this lesson the hard way after 61 years of life.

Over thirty-five years ago, I gave up hunting in the ‘sporting’ sense. The advantage that I exercised over nature through use of a firearm once made me feel as if I had something to prove, but having gotten my fill of killing things that could not shoot back, I no longer felt as if I had anything to prove.

That made me a bit of an oddball, being a Southern boy and all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly comfortable with guns, and have a cabinet full of them to prove it. I still keep them clean and ready to go. The sawed-off shotgun is locked and loaded with buckshot, in the event anyone gets froggy and wishes to cross my threshold without being invited. And I hit what I’m shooting at.

Thing is – back when, I was simply being pulled in other directions – that is to say, I preferred recording and playing guitar to sitting on my ass in the woods all day long.

Finally I made a conscious vow to myself, I would not kill another wild animal unless I’d be eating it, and only then, out of necessity.

One never knows when plans go awry however, sometimes things occur beyond our control, and the Law of Accident creeps in if only to keep us on our toes. One morning, while going down my drive in the truck, a groundhog crossed – right in front of me. I could not stop in time. I buried him in sorrow beneath an oak tree under which I would often see him standing, surveying his surroundings. Then there was the turtle that was in the tall grass I was mowing, and I chopped her open with the mower blade. I felt horrible, and I buried her, too, in sorrow.

There is lots of wildlife where I live and I enjoy it. Besides groundhogs, we’ve seen foxes, coyotes, squirrels, turkeys, and even many deer out in the front yard.

Seven or eight years ago, I began to make friends with the raccoons, and even started naming them. In the harsh wintertime when food is scarce, I feed them cat food and give them water. They really enjoy that. Sometimes they even get leftovers from dinner. They always clean their bowl and never complain. But they do not like bananas. One little fellow used to meet me at the door and gallop alongside out to the patio where I would feed them. He played with my shoestrings, and ‘helped’ me empty the scoop into their bowls. I called him Crosseyes. Unfortunately, he disappeared when the crazy bitch down at the foot of the hill lit a twig pile “to see if it would burn”, and wound up setting the woods and half of our house on fire.

There’s this one female I named ‘Iffy’, because she was so very leery of me at first, but at some point she decided that she could co-exist with us, and during the winters, deftly found a way into the attic, where she would spend cold days sleeping, going out only at night to forage – or eat whatever dinner I’d have waiting for her. She didn’t make much noise (only sometimes), and not long after the Pear trees bloomed in the Spring, she would vacate.

That is not to imply that she would leave. For the next two months, Iffy would show up on the stone wall out back around 4 pm, looking into the house through the screen door. When I saw her, I’d take out a scoop of food and some fresh water, which she would nervously devour before scampering back into the woods. This would continue daily until, late in May, she would leave immediately after I’d make the food deposit, only to show back up ten minutes later with two or three little cubs. She was very cautious when she brought them, and although she normally had no problems with meeting me at the wall with her meal, helping me pour it into the bowl, and even sniffing my hand, she took a different tack with her kittens, and would growl to them to stay back until I had retreated into the house. At first the kits would look at me as if I were from Mars, and were plenty afraid, but with time they became more accustomed to my presence. Nonetheless, occasionally she would give a short growl. She was telling them that humans were not to be trusted, and that no exception should be made, not even for me.

I suppose that I was the man their mother warned them about.

The kits winter over with their mom during their first year, but strike out on their own after one full cycle of raccoon school. Besides, suitors will come seeking out mom during the Winter, and the quarters will become restless and cramped.

This scenario has repeated for five or six years now, and we’ve all grown quite fond of Iffy.

This year started out no different than any other, and the males had come to see Iffy, but one sounded especially aggressive one evening. After a couple of days, all was normal again.

Recently I noticed that Iffy had not left for the woods yet, as I could hear her occasionally in the attic, and then yesterday I’d noticed that she’d torn the drain grate up looking for water early that morning. I made a mental note to fill up her water bowl that evening – but then around one o’clock that same afternoon, she began making all kinds of commotion upstairs, and I became concerned. I walked out back and called to her through the screen in the soffit of the house. She came to the screen and looked down, chattering. But something was wrong. She was very agitated, and panting rapidly. She was also making a chewing motion with her mouth, and her legs were jerking of their own volition. She would alternately growl and chatter at me, and then writhe.

“Iffy!” I called to her, “What is it girl?” She peered at me through the screen, and behind the glimmering black eyes I saw her pleading for help.

I was looking at her with concern when the thought hit me: desperately looking for water – growling and panting. Then I remembered the aggressive male who disappeared – he had transmitted rabies to poor Iffy, apparently having bitten her while agitated, or perhaps while mating. No wonder he didn’t stay long – because he went mad and died a horrible death.

She stared down at me shivering, and panting. She was becoming possessed, and she was in unimaginable torment. And she came to me when I called.

She came to me… for help.

I inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled a black sadness.

“Hang on girl. I’ll be right back.”

I walked inside the house, went into my room, coolly reached inside the gun cabinet, instinctively chose a rifle, and chambered one round, a .22 short, hollow point. I walked back outside and looked up at her lying there helplessly. I reached up and stroked her flank through the screen as she panted and whimpered.

I told her I loved her, and then unceremoniously lifted the rifle and shot Iffy through the head.

She never made a sound. The trembling stopped. She was now free of the evil which had only moments ago terrorised her. I watched in silence as the pain oozed out of her, and dripped to the ground at my feet.

Later, with my carpentry tools, I slowly took a portion of the soffit apart, carefully retrieved Iffy, gently lay her on the ground, and stroked her soft fur. There was only the entry wound, the bullet did not exit her skull. Even after so many years, I knew exactly what load to use without even thinking about it. She never knew what hit her. The lights just went out.

Afterwards, I took her up on the hill where, over the years, I have begun a small cemetery for my beloved cats. I dug a grave for Iffy, lined it with dried leaves, laid her inside, covered her with more leaves, and then filled the hole, taking care to place the layer of grass back in the way that I had removed it.

Here I was, burying yet another animal in sorrow. I stood there thinking about my vow to not kill again, and how quickly the unexpected can cause one to eat all of one’s words in a moment.

Iffy was never going to get well, yet she did not know that it was beyond this man’s ability to make her better. However in her time of desperation, she responded to the one human she trusted in the whole world. And I, in return of that trust, had put a bullet in her head.

I felt awful.

I had become the man that she warned her cubs about.



No Easy Story to Tell

I do a lot of genealogy.

I began after being inspired by my uncle who, back in the 70s, began researching one branch of our family. Genealogy was tough business back then. He had to do hard copy research, planning trips to various county courthouses, and Washington D.C. in order to pour through microfiche and archived documents.

After passing on himself in the 90s, his work sat dormant until one of his sisters self-published a book on his work. Upon reading her manuscript, and cogitating on it for some time, I decided to take up the task of completing his journey through time. The television show ‘Finding Your Roots’ provided additional impetus. After all, it was 2007, and the Internet could bring all of the documents to me. So I opened an account on and, using his work as my foundation, set to work.

Sometimes, when I feel like it, I’ll spend the entire day exhuming the remnants of individuals long since forgotten. The task may be a more convenient one, but is no less difficult. Names were rarely unique in any given period. It is amazing how many people were named ‘John Henry’ or ‘Francis Marion’ back in the 1800s. Throw in an uneventful surname such as ‘White’ or ‘Smith’, and the field broadens rather than narrows. Sometimes documents must be browsed rather than accessed alphabetically. Sometimes there’s no index to these documents. Sometimes individual court books hold thousands of records. Also during these periods, court documents were hand-written, and sometimes it may have been late in the day and the stenographer wanted to go home, and with speed, their handwriting became atrocious.

As with many others, genealogy often goes from a past-time hobby into a full blown compulsion. Determining where to stop becomes difficult. With every generation back that one goes, the workload quadruples. Many families consisted of at least eight children in those days.

After three years of fruitless attempts in finding my maternal 3nd G grandfather, I finally discovered that my 3rd G grandmother had given birth to my 2nd G grandfather illegitimately, and that the family surname was that of his mother, rather than that of his father.

Consider, if you will, that everyone of you reading this has sixteen 2nd G grandparents. And that every one of those people is responsible for your being here.

Consider that I have successfully researched back to my 9th G grandparents in some branches. It becomes easy to see how having over 8,000 people in one’s family tree is nothing special.

I can recall one Summer day at my paternal grandmother’s house. All ten of my grandparent’s adult offspring were there – along with their spouses – and were either sitting on the front porch, or in ladder-back chairs out under the tall Willow Oaks. Over a dozen grandchildren were easily present. I recall one of my aunts talking to the others regarding my uncle’s time-consuming passion.

Finally one called out across the front yard to him, “What do you expect to find out anyhow, Tip?”

He gave a boyish grin and replied, “Aw, you don’t ever know, we might be kin to somebody rich and famous.”

I recall the hearty laughter which followed.

With that Summer day long gone, not only has my grandmother been swallowed, but her old house, my father, and all but two of his siblings, and even a few of my cousins. Soon enough, all that will remain of that day will be my memory of it.

My uncle would be vindicated, were he still alive, and all of his siblings in awe of his objectivity, for thanks to his humble quest, I have determined that everyone gathered there that day were cousins to both the rich and the famous, for instance: Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler, along with Lem Motlow, who inherited the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. As my cousin likes to say, ‘Everytime someone has a Jack & Coke, it’s a family reunion.’

I also discovered that they were all the 7th great-grandchildren of a woman named Sally Field and her husband Thomas Jefferson – grandparents of the father of our country – who was named after his grandfather.

However, I happen to feel the closest kinship to my 5th cousin novelist William C Falkner. I wonder if he might agree that, for many people, sometimes the simple truth proves no easy story to tell.

Love Is Only For the Young

I have written only a handful of love songs. Those songs are now close to forty years old. Politics is the only subject on which I have written no song whatsoever. Music and politics should never be mixed, and if anyone wants to know why I think so, leave a comment and I’ll cover the subject in a future post.

Today however, I am writing about love. Nasty emotion, love.

Very few of us, if any, ever have the opportunity to realise it. When we are lucky enough to grasp the emotion in its pure state, it is usually in connection with our children, or lacking that, a pet, or last, and probably most rampant, with our imagination through music. I personally believe that outside of these three things, everlasting love does not exist.

It has taken me sixty-one years to figure this out. Of course, being the objective guy that I am, I could change my mind tomorrow. But I doubt it.

Perhaps when I was younger, I was too optimistic. Then again, perhaps it is just experience and age which has made me too damned cynical.

Whatever the case, I was crushed by what I identified as love at almost every point in my life. I’ll bet that most of you will agree that you too were crushed, rather than validated. I’ll also bet that every old love song brings on a wistful gaze to most, calling to mind a love that used to be.

I contend that broken hearts rule the world, not love.

In the end, most of us die with a broken heart. Either a spouse has torn us in two, having passed on before us, our friends have all disappeared, our beloved pets have long since departed, or the place in which we were born and reared no longer exists.

Life insures two things: That, having been born strapped to a dying beast, we will one day not exist; and that before this day comes, we will have our souls ripped out by someone who we will never have again.

Enjoy the now. It is truly all that we have. Today’s joys will be tomorrow’s tears.

Why Musicians Speak Cryptically

Cryptically. Yup, that’s a word.

When I was a young teen, I’d read interviews given by seasoned musicians and was often left wondering precisely what the hell they were talking about a great deal of the time. Folks like Eric Clapton would refer to getting ‘lost’ or ‘out there’ and I wondered if it wasn’t some vague drug reference.

I began playing guitar at seventeen, and was, for much of the time, sorely aware of how poor my playing was. I was super-conscious of every little hiccup, always thinking about what I was doing, and as a result often made major mistakes, sometimes even forgetting the words to my own tunes.

By the age of twenty-nine, I was beginning to feel the urge to follow another path and leave all of my influences behind. This did not happen overnight, but began to make itself apparent only when I ceased to care about what these influences were doing anymore.  I began to play with rhythms and chord voicings which appealed to me, rather than spending time attempting to figure out what someone else was doing. Later still, I began to feel that words and vocals were somewhat unnecessary. I would sometimes ‘hear’ nice melodies in my head, but there were no particular vowels or consonants that would seem to fit, so I would stumble through a the process of picking these melodies out. This was at once awkward and time consuming. Having had no formal training in music, I decided to learn all of the major and minor scales, bit by bit.

I practiced for an hour a day for over a year, seemingly getting nowhere, although I could easily tell that I was gaining in dexterity. I absolutely could not remember all of the minutia.

One day while another guitar player friend was over, my son Sterling walked into the studio and asked me to figure out a song for him. It was She Talks To Angels by the Black Crowes. He handed me the CD and I plopped it in and hit play and picked up my acoustic guitar.

“Oh well, there’s your problem, the guy is in an alternate tuning.” I reached up and re-tuned first one string and then another, still engaging in the subject at hand with my friend, and absent-mindedly began to play the song, “Here, just do this.” I told him, showing him the fingerings.

It was at this point that my son motions toward me, looks at my friend and says, “How the hell did he do that?” to which my friend responds, “I have no idea.”

I looked at them both. “Do what?” I asked. I didn’t know what they were referring to.

“Have you never played that song before?” my friend inquired. I responded that I had not, that I’d only heard it at various times, but did not listen to the Black Crowes. He just looked at my son and shrugged.

Some days later, I was listening to an Aimee Mann CD when something I’d never heard caught my ear. I grabbed my Tele, plugged it in and began to fiddle around as my mind wandered aimlessly. I don’t know how much time had passed, but after some amount, I ‘woke up’ to what I was doing. Then it hit me. I’d been sitting there playing my ass off without even thinking about it. This was light years away from where my journey had begun.

After so many years, I finally came to understand what others were referring to when they’d talk about going into that ‘place’ in their mind. I call it the Zone, and it’s a completely sober experience. It’s a place in between your ears that doesn’t have eyes, or conscious thought. It is akin to driving down the expressway and then ‘waking up’ after having driven several miles. We’ve all done it. It’s kind of dangerous and thrilling all at once, but somehow or the other, we have maneuvered an automobile at a given speed between two lines without really being able to recall precisely how much time has passed.

This is the Zone. When one enters this place while playing guitar, one is not consciously thinking of what one is doing, the fingers develop a mind of their own. This is where the best stuff happens.

Here’s the best tip: Always be recording when you’re playing. It’s like taking photos while you’re on vacation, believe me. You want to have this on tape in order to prove that you really went there. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve never visited the Zone, there’s always a first time.

My Thoughts Since the Passing of Walter Becker

It seems we rarely give pause in respect to the passing of time, until we reach a certain point in our lives, and only then do we regard it peripherally. Additionally we give little thought to the passing of time in the lives of others as well. Especially those figures who are of the semi high-profile sort. As much as some of us like to think that we know about what they do, in the end, we find that we know very little, and that in reality they were little more than punctuation in our own lives.

The weight of this observation didn’t hit me until this past Sunday evening as I lay in bed. I had, as one could guess, been preoccupied with listening to music the majority of the day, and had not listened to the news until switching on my radio that night.

As soon as I heard the announcer mention the name of Walter Becker, I knew what words were to follow. Walter was one whose name would rarely be mentioned in context with anything else within the past forty years. One had to know who Walter was in order for his name to be familiar.

Walter looked like the guy you’d see in the seventies, sitting outside the mall waiting for a ride. One of the most unassuming bottom-to-top-to-bottom-to-top-again success stories in modern American music, Walter lived out his life in obscurity, in plain sight.

It occurred to me that this man had lived and died within a period of 67 years, and all that I knew about him could easily fit into a thimble. Even though throughout the years, I had painstakingly reverse-engineered his guitar leads and his bass licks, and had attempted to capture his ultra clean, rich lead tones to no avail.

Had Mr Becker not partnered with Donald Fagen during college, both men may have easily faded into the backdrop which is composed of the rest of us, and aja, one of my ten favorite albums of all time would never have materialised.

With the death of Glen Campbell last month, and now that of Walter Becker, the passing of time has become all too apparent to me.

We never know when we’ve caught our last trout, or completed our last composition.

What Is True Will?

You’ll often hear ads on television and radio which promote motivational speakers. These speakers often focus on the use of ‘will power’ in order to get monumental tasks accomplished. Thousands of posters, and countless memes have been dedicated to the use of positive thought and will power.

But what is will power, and is anyone actually in possession of true will?

How many times can you recall yourself saying something to the effect of, “I’ll never do that again”, or “From now on, I’m going to______________”? But how many times did you find yourself doing ‘that’ again, or forgetting the vow you solemnly made to yourself ‘from now on’?

These sorts of shattered illusions are what expose the true measure of our will.

When I was twenty years old, I made a short list of objectives that I fully intended to accomplish by the time I was thirty. I didn’t reach any of the goals. Not a single one.

But my intentions were good, of course. It seems that we always start out with the best of intentions in whatever we endeavour to do. Right before things go straight to hell.

So for the next thirty years, I was determined to see if there was one thing in my life that I could see through from beginning to end. One thing – surely couldn’t be too terribly difficult to accomplish. What, then, was the one thing that I was certain that I could devote the rest of my life to? Well, the one thing that I valued among everything else was music. I had begun my quest as a songwriter around the same age that I’d made my list, and it is true that I had not abandoned the journey. The fact was, that I had yet to be come successful at it. My dream was to be able to play several instruments tolerably, engineer sound, and produce my own material. Bands such as Todd Rundgren and Steely Dan were huge influences in this respect.

Success is a term that is generally associated with money and being well-known, respected among one’s peers, and the like.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and although I had learned a great many things in relation to the field – I was working in a retail establishment which sold musical instruments and sound equipment – I had still to make the strides that I had intended by the time that I was forty. Often it was necessary to remind myself why I had begun in the first place.

Throughout the course of rearing two children, and working all kinds of day jobs, I redoubled my efforts to set money aside for musical gear, and recording equipment. I also set aside one hour a day to practice at my craft, this was apart and completely different from the actual playing of music, which would consume even more of the time that I had precious little of.

By the time I was fifty years old, I had become connected to my Muse, and was writing profusely. The musical path that I had begun was a bit of a surprise, but I followed my Muse wherever it led without question. I completed my studio, which I christened Good Intentions, and chose ‘Hell Paving Company’ for the name of my publishing domain. It cannot be said that I was not acquainted with the irony of it all by this time.

In 2014, I tore my studio down with the intent of erecting it in another, more suitable room of the home. All of my gear sat in a corner collecting dust for the next three years. Chronic Fatigue is a cruel mistress, and my life had been slowing to a crawl since I had contracted it in November of 2007.

Then one night last month, while lying in bed, I was listening to the 20 odd sketches of tunes that I had recorded into my Android. I stared over into the dark corner that hid all of my recording equipment.

“Starting tomorrow, I’m going to start putting my studio back together, even if it kills me.” I told myself. The task was daunting.  But I knew that if I died before getting the tunes – which the Muse was still being so charitable in supplying me with – properly recorded, I would go to hell. Hell is a completely different place for writers. I imagine it to be a place where only poorly maintained manual typewriters exist, paper is at a premium, and the thoughts come too quickly to transcribe.

Mainly, however, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving these tunes orphaned. Nobody except I had heard them, and my task was to get them recorded and give everyone else a chance to hear the wonderful imagination that the Muse is so blessed with, for you see, I do not feel that these pieces of music are mine. I have been assigned a task, and it is up to me alone to complete these pieces.

Eight days later, although my back and shoulders were killing me, the studio was together, and I found myself becoming painfully reacquainted with the plethora of cables and the routing of which I had all but forgotten.

Today I fired up all of the components, and with the exception of the ancient synthesizer, everything seems to be working. Maybe if I just jiggle the handle….

So I have discovered that perhaps there is indeed a bit of true will left inside of me at the age of 61. And that I may have, in fact, discovered the meaning of true success.


CFS Worst Case Scenario (Typical Day)

I’m going to write a bit today, not about music, but about this damned affliction that I have mysteriously been strapped with, generally referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I’ve only attempted to relate this disease in one or two other blog entries, but it seems to garner a decent bit of attention when I do, so I’m going to take a stab at it today, primarily because today is one of those days that I almost think that I’d be better off dead, although that may sound a tad harsh.

No, I’m not contemplating suicide. I don’t have the guts to do that to everyone else involved in my life that such an action would inevitably and adversely effect. The stigma surrounding CFS alone is bad enough. The inability, or unwillingness, of the scientific community to get to the root cause of the disease is enough to drive an individual into deep depression, and to withdraw from society.

No fun can be had. No breaks can be taken. Nothing is available that will alleviate the constant dull headache – the constant pressure at the top of my eyeballs and consequential sensitivity to sunlight. Nothing can take away the God-awful feeling of constant sluggishness that I feel from the moment I rise to the time that I fall asleep.

I have most recently described the feeling as one of having a constant hangover, coupled with that of coming down with influenza. I am aware that this may be impossible for those who do not suffer from the affliction to identify with this notion, or even believe that it is possible to feel this way 100 percent of the time, but I can assure the reader that this is the way that it is.

And then, I have to awake and begin the day. The difficulty of having to get through a day, accompanied with these symptoms, cannot be over emphasised. There are things that need to be done around the house, and I have to do them. The smallest tasks are sometimes nearly impossible to surmount, because the symptoms that I have just outlined are only baseline symptoms. Sometimes they are considerably worse, and other days they are marginally better. On the better days, it almost reminds me of how good I used to feel. If one is not careful, this will bring on a bout of depression, and I learned that lesson the hard way, so I must put that out of my mind, and be glad that I’m having a “good” day. It is almost laughable to refer to it as good.

One has to rest several times while washing the dishes. One has to rest after cleaning the cats litter boxes. One has to rest while sweeping and mopping the floor. One has to take breaks while cooking a meal.

Some have asked, why not use a dishwasher? Because washing dishes gives me something to do.

Others have asked why I don’t order out. Because it’s too expensive, and again, cooking gives me something to do.

One inquired, “Why don’t you lose the cats, dude?” Because the cats give purpose to my life. I talk to them, I fuss at them, I cry to them, and I tell them my troubles, and they respond by nuzzling and marking me. Sometimes that in and of itself is annoying, but I tolerate it, because if I were completely alone, I would begin to question the value of my life, and that is best not to ponder.

What it seems that many do not understand, is that as humans, we want things to do. If we begin to strip away ‘doing’ in order to ‘not do’, then our lives reach a point to where we feel useless and unnecessary.

Lacking the ability to do an honest day’s work anymore, one’s life becomes amazingly empty. I used to imagine having nothing but all the time that I required to do nothing but write and record my music. Having reached this point however, has been a mixed blessing, as recording music has become a major task. Singing is a task. I have to pause the process and rest between verses, because singing requires an incredible amount of energy. Either it always did and I didn’t notice because I had a seemingly endless store of it, or it did but it didn’t matter because I had said endless store.

These dishes – the litter boxes – the mopping and the sweeping. These tasks have taken on new meaning in my life in the past nine years, and if you can’t imagine how that must feel… you should consider yourself very fortunate indeed.