Category Archives: My Stories

The Fantastic, Incredible, Amazing and Totally Confounding World Of Human Beings

I was thinking about humanity today.

I know what you might be thinking. Doesn’t this guy have anything better to do that to sit around and think about…humanity? I mean, when it comes to thinking (which itself is becoming more and more rare), contemplating the future of the human race is a pretty dangerous thing. It can take you down some pretty tricky alleys. Thinking about why human beings behave the way we do is actually pretty frightening. Hell, if you think too much, you might end up…depressed or worse

But earlier I was watching a British television program, Penn & Teller: Fool Us. The basic idea of the show is that magicians from around the world go on this British Saturday night prime time television program, hosted by a bloke who I believe is a magician or the U.S. equivalent of Jay Leno (ie: Not too funny), and try to perform magic tricks that fool the great magic duo of Penn & Teller.

Penn is the guy on the left, a sort of spoof of a carnival barker who’s also a master magician and at six feet eight inches tall is a rather imposing figure. The guy on the right is named Teller and he is probably one of the most well-read and respected magicians in the world. But like Harpo Marx’s character in the Marx Brothers films, Teller is mute. He never speaks, not never, not no way, no how. (Although he does speak in private, he “holds his tongue” whenever Penn & Teller are performing. But magic fascinated me because it can be used to entertain, but also to deceive. Lately, there’s been more than too much deception by politicians in America. So it put me in a very thoughtful, rather cynical mood.

Later in the day, I was doing the rather dull task of mopping the kitchen floor. To me, mopping is a lot like raking leaves. It’s a job that never ends. Also, mopping is not the most demanding psychological task. It gives a person like me a chance to ponder some of life’s larger questions. For instance, one thing I was thinking about was why we now have have an elected body of representatives in Washington who refuse to agree on…anything! For example, there’s been endless debate on taxation and how much money the rich and the poor in this country should be forced render unto our government. Also up for debate has been how that money should be spent; whether it should be used to buy more guns and tanks and weapons to destroy other human beings or, perhaps, on ensuring health care for all Americans, something that we could do as a nation, if we wanted to.

So there I was mopping away my Sunday afternoon afternoon. I began thinking specifically about how humans are capable of fantastic, incredible and amazing things. Humans, as most would agree, are at the top of the food chain, meaning that we’re smarter than chimps and dolphins, we can use our thumbs (which come in very handy when you’re mopping) AND (this is the biggie, so here it comes…) WE CAN REASON. Yes, our ability to use a tiny portion of our brains to reason is the one thing that differentiates us from Harry the dog and Kitty Cat and the rest of the animal kingdom, of which we are, of course, the master of for all time. Yes, human beings are the master race. And if you don’t believe me, check out what good old Charles Darwin had to say way back in the 19th Century:

Darwin established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.– Wikipedia, (that Internet resource of complete and total accuracy.) Ha ha.

There he is…Charlie Darwin, a very serious fellow, indeed, who certainly spent more than his share of time mopping the kitchen floors and thinking about humanity. (Or maybe he had the maid mop for him.)

But if human beings are the top of the pops, the bees knees, the best and the brightest of all living things, then I would like somebody to step up to the plate and explain to me a thing or two. Firstly, I’d like to know why human beings cannot seem to stop killing one another. Since the beginning of recorded history, we humans have hellbent on a crazed and insatiable bloody rampage intended to murder or maim anybody who looks, acts or behaves different from us. It seems to be part of a terrible dichotomy; our ability to at once love and hate one another. Our history as humans is a degrading, beguiling time together filled with either great progress and achievement that can takes your breath away, or else endless murders, wars, conquests, and genocides that should make you and I ashamed to call ourselves humans.

Check it out. 160 million people were killed in the the 20th century alone due to fighting and endless blood lust. Why? This may sound naive, but I’d like a good answer to why human beings seem unable to stop killing one another? Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t humans make love and not war? Despite the overpopulation of certain areas, it’s a big old world out there and there’s still plenty of space on the planet for everybody. And there should be plenty of food for all too if we could only find a way to distribute it without greed getting in the way. If we could use our brains to create new eco-systems and new resources for energy we could stop living on top of each other and use all the wonderful natural resources that Planet Earth has to offer.

After all, it is a beautiful blue ball. But what we make of it is not so beautiful.

The sad news is this: It may be too late to save the planet. In the last few weeks and months we’ve seen record breaking heatwaves, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods all over the world. Do you think Mother Earth is trying to tell us something? Do you think we might be on the wrong course and in dire need of redirection?

But still there are legions of people who continue to deny “Global Climate Change”. “It’s gotta be some kind of socialist propaganda that Al Gore is still trying to spread,” they say. It can’t possibly have anything to do with these useless giant SUV’s that clog our roads coughing out poisonous, toxic carbon monoxide. And it couldn’t be our oil and coal burning plants belching out endless streams of black smog. And please, please, please don’t tell me that it was all predicted to happen this way and that we are entering the “end times” prophesied in the bible or the Koran or some other book written by crazed extremists. Cause they’ve been predicting the end times practically from the start.

We are in trouble, folks, both locally and globally and nobody is doing a damned thing about it. Sadly, if this isn’t just the decline and fall of the imperialist United States, it could be something much, much worse.

Several years ago, the writer Cormac McCarthy published, “The Road.” It the story of a father and son walking through a ruined America, searching for food, warmth and people who hadn’t yet gone insane. McCarthy never specified the cause of all the destruction. Instead, he wrote of the terrible realities of a society in which people had abandoned all morality and decorum. He painted a picture of a world, that you and I don’t would not want to live to see. A world in which wandering rogue gangs stalk the countryside, enslaving of the weak and old, committing acts of thievery, murder and even eating each other to stay alive. The horror, indeed.

I pray that there is still time left for human beings to recognize their common interests, needs and desires and instead of fearing and fighting and warring we can begin to work together to save the planet, save humanity and save ourselves.

The future is in your own hands.

How will you use your hands? Will you use them to help or to hurt? To build or to burn?

As they say, the rest is up to you.

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Filed under History, My Stories, Politics

Farewell, Clarence Clemons


Clarence Clemons – January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011

Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
A destination that can never be reached,
A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
A sea whose distance cannot be breached – Bruce Springsteen

He was like a family member. And like all family members we fool ourselves into believing that they will never die. Even through sickness and surgeries and suffering and pain, we delude ourselves. We keep telling ourselves things like, “miracles can happen,” and “God will see them through.” We delude ourselves because the pain of considering the alternative seems so huge.

And then some dark and lonely night you get the call that you’ve always dreaded. There’s no way to prepare yourself for it. You force yourself to breath. You place your hands on your head. You say it can’t be true. This person that you loved so much cannot be gone from this world. But it’s true and sometimes there’s nothing to do but cry.

Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxaphone playing member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, passed away last night and E Street Nation today is mourning his passing and celebrating his life. People are gathered at the Stone Pony as I write this to help each other grieve.

As for me, I was foolish in my thinking. I actually believed that Clarence was a force larger than life and was indestructible. I believed that despite poor health, despite countless operations on failing hips and knees, despite the painful recuperations, despite the stroke that he suffered a week ago…despite all this, I believed Clarence would survive. I refused to believe otherwise. I’m still not sure I fully have accepted it.I guess it’s called denial.

Every time I went to see Bruce Springsteen and The Legendary E Street Band perform, I smiled and laughed to hear Springsteen’s trademark, incomparable, built-up description and introduction of Clarence Clemons.

So how could I believe that death would ever touch Clarence Clemons? Bruce’s exaltations were more than a show-biz bit. It was Bruce “testifying” to how much he believed and how much he loved his friend. How could we, as fans, ever believe that Clarence Clemons was anything but indestructible? And now he’s gone, gone, gone.

When the news broke that Clarence Clemons had suffered a stroke, Bruce Springsteen rushed from Europe to be at The Big Man’s hospital bedside in Florida. Bruce Springsteen stayed with Clarence all week long, through the good days when it seemed like Clarence was doing much better to the darker days, at the end of last week, when Clarence’s condition began to worsen. It’s also been written that Bruce was with Clarence all day yesterday, with his close friend, playing music with his children until the end. Wow.

If the news of Clarence’s passing is difficult for fans like myself to accept, one can only imagine the grief that is being experienced by Clarence’s original family, his closest friends, loved ones, longtime band members and, perhaps most painfully, by Bruce Springsteen himself. To them, I send my deepest condolences.

Last night, Bruce issued this statement on his official website (www.BruceSpringsteen.net).

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

Since the news leaked out around 8:00 last night, people from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, people who were his friends and people who barely knew his name have been flocking to Twitter, Facebook and Springsteen discussion boards, like Backstreets.com/BTX to offer condolences, to grieve and to celebrate Clarence’s life and his music.

The first time I ever truly experienced a rock and roll epiphany was in 1976. I was 15 years old and listening to Jungleland. In those glorious 8 minutes, I understood for the first time the full spectrum of human emotions and possibilities. Since that day, I’ve probably heard Jungleland and Clarence’s magnificent saxaphone solo a thousand times or more, but it never ceases to amaze me and strike to the very heart of what it means to be a human being fully realized:

In 1988, I attended the Human Rights Now! concert, in Philadelphia. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were the headliners and before the concert I attended a press conference at the downtown hotel where all the band members were staying.

After the press conference, I had time to kill and, as luck would have it, I happened to bump into Clarence in the hotel lobby. I walked up to Clarence and thanked him for all the many years of happiness that his music had given me. I remember the huge smile on his face as he shook my hand and said, “No, I wanna thank you for being a fan and coming to our shows.” It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Later that night, Bruce unexpectedly called for the band to play Jungleland. Drummer Max Weinberg says the expression on Clarence’s face when he realized he would have to once again perform that taxing sax solo was priceless. But he nailed it. Perfecto!

The last time I saw Clarence perform was the final show of the last tour in Buffalo. It was a special weekend, because on the way to Buffalo, my beautiful fiancee Janet and I stopped and stayed overnight in Niagara Falls, Canada. At dinner the night before the show, with fireworks in the background over the Falls, I got down on my knee to ask her to marry me. (Happily, she said yes.)

That night Clarence, still in pain from all the surgeries and other ailments that were wracking his 69 year old body, moved gingerly and had to sit for parts of the show, just like he had to for most of the last couple of tours. You could tell that his days of touring were numbered, but nobody really wanted to admit it to themselves.

And now that this very spiritual man has made the passage from this world to the next, it is hard to imagine not ever seeing Bruce and Clarence onstage together; hard to imagine not ever seeing Clarence play the Jungleland solo or any other song; hard to imagine an E Street Band show without Clarence.

But I’d rather not think about that now. Instead, I’d prefer to celebrate the life and music of Clarence Clemons. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but Clarence’s spirit lives on forever in his music and the joy he brought into the millions of hearts around the world. Not bad for a guy with a saxaphone.

As Bruce Springsteen said last night, Clarence Clemons loved people and that made people love him. That’s a lesson that we should all take to heart.

All of us who loved him will always miss Clarence Clemons and perhaps we’ll get to hear that sweet saxaphone again in the next world. All I know is that we were all very lucky have had Clarence Clemons be such a huge part of our lives for so long.

Farewell, Big Man.

Sleep long and sleep well.

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Filed under Celebrities, Music, My Stories, Profiles

The Boston Bruins, My Father and Me

I’ve been watching the Boston Bruins, in their quest for the coveted Stanley Cup, for the last couple of months. And I could be wrong, but I swear I’ve been watching the games with my father. Which seems impossible, since he passed away away in 1989. But it feels that way. Let me explain.

I’ve been a Bruins fan since I was 10 or 11 years old. With aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears of our puny television set, I remember watching the Big, Bad Bruins on Channel 38. Through that often snowy, fuzzy VHF TV image I got my first taste of sports legends like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and Goaltender Gerry (Cheese) Cheevers. My father and I would watch pretty much every game that was televised, enthralled by the end to end rushes by a Bobby Orr and that incredible scoring machine named Phil Esposito. When the Bruins scored we’d jump to our feet and hoot and holler. When they’d fight we’d yell at the TV, as if they could hear us. For a kid like me, it was heaven on earth to watch the Bruins with my Dad.

My uncle Fran was a Boston police lieutenant, who had the assignment on Bruins game nights to maintain peace and civility at the Boston Garden press entrance. This, my dear reader, was akin to having the key to paradise. Whenever we wanted, including during playoff games, my Day and I would scoot surreptitiously through the old turnstiles and into the old Boston Garden. Oh, what joy!

So even when the games were sold out, we could get in. We didn’t always have a seat, but we could stand behind the last row of the first balcony. I’d often find a couple of seats and sometimes, if folks didn’t show up, we sat in the seats for the entire game. But for a 12 year old kid, just being in the building with such greatness was fantastic. I can remember going down to box seats near the ice before the games to watch the Bruins warm up. Now mind you, these were the days before helmuts, so we could get a really close look at our heroes. Orr, Espo, Ken Hodge, Johnny Pie, Wayne Cashman, Freddy Stanfield, Don Marcotte, and the rest.

But mostly we watched Orr. With his shock of light brown hair, our hero was a sight to see in person. He seemed not to skate, but to fly around and around the ice during warm-ups. He skated faster and shot harder than anyone else on either team. And this was during the warm-ups. When game time came he was even more intense. Night after night after night, Orr carried the Boston Bruins. He was dynamite on ice.

He was the greatest hockey player ever. Period.

My father cheered the Bruins on with an intensity that seemed to sometimes exceed that of the Bruins players. He was incredibly passionate about sports and it showed. When the Bruins would score, he would yell “GOAL!!!” so loudly and the sound seemed to come from deep inside him. It was a guttural sound of glee. In fact, it was so loud, sometimes I’d be slightly frightened by it. That’s how intense he was. And if there was ever a fight, he would holler just as loud.

I remember one Bruins game we attended during which we found seats fairly close to the ice. The Bruins were playing the rival, hated New York Rangers, with their star defenseman Brad Park. Orr, who was so tough nobody would dare challenge him to a fight, was bickering with Park all game. You knew something was brewing (Or Bruin?). Suddenly, near our end of the ice, Orr and Park dropped their gloves and squared off to fight. The refs let them go at it. The two star defensemen hammered away at each other. About halfway through the fight, my father, who was standing already, screamed out, “You get him, Bobby” and I swear to this day that I thought my Dad was on the verge of scaling the Plexiglas and jumping onto the ice to join in the fight. Ha ha ha. I was actually surprised, my Dad wasn’t ejected from the game, along with Orr and Park.

In the 1972 playoffs, when we watched a couple rows back behind the last row of the balcony. The game was tied in when we watched Bruins left winger Ace Bailey (who was tragically killed during 9/11, a passenger on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center) went whipping down the near side. We stood on our toes and saw Bailey’s flash of blond hair as he skated in and scored the winning goal. It was pandemonium inside the old Boston Garden. The Bruins would go on to win their second Stanley Cup in three years. It would also be their last Stanley Cup for 40 years and right up to this final series. But I’ll never forget my father using his best broadcast voice (his dream was to be a sportscaster) to recound Bailey’s goal to me after the game. Good old Ace Bailey…

Hard to believe that was 40 years ago. So many things have changed. I’m older now and have much less hair, and hopefully much more wisdom. The old Boston Garden was the victim of the wrecking ball. It has been replaced by a monolith of a building in the same spot with absolutely no personality, called the “new Garden.” Yeah, sure. And as I wrote, cancer stole my father’s chance to live to an old age. I still miss him all the time.

But the game of hockey has basically stayed the same. There was a fellow named Gerry Cheevers who used to mind the net for the Bruins. He sure was a character. Cheesy would mark his face mask with a magic marker every time he got hit in the face.

Now we’ve got another truly great goalie named Tim Thomas, from Michigan, who pretty much stands on his head to stop every shot that comes at him. He’s truly the best player on the ice every night.

The names have all changes, but the spoked B still stands out proudly in Black and Gold. And tonight the Bruins will play one of the most important games since they first started playing 77 years ago. If they lose, they will have had an incredibly exciting, with a very sad end. And if they win, they’ll have another shot for the cup in Game 7 in Vancouver.

Either way, I’ll be watching. And when the Bruins score (and hopefully they’ll score early and often), my father’s spirit will be sitting next to me, screaming his guts out, jumping in the air, throwing his arms out to me, in victory.

Yes, in sweet, sweet victory. So, for my Dad, and for all the fathers and sons who have similar stories, let’s hope the Big, Bad Bruins win.

Go Bruins!!!!

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Happy Mother’s Day

My mother delivered me into this world sometime on December 7th, 1960 (yes, I am a Pearl Harbor Day baby) and, Nancy, or Mabel as I like to call her, has been with me…if not physically then spiritually, ever since, teaching me when to laugh and when to cry and how to be a better man. She is lovely in every possibly way and I miss her very much — all the time.

My mother loves, among other things, watching football and golf, strolling on the beach, going out to dinner, playing bridge with friends, and she’s a champion when it comes to laughing. I love to hear my mother laugh; it assures me that she is happy. My mother hates yelling, argueing, vanity, false conceit, the New England Patriots and Tiger Woods when they lose and rainy days.

My mother recently lost the love of her life, her “longtime companion” Al Lottero, and her strength and fortitude in the wake of that has been and will always be a source of inspiration and courage for me.

I could never in ten lifetimes repay her for what she has suffered through and taught me along the way. Her knowledge and wisdom is as indespensible as the sun and her eyes shine just as brightly.

I love my mother with all my heart and I always will, so I dedicate this song to you, Mom, because I know you enjoy it. I want to publicly wish you a happy Mother’s Day along with all the joy that you deserve.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Love you,

John

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An Evening With Jackson Browne – A Review

Backed, quite literally, by 20 acoustic guitars, Jackson Browne performed a sold-out solo show at an intimate Michigan Theater in the college town of Ann Arbor last week delighting his adoring fans with an evening packed full of his resplendent and timeless songs. Walking out to center stage with a shy wave to the crowd, many of whom were still being seated, (why, oh why, can’t people get to events like this on time?), Browne alternated between acoustic guitar and a simple keyboard that, at times, sounded more like a grand piano. The singer/songwriter who continues to amaze audiences with his Dorian Gray-like good looks was in excellent spirit and and voice, charming his aging, well dressed disciples with songs both new and old. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening full of songs “for everyman (and woman).”

The Michigan Theater is located right in the middle of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, but this was not a act that attracted many young people. They apparently have not inherited the same kind of affection for Jackson Browne as, say, Bob Dylan or The Beatles. Rather, it was a well-dressed, wine-drinking congregation who turned out; many of them baby boomers who may have been graduating from college when Jackson Browne first arrived on the music scene some four decades ago.

The California native still seemed spry and quick-witted, even if he struggled to remember the exact chords and lyrics to one of his older songs. But who can blame the man and the audience cheered even louder when he recovered from his momentary memory lapse. I mean, who of us can’t relate. The man has more than a dozen albums; a huge catalogue of music and prefers, unlike many of his peers, to avoid using the evil teleprompter. (And more power to him, I say.)

Jackson Browne began by saying how happy he was to be playing in Ann Arbor; specifically to be performing in a “theater” and not “a hockey rink.” Browne was apparently poking some fun at his recent shows in Canada. Indeed, the acoustics sounded pitch perfect. And though there may have been, what his sound engineer complained to me as “a cloudiness” to his voice at times, (apparently due to the fact that they were forced to stack, rather than hang the speakers) I doubt many in the audience noticed. Most were happy just to hear the old classic Jackson Browne songs, songs they might have played endlessly on their record players, like “Something Fine” and “Late For The Sky.” They were content to hear Jackson Browne’s stories of days long gone by. (That’s the funny thing about nostalgia. It never gets old.)

Browne balanced out the evening by also playing several newer songs. In fact, he opened the night with “The Barricades of Heaven” and played several songs from his most recent studio album, Time The Conqueror. Jackson laughed as he related a conversation he had recently with fellow singer/songwriter and troubadour James Taylor about performing new songs. Jackson said Taylor tells his audiences not to worry, that basically “the new songs are just like the old ones anyway.” And he had a point. Other than some unfamiliarity with lyrics, the newer songs blended in splendidly with his early material to form one solid and consistent sounding body of work. He even worked in one Mariachi-flavored song, written recently about , guess what, the old days. It seemed to be the night’s theme.

It was fun to watch the ease with which Browne selected a particular guitar from the rack of acoustic guitars behind him, sometimes picking one up only to put it back and select another. It was as if each guitar has a personality of its own and only certain guitars could be used to play certain songs. Browne performed the three-hour concert (including a half-hour intermission) without any kind of paper setlist, although he seemed to know in his head and intuitively what songs would work well next to one another. Browne was also quite flexible in song choices, happy to take requests/suggestions from the crowd as they shouted out many of his most familiar songs.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening came at the end of the first set when Jackson Browne played two of his greatest songs back-to-back on piano. First came the elegiac, “For A Dancer,” with Browne’s gorgeous voice reaching up to into the higher octave range quite comfortably. This was followed by a transcendent, gorgeous, anthemic rendition of the enviromentally apocalyptic, yet hopeful ballad, “Before The Deluge.”

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it’s secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky

Lyrics like these sung so movingly are what has garnered Jackson Browne the devoted following he’s had for the last forty years. They were also what had the audience at the Michigan Theater on their feet at the end of the night cheering; fully satisfied and renewed.

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Another Borders Bites The Dust

It felt something like a wake, inside one of the four Michigan Borders Bookstores going out of business and selling everything but the kitchen sink (if they had one.)

A group of about 40 vulturous remaining customers picked through the near empty book racks and remains at the Borders Bookstore in Dearborn, Michigan yesterday, trying to take final advantage of a six-week long going out of business sale. That store, along with Borders bookstores in Utica, Grosse Pointe and the smaller Arborland Borders in Anne Arbor are being forced out of business as part of a bankruptcy protection plan. Borders Group Inc., which is the second biggest retailer in the entire state of Michigan, filed for bankruptcy reportedly because of an “inability to adapt to the changing habits of readers.”

Meanwhile, cashiers tried to maintain a professional countenance despite no longer having a job to go to and with few other options for work in the area. One cashier told me “they’re not hiring” at the remaining 28 Borders stores throughout the state that will remain open. And the unidentified cashier confided that a nearby Barnes & Noble store is barely staying open due to similar losses.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the employees, but I personally had mixed emotions as my fiance and I selected 25-plus titles and walked out with two heavy bags of former bestsellers – $425.00 dollars worth of books for just $30.00 and change.
While it is a crying shame to see another “brick and mortar” bookstore sell everything that wasn’t nailed down, I was also thinking about the countless wonderful Independent bookstores forced out of business by these monolithic bookstores.

In total, Borders is closing down 200 of its stores as part of this liquidation, which if successful will fetch between $131 and $148 million dollars. And the future for Borders is definitely not bright, with plans in the works to close another 75 in the not-so-distant future.

The one-time giant 40 year old retailer has no one to blame but itself for it’s losses and closings. According to an article in The Detroit News (http://detnews.com/article/20110216/BIZ/102160379/Borders-files-for-bankruptcy–closing-4-stores-in-Michigan) Borders Bookstores nationwide have lost more than $600 million dollars over the last four fiscal years. The bottom line is that Borders failed to “adapt to rapid changes in the book market,” most glaringly due to the huge number of consumers who are now buying their books online from companies like Amazon.com, now the world’s largest bookseller. The article sites the other cause as Borders “tardy entry last year into the growing electronic reader market dominated by Amazon’s Kindle and rival Barnes & Noble’s Nook.”

Still, call me old-fashioned but there is nothing like the pleasure of going to a bookstore simply to scout the shelves. Even though Amazon now allows consumers to look inside books for sale and, in many cases, even read the first chapter absolutely free, it simply doesn’t compare to how if feels to pick up a book, feel it’s weight in your hands, touch the cover and skim through it’s pages or even sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and get acquainted with a book and it’s author.

But money talks and you-know-what walks, so I bid a sad adieu to another bookstore and try and prepare myself for what author Aldous Huxley called the “Brave New World.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an actual old-fashioned book made from paper that I need to get back to reading.

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Steve Forbert – “What Kinda Guy?”

On a deliciously crisp autumn day in September 1978, I crossed the Quad at Syracuse University and set my wondrous eyes on Steve Forbert for the first time. I was 17 years old, a freshman in college and plenty green around the ears. But as I paused between classes, I realized that up there on the newly-constructed stage something was happening! Or at least about to happen. Steve Forbert, a singer/songwriter who I was only vaguely familiar with at the time, was going through the ritual of an afternoon sound check. Steve looked young, a little skinny, a tad road-weary, but definitely “Alive On Arrival” to play his songs.

Steve had embarked on his first major tour in support of his first album, Alive On Arrival, but as I stopped and looked on with a handful of others and we watched him strum his acoustic guitar, blow his blues harp and check the microphones, all of us could feel a real sense of expectancy in the air.

Later that night, Steve and his backing band would thrill thousands of Syracuse students and townies with his wistful and introspective songs. I remember it as a thrilling, long set that featured a whole bunch of different kinds of music; folk, rock, blues, and more. At the end of the show, I remember watching an especially enthusiastic audience member up front climbing onto the stage to boogie with the band. The kid, who definitely knew the song was handed a tamborine and as he danced along to , “You Cannot Win, If You Do Not Play,” the entire quad cheered both him and, of course, the star of the show, Steve Forbert.

Earlier at the sound check Steve had appeared shy and a bit tentative to me but by the end of the night, this young singer was transformed into a confident and self-assured performer, smiling and playing to the rapturous crowd, urging them to sing along. Steve was completely caught up in his own music and it was contagious. The next day I tracked down my new college buddy Mike, who owned a copy of Alive On Arrival, to take another listen. Then I rushed down to the on-campus record store to buy my own copy and I swear I listened to that record until I wore the grooves out. My friends and I were hooked to a new sensation who had serenaded our campus. Little did we know then that this was an artist that many of us would be listening to for the next three decades.

Samuel Stephen Forbert was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1956 the same year Elvis Presley was all over the radio singing his classic, “Heartbreak Hotel.” After a typical southern upbringing, Steve started playing guitar when he was young and kept playing, formed or played in a bunch of teenage bands, recorded a bit without much notice and then set his sights on a bigger prize.

In the late ’70s, Steve grabbed his suitcase, guitar and blues harp and headed for the same destination that so many other singer/songwriters before him had sought out; The Big Apple, New York City. But it must have been much to Steve’s dismay to discover that it was the punk scene that was hot and not the kind of music he was playing. Born naturally gifted with a smooth and homespun raspiness in his voice with his own unique style on harmonica and the ability to write great songs, Steve was quickly stuck with the same label so many other musicians like him had been given, “the new Dylan,” a moniker and albatross that nobody particularly wanted. After all Dylan had already happened more than a decade ago. If you were going to be successful, you had to offer something new and different.

Now faced with clubs in New York City that were mostly interested in booking bands like Blondie, The Ramonies, and Television, Steve found himself forced to try to make a living playing small halls and churches, and eventually was busking on the streets and living through at least one very cold New York City winter.

Fortunately, he was eventually discovered before he starved to death and signed by Nemperer records to a binding contract he would live to regret. But for now, Steve Forbert was able to release the critically acclaimed, Alive On Arrival, featuring a whole host of catchy, somewhat autobiographical songs that are still favorites today. These songs had titles like, “Grand Central Station,” “Big City Cat” and “Tonight I Feel So Far Away From Home,” that told of his trials and tribulations in the NYC.

Steve Forbert quickly followed up on the success of his debut record with a slightly more rocking/pop-influenced, Jackrabbit Slim, complete with Memphis horns, and gorgeous background vocals and lots of electric guitar. That album’s lead track featured Steve’s biggest hit, the piano-driven, hook-laden, “Romeo’s Tune,” which bopped its way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1980. Suddenly, promoters were coming to Steve to get bookings at larger venues where often he’s headline or opening for acts like Bonnie Raitt. Steve seemed to be well on his way. All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to kick off the new decade.

Now a legitimate contender in the pop/rock world, Steve was garnering rave reviews in the press, traveling to England to appear on “The Old Grey Whistle Stop”. Steve was so popular he even showed somehow in a strange conga line, in the video for Cyndi Lauper’s, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But in a number of interviews around the time, Steve seemed not to trust music writers or the things that had brought his such early success. Perhaps it was his own maturity and knowledge of other one-hit wonder acts that had come and go before they even had a chance to say goodbye. But he remained prolific, still churning out songs that appeared on his next album, Little Stevie Orbit, which was not well received, despite some great songs. It was called “uneven” and “disappointing,” unable to deliver a hit of the same calibre as “Romeo’s Tune.”

Soon Forbert found himself at odds with the powers that be at Nemperer Record, who refused to release his fourth album. The inevitable, litigious calamities and general series of unfortunate events followed and soon Steve was trapped into a record deal in which he couldn’t get his albums released. (Happily, many of the songs from Steve’s “missing albums” have been released by Steve on his own web site, including the most recent Down In Flames record) but for much of the ’80s, Steve seemed to many of his fans to have disappeared for a bit. He continued to tour, but there were no new albums or royalties to keep Steve afloat financially. As he sang onstage, these were “hard times, for sure.” In the end it was his continued touring that saved Steve Forbert.

Steve’s so-called “comeback album” came in 1988 and was a winning collaboration in the studio with co-producer Garry Tallent, bass player with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Streets Of This Town is a collection of gorgeous, reflective songs that played well at the time with audiences and critics alike. It is full of songs that speak to the hardships Steve had endured and about the time that had passed, with titles like “I Blinked Once,” and “Don’t Tell Me.” That release on Geffen Records appeared to breathe new life into Steve Forbert and the artist followed that success with another well-written, catchy collection of songs titled simply, The American In Me.

His albums still might not be getting the distribution and publicity they deserved, but Steve Forbert continued to tour relentlessly throughout America and even in Europe. His audience on both sides of the Atlantic adored both sides of the singer/songwriter; the hard strummin’, harp-blowing rocker and the sensitive guy in the spotlight singing slow ballads offering wisdom and warm comfort in the increasingly nihilistic, mean-spirited world. On stage, Steve never had trouble connecting with his fans, whether getting them to clap along or simply sing choruses back to him, like on tunes such as “The Oil Song” (an ever evolving commentary on the environmental impact of one oil barge disaster after another.) Meanwhile, Steve could shift gears and have hushed silence when he needed it for the quieter songs. Mid-tempo tunes like “You Cannot Win ‘Em All” and “New Working Day” reflected a “new kinda guy,” no longer saddled to his earlier restrictive labels and impossible expectations. Steve Forbert was now his own man, winning by the his own set of rules.

The ’90s and ‘Oughts found Steve recording in the studio and performing with new musicians and backing bands, while also playing solo shows. He even offered his songs to some big names in contemporary country music like Roseanne Cash, Keith Urban, Marty Stuart and others. At the shows, adoring fans could purchase rare or live CD’s that Steve would bring along. And once onstage, he seemed completely at home, playing requests, telling stories of those not-so-good old early days. After his shows Steve made it a habit to always come out and meet his fans, many of whom have been with him from the beginning. He’d sign old copies of Alive On Arrival and other early LP’s, pose for pictures or just say hello and shake some hands.

Thirty years after I first first saw Steve Forbert on the Syracuse Quad, he’s still doing what he loves the most and it definitely shows. His fans, now from all over the world, come out to see him every time he comes to town. He has a unique and lasting relationship with his audience fueled by longevity and what Steve might call, “real, live, love.” And the traveling troubadour is always rewarded at the end of the night with standing ovations. To his audience, Steve Forbert has taken on the role of an old friend.

Regardless of whatever bad experiences Steve might have had to put up with, every night he performs he does so with an easy manner and friendly smile; ready, willing and able to bring a smile to a face or even to elicit a tear or two of nostalgia. And when you come right down to it, that seems like all he ever wanted to do in the first place.

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