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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Win Win – Wrestling With Life

Win Win is a victorious little film that wrestles with some of life’s unexpected twists and turns. It’s a humble but lovable little lesson of how we unknowingly entangled ourselves and the difficulty of finding a way to straighten things out.

At first glance at the promotional poster, one might think that this is just another cliche high school sports stories like the formulaic and overrated The Blind Side, and dozens of others just like it. And without fine acting performances by Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan (Holly from The Office), and nifty newcomer Alex Shaffer, this movie could easily have descended into that same mold. But instead, Director Thomas McCarthy (who also directed The Station Agent and The Visitor) has created a quirky and ultimately uplifting tale about a not-so-nuclear family simply trying to make it through the trials and tribulations of modern life. Win Win is a movie that refuses to run away from the betrayals and complications that every family must tackle. And the ultimate redemption that these characters find is won not with the typical bravura of most sports films, but with simple, straightforward solutions.

Paul Giamatti plays a middle-age attorney, husband and father of two daughters struggling to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door. By day, he’s working various cases in court. At night, he moonlights on another kind of court as the coach a losing high school wrestling team. The problems begin when Giamatti’s character attempts a sly move. He’s presented with the opportunity to bring in some badly needed cash by caring for an elderly gentleman (played with gusto and by Burt Young of Rocky fame) who is clearly incapable of caring for himself. So the coach agrees to become his guardian, and eventually places him an assisted care home.

All seems to be fine until the appearance on his doorstep one day of a slightly strange, teen named Kyle complete with bleached white hair looking for his grandfather. The teen, played by newcomer Alex Shaffer, is adrift in the world, while his mother remains in rehab for substance abuse problems. Oh, what a tangled web the coach has weaved, especially when the mother appears, demanding her son along with custody of her father and the money that Giamatti’s character was pocketing. Meanwhile, Giamatti’s Coach Flaherty has discovered that Kyle is, among other things, an exceptionally talented wrestler, who could carry his entire team to victory.

More complications ensue when Kyle disappears, and Coach Flaherty’s elderly charge decides that there really is no place like home. Giamatti is pitch perfect as a guy who is just trying so darn hard to do the right thing and always ending up doing the wrong thing. But in the end, while Kyle leads his wresting team to victory, a solution is found and the film ends in an uplifting manner.

Win Win may not win any awards for greatness, but if you’re looking for a film that will warm and cheer you up while we wait for the long overdue Spring you could do a heck of a lot worse.

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What Makes You Happy?

Here’s a partial list from me: A sunset over the ocean. A smile on a loved ones face. An ice cream on a hot summer day. Or a Popsicle. A friendly dog that doesn’t bark or bite. Watching “The Office.” Reading a really fantastic book. Going to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. Spring after a long winter. The Boston Red Sox (when they’re winning). I could go on and on.

But in these ever changing rapid fire days in which employers are asking employees to do more and more and with an increasing number of people feeling isolated and alone, its important to stop for a second and ask yourself what makes you happy. And then do it.

According to a web site called AbundanceHighway.com these are ten of the most common things that people say when asked “What makes you happy?”

1. Watching a sunrise
2. Feeling the sun on my face
3. A comment from a reader saying I have inspired them
4. The sound of children playing
5. Seeing a pelican each morning on the way back from the beach ( most mornings)
6. The magic I feel when I see a rainbow forming
7. Walking on the beach to start the day. Just this morning this lifted my vibes.
8. The magic of the love I share with Des
9. Meeting an old friend and feeling like it was yesterday.
10. Memories of childhood holidays

Some people say the life is not supposed to be about being happy all the time. They say we’re supposed to suffer a little bit. (Where did that idea come from. Wait, I know. Religion.)

But doctors have been saying since before the beginning of history (Spinal Tap reference) that being happy keeps a person healthy and extends that persons life.

Look around. You can tell just by looking at people whether they’ve spent the majority of their lives smiling or frowning. Talk to people and you’ll find our pretty fast.

But here’s a small secret that I’ve learned in my 50 years on the planet and which I will share with you today. Ready? Here goes….

We all want the same thing. We all want to have good health. We all want our friends and family to be healthy and happy. We all want to watch our favorite program on the television. We all want to eat delicious foods. And none of us want to die.

Well, my mother always told me that there only two things in life that are definite. We gotta pay the government taxes. And we’re all going to die.

So we might as well be happy while we’re alive. That’s my message for today.

This is kind of a lousy time of the year. Old man winter is still hanging on here in the northern part of the United States. Its almost April and its freezing out. There’s devastation in Japan and suffering and revolution in Libya. People are struggling to make ends meet. Being happy ain’t as easy as you might think.

But just for a few moments think a good thought. Or maybe call a friend. Or do something nice for somebody in need. It will make at least two people happy for a spell

Only another few billion to go and we’ll be so happy we could burst.

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The Greatest Live Act In Rock and Roll History?

Was there really ever any doubt about who is the greatest live act in Rock and Roll history?

The answer, of course, is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band by a mile. Not even close.

At least that’s according to Rolling Stone.com who asked readers to rate the Top Ten Greatest Bands of all time.

Here’s what Rolling Stone.com says: “When Springsteen began performing with the E Street Band in 1972 it was a four man-group, with Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, Danny Federici on the organ, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez on drums and Garry Tallent on bass. When the group last toured in 2009 there were 11 people onstage with Springsteen, and although the sound has grown more elaborate the band hasn’t lost any of the passion or the power they originally had. They’ve been off the road for about a year and a half, but the rumor mill says that a 2012 tour may be in the works.”

Well, thanks folks for confirming what I’ve been saying since I first saw Bruce and The Mighty E Street Band blow the roof off the joint way back in 1978. No other band brings the same energy, passion, electricity, musicianship, endurance, (Did I mention passion?), and overall satisfaction that Bruce and The E Street Band. Some might call me obsessive, but I’ve seen the band perform over the last 30-plus years about 50 times (which is nothing compared to the “concert count” of some Springsteen fanatics!). And I have never once been disappointed. Au contraire, mon frere.

Instead I’ve been awed by the way the band has not only stayed together as a solid unit but also has maintained it’s incredible strength and dominance as rock and rollers. From the soaring saxaphone still played nightly by the bands eldest member, Clarence Clemons, to the majestic guitar work by Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and the vastly underrated Nils Lofgren and the howling vocals of Bruce Springsteen (who’s voice has matured with age), these guys can’t be beat.

Sure there are some other great bands out there and I’ve seen quite a few of them. (If you’re wondering…The Rolling Stones were a distant second, with Mick and Keith huffing and puffing to keep up with Bruce and the band. U2 came in a surprising distant 6th.)

But nobody comes close to holding an audience in complete rapture for 3 hours night after night after night like Bruce and the band. Each show I’ve seen has been a roller coaster ride of emotions featuring flat out rockers, melodic mid-tempo numbers and slow ballads that has left me breathless and exhausted and wanting more.

The synergistic combustion of energy that gets passed from the band to the audience and back again in a semingly never ending cycle is what really makes Bruce and the band the best.

If you’ve never seen the band perform live you’ve really missed out on something special:

So thanks to the well informed and hip readers of Rolling Stone.com for a well deserved tip of the cap to the greatest band in the land. And if you ever get a chance to see Bruce and the E Street Band in concert…run…don’t walk to the nearest show.

You’ll thank me later.

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Some Ways To Improve The Academy Awards

The reviews of the 2011 Academy Awards have been out for a day or two and they are not favorable.

According to those who really care about these things, the 2011 Academy Awards were among the worst ever of the modern televised age. Words like dull, boring, tiresome, tedious, overwrought, inane, unfunny, contrived and trivial are being tossed around and those are just being used to describe the first five minutes.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway (wasn’t she the secretary on the Beverly Hillbillies…oops, wrong Hathaway) were apparently brought in to try and attract a younger demographic. Tragically, Franco and Hathaway seemed young enough to be the grandchildren of most of the people in the audience. Ratings were reportedly the lowest in many years.

Something must be done. The Academy Awards presentation is an institution and is typically the most important of all the myriad of awards presentations that are rolled out each new year. And the changes must be as revolutionary as the protests in the streets that brought a changing of the guard to Egypt.

So I’ve come up with a few ideas, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, of how to revitalize and resuscitate the Oscars. Some of you may scoff at my ideas and think they are too radical. I say major changes are needed or the Academy Awards may be replaced in the television line-up next year with “Skating With The Stars” or some other insulting form of “entertainment.”

1. Most importantly the Oscars must be shortened to no longer than an hour and a half. My better half, the lovely Janet, believes two hours would be more appropriate. I believe that in this age of A.D.D, two hours seems to most television viewers a lifetime. So I will compromise on my suggestion, in the name of love and harmony and say, one hour and forty-five minutes. Tops. Not a single second longer. And I have the perfect popular personality to keep track of time next year.

The one and only Flav-O-Flav.

2. The program must be switched from the networks to cable and be shown on HBO or Showtime, so as to allow for a fair amount of vulgarity and nudity. Every year people act shocked when an Oscar recipient curses and the network attempts to bleep out the “dirty word.” What a joke! Everyone knows what the person has said and if you can’t make it out or read lips it your own damned fault. And wouldn’t it be much more interesting to see our most beloved stars parade out to center stage wearing nothing more than their birthday suit. Complete nudity would most certainly make for a more entertaining Red Carpet.

If an actor or actress feels too embarrassed to bare all, they can only enter the auditorium in an egg. If it was good enough for Lady Gaga at the Grammys, it’s good enough for anybody else.

3. The Red Carpet must move. Similar to those people movers we see at airports. People are spending far too long hanging out on the Red Carpet. This year I saw funny guy Russell Brand dragging his poor Mum all over the Red Carpet so that he could be interviewed by at least 5 different people. Let’s get things moving. How many photographs do we need of Harrison Ford and his date anyway?

Personally, I’d be much more interested to see him come dressed in full Indiana Jones costume regalia. And who knows, that whip could really come in handy.

4. The Televised Winning Categories Must Be Limited To the following: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film.

Can you honestly tell me that you were on the edge of your seat when they awarded the Oscar for Best Lighting In A Film? Not me. And I especially don’t care about the best animation for anything.

Let the children who enjoy those films have their own awards ceremony.

5. And finally for now…Bring Back Billy Crystal. He was the best host ever. Hands down. Hands up too. Pay him whatever he wants. Fly him in on the Concorde. Let him do his old bit with the throat lozenge. Whatever. Billy Crystal was the best thing about the Academy Awards for a long, long time. Bring him back.

And whatever you do, no more songs. Music has its own awards show. Stick to the good old flicks.

Good luck.

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Words

Words
Bee Gees

Smile
An everlasting smile
A smile could bring you near to me
Don’t ever let me find you gone
‘Cause that would bring a tear to me

This world has lost it’s glory
Let’s start a brand new story
Now my love right now there’ll be
No other time and I can show you
How my love

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me

You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say

It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

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On Turning 50…

My 50th birthday is next week, Tuesday, December 7th. Yes, that’s right. I’m a Pearl Harbor Day baby. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “A day that will live in infamy.”

For years I told a meaningless joke, claiming that since it was Pearl Harbor Day, my Dad would get bombed (drunk) on that day every year. It never made much sense, but I always thought it was silly. Just a laugh.

Now I’m trying to find some way to laugh about turning 50. Sure, I know. It’s only a number. And 50 is the new 40. And on and on.

But what I can’t get my arms around is that, for the life of me, I don’t feel like I expected to feel when I hit the half century mark. I thought I would be more settled. I imagined I would be less worried and more confident. I believed that I would be more dull and less wondrous.

But actually none of these things have come to pass. I still look for the beauty and miracles that happen around me every day. I still worry about many things that never come to pass. I still feel like the best is yet to come.

And I guess that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be a stodgy old man at 50. I want to feel alive and sensitive and totally in the moment.

So I say Happy Birthday to me.

60 should be a breeze.

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RIP Chuck Graham – “A Wizard, A True Star”

Charles (Chuck) William Graham was a man with a multitude of talents. He was the kind of man who could start a computer company from scratch and make it into a successful international corporation. He could plan a family holiday trip to Hawaii and make sure no one missed out on a single adventure, whether it was hiking through a volcano, snorkeling in the ocean or going on a kayak excursion. He could juggle a houseful of guests and make an omelet they would never forget. He could pack up a carful of camping gear and take his wife Julie and daughters Kelli and Leah to explore some of North Carolina’s most beautiful outdoor vistas.

Chuck could do all these things because of a unique combination of brilliance, ingenuity and generosity of spirit. Together with his ability to connect so instantly and effectively with others, it brought him success and admiration in the business world and in his personal life.

Chuck moved to North Carolina in 1990 and was a co-founder of the Salem Automation computer company, based in Winston-Salem. On Monday (Nov. 8, 2010), at the young age of 49, Chuck succumbed to cancer after a hard-fought five-year battle with the disease. His death cut short a life filled with a multitude of accomplishments and plans for future endeavors.

Charles William Graham was born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Centerville, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. Early on, he exhibited an innate talent for science and computers. He invented a variety of contraptions, including a hurricane machine for the science fair and contraptions to keep his nosy sisters Kim and Janet out of his room.

Throughout his life, Chuck enjoyed being outdoors. He was an avid fisherman who delighted in hiking and camping. In the winter, he was always planning his next ski trip – a sport he enjoyed sharing with his daughters. Summers were filled with vacations to the beach, where Chuck enjoyed golfing, body surfing and time with family and friends. made complete by enjoying vacations.

At Archbishop Alter High School, he excelled in the classroom and on the wrestling team. He went on to college at Ohio State University, where he earned two degrees, one in Business Administration and the other in Computer Engineering. While at OSU, he joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and was an active member. He also met his future wife of 25 years, Julie Thompson, in a marketing class at Ohio State. She was a fellow Business student with many similar interests. Soon they were dating and Chuck and Julie were married in 1985.

Chuck’s time as an OSU student indoctrinated him as a die-hard Buckeyes fan who celebrated their victories, especially the national championship season in 2002. Each season, he and his daughters made the trip to Ohio to attend one game at Ohio Stadium.

Upon graduation, Chuck was hired by Pittsburgh Plate Glass. He later moved on to a small process control company, CRISP Automation, held by Square D Corporation. Transitioning into sales, Chuck moved his family to Charlotte, where he was the Southeast sales representative. After the company was bought by a French corporation, he took a buyout and invested in a small computer company with four other partners. That small company, Salem Automation, grew into an international success story with business interests nationwide and in Puerto Rico and other parts of the world.

While Chuck was succeeding in business, he and his wife, Julie, were tending to their growing family. Their first child, a daughter Kelli, was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1989. Soon after, the family moved to Charlotte, and in 1992, a second daughter, Leah, was born. Chuck was very active in his daughters’ lives. He encouraged them to be successful in school and made every effort to attend all their extracurricular activities such as music, dance and chorus recitals, Girl Scouts, as well as countless hours shuttling them to and from swim practice and a multitude of swim meets. He was very proud of Kelli and Leah and loved them dearly.

Shortly after moving to Charlotte, he joined St. Gabriel’s parish, where he and his family enjoyed being members.
In his spare time, Chuck enjoyed traveling and planning trips with his family. Whether it was camping with family and friends or planning an elaborate trip to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, exploring a number of the national parks, as well as visits to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston to learn more of the country’s history. Chuck had many other trips he had planned for his family in the future.

Chuck had a particular love of the ocean and the beach, enjoying the Outer Banks, Kiawah Island, Charleston, Wild Dunes, and especially his beloved Hawaii, where he honeymooned and then returned several times with his family.

He was first diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in 2005. He immediately began treatment, which continued intermittently over the next five years. While battling his disease, he continued to run his company and had even begun work to launch several other businesses. He also maintained a busy home life and continued to pursue his many passions of golf, travel and spending time with family and friends.

Despite debilitating side effects from his treatment, Chuck always sustained his sense of humor and positive outlook. In his 49 years, he accomplished much and touched many. His spirit and legacy will never be forgotten.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Julie Thompson Graham, daughters Kelli and Leah, parents Charles and Evelyn Graham, sisters Kim Graham and Janet Graham.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation at http://www.givechf.org. Specifically, please indicate the contribution is for The Rare and Complex Cancer Funds or Blumenthal Cancer Center Endowment in memory of Chuck Graham.

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Pain

I haven’t blogged for some time now and my apologies to those who have checked in and not seen anything new. I’ve been working on a couple of projects which have required my time and attention, and I’ve also been dealing with some major league dental problems. So I thought I’d get back in the groove a little bit by telling you about my experiences with the dentist.

Let me start by saying that I like my dentist a great deal. He’s experiences, competent, confident and serious. He’s also a heck of a nice guy. I put my total trust in him every time I sit down in that dentist chair, which happens to be where I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately.

Just over one week ago I had an appointment to have a couple of broken back teeth extracted. I was most certainly not looking forward to it, and put it off as long as I could. But eventually there comes a time when one must tend to one’s health, and that time had come. So I went in, and my dentist pulled out what needed to be pulled out. I should mention now that I have been both blessed and cursed genetically. And one of those curses is that I have extremely long and curvy roots on my teeth – especially my molars. So the few other times I’ve had extractions, they’ve been very painful. This experience wasn’t any different.

And this time, like the other times I’ve had extractions, I ended up with not one, but two “dry sockets.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dry socket from a dental procedure, or have even heard of them, but they are what my Dad used to call “a bugger.” I won’t go into detail (google “dry sockets” if you really care), but basically it means that you experience about five times to usual pain. And once you get one (or in my case two), you have to visit the dentist every couple of days so that he can treat the hole in your mouth with medicated gauze, which ostensibly is supposed to take away the pain.

So my fiancee and I (thank you baby, for your tender loving care) have been shuttling back and forth to the dentist for a week now to try to get these holes in my mouth to heal. It’s been an extremely long and very painful experience. You know, the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Luckily, my dentist has been very compassionate and has written a number of prescriptions for pain killers, antibiotics and now, steroids to get this damn situation under control.

So I’ve had a lot of time spent on my back, trying to take it easy, watching old episodes of the “Sopranos,” reading and thinking about pain. And I’ve come to a couple of conclusions about pain that I thought I would share with you. Maybe they’ll come in handy some day.

First of all, I’ve come to understand that there is really no way for another person to gauge your pain. The problem is that everyone has different “pain thresholds” or amounts of pain they are able to tolerate. One person’s tolerable throbbing ache is another person’s unbearable sensation. I know there have been a lot of studies on pain. Some claim that woman can tolerate a great deal more than men and, well, as everybody likes to say, “That’s why women have the babies.” Could be true.

But I believe there is still so much that we don’t understand about pain. When you go to the hospital after you sliced your finger or suffered some other injury they often ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever had. But is it really possible to do that? What do those ratings mean? And how is it possible to be rational about rating pain when there’s blood all over the place.

I think the one thing that I’ve learned in this latest experience with Pain (capitol P intended) is that it is important to try and focus on other things, if possible. But the person experiencing pain should and must always be treated with great empathy and care and above all must be taken seriously. Only you know exactly how you feel. Nobody else can come close to experiencing it including the doctors. There seems to be a trend in America lately to err on the side of caution when it comes to giving out pain medication. I say to doctors: Stop that. We all know the risks of becoming dependent.

When people are dying, doctors don’t worry too much about the risks of their patients becoming dependent on drugs. They say, “We feel its important to keep the patient comfortable.” And usually a dying man or woman is in a boatload of pain. But so are so many others.

We claim to be an evolved bunch of chimps walking around. We just entered a new and interesting Millennium. People should not have to suffer from pain. Ever. Let’s try to be a little more empathetic and a little less concerned about the Federal Drug Authority monitoring records.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe it is time for more pain medication. May you never suffer a dry socket.

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The Promise: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” Album

It might have seemed, to the casual observer, that Bruce Springsteen was on Easy Street after the completion of his masterpiece, best-selling album “Born To Run. But Bruce Springsteen was, in fact, a deeply troubled man. And he was pretty much on his own again, trying to find his way back home.

As the HBO documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Thom Zimny illustrates so beautifully and personally, Bruce was 27 years old and was a superstar. But as he admits in the documentary, he may have been a rock and roll superstar, but he was still haunted by some hardcore ghosts. For one, he was trying to deal with his newfound success and adulation, while at the same time attempting to untangle his own personal and business relationship with manager Mike Appel.

Although he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek with the release of “Born To Run,” Springsteen was still broke, along with every other member of his band. He was at odds with Appel, with whom he had begun a creative split during the making of BTR. In an effort to bring fresh ideas into the mix to try and rescue both BTR and his record contract, Springsteen brought in Jon Landau and Bruce and Jon became fast friends. Appel, enraged over being cut out of his partnership with Springsteen just as the fruit was about to bloom, slapped a lawsuit on Springsteen that barred Bruce from going into the studio with any other manager/producer without the approval of Appel. Talk about locks and chains.

Springsteen also states in the beginning of “The Promise” that he felt he was, in fact, letting down his friends and band mates. In short, he was a man carrying a major league-sized albatross around his neck. Springsteen says these and many other issues led to the inner turmoil which precipitated the writing of countless of songs (nobody knows quite how many were written but an estimate of 80 to 100 would be a safe estimate) during the Darkness recording sessions.

Springsteen says he always writes in an attempt to answer the questions that plague him. On “The Promise,” Springsteen says he was trying to figure out how to come to a reckoning with the “a life of limitations and compromises” or as he also puts it, “the adult world.”

“Well, the dogs on Main Street howl cause they understand,
If I could take this moment into my hand
Mr., I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in the Promised Land”
– “The Promised Land”

“The Promise” is a documentary that picks up where “Wings For Wheels,” the making of “Born To Run” leaves off and it’s helpful to see the latter if you want to understand the former.

“The success with had with “Born To Run” made me ask, well (laughs), what’s that all about,” says Springsteen at the outset of “The Promise.” Springsteen says the success of “Born To Run” also might have meant that he would have to surrounder all that was his very core, the relationships he had with those closest to him. He admits that more than anything else he wanted to be “great!” And he says that he believed it was the obsessive, selfish quest for greatness that led so many other of music’s “greats” down a dead-end road.

“We all thought we had made it, that we had finally achieved greatness and everything was going good”, says E Street band guitarist Little Steven, along with the other members of the band. “We thought we got it made, we’re gonna make it,” says the Big Man Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s sax player and onstage foil. “And then everything just went….STOP!”

“The Promise” explains that the other major cloud hanging over the future of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band was the end of Springsteen’s relationship with his manager and good friend Mike Appel. Appel still maintains to this day that he was only trying to protect Bruce Springsteen with his original publishing deal. “You gotta take a stand. How are you getting out of your contracts if you wanna get control,” Appel argues.

Springsteen calls the contracts “not evil, but naive.” “It wasn’t a lawsuit about money,” Springsteen continues, “it was about control. The bottom line was, it was gonna be my ass on the line and I was gonna control where it went and how things went down. If that meant I didn’t go into the studio, then I wasn’t gonna go into the studio.”

Springsteen says they tried to make a living playing live, but eventually things got extremely tough on everyone in the band and the organization financially. But Springsteen says in retrospect it was worth standing his ground against Appel.

“You know,” says Springsteen. “You can lose the rights to your music, you can lose the ability to record, you can lose the ownership of your songs, but you can’t lose “that thing”. That thing that’s in you.”

“Tonight I’ll be on that hill cause I can’t still
I’ll be on that hill withe everything that I’ve got
Where lives are on the line
Where dreams are found and lost”
– “Darkness On The Edge of Town

“Not being able to return to the studio after the “Born To Run” record was truly heartbreaking,” remembers keyboardist Roy Bittan. So banned from the studio, the band rehearsed every single day at Bruce’s house in New Jersey. All day and into all hours of the night.

That footage of Bruce singing at home, shot by the essential chronologist Barry Rebo, with Bruce in many scenes sans shirt is bound to have women viewers who fantasize about Springsteen in dreamland. But for the band, it may not have been as fun as some scenes make it look. Bruce was writing like a banshee, churning out new ideas and new songs every day. Song after song after song. “My sense of his reaction to this roadblock,” says the mighty drummer Max Weinberg all these years 30 years or more later, is that his desire, that will, that determination to do things his way got even stronger. Maybe his way of working it all out,” says Weinberg, “was writing all those songs.”

“While this was a time of pain because I was trying to sort out what had happened with Mike,” says Springsteen, “there was also a time of refinding myself and freedom. The freedom of finding out where I belonged”

During Springsteen’s narrative we see incredible behind-the-scenes home studio footage of Bruce sporting his Italian-Afro (as he calls it). A half-naked Springsteen is seen working out the words to one of the most several songs on “Darkness on the Edge of Town,”

“And I take her out easy looking for a place where the world is right
And then I go tearing into something in the night.”
– Early Version of “Something In The Night

We even get to see Bruce perform the rarely performed alternate lyrics..

“Well, I picked this girl up hitching, she stuck her head out the window and she screamed
She was looking for a place to die or redeemed”

This reviewers only minor disappointment with “The Promise” is that we’re not treated to enough to this kind of footage, but nobody really knows how much more of it they have. My guess is that this wealth of information contributes to a lack of cogent, linear presentation and that they could only allocate so much time to home practicing and studio recording scenes. At times, it is difficult for the viewer to follow the highs and lows, ups and downs of Bruce’s recording experience.

Springsteen says that because of changes in the music business, the three years that went by in between records may have seemed longer back then than it would now. He says he started to see pieces in the press asking, “Whatever happened to Bruce Springsteen?” And Bruce says that the time stretched out so long, he started wondering that himself. As time continued to pass, the pressure grew and grew. And so did the number of pages in Springsteen’s notebook of songs.

“You didn’t know if you were going to get another chance,” says Springsteen. “So everything I had inside me, I had to get out.”

Good news came in the summer of 1976 with the resolution of the lawsuits between Appel and Springsteen. “I was happy that it was over because I would have fought to the death…because that’s what this was all about.” In the end, amends were made, and the band went back into a professionally equipped studio with Jon Landau and mixer Jimmy Iovine at the helms.

“The Promise” shows a band with renewed vigor as they try to get this project finished. But Landau recounts that it was strange that nobody really had a clear idea of what kind of record they wanted “Darkness” to be. As things evolved, all anybody could agree on was that they wanted a sound that was very basic or as Landau puts it, “coffee black”. While Springsteen wanted Darkness to be very specific in its focus, he also wanted it to be “relentless.”

This long stretch of writing and working on songs in the studio is displayed in wonderful black and white super 8 film shot by Barry Rebo. Of Bruce and Steve at the piano working out “Sherry Darling” and “Talk To Me,” neither of which would made the “Darkness” album. “It’s tragic in a way,” says Little Steven with his usual love and admiration for his old buddy, “because he would have been one of the great composers of all the time.” Thus, the prolific, nonstop song machine named Springsteen. “The Promise” also tells the great story of how Bruce gave away his brilliant song, “Because The Night” to punker Patti Smith, who was also recording with genius engineer Jimmy Iovine in another studio. Springsteen says he didn’t feel comfortable with writing that love song, so he graciously gave it over to Smith, for whom it was her biggest hit ever.

At one point, it was decided that there wasn’t enough saxaphone on “Darkness.” So it was back to work. “It was always like a giant junkyard that were were working in. So if one part wasn’t working, we’d pull another one out of another car and see how that car runs.” And Bruce just continued to write. And write. And write some more. Bruce continued to work on new songs in his growing notebook of what one band member calls the “magical notebook.”

And so they pressed forward with a number of what Max Weinberg calls a “freewheeling” approach, as opposed to a more conservative and stubborn manner in which BTR was recorded. Looking for a live sound, Springsteen ate up precious studio hours hammering out songs as he went along. He refused to allow the band to rehearse many of the tunes. He wanted them real and he wanted them raw. Springsteen also spend hours or days trying to find a certain drum sound and ambiance. And suddenly they looked around, and the boys were stuck again.

After a while, Bruce, Jon, Jimmy and the band needed somebody outside the band. And a not-so-local hero rode into town in the form of Chuck Plotkin came riding into town with a fresh outlook. All band members agree that Plotkin somehow found a way to take the songs they had and give them a theme, meaning and structure. Chuck Plotkin, according to Bruce, is one of the true heroes of the Darkness recording sessions.

“‘Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a meditation,” says Springsteen, “on where your going to stand, it’s a meditation on with who and where your going to stand. These are basic, essential questions that need to be addressed.”

“The obsessive-compulsive part of my personality came through because I found that I could try to drive you crazy….JUST BECAUSE I COULD,” laughs Springsteen. “The band had to find lots of different wants to get out from under my oppressive grip,” he says.

Springsteen and others address the greatness of the song “The Promise.” “It could have gone on the record it we had finished it,” says Springsteen. “It’s about fighting and not winning. But I felt to close to it at the time” So “The Promise” didn’t make it. Along with a lot of other gorgeous, moving songs. But this is a documentary about the album that was made. And that has been with us for more than 30 years and has helped us on our journey as we ask ourselved the same question.

“Darkness On The Edge Of Town” will always be for so many of us our own coming of age album. And in a way it’s Bruce Springsteen’s coming of age album, as well. It’s an album that raises more questions that it answers, but isn’t that how all great art works? This may not be the masterpiece that Born To Run is, but it’s a major victory of Springsteen’s spirit. To continue to believe in the dream and not be unswayed. Played start to finish it is passionate howl issued into that deep, dark night; a man wrestling with the ache the comes from growing into a man.

As the dogs on main streets howl. And howl. And howl

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