Individualists Doing Their Own Thing

That day as I walked into the entrance of the Capitol Records tower I was tingling. We were going to record in the studios where legends such as Frank Sinatra, The Kingston Trio, Ella Fitzgerald (I pause here while people under 50 consult their history books. But take my word for it. They were icons in their day.) This place was Mecca for creative musical performers back then. You could sell a record album (Pause again for the young and middle aged to look that up. A record album was a flat black plastic disc the size of a large dinner plate that could hold almost one 500th as many songs as you can store in an I Pod. You could also sail them like a Frisbee. You could almost sail an album from the top of the Capitol Tower down to the corner of Hollywood and Vine, two star studded streets second only to Broadway in New York for show biz fame and glory.

Even the building itself was a creative symbol, built to resemble a stack of records (see previous explanation of records.) Not to make any old fogy comparisons, but you don’t see any famous music buildings today shaped like a stack of MP3’s.

I thought, “Surely this building must be constructed on springs to hold the creative energy exploding inside its round walls.”

The receptionist took our names and the purpose of our entering this hallowed hall. She called upstairs to make sure we were legitimate, and the security guard bade us pass. I wondered how long until we were on a first name basis with these people and so famous that this identification stuff would be ridiculous..

The glitter began to fade as I walked around (literally) the building and saw desks and behind them people on phones, typing memos, and shifting papers. It was looking suspiciously like an insurance company’s headquarters.

Many people looked “cool and far out” to use the vernacular then in vogue. But after awhile they began to look uniformly cool and far out. I overheard two people shocked by one of the middle managers wardrobe. “He wears white socks.”

Can you believe it?”

He says its doctor’s orders for a foot condition.”

“Whatever. You’d think he could wear something over them.”

Seemed to me an odd conversation from people involved in the non conformist pop music scene of the 1960’s. The stars of that decade seemed bent on reshaping not just the music, but the world into their creative image. They were proclaiming “Don’t trust anybody over 30.” Many of them professed to be not just entertainers, but intellectuals and philosophers with expertise in social relationships, foreign policy, and military tactics. As Truman Madsen, an authentic Harvard Ph. D. in philosophy once said to me, “The question today is, shall we follow the advice of Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, or rely on military commanders, none of whom have a single hit record.”

Some of these pickers and singers were also learned theologians, preaching from their on stage pulpits that “God is dead.” Not everyone joined in the wake. I followed one bumper sticker that read, “My God is alive. Sorry about yours.” Apparently some people had replaced God with the Beatles; John Lennon once proclaimed, “We [the Beatles] are more popular than Jesus, and we will outlast him.” How did that turn out? A few years ago I read an account of. Paul McCartney being pulled over for speeding by a patrolman in Australia. The officer took one look into the car and said., “Hey I know who you are.”

Paul smiled a nonchalant “Who in the universe doesn’t?” smile.

The patrolman said. “No really. I know you. You used to be in The Rolling Stones.”

Other pop stars included psychological counseling with their music. The answer to the world’s problems they advised was free love and listening to Mother Mary (-juana’s) wisdom, “Let it Be.”

The overriding theme of this new wave in music was, “Do your own thing.” But the subtext seemed to be, “But it better be like our thing.” Someone suggested a slogan for the time, “Individualists of the world unite.”

The Three D’s didn’t fit the mold. With clean comedy, upbeat music, and unabashed flag waving we were paddling upstream many experts in the business said. But we chose to be true to who we really were. Fortunately, a fair number of people liked the direction we were paddling, and the little stream we chose to float on. Our first Capitol Records release contained our own musical recipe for happiness, “Give Said the Little Stream. I’m small I know, but wherever I go, the fields grow greener still”

Even if we had tried to join the mass march of the individualists we probably couldn’t have pulled it off. Somebody would have peeked into my cowboy boots and spied—you guessed it. White socks.

HOW THE GEEK STOPPED CHRISTMAS

Every True down in Trueville loved Christmas a lot,
But the Geek up in Sueville most surely did not.
He claimed to be happy and maybe he was,
Had no gripe with the reindeer or with Santa Claus.
He could join in the singing about peace on earth,
But he ground his Geek teeth about Jesus’ birth.
A star and bright angels why how could that be?
He said, “Superstition. It’s all Geek to me.”
In matters of faith he would give not an inch.
His heart was as shriveled and cold as the Grinch.
He said, “If there’s one thing I thoroughly hate
It’s to have signs of churchiness mixed with the state
Never mind that the money says ‘In God we trust’
That’s an old fashioned notion that’s dry as the dust.”
So he thought till his humanist thinker was sore.
Then he thought with his humanist thinker some more.
Then he thought, “I know what I’ll do, just what I’ll do.
If anyone talks about Jesus I’ll sue.”
So he called up his lawyer friend Clyde the attorney.
And Clyde said up front, “What’s the fee it will earn me?”
The Geek said “I’m really embarrassed you’d ask
To be paid to be part of so worthy a task.
We are saving this land from religious fanatics,
The noblest victory since Appomattox.”
So the Geek and his side kick Clyde the Attorney
Set out on the work of their humanist journey.
The Geek sent out more than one great proclamation
To every far corner and edge of the nation.
“Better our walls should be filled with graffiti
Than we should help people have faith in a deity.”
“Season’s greetings,” they shouted, “Hooray Santa Claus”
But refused to acknowledge who’s season it was.
One day on the corner where Elm Street runs through
They chanced to meet sweet little Mindy Lou True.
They said to her, “What’s that bad song you are humming?”
“Away in a manger, for Christmas is coming.”
“That’s religious,” they scolded sweet Mindy Lou True
“Why if everyone sang that you know what they’d do?”
“They might do what Jesus did,” Mindy replied.
“They’d start to feel wonderfully happy inside
Their joy would spill out all over each other
They’d love everybody as sisters and brothers
We would humble ourselves and repent of our sins
And our frowns would be covered all over with grins
If we learned to love baby Jesus enough
We might even be willing to share all our stuff.”
“Stop your talk of religion,” the Geek and Clyde told her.
But Mindy Lou True became even bolder.
“Why that’s a religion that you two are preaching.
To me this makes more sense than what you are teaching.”
So the Geek and his lawyer had had quite enough.
They took off in a whiff. They took off in a huff.
Through the cities and towns they went suing and stopping
Any talk about Jesus, but they loved Christmas shopping.
Then they ran to their home to chuckle and chortle
Over how they stopped Jesus from looking immortal.
The Christmas they taught was no birth of a king.
It was kind of a warmed over washed out old thing.
Instead of the wise men with stars in their eyes,
We got Geek and his lawyer, couple a wise guys.
In the home of the free and the land of the brave
They made talk of the Savior a thing to be saved.
The Geek issued his seasonal formal decree,
“Mistletoe is ok and the log and the tree.
Happy holidays everyone have a good time
But don’t mention the Christ Child for that is a crime.
Season’s Greetings and have you a happy new year
Have a glass of spiked eggnog and send up a cheer.
But don’t set any manger scenes up now you hear?”
Geek said, “Those Truevillians are burning with rage.
They don’t know we have entered an enlightened age.
They don’t need faith and reverence the Geek said with pride.
They’ve got Rudolph and Santa. They’ve got me and Clyde.”
Then he heard in the street a low rumbling sound.
Like the thunder of elephants pounding the ground.
He looked out the window and all he could see.
Were the Trues up from Trueville the little city.
“Oh no,” cried the Geek, “They will lynch Clyde and me.”
But the Trues started singing a beautiful song.
They sang it out loud and they sang it out long.
They sang, “Jesus has told us to love everyone
For each of us is the Lord’s daughter or son.
You can’t take away Jesus, he’s still in our hearts,
And when we feel happiness that’s where it starts.
Though you’ve tried to stop Christmas, you’ve tried and you’ve tried,
We still care about you. And we even love Clyde.”
Then a new thought was born in the Geek’s little brain
He thought and he thought, and he thought once again.
It stretched in his mind till it even caused pain.
Could it be that religion is valuable too?
That the song of the Trues down in Trueville was true?
If it was, then the Geek and Clyde knew what to do.
The Geek’s brain grew more than three sizes that day.
He grew humble and some say he started to pray.
Even Clyde the attorney had something to say
Though he said it in quite an attorneyish way
“We the parties in question hereafter referred
As the parties fore mentioned first second and third
Express affirmation of what we have heard.”
Nobody from Trueville could tell what he meant
But they loudly applauded his worthy intent.
And the Trues and the Geek and the lawyer named Clyde
Felt a wonderful Christmasy feeling inside,
And it lasted, they say ’til the day that they died.
(Chorus of Trues) Aaaaah Clyde

Memorable wedding

Fifty years ago December 15, 1961, Diane and I pooled our resources and came up with $30 for a marriage license, and gave ourselves to each other for Christmas. As a couple of working college students, we made a lavish splash on the society page, “Local couple hitches ride to the temple with his parents since groom’s ancient Plymouth may not have had the 90 mile round trip left in it. Following the nuptials, the happy couple hosted a wedding breakfast for two at one of the city’s finest hamburger emporiums.”

Diane insisted she didn’t like diamonds, so we got a gold band. We honeymooned in our basement apartment. We told each other truthfully we could do scenery some other time. We just wanted to see each other for eternity. That was life in living color. Anything else was pastel pabulum.

Diane wanted a quiet wedding reception at home. This also fit her widowed mother’s situation. But our families were determined that we should have a memorable wedding. They succeeded.
My first memorable event was being late for the reception line and finding my third and fourth grade school teachers waiting for me. I remembered how many times I had seen that look before. I was about to make an excuse for being late, then I realized I had used them all in their classes. Would they believe that the dog ate our marriage license? Probably not this time. My problem in grade school was that we lived only a half a block from the school. Not far enough to hurry and beat the bell. My former teachers gave me the kindly smile and sigh of resignation that had endeared them to me back then.

My communication professors in college had us ponder with furrowed brows whether if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The question was somehow vital to the metaphysics of communication theory. I didn’t and don’t know why.

The visual equivalent to that question in Diane’s family was, “If some event takes place, and no one is there to take pictures, did it really happen?” Their pronouncement was, “No.” Pursuant to this decree, Diane’s brother-in-law Dale came armed and determined that this historic event be filmed for posterity. Compared to today’s low light, miniscule digital video cameras, photography equipment back then was one small step advanced from cave wall painting. Dale had a light bar attached to his movie camera with a brace of flood lights that lit up the room like a tanning bed… for about 45 seconds. Then everything went black. Dale scurried down the basement stairs searching for the fuse box. The guests in the wedding line groped in the darkness for the next hand to shake. Finally the lights reappeared as did Dale a few minutes later. Fortunately Dale now knew where the fuse box was so it took him fewer minutes the next time he blew a fuse.

Not to be outdone in memorable moments, my side of the family contributed. My father’s aunt reached the top step of the porch, slumped and was helped into a bedroom near the front door where she peacefully passed away. This branch of our family, the Jex branch, is known for their faith, optimism, and composure in adversity. They showed it that night. They brought in the doctor, then the mortician, then carried my aunt’s last mortal remains to be prepared for her burial with the finesse of a smooth CIA operation. Most of the wedding guests were unaware of the back stage/front bedroom drama.

At my aunt’s funeral the next week they were profusely apologetic. I assured them that her passing added to the significance and the profundity of the occasion. We were made more grateful for marriage and families that continue beyond the grave.

In addition to their other accomplishments, the Jex family has a well developed sense of humor. So I felt safe adding, “Marriage and death are surely two of the three most important events in this life. I just wish someone in the reception line could have given birth to complete the trilogy.” I also told them that Dale offered his apologies that he didn’t get any film footage of their mother’s passing.

Good Walls Make Good Families

The poet Robert Frost famously quoted his New England neighbor saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost had misgivings about the absolute truth of that saying commenting, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” The truth and wisdom of wall making is still open to (sometimes heated) discussion even at national levels.

Like neighbors, families also have fences, or walls, and 24 Christmases ago I was trying to keep ours intact in the face of an emotional earthquake we had gone through seven months before. Diane, my beloved wife of 26 years, the mother of our 15 children had died of cancer. This would be our first Christmas without her.

Further complicating the situation, we were about to receive a magnificent Christmas gift, another wife and mother. Like the verdant coastal plain of Israel from which her name is derived, Sharon would bring new life and beauty to our family. I was overjoyed and grateful. Some of our children were not so sure. Two of our daughters said, “Dad, you don’t need to get married again. We’ll take care of you.”

I reminded them that they had their own lives to live, and when the time came for them to start their own families I didn’t want to be an obstacle in their path. Or maybe I said, “Sure you will until some handsome young man sweeps you off your feet, and then it’s ‘hey dad call if you need something.’”

I reminded them that their little brothers and sisters needed a mom, and I needed a wife. While I valued their input, I felt the final decision should be mine. But I wanted to launch our new family life with a clear understanding of our relationships.

I had prayed and pondered and felt guided in my decisions. My conviction was strengthened when a young woman I had never met came to my office. I don’t know how she found out about my marriage consideration, but she said.

“Let me tell you my story. It’s your situation only looking from the children’s perspective. Our mom died of cancer like your wife did. Almost immediately our dad went out looking for another wife. He dated a lot, and we missed having him with us.

One day he came home with a woman and told us they were getting married. They did. We didn’t get along well with his new wife. When we crossed with her we often went to dad. Dad usually sided with us. This left her alone. Even though I didn’t agree with her, I felt sorry for her situation. My point is when we needed dad he wasn’t there. When we didn’t need him he was. Their marriage didn’t last very long. My advice is don’t let that happen to your family..”

I thanked her. She left. I haven’t seen her since.

Later I called a family council and said,” I love each and all of you more than I can tell you. Next to Jesus and Heavenly Father, you and your mom are the most important people in my life. We have been through hard things together, especially the passing of your mother. I appreciate your being frank with me on your feelings, and even your fears. I will always support you and love you.

But there is something you need to know. If there is ever a conflict between you and your mother, I will be on her side. I will do this so we can build and maintain a strong marriage. You need that, so do I.

Sharon and I married, and our family is in the process of living happily ever after. We did hear some “new family blending” talk. “You’re not my Mom. I don’t have to do what you say. You haven’t paid your dues.” I don’t remember any of the children threatening Sharon with, “I’m telling Dad on you.” Sharon tells me she always felt my support. She also strengthened our marriage by not only loving and caring for me, and my family, but also for Diane’s family. To do so sometimes she had to ration the time and attention she gave to her own family. It was a conscious decision she made, and a powerful subconscious magnet pulling us together.

Sharon and I expected and were not disappointed when the children wanted to bang against the walls of our marriage and family. They have since told us that they were also secretly glad they couldn’t knock the walls down. Their world had been unraveled by the passing of their first mom. It was a source of security to them to know that this new family was as solid as the one they had known before.

Breaking down barriers between neighbors may well be a good idea. Building strong and loving walls around families always is.

Old News But Good News

The famous poet Robert Frost wrote that he got where he was by taking “The road less traveled,” adding “…that has made all the difference.” So I hereby plant my ensign on the literary peaks by taking an even lonelier path , the road least traveled. That would be the road you just came from. No need to go right back over that road, unless you have forgotten and left something back there like, say, one of your children which we have done a couple of times. We finally made it family policy to never put the Volkswagen bus into gear until the children had counted off and called out their name.

So the road least traveled this week by the media is news and observations about Thanksgiving. Have you noticed that just a few days ago the news was all about Thanksgiving? Now for some reason we have suddenly lost interest. That leaves the field wide open for me.

Come with me along the less traveled road of stale news. I’m an expert. During college I was hired by the Associated Press. Soon, too soon, I got the chance to cover an important story on a government meeting. I sent it in. The editor called the next day, and said essentially, “Your observations, nose for news, and writing are truly exceptional. And, you’re fired.” I was too late with the story. He said, “We’re paying you to write news, not history.”

Now despite what you hear about hard shell newspaper editors, I can honestly say that this man in the kindest way counseled me that I was a certified idiot, and a disgrace to the profession, but nevertheless if I worked hard and gave it my best I could someday become mediocre.

So here I go again with another Pulitzer Prize scoop of stale turkey leftover news.

We raised and harvested (polite word for slaughtered) our own turkey this year. Eight of them in fact. We sold some, ate some, and a couple are still in cold storage. On our little family operation, “Goat Mountain Farms” have sometimes killed and cleaned forty chickens in a day, so we figured processing eight turkeys shouldn’t take long. Let’s just say next year we will start in early September. The better part of cleaning Turkeys is that they are bigger and you can get your hand inside. The disadvantage is you really need a jack hammer to get all the stuff loose. But they turned out very tasty.

This was “off year” when our children take their families to their in-laws for dinner. Next year we will gather here. Nevertheless, we were able to cobble together a little intimate group of 49–children, grandchildren and three dear friends–around the tables. We have teenaged grandsons now, so each of them eats the equivalent of a small multitude. We factor that into the menu.

Sharon said, “What can we do to help the children focus on blessings we are thankful for, and not just the food?”

“For the boys, probably nothing,” I said. But we tried. I unrolled three-inch wide strips of crepe paper on a table and invited the grandchildren to make a banner listing their favorite blessings. I hurried off to see if the turkey needed tasting, and forgot the project. Later that afternoon I found treasured thanks you’s. Some children who were too young to write left hieroglyphics. The thoughts included these:

Family,

Good friends,

Harry Potter,

Hair,

Mom,

“Everything that has ever been in my life—and the world (with an illustration for those who need a reminder of what the world looks like),

People (with accompanying stick humanoid bipeds),

Paper,

Chikin (with accompanying picture, and explanation of the spelling “I did that on accident”),

Electronics with a request “how do you spell it?”

Faith,

Turtles,

Blue

“I’m grateful for coming up with family.”

I am grateful for gratitude

Freedom,

Food, (Apparently one of the teen boys took a moment from chewing to scribble.)

I grateful for sunmshine, (Quoted here as spelled)

Snow, and rain, hot water, electricity, a warm house in winter.

I’m grateful for colors (with ‘colors’ in a different color).

Some adults signed on with, their perspectives; “I’m grateful for temples, family, and good times.”

“I’m thankful for scriptures, prophets, Jesus Christ.”

“I’m thankful for prayer, Heavenly help, health, a good night’s sleep.”

“I’m thankful for our family, my sweetheart, being debt free, an abundant harvest.”

Two little rolls of wrinkly crepe paper one yellow, one orange, with felt tip pen scribbled words and drawings; are not exactly engraved gold plates. But the thoughts behind them are treasures to me. They indicate our tribe is headed in the right direction.