Bye, Bye, Johnnie B. Goode

As a boy, I recall music being the backdrop of my home life. My father spun country and western 78s on his downstairs record player—the family still has a Sun Record original of Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” Mom wet her panties anytime Sinatra sang on the living room radio, which (I assume) was tuned to a standards station. Under the stairwell leading to the basement, a large box contained classic vinyl from the 1940s and ’50s; many more had been “stolen” by an aunt and uncle, who didn’t return them after a late night party at their home. The family also possessed a number of standard Italian tunes that I remember being played or crooned a cappella at family get-togethers.

Then along came 1958 and Spokanites were introduced to their first taste of radio programming dedicated solely to Top 40 rock ’n’ roll.

“Kay En Eee Double U … Channel 79,” the station’s identification ditty still rings in my ears, as do all those early hits that defined my youth. I was an overweight nerd wearing glasses to alleviate a myopia that extends not to just my nearsightedness, but to my grasp of the world.

That cloudy vision impacts my memory, too, but I know one thing for sure: a guy named Chuck Berry dominated my perception of the early days of rock on my local radio station. His influence on me is evidenced by my ability to still recite from memory most of the lyrics to “Maybelline,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis,” “No Particular Place to Go,” and a double handful of other originals penned by the master of guitar with lyrics that spoke truth to me and my generation.

You’ll be greatly missed, Chuck.

I saw you over there
But what could I do?
I couldn’t stand and stare
Or come and talk to you
And it is always fair
To formally be introduced?
To you especially
I took it on my own
To come and talk to you
Because you were alone
I hope I didn’t intrude
Observing you had shown
That you were so lonely and blue
Nothing beats a failure like a try
There’s a great reward
Someone will surely hail you
If you try
But you must try hard
And if I hadn’t tried
I wonder where I’d be

If I upon relied
On fate you meeting me
But because I tried
Together we’ll always be
Nothing beats a failure like a try
There’s a great reward
Someone will surely hail you
Oh darling
Together we’ll always be

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group (Chuck Berry’s first single, written by Richard Berry, who crafted “Louie Louie,” a giant Northwest hit.)

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What the world needs now …

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With all the craziness about us these days, I started thinking—on a throwback Thursday—to a time almost half a decade ago when three freshmen and their RA knew exactly what the world needed.

We came together at Craig Hall on the University of Montana campus in Fall 1967: two kids from Shadle Park—a running back and an aspiring journalist, members of a senior class so large they had barely known each other prior; a talented North Dakota musician, who quickly discovered the financial benefit of hawking pot (as in “pans,” not “weed”); and our RA and consummate leader, a strikingly handsome Air Force brat with keys to a modified and raised blue Willys that challenged the modesty of any skirted coed that tried to climb aboard.

On a singular night that fall, the four of us decided to raise a little hell. We hopped into the Willys and roared out Brooks to a root beer stand, where we acquired a gallon jug of sweet suds. A few moments later, we entered The Heidelhaus with our smuggled contraband and ordered pizzas (as I vaguely recall). The table clamor elevated as more and more “beer” found its way surreptitiously from the jug at our feet and the water glasses on the table.

We were certain wait staff would toss us out at any moment for consuming alcohol illegally. In reality, they likely perceived us as just another bunch of immature college boys, especially our “youthful,” 21-year-old leader—the only guy among the four of us during a future adventure to choose a soda instead of beer and get carded at an off-campus night spot.

Emboldened by the nonalcoholic brew we consumed at The Heidelhaus that fall night, we returned to campus, where we loudly and jovially thundered around the otherwise quiet grounds until we found ourselves standing under a street light at the foot of a high-rise, coed dorm. I don’t think any of us could carry a lick, but our motley quartet found united voice in a mangled version of Dionne Warwick’s plaintive plea:

“What the world needs now … is more freshmen girls. No not for some, but for everyone.”

Fifty years on, we’ve aged a little; cutback heavily on the frivolity; and maybe even acquired a little wisdom. Long past yearning for more freshmen girls, I’m sure our quartet concurs with Dionne about what the world really needs now.

Wearing the birthday suit

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Surprisingly, I woke up yesterday to find out that my sixty-eight-year-old birthday suit still fit. Oh, it’s developed a lot of few wrinkles, but not so many sags … yet. And, no major rips, tears, or breaks mar the now-less-than-baby-fresh fabric. Of course, those once luxurious strands of red-highlighted brown that decorated the top have all disappeared, except for a few stragglers that got dyed by nature to shades of white and gray. That said, the old shell seems to be holding up well.

What made the day, however, were all the fun, thoughtful, and kind well wishes from friends and family. Thanks everyone for remembering.

Now, get ready for next year: I’m thinking about uploading the suit in its current state.

Timeless wisdom for trying times

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Like a gift of providence, author Ron Chernow and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda have reawakened Americans to the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton. Their efforts arrive at a time when the civic charge of one of our greatest statesmen must again be understood and heeded:

To … [monitor] the progress of such endeavors [despotism] is the office of the free press. To give us early alarm and put us on our guard against encroachments of power. This then is a right of utmost importance, one for which, instead of yielding it up, we ought rather to spill our blood.
~ as quoted by Ron Chernow in Alexander Hamilton, p. 670

The experience of past ages may inform us that when the circumstances of a people render them distressed, their rulers generally recur to severe, cruel, and oppressive measures. Instead of endeavoring to establish their authority in the affection of their subjects, they think they have no security but in their fear. They do not aim at gaining their fidelity and obedience by making them flourishing, prosperous, and happy, but by rendering them abject and dispirited. They think it necessary to intimidate and awe them to make every accession to their own power, and to impair the peoples as much as possible.”
~ “The Farmer Refuted,” Feb. 5, 1775

In appreciation

joel-tracy Joel Morse & Tracy Zinn

This morning I prepared and delivered my last consultant invoice to T&B Planning, a relatively small, well-respected engine with a value to the building industry that far surpasses its size. In the early 1900s the two original partners, who founded the firm in 1974, passed ownership on to a group of five principals of which I was one. At the beginning of 2011, the leadership mantle passed to Joel Morse and Tracy Zinn, two of the hardest working, devoted professionals in the business.

When I retired nearly six years ago, the firm—like the building industry and the national economy—was in near shambles. The original partners had created a financial time bomb, not recognized by my group of subsequent owners until the mid-2000s. Tracy and Joel inherited this cloud at the worst time in industry history and without the benefit of support from any of the previous ownership.

I might have stayed on another year or two, but I saw little more I could give and would have worked for nothing, as Joel and Tracy did for many months to keep the doors open. On my side of the ledger at that time, my stock was worthless; my buy-out agreement less valuable than the paper that held our signatures.

As I went out the door, Tracy and Joel pledged to make me whole. Just have patience, they said, and give us seven years. This promise came when the building industry was in a long-tail spin and T&B Planning had shrunk to four people—after once supporting a staff of 45. Knowing this scenario, one might understand why I considered it highly unlikely that I would float safely into retirement under a parachute provided by a company to which I had devoted almost 25 years.

That said I knew if anyone could save the then-37-year-old company, it would be this relatively young duo. Like me, they came to T&B unseasoned; unlike me, they possessed formal educations in the field and sound business acumen. Besides their collective wisdom and ability, they have continued to display tenacity, dedication, and integrity. Despite all odds, Joel and Tracy saved the company and made it a successful and integral part of the building industry again.

As further proof of their character and integrity, T&B Planning will be sending me my last check this month, an event arriving a full year ahead of schedule. That occasion also will signify the formal end of my thirty-year association with the firm and this “dynamic duo,” supported today by a group of key and seasoned professionals including Jerrica, David, and Eric.

Joel and Tracy’s commitment and honesty—whether it be to a client or a former employee—is rare in today’s business world, but a foundational element of their character. I give them my heartfelt thanks and highly commend them to you.

How we got to this: a brief history

trump-clintonNorm Hall, Getty Image, LA Times, Oct. 26, 2016

Scared shitless by Kent State, my generation abdicated its civic duty and opted to bury its collective head at the shopping mall.

Early hint: Unlike earlier classes that sought discourse and a path to conflict resolution before protest, the freshmen of 1970 at my university conducted a food war and then claimed, after the fact, that it was a demonstration against dormitory food quality. The school’s food service unit possessed a nationally-recognized, award-winning program.

Beginning in the 1970s, politicians and their staffs realized they could spin just about any kind of bullshit and a boob-tube mesmerized American public would buy it. Fox News, established Oct. 7, 1996, proved the point with its anything-but fair and balanced reporting. MSNBC took up the flag about a decade later.

In 1970, there were 1,748 daily newspapers in America. By 2014, the number had plummeted to 1,331. Only 54% of Americans read a paper today.

Teachers have lost all authority in the classroom to overpaid, off-sight administrators and ill-advised parents that think they know more than trained, experienced, underpaid and dedicated educators. We have come to value mostly-meaningless achievement tests over a liberal arts education and a focus on teaching children how to think for themselves.

In 1987, Wall Street movie character Gordon Gekko proclaimed “Greed is good.” We missed the point.

Karl Rove: for oh so many reasons.

“There has been a long tradition of anti-intellectualism in America, unlike most other Western countries. Richard Hofstadter, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his book, Anti-Intellectualism In American Life, describes how the vast underlying foundations of anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science have been infused into America’s political and social fabric. Famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ~Ray Williams, Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America, Psychology Today, July 7, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america.