Friday, May 28, 2010

50,000 Names

One of my few proud moments during my 6 years at RCA/Nashville was the release of an album by my longtime friend and great songwriter, Jamie O’Hara. It was titled ‘Rise Above It.’ Sadly, like most music of substance, Jamie’s recordings attained little commercial success. Nonetheless, some 15 years later I continue to listen to that CD – especially to track 8 - a song entitled ’50,000 Names.’ It is a stunning and dignified tribute to so many from our generation who served our country and lost their lives during the Vietnam War era. In the aftermath of its release I received occasional letters from Vietnam veterans who had heard the song on the radio or had seen the video we had compiled to accompany the recording. Unlike so many so-called tribute songs this one had depth and heart and honesty and was not written to exploit moments of natural disaster, terror or famine. Jamie’s song was a retrospective prayer honoring an event long in our past but forever attached to our souls.
I recall the furor that arose when the initial sketches of The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial were released. Many deemed it a disgraceful, small-minded and detestable icon. But it was built and so many have come to walk into its dark but glorious angle. I was distrustful of the design until I walked into its space and fully understood its meaning. I found the names of a few classmates and made some charcoal rubbings. But what caused me to have to sit down on an adjacent bench was the sight of hundreds of war widows with their young children, scores of parents weeping for their sons and daughters and, perhaps more poignantly (if that is possible,) the veteran survivors embracing one another and mourning for their lost comrades.
I was a teenager when much of that engagement was happening. I escaped the draft with a high lottery number. My life has been blessed with a happy family, healthy kids, a good job, a nice home and all the other commodities formerly inherent with a life in America. But I can say this: not a day goes by when I do not take a moment to remember the sacrifices made by those 50,000 heroes. That war is in the fabric of my soul. God Bless their families.

‘They come from all across this land
in pick-up trucks and minivans
searching for a boy from long ago.
They scan the wall and find his name,
the teardrops fall like pouring rain
and silently they leave their gifts and go.’
Lyrics by Jamie O’Hara

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Very Reverend Wright and Me

It seems that The Very Left Right Reverend ‘Left’ Wright and I have finally seen eye-to-eye and tooth-for-tooth about some things. They are not at all political and certainly do not concern matters of faith. Although I never sat at the feet of this master of spiritual truth I have surmised from pieces of his ‘sermons,’ published interviews and journalistic research that we have agreed on very little, if anything. But one thing is new under the sun: In recent days The Rev and I have met and momentarily embraced in the middle of the Jordan. He is mouthing off about how Candidate Obama ‘threw him under the bus’ following the exposure of The Rev’s harsh, vulgar and racist remarks from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Once his ugly hate speech – in the guise of preaching – was exposed to the citizens of the good old USA the Obama machine quickly advised their man to leave the building and connive some explanation for why he had been attending that church for 20 years. I recall the shallowness of his reasons; it was appalling to hear the spin and deceit, already knowing that he was going to be our next president. For me this was a foundational moment ushering in The Obama Era: how can a man worship at a church for 20 years and suddenly, for political purposes, deny that he was ever spiritually or emotionally invested in the process. On every level this was hollow, empty and vacuous and, may I add, antithetical to the Gospel of Christ: it is the archetype of the lukewarm believer – you know, the ones who shall be rejected for not taking a stand.
But it has become clear to me that the American body politic votes for individuals who cannot or will not take a stand. I mean, hell – after this and many other obfuscated speeches, actions and ‘policies’ he won the election and is now POTUS. And the magic show continues – day after day – with confusing edicts on the economy, strange approaches to foreign policy, hollow attacks on Wall Street and a simple health care solution that no one understands.
So Reverend Wright – for this one moment I want to be perfectly clear and not lukewarm: We have nothing at all in common but I am on your side on the issue of being abandoned by a former parishioner and friend. I can imagine the sense of hurt and anger you must feel. No, I cannot imagine it – I live it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

We Need Sidewalks

There is a section of Nashville called Belle Meade that can fairly be described as the richest part of town. The homes and lots are large and beautiful graced with old dogwoods and magnolias, stunning landscapes, elegant porches, fountains and tiled roofs. Collected within this smallish sector of town – replete with its own police department and magnificent country club – is the grand wealth of this city: old money, mostly – but some new money, too – think health care.
Some of you know by now that our fair city has just been through a chaotic and devastating nightmare in the form of torrential rains and subsequent flooding. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, clean and plentiful water continues to be a huge issue and businesses throughout the surrounding counties have been lost or temporarily closed.
I happened to be driving through Belle Meade this evening and noticed something that really pissed me off. I’d seen this in recent months and it irritated me a little bit but in light of our recent tragedy it really got to me tonight. In yard after yard there were these little green placards that said, ‘We Need Sidewalks!’
They need sidewalks. People need homes, clothing, diapers, food, shelter, cars, money, help, assistance, medicine, relief, hope and an infinite number of other things. And these people need sidewalks.
The collective wealth of Belle Meade could probably build sidewalks that run the length of the Wall of China and have plenty of cash left over to ship in some fabulous Bordeaux’s and Cognacs from France to celebrate the opening.
A couple of suggestions for you aggrieved:
Hop in your Jaguar and go out and see the poor side of town. Take some sandwiches along (they are made with bread, lunch meat and cheese that can be purchased at your local grocer by whomever it is that buys food for your home.)
Attempt to put things in human perspective. (This will require years of unlearning that you are not the center of the universe.)
When you play golf – walk. (There are no sidewalks on golf courses – they are celled cart paths.)
If you can afford to pay the dues at Belle Meade Country Club you can afford to have the people who built those cart paths build you a sidewalk in front of your house.
Take those signs down. They are blasphemy to people with a conscience.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Heard My Dogs Barking

On any given evening at my house I am probably outside – grilling, looking at the vegetation, having a cocktail, smoking, admiring the sunset, etc. On very few occasions our two Golden Retrievers begin to bark. This happens when cats or groundhogs attempt to race across our property or when anyone pulls up in a car in the front of our house. (If you are not familiar with Golden Retrievers they are the friendliest and least ferocious of all dogs. They love people but will bark and carry on, jump, lick and waggle when you arrive on the premises. Then they will love you.)
This very evening they began to bark. I was in the back of the house and my sweet wife, Sarah, was inside so I figured she could handle whatever was going on. And she did. She opened the front door and allowed the census man inside – gave him a seat, actually, at our dining room table. Then she called me in to let me know what was going on.
I arrived while census man was asking about the name and birth date of one of our children and hollered out, ‘Sarah, don’t give him that information – he has no right.’ Silence ensued. Another question was asked: ‘How long have you lived at this address?’ Again I responded from the kitchen, ‘Sarah, you do not have to answer these questions.’ Sarah said to me, ‘Thom, what’s wrong with all of this?’ I said, ‘I do not want him in our home.’
At that the young man told Sarah that he had to go outside to continue his investigation. They went to our front porch and Sarah came in a few minutes later.
We sat down to dinner – just the two of us. The kind fellow – out of work and getting a temporary paycheck from the good old USA – had wandered over to our neighbor’s house where he may have been greeted by a shotgun. Over crab cakes and sweet potatoes Sarah asked me why I’d had such a bad response to this marginal intrusion. I had no significant answers. I did say that I felt that our federal government had all the information they needed about our family, our children, what they did, how old they were, where they lived, etc. Sarah asked, ‘What harm could it do to answer these questions?’ I asked, ‘What questions?’ She said, ‘Well, they wanted to know if we were white or black.’ I said, ‘What did you tell them?’ She said, ‘I told them we were white.’ I said, ‘Think hard, babe; why did they need to know that?’ Sweet Sarah said, ‘I have no idea.’

Open Letter to the Songwriter Hall of Fame, New York

May 13, 2010
To The Board of Directors and Awards Committee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame - New York, NY
I was startled by the news that, in your profound wisdom, astute observation and elitist tastes, you deemed it most appropriate to honor Taylor Swift with the little-recognized or ever-heard-of ‘Hal David Starlight Award’ during your upcoming ceremonies. I can only hope that this was your desperate attempt at bringing attention to your organization by shining a light on an artist that has been making significant waves in the marketplace. I also hope that you are not serious.
I reviewed your prior inductees this afternoon and have noticed that you have not turned your back entirely on Nashville’s community of songwriters. I see that Harlan Howard, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn have been inducted into your esteemed group – and deservedly so. The precedent, then, has been established. However, I think you do a grand disservice to the hundreds of brilliant composers and lyricists that have preceded Ms. Swift in her chosen genre by singling her out at this moment. Simply put, that you will applaud the work of a singer and songwriter in her early stages is not so egregious; that you have done this while continuing to turn your backs on the scores of remarkably gifted songwriters that have preceded her is appalling. Check ‘em out – they have written circles around many, if not most of your prior and current inductees:
Bill Anderson
Jerry Chestnut
Hank Cochran
Sonny Curtis
Dallas Frazier
Lefty Frizzell
Merle Haggard
Dennis Linde
Dave Loggins
John D. Loudermilk
Bob McDill
Roger Miller
Mickey Newbury
Buck Owens
Ben Peters
Hugh Prestwood
Allen Reynolds
Bill Rice
Don Schlitz
Troy Seals
Sanger ‘Whitey’ Shafer
Billy Sherrill
Joe South
Glenn Sutton
Hank Thompson
Mel Tillis
Cindy Walker
Jim Weatherly
Thom Schuyler
Nashville, TN

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Letter to Hollywood

May 10, 2010

Dear Mr. Clooney, Mr. Pitt, Ms. Jolie, Mr. Asner, Mr. Belafonte, Bono, Ms. Garofalo, Ms. Fonda, Mr. Gere, Mr. Harrelson, Ms. Lange, Mr. Lee, Ms. MacLaine, Mr. Maher, Mr. Moore, Mr. Penn, Ms. Latifah, Mr. Robbins, Ms. Sarandon, Mr. Stone, Mr. Williams and others who are unable to be with us tonight – or this week – or ever, really:

I simply want to thank you for nothing. That’s what you have done for our community. You, the loud mouth purveyors of artistic truth, have been silent. Only 30 people have died here so your silence is understandable. And there has not been one incident of looting, robbery or arson – not yet, anyway. Everything’s fine, other than the 30 people who died, the tens of thousands displaced from their homes, a clean water emergency and an estimated $1.5 billion in damages.

Nashville – it’s in Tennessee, which is east of Los Angeles (to the right if you are looking at a two dimensional map,) west south west, more or less, from New York City, north of New Orleans, northwest of Haiti and in a galaxy far, far away from the perspective of your primping mirror. From the LA area you would need to travel east roughly 2,000 miles by car or you can fly but there are few direct flights, if any. It is, after all, one of America’s minor cities that American Airlines abandoned after demanding a new airport (which we built) to qualify as one of their hubs a few years back. This may make it necessary to change planes in Phoenix (sorry, scratch that,) Denver or Dallas. Mr. Penn, you seem bright enough to do a Map Quest search if you’d like to find us. Maybe you and George can make the drive together and irritate the shit out of each other rather than us.

By the way, I know most of you have contact info for The Very Reverends Sharpton and Jackson and I think it would be nice if they tagged along, also. I’m certain they may recall that this hillbilly hub of white trash was a most significant centerpiece of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. The downtown sit-ins at department store lunch counters, peaceful student protests by TSU Tigers, fire hoses, fistfights and The Fisk Jubilee Singers mark major milestones in this country’s slow-motion movements toward equality. It may be edifying for these men of the cloth to witness what is going on here in case they encounter a future disaster in which they see an opportunity to spew more words that undo decades of slow-motion attempts at progress. We are doing something that is not unusual for cities, regions and states in which people actually work – we are helping each other rather than crying foul and sitting helplessly and hopelessly on the streets waiting for someone else to come to our aid. Oh, and if they do come, have them bring a Bible for a change. There are many here who would love to challenge you to an old-fashioned Bible drill. My thirty pieces of silver are on us.

I’d also be grateful if you could contact some of your PR folks – you know - those people who spin your bad press and follow you all over the world when you adopt children from foreign countries (never from West Virginia) and get divorced? Maybe they could help us tell our story – a story far less important than a failed terrorist bomb in Times Square, an oil spill in The Gulf of Mexico, Sandra Bullock’s conniving, soon-to-be-ex and that horribly egregious new law in Arizona that seeks to undo decades of hand-wringing and apathy in our federal government.

We would love it if Michael and Spike could bring their cameras and wit, too. I can only imagine the great film the two of these masters could make together here in Nashville. It’s right up their alley: destruction, the tearing down of tradition, desperate people, tragedy, etc. The only problem they may encounter is the clear evidence of hope that is radiant around town. But, I’m sure they can work around that and create a fallacious film about our reality – with the help, of course, of Oliver’s inability to see, understand, process or translate anything but lies and distortion.

Oh, and please bring your tuxedoes, bowties and gowns. We are planning a nice dinner and awards show while you’re here and will treat you to some of that great southern hospitality and lots of that country-western music you like so much. We had planned on having it at The Opry House but it has been destroyed so we began making arrangements to move it to one of our convention centers downtown but they’re under water so we contacted our beautiful symphony house but it was flooded, too as was our 17,000 seat arena, our 60,000 seat football stadium and much of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Not to worry, we’ll figure something out.

Anyway, I guess that’s it. Again, thanks for nothing. The power just came back on so I’m headed to our little den to watch some old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, The Johnny Cash Show and The Beverly Hillbillies. This all happened before The Flood – The Great Flood of Your Transparent Shallowness.

“Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Hard Rain

It has been almost 5 years since we have been hearing the horror stories of Hurricane Katrina. And the stories continue. Hundreds of thousands of individuals and organizations have traveled to points south to assist in the clean up and restoration of New Orleans and many other Gulf Coast communities. It still ain’t right and we continue to hear about it.
In 2008 there were storms and floods in the Midwest that devastated many farming states very much on par with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. It surely made the national news and for a few days and weeks our citizenry chipped in and came to their rescue, once again. Not a word since. I guess they’re okay.
This past weekend Nashville and other communities in Tennessee and portions of surrounding states experienced a flood of Biblical proportions. Word is that rain of this magnitude has not fallen on this town for at least 500 years. We are a disaster. Some national news coverage has ensued, but very little. I’ve been in the streets, on the ground and in the community for the past 4 days. I’ve met no one who has come here from beyond the confines of our closest Tennessee counties. We are on our own and still no coverage of significance is being broadcast beyond the region.
So, what’s this all about? The event of Hurricane Katrina and the horrible aftermath that ruined that city are emblazoned in our memories. And, apparently, we need to be reminded often. But what of those Midwest farmers and we hillbillies in Tennessee: what is it about us that merits so little respect from the national media and so little concern from our fellow citizens?
These are political storms. These are very political storms, indeed. And I’ll tell you – ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’