A Words Look: “Feelin’ Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen is one of those Texan singer/songwriters with that uncanny ability to write songs which are not only relatable but run like a movie in your head when you hear them.

“Feeling’ Good Again” is one of my favorites. It captures that feeling of home a person can have away from their actual home, in this case, the Mr. Blues bar/tavern down on Main Street. You want a short master course in writing, take a look at the lyrics of this song and study how Keen draws you into the scene and places you right next to the main character before recharging his soul with the familiarity and comfort of Mr. Blues.

My favorite parts are when he finds “three twenties and a ten” in his pocket and when he wished his friend was there and he “looked across the room and saw you standin’ on the stair”. But the best part may be the next line, “And when I caught your eye I saw you break into a grin”. So much potential backstory, enough to touch about any listeners soul.

“Feelin’ Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen

Standin’ down on Main Street
Across from Mr, Blues
In my faded leather jacket
And my weathered Brogan shoes
A chill north wind was blowin’
But the spring was comin’ on
As I wondered to myself
Just how long I had been gone

So I strolled across old Main Street
Walked down a flight of stairs
Stepped into the hall
And saw all my friends were there
A neon sign was flashin’ “Welcome come on in”
It feels so good feelin’ good again

My favorite band was playin’
An Otis Redding song
When they sang the chorus
Everybody sang along
Dan and Margarita
were swayin’ side by side
I heard they were divorcin’
But I guess they let it slide
And I wished I had some money with
which to buy a round

I wished I’d cashed my paycheck
Before I came to town
But I reached into my pocket
Found three twenties and a ten
It feels so good feelin’ good again

There was old man Perkins
Sittin’ on his stool
Watchin’ Butch and Jimmy John
Talkin’ loud and playin’ pool
The boys from Silver City
Were standin’ by the fire
Singin’ like they thought
they were the Tabernacle choir

And I wanted you to see them all
I wished that you were there
I looked across the room
and saw you standin’ on the stair
And when I caught your eye
I saw you break into a grin
It feels so good feelin’ good again

There are several good videos on YouTube of Robert Earl Keen singing “Feelin’ Good Again”, here are a couple I really liked.

And this one, because…biscuits!

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A Words Look: KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park

 

Last September, I was lucky enough to host a special Twitter chat on #mglitchat about the three middle reader books selected for the 2017 Global Read Aloud program. The three books are spectacular and I highly recommend all of them. The books were FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria Coe, THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown, and A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park. We were fortunate to also have Jim Averbeck, who did the original illustrations for A LONG WALK TO WATER, join us.The chat was so much fun and could have easily gone twice the allotted time of one hour. These creators, besides being immensely talented, are just great human beings. It was a highlight of my 2017, that is for sure.

About a week after the chat, a package arrived in the mail from New York. It was from Linda Sue Park. I anxiously ripped open the package and found a copy of her book, KEEPING SCORE! I was cartwheeling-across-the-dining-room floor happy. I knew Linda Sue was a baseball fan from our interactions on Twitter and in correspondences prior to the chat. In particular, I knew she was a New York Mets fan (a team which, I may remind everyone, was nobly defeated in the 2015 World Series by my team, the Kansas City Royals!).

I finally had an opening in research reading to squeeze in KEEPING SCORE over the holiday. It’s a great baseball book for young readers! Set in 1950’s New York City, she weaves a great story from the threads of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the rabid local fandoms for “Dem Bums”, the Giants, and the Yankees, scoring a baseball game, and the Korean War. If you have a young baseball fan in your life, you might set this title in front of them, or try one from this list I compiled at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors blog.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It’s when the Maggie, the young Dodgers fan, is learning to score a baseball game from the new guy—and Giants fan—Jim, down at the local firehouse.

From KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park, 2008, Clarion Books.

          By the end of the game, Maggie knew how the defense was numbered. Not their uniform numbers, but their position numbers. Jim tore a sheet out of the back of the notebook so she could write it down to study at home.

1-pitcher
2-catcher
3-first base
4-second base
5-third base
6-shortstop
7-left field
8-center field
9-right field

          Jim also showed her what the numbers in the little squares meant. They told what each batter had done. “4-3” written in the square opposite the batter’s name meant that a ground ball had been hit to the second baseman (4) who had thrown it to the first baseman (3) for the out.          

          Jim could look at his score sheet and see exactly what had happened in any inning. Which was way better than just keeping it in your head, because when you were trying to remember what happened in a game, only the big exciting plays came to mind. But Maggie knew that baseball was often a game of little things—the pitcher falling behind in the count, the good throw to keep a runner from advancing, the slide to break up a double play—and those were hard to keep track of. Jim’s score sheet didn’t have every single thing written down, but the things that were there could really help you remember.

Great stuff, hey? With baseball season just around the corner, how about filling the dark days of winter with baseball reads?

A Words Look: Intro to Baba O’Riley

I was just fiddle-farting around at work on a Friday morning a few months ago, listening to John in the Morning on the KEXP stream and organizing the experiments for the day. John Richards played Baba O’Riley from The Who mixed in with the usual eclectic music KEXP is famous for. At KEXP, they run a real-time playlist on the web feed that has a section for DJ notes about the song playing. Most of the time, these notes are information about shows the currently played band is playing in the Pacific Northwest or links to their archived KEXP In-Studio performances. There’s often also an odd song fact or two the DJ gleans from the internet about the song or artists.

KEXP DJ Notes on Baba O’Riley by The Who, John Richards Friday, October 13, 2017:

“Good morning and a very happy Friday. When The Who perform this live, the processed organ is played from a recording, since it would be nearly impossible to replicate on an instrument. The guitar doesn’t come in until 1:40, giving Pete Townshend some time to reflect on his work. “There is this moment of standing there just listening to this music and looking out to the audience and just thinking, ‘I f–king did that. I wrote that,” he told Rolling Stone. “I just hope that on my deathbed I don’t embarrass myself by asking someone, ‘Can you pass me my guitar? And will you run the backing tape of ‘Baba O’Riley’? I just want to do it one more time.”

As a writer, this particular quote from Pete Townshend hits home.

“I f–ing did that. I wrote that.”

By Impm at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many times when artists of all ways, shapes, and forms need “I f–ing did that.” as much as they need food or water. It is something creative people need to carry around with them as their weapon of defense when hit by self-doubt and creative panic. We need to step back, take a few deep breaths, and observe what we have created. Look or listen to what we’ve created and take a few moments to appreciate our own work. As creators, we occasionally need to be inspired by the fact we’ve created something wonderful before and use that to gather the artistic confidence to produce a new and wonderful work.

Here is a relatively recent live video of The Who performing Baba O’Riley. I chose this particular video over the dozens of other live performances of this classic song not because it’s any better than the other versions but because it shows the band’s age. It shows that old guys can still rock and roll.

Never stop creating. Step back every once in a while and appreciate what you’ve done. Take this moment to tell yourself, “I f–ing did that.” And then go out and create some more. Believe me, the world needs your work.

 

 

A Tale of Two Cats

I am not a cat person. Never really have been. Never really will be.

But, there have been two cats in my life that wiggled their way into my dog-loving heart. Is there is a common factor between these two felines that has raised them above a “leave me alone and go catch mice” relationship?

Why yes there is. They’re badasses.

BAD ASSES.

Big Bad Bud was one of a kind. He didn’t really like people and he was a killing machine. Birds. Mice. Rats. Squirrels. If it moved and/or pissed him off, it was dead. I can’t find the video or the photographic evidence, but Triple B once killed an adult squirrel and laid its lifeless body in front of the back door. I know, many cats do this. But do they also eat the squirrel starting at the head and leaving only a fluffy tail on the doormat? I don’t think so.

And the really incredible thing about Big Bad Bud was he only had one working eye. The other one was blind when we adopted him. Much to my dismay, we had to give him away when he got old, got cranky, and started to become nasty toward our other cat and some of the kids who hung out around the house.

We gave Bud away to some friends who live in the country and needed a mouser for their outbuildings. It was a match made in heaven. Bud fulfilled his duties wonderfully for a period of time until, one day, he disappeared.

Common sense states the elderly cat was caught by a coyote or wandered off to die in the woods. But for me, I believe in the Legend of Big Bad Bud. I believe he is still out there wandering Washington Co. hunting and surviving on his own.

The other cat is our current senior feline, Willie. The family we adopted Willie from years ago was moving and could no longer keep him at their new residence. They asked if we were interested, we said yes. They thought Willie was around eight-years-old when we took him in. That was twelve years ago, making his age now around 20. He adjusted to Hays House life pretty quickly. Until his first Christmas at the house and he peed on the Christmas tree skirt and was permanently banned to the life of an outdoor cat. He went out. He rarely complained. He, like Bud, was also not a fan of people.

The past 12 months, Willie has been slowing down. He is truly showing his age. He’s fought off several bouts of unknown illnesses, worked through the introduction of a new cat, Nala, and worked through the death of his respected friend and housemate, our chocolate lab, Sophie. I’ve known for the past few years that his days were numbered and getting close.

A few weeks ago, he got backed over by our Yukon. He hadn’t been feeling well for a few days. He’d been down and sleeping most of the time for about 3-4 days. I thought he was a goner, but he rebounded. He was still kicking but kicking it slowly. Willie never sleeps under the vehicles. Never. When we turned on the SUV to back out of the driveway on a Friday evening, for some reason he was under the Yukon. He must have not woke up and the rear tire ran over him.

I thought he was a goner. He crawled to his spot behind the garage and wouldn’t budge except for his labored breathing. I sat with him and tried to make him comfortable. I almost called the vet to get him put down. I convinced myself to give Willie until the morning and see if nature took its course during the night.

When I woke early Saturday morning and went to check on him, he was gone! I couldn’t find him anywhere around the garage. I wondered if a dog or coyote or something took him off during the night. But when I trudged through the house and out the front door to get the newspaper, there he was lying in his third favorite spot by the front porch. Alive but not kicking very well. Again, I thought about a trip to the vet. Again, I thought if Willie got his three-quarters dead-self moved all the way across the yard, he deserved the gift of time. I gave him until Monday.

I raked and mowed leaves that afternoon. In the middle of the process, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Wille! He was standing on all four legs. Moving 10 feet or so, and lying down for a rest. Incredible.

Every day I gave him another day before getting him put down. Every day he survived and improved. Limping and moving slow, but eating and drinking again. This past week, less than two weeks after the accident, he showed up to greet me one evening when I came home from work as he’d always done. Walking normally with a slight limp. I hate to get sentimental, but I just about cried. Willie is one incredibly tough cat. He doesn’t know any better than to survive. He has to be on Life #8.99999.

BADASS.

So, we will see what the future brings for Willie. Today I even shared with him a piece of my t-bone steak. He deserves. In the meantime, the next badass cat at the Hays House will have big shoes to fill to follow Big Bad Bud and Willie.

My kind of cats. Badass SOBs.

A Words Look: “Southern Accents” by Tom Petty

Tom Petty’s death was one of those deaths that sneak up on you and knocks you off the rails. He was one of those artists who were so damn good you hardly knew he was there. His constancy was so ingrained into the musical world since the mid-1970’s it was almost like the reliability of the ground under our feet or the sky above our heads. Tom Petty was that good.

Damn the Torpedoes was a game changer for a 15-year-old kid in 1979. Almost every song resonated with me. The power of a song and a lyric and the stories he told in his music, especially the stories he told in underdog songs like, “Even the Losers”. Everyman stories, for every man, by an everyman.

Over the years, this song “Southern Accents” has become a favorite. It is a powerful song about knowing where you come from, overcoming where you come from, and living a life that shines with the best of where you came from. Basically, it comes down to a song which I can closely relate too. 

From an interview with Billboard

“The radio has so many rules, and songs don’t. You don’t necessarily write to a rule book, unless you’re like just doing it professionally, which has never been my thing. I just like a lot of songs. ‘Southern Accents,’ I think that’s one of my best, really. That would have been 1984 and I wrote that on the piano in the studio at home, I had a studio and I just happened to be down there in the middle of the night, it was quite late, probably early morning, and I just started to play and a song just started to appear.

I’d work on the first verse, and I’d get it, and then I’d just go bit by bit. But the breakthrough of that song was the middle eight, the bridge. When I got to the bridge I realized, ‘Now we’re talking, I’ve got something happening here.’ And when I was done with it I was extremely excited. There’s nothing like that feeling of having just written a song that you know is ‘the song’ and you know it’s really great and you can’t wait to share it with people, you can’t wait to record it.”

I first heard “Southern Accents” on the groundbreaking Johnny Cash Unchained, American II album (which is a GREAT record if you’ve never heard it.). It is one of those songs Johnny Cash covers and absolutely makes it his. Cash owns this song like he did so many of the songs he covered late in his life. Tom Petty’s original is absolutely fabulous but The Man in Black takes it to another level.

“Southern Accents”

By Tom Petty

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young ‘uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta is just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando if them orange groves don’t freeze
Got my own way of working, but everything is run
With a southern accent, where I come from

For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there, with me

There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me
And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me
Got my own way of praying, but everyone’s begun
With a southern accent, where I come from

Got my own way of living, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Here’s a live Tom Petty version that is very good:

Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of “Southern Accents”:

A Words Look: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at least once a year, preferably in the month of October when the winds turn chill and the leaves fall and swirl in our path. There have been cartoons, movies and shortened version of this story that are very entertaining in their own right, but none compare to the original bestowed upon us by Washington Irving. In a day of age where we rush and run and squeeze activity after activity into our lives, it’s a fine thing to be able to turn to Irving and disappear into his stories and settings. His descriptions, which may be considered verbose by today’s standards, transport the reader back into another space and time. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, he does this masterfully. I always feel like I’m walking down a Hudson Valley path listening to the narrator tell this tale while he points out the Van Tassel home, the schoolhouse, the churchyard, and the wooden bridge.

Here is the opening of the story in all its glory. I hope it entices you to have a read or reread of the whole tale this week in the spirit of the roaming spirits of the season. You can find the eBook file here to download. 

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern
shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by
the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always
prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by
some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly
known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in
former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the
inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern
on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely
advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this
village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of
land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole
world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull
one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a
woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the
uniform tranquillity.

I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was
in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had
wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and
was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness
around and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever
I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its
distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I
know of none more promising than this little valley.

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its
inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this
sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow,
and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the
neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the
land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was
bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the
settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his
tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by
Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the
sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the
good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given
to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and
frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The
whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and
twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the
valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her
whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and
seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the
apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to
be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by
a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War,
and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the
gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not
confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and
especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain
of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in
collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege
that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the
ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and
that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the
Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a
hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.

Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has
furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and
the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the
Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

By w:Emanuel Leutze – http://archive.org/details/legendofsleepyho05irvi, Public Domain

 

 

 

A Words Look: John Henry by Bruce Springsteen

I’ve always been drawn to the legend of John Henry. Man vs. machine. Hammer and steel. Muscle and determination. JH is like a magnet to quiet, big guys like myself. One of the first books I remember was the Ezra Keats version of the legend. I think it was the cover that caught me. John Henry is such an inspiration in my life, I’m working on a new middle grade story built around him and other American legends.

I also remember the Ballad of John Henry song. Magical. This version from Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band is one of the best out there. In fact, The Seeger Sessions is a great piece of work by a great artist. Here are the lyrics and a live performance video from The Boss.

John Henry

Well John Henry was a little baby
Sittin’ on his daddy’s knee
He picked up a hammer and
a little piece of steel
And cried, “Hammer’s gonna
be death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me”

Now the captain he
said to John Henry
“I’m gonna bring that
steam drill around
I’m gonna bring that
steam drill out on these tracks
I’m gonna knock that
steel on down, God, God
I’m gonna knock that
steel on down”

John Henry told his captain
“Lord a man ain’t noth‘ but a man
But before I let that steam drill
beat me down
I’m gonna die with a hammer
in my hand, Lord, Lord
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand”

John Henry driving
on the right side
That steam drill driving
on the left
Says, “Fore I let your
steam drill beat me down
I’m gonna hammer
myself to death, Lord, Lord,
I’ll hammer my fool self to death”

Well captain said to John Henry
“What is that storm I hear?”
John Henry said, “That
ain’t no storm captain
That’s just my hammer
in the air, Lord, Lord
That’s just my hammer in the air”

John Henry said to his shaker
“Shaker, why don’t you sing?
Cause I’m swingin’ thirty pounds
from my hips on down
Yeah, listen to my cold steel
ring, Lord Lord

Listen to my cold steel ring”

John Henry he hammered
in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard;
it broke his heart
John Henry laid down his hammer
and died, Lord, Lord

John Henry laid down his hammer and died

Well, now John Henry
he had him a woman
By the name of Polly Ann
She walked out to those tracks
Picked up John Henry’s hammer
Polly drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly drove that steel like a man

Well every, every Monday morning
When a blue bird he began to sing
You could hear John Henry
from a mile or more
You could hear John Henry’s hammer
ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring
I say, You can John Henry’s
hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can John Henry’s
hammer ring

Live on, John Henry!