Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My boy


My favorite boy in this world turns 10 today – Samuel Morris Guy.

Sam would play Nintendo Wii all day if you let him, and he can’t ride in a car without bringing his DS player along. He loves Star Wars, Nerf Super Soakers and sharing arcane facts from his books about dinosaurs. Lately, he can’t get enough of Harry Potter books.

Weren’t we reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie together about three minutes ago?

Sam was born at 11:37 p.m., Sept. 27, 2001 at the Wesley Birth Center in Wichita, weighing 7.5 pounds. Minutes after he was born, in between his being weighed and having his Apgar scores recorded, I started telling him the facts of life.

“Always change your oil every 3,000 miles. Strive to get good credit. If you ever buy a new car, negotiate up from the wholesale price, not down from the sticker price.”

A few people asked if we picked the name Samuel from the Bible. While I think it’s neat that the name is Biblical, that wasn’t our motivation for picking the name. I don’t know, we had recently seen the movie, Shaft and I thought Samuel L. Jackson was cool. Maybe that played in my mind on some subconscious level.

There was no question about how we chose his middle name. Richard Morris Guy – that was my grandpa. People just called him “Rich.” Roughly a week after our baby boy was born, the old man called the house and said, “When are you ‘gonna bring that little cowboy over here?” It’s a good feeling, knowing that within the past 10 years, Grandpa was not only still alive, but living independently and dialing the phone.

We did take him to see the old man, of course. After a week of getting this newborn settled at home, we felt it a good time to gradually introduce him to the world. The first eating joint we ever took him to was Squeek’s Donuts on North Waco just near downtown Wichita. I remember a cop came into the place and the ladies at the counter called him by name.

Sam looked tiny and fragile, bound up tightly in blankets and lying awake and wide-eyed in a baby carrier. Two old ladies having coffee at a nearby table took note of him. One of them – I remember she was a smartly dressed woman with a sort of stylishness about her – asked if he was a boy or girl. A boy, we told her.

“Good,” she said with a smile, tilting her head and lowering her voice a bit. “There’s enough of us girls.”

Sam had a bumpy start when he started attending Sonshine Pre-School at the Methodist Church. It’s an 85-year-old building at the corner of 4th and Main streets in our little town. His teacher, Mrs. Costello, told Liana that she had told Sam to come in with the rest of the children after recess and he said, “No, I don’t have to do what you say.” Also, he hit his friend Jaden after he called Sam a girl.

Liana was worried. “What if he turns into a bully?” she asked. But I knew if we hung in there, our boy would be fine. And he was. Mrs. Costello later told me that Sam was a leader in getting the other kids to sing when practicing for the Christmas program. The class nicknamed him “Bible Man” because he was so good at answering questions over the Bible stories Mrs. Costello told the class.

There was another rough start when he started attending regular school. Sam was homeschooled in kindergarten, but after a year of that, Liana and I knew we didn’t have the time or patience to keep that up. Sam had some growing pains, re-adjusting to being in a classroom with other kids. He would hum, sing, talk when he shouldn’t and at one point, he and another boy got in trouble for hitting each other in the crotch.

Sam was the one who had insisted he wanted to go to public school, but after a week or two, he was discouraged.

“Maybe I should do homeschool again,” he told his mom. But I remained confident that he was going to prevail and things would turn around.
A day later, his teacher, Mrs. Swilley, reported that Sam had a fabulous day at school. He was all smiles and said he wanted to stick with public school.

Since then, Sam has always made super grades and been respectful of the adults and fellow kids in his school. His second grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, told us “I wish I had a whole classroom full of Sams.” One of the counselors at his school noted the way he was always smiling when he walked down the hall and gave him a citizenship award. I’m sure my boy wonders why I made a bigger deal out of that than any other prize he’s gotten.

I sure never got any citizenship award, but it’s okay. I’ve done something right to have a kid like this, but the truth is I’m not half the man my 10-year-old son is.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

DEAD MAN BLUES(JELLY-ROLL MORTON'S RED HOT PEPPERS)


A little something the band might have played at one of Jay Gatsby's parties while they all got drunk on bootlegged gin.

Green light


Happy 115th birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hope its been radiant.

And here's hoping that somewhere you and Zelda were drinking gin on Gatsby's lawn and living it up like it's 1924.

Only about four people showed up for your funeral in 1940. Poor son of a bitch. But I'm telling you, Old Sport, writing like yours only comes around about once in a century. If we're lucky. And in a world where everybody's a writer --

You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembered


I was driving to work in Wichita, the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a Tuesday, around 8:15 a.m. and I was on K-96, nearing the Hillside exit. My car radio was at 105.3 KXLK and I was listening to Kidd Craddick in the morning.

An unexpected report came in of a plane striking one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. I thought it was a terrible accident, but a few minutes later, it was announced that a second plane hit the other tower. And I knew.

Upon arriving at the office, I told my co-workers at the Sedgwick County Dept. on Aging what I had heard. They had been bantering, drinking coffee, unaware. We would watch the TV news for much of the day.

My wife, Liana, called, crying and begging me not to drive downtown. A plane hit the Pentagon; another crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Who knew where this would end? How vulnerable where we? Wichita has airplane plants, an airport, an Air Force base, a federal building. I was consoling, but remained adamant that I was going to go about my work just like any other day.

Nine months pregnant, Liana was already feeling more emotional than usual.

“Our baby will never know what it was like before 9-11,” she told me.

Ten years later, the world is – in some ways, different, in others, the same.

People made Christ-like sacrifices that day, laying down their own lives, while saving others. The 9-11 tragedy brought out the best in humanity.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Coasters Lets Go Get Stoned


I learned of songwriter Nick Ashford's death the same day I learned Jerry Leiber died. They died on the same day. Heard about both on NPR, the source from which I get most of my news. Ashford and his wife wrote Motown hits like Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, and You're All I Need to Get By. Writing a 1980s song for Chaka Khan, to me, sucks. Glad they returned to the old style, writing Tears Dry on My Own for Amy Winehouse.

Guess I could do the conventional thing and post Ain't No Mountain High Enough. But there are no hard, fast rules in J. Guy's world. I'm posting their first hit, Let's Go Get Stoned. Ray Charles made the song famous, but I'm posting the first version recorded by the Coasters in May, 1965. Leiber and Stoller wrote many songs for the Coasters so I like how this song ties Ashford and Leiber together.

Also, I like having something on my blog about getting stoned.

Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog


My favorite Leiber-Stoller song. My favorite version of the song. The first place where I ever read the names, Leiber-Stoller, was on an an Elvis Presley 45 record of Hound Dog that had been my mom's as a kid.

Cool-sounding names, I thought. Even the names evoked the '50s. Later, I learned Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were East Coast Jewish kids who loved black rhythm and blues. In 1991, Leiber said, "I was brought up in a black neighborhood in south Baltimore. And we really felt like we were very black. When I was a kid growing up, where I came from, it was hip to be black. To be white was kind of square."

The music was rooted in cool black style. The lyrics showed a sense of humor. Meshed together, the rebellious sound gave youth a voice and upset the establishment forever.

Kansas City. Yakety Yak. Jailhouse Rock. Charlie Brown. Spanish Harlem. Rock n' roll.

RIP, Jerry.

RIP David "Honeyboy" Edwards

Blues grows distant


Last May I wrote a column on what would have been the 100th birthday of Delta blues legend Robert Johnson, who according to folklore, traded his soul for his superior guitar skills. Black blues musicians playing Mississippi Delta roadhouses in the 1930s seemed almost as distant to our day as serfs tilling the soil of Medieval England.

Almost as distant.

I felt this sweet, good feeling, knowing one of Johnson’s contemporaries was still around, still with his faculties, still – at 96-years of age – in possession of his blues guitar and showmanship talents. David “Honeyboy” Edwards was 17 when he left home to hop freight trains and play fish fries and roadhouses with Johnson. Edwards was with Johnson at a Greensburg, Miss. Juke joint on the fateful night in 1938 when he drank from a bottle of whiskey that turned out to be laced with poison.

Edwards carried on. He was part of the Great Migration that brought African-Americans and the blues to the urban North where the old black folk music was amplified. Long after Robert Johnson, had receded into history and mythology, Edwards remained on stage – a fleshly, living connection to a time gone. He lived to see a world that Johnson could never have believed, real.

In the Jim Crow South, a black man caught after dark was at risk of being lynched. When Johnson supposedly sold his soul at the Crossroads, the real devil on his trail was the racist white man. A black man caught in daylight, not working, was also in danger of the rope. That’s why Edwards waited until sunset to go out playing for the folks.

However in January of 2009, he was welcomed and cheered on at Washington D.C.’s Black Cat nightclub. It was the eve of Barrack Obama’s inauguration as 44th President of the United States.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day a black man got elected president,” Edwards said.

This past spring Edwards was back in the Mississippi delta, celebrating his old friend’s centennial birthday bash in the land where blues was born. Honeyboy didn’t know that the show he gave at a Clarksdale, Miss. juke joint on April 17 would be his final performance, but it turned out to be so.

In July when Edwards’s manager Michael Frank announced he was retiring from touring due to health problems, I knew what would probably come next. The performance he would have given in Chicago on Aug. 29 was cancelled and Honeyboy Edwards died peacefully in his sleep.

The last man to have known or played blues with Charley Patton, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Tommy Johnson, Sunnyland Smith, Peetie Wheatstraw, Son House and Big Joe Williams returned naked and to the dust from which he was born.

“That piece of history from that generation, people have to read about it from now on,” Frank said.