Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we new. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

Friends, Music, Life

 

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening!”

About the time the Original Cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1970, I was moving from the small farming community of Lebanon, Indiana to Evansville, the third or fourth largest city in Indiana. Little did I know the opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber would be the soundtrack for much of my teenage life and become the impetus for a spiritual journey that has lasted for decades.

The life we lived in Lebanon was idyllic; small town USA. Dad was the minister for the Baptist Church, a community leader, incredibly respected. In the minds and hearts of many he was right up there with The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the Pope. I whine a lot about being a PK (preacher’s kid), but truth be told, I was extremely proud to be my father’s son (and still am!).

I never saw myself as one of the popular kids, but, I did have a lot of friends. We had grown up together either at Central Elementary, at First Baptist Church or both. We played Little League baseball together, we played sandlot ball together, we were in Scouts together; Jeff, Tim, Randy, David, Jeff (Jeff was a very popular name), Charlie, Lisa, Betsy, Jill, Susan…and, many, many more.  

In the spring of 1970, we were promoted out of the sixth and into the seventh grade…Junior High School! Filled with pride, excitement and just a touch of anxiety! We said our goodbyes and went on summer break and vacations vowing to that we would all stay close friends in the much larger Junior High.

It was during this summer of 1970, our parents announced we were moving to Evansville. God was calling dad to a new congregation, in a much larger city, away from all our friends, away from the life we new. But, how could you argue with God’s call? We were going to move in October. For me, this meant six weeks at the Lebanon Junior High School, a chance to say goodbye to all my friends.

For me, this meant a return to elementary school. Yes, Evansville schools at the time were K through 8, and High School was 9 through 12. So, after achieving one of life’s greatest rewards of going to Junior High, I would be back in elementary school. Devastated does not begin to describe it.

For me, this meant having to try out for the baseball team, instead of “graduating” from Little League to American Legion ball where all the coaches knew me and my abilities. It meant, not being good enough to be “drafted” for the league and having to play in an instructional league that was one step above sandlot.

For me, this meant joining a Scout troop with twenty kids I did not know. Twenty kids who did not take scouting as seriously as my friends and I had. They didn’t wear a proper uniform or even try to progress through the ranks. Me, in my fully pressed and immaculate uniform, with my sash filled with merit badges, and my rank of Life Scout stuck out like a new kid never wants to do. Heck, most these kids even smoked on camping trips (OK, I was a little naive and sheltered).  

The first day in my new school, my new elementary school came. The principal took me to my new home room. 25 kids who had grown up together. 25 kids who had already been in school six weeks. 25 kids who started at the new kid as the principal introduced me to the teacher. The teacher who stood me up in front of the class and asked “who can show Jeff around the school and introduce him to everyone?” 25 kids whose 50 hands were glued to their desktops and whose eyes refused to make eye contact. Finally, a hand raises and I hear voice say, “I’ll show him around.” (Thank you to Hal Bloss for being my first friend in Evansville! (and one of the longest lasting))

One of the people Hal introduced me to that day was Charlie Hagan. In 1970, I was just beginning to discover music, the Monkees, the Beatles, the Partridge Family (yes, I confess). Charlie and I began to explore music together. (He even let me listen to his album by the Rolling Stones!). Together we dreamed of becoming rock stars, even dressing like them…bell bottoms, puffy-sleeved shirts in wild colors, clothes patched with American Flag cloth, chokers…you get the picture.

I was learning to play guitar, Charlie the drums. Together with Jimmie Gains and Jeff Wilhite, we formed a band called the E’ville Spirits, though I don’t think we ever played a note together, Charlie and I would jam for hours on end.

We started writing songs together, Hagan ‘n Ton, destined to be the next Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards. Honestly, we wrote very little music, we wrote lyrics and dreamed. We designed album covers and we even played for a school assembly. To this day, I can remember Hal being our biggest fan. “I know you guys are going to do it”, he would say.

A couple years passed and now it was time to go to high school. Charlie and I had written at least five “albums” of song lyrics by then. But, life was about ready to change again. Charlie’s family were devout Catholics. Charlie would be going to one of the Catholic High Schools. Ugh! Well, we could still get together on weekends to “rehearse”! Then, more news came. Charlie was an accomplished dancer, performing in multiple productions. Over the summer, he had been accepted into a boarding school in Illinois. It seems the boarding school focused on dance as well as academics.

Before he left for school, Charlie had one last gift for me. As we were saying our goodbyes, each trying desperately not to cry, he reached into a box and gave me his well worn and scratched copy of an opera, really, an opera!??! Yeah, I knew that Tommy by the Who was a rock opera, but this one wasn’t about a pinball wizard…of course, it was Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had heard parts of it coming from my older brother’s room and liked it but I had never really listened to it, never really heard the words, never really felt the impact…until then. I listened to it over and over and over again, I memorized the words, I learned some of the music. This was controversial…at a time in this teenagers life when he was starting to question authority and status quo. It was mesmerizing.

The story of the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, told from the perspective of his betrayer and his friend, Judas. It was a story of Christ’s humanity. For me, it was the first picture of Jesus as a man. It was the first time he felt real, instead of a character in a bible story. The Opera was met with protest when it was first written, In fact, Rice and Webber could not find anyone who would produce the play. Instead, they turned to the record company who had produced “Tommy” for the Who and released it as a concept album.

When the play was produced, it was met with picketers at the theatre. Christians felt it depicted Jesus as too human. The Jewish community felt it portrayed them as the assassins who killed him. It was a multi-faceted story. Yes, it was set in the year 30 AD, but it was as much about the political unrest of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Prophetically, it even serves as a picture of the political climate in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest outcry then as of now, is the ending. The story ends with the crucifixion. I have to admit, it bugged me too back then (however, I will say, the ending to NBC’s production on Easter Sunday 2018 was awe inspiring). But, back in 1972 and 73, it felt incomplete. I was starting to enter my “Jesus Freak” phase, listening to Godspell, Larry Norman, and Phil Keaggy. In 1973, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit the theatres. Our entire church youth group went to a screening.

In the movie, there is a moment, a moment that stopped time. It was at the end of the scene for the song Trial Before Pilate. You know the one? The one with the 39 lashes. That scene. The actor who had just flogged Jesus 39 times. Stops. Panting. And stares quizzically at Jesus. THAT scene. That quizzical look. What was he thinking? What was he feeling. I began, what was to become a lifelong obsession with research and learning.  I had to know more.

I was soon to learn about Ius Gladii, the right of the sword. Dating back to roman times. It was the right to issue punishment (including flogging and crucifixion) for crimes. I read descriptions of the whip, medical accounts of the flogging and of the crucifixion. I had to write the ending, the “proper” ending.

What started as a simple poem “Ius Gladii – The Right of the Sword” grew into a full rock opera, title “He Has Risen” The story of Christ from the burial to the ascension.  I still remember snippets. From Ius Gladii:

When you stood staring quizzically
At my prophet King
What did you think of my lord then?
Was he different from the rest?

And from the title song, “He Has Risen”

He Has Risen
Just as he said
He Has Risen
Just as he said, he would

I can still hear the melody in my head when I type those words.

I would spend the next two years honing the lyrics, studying music theory and composition to be able to write the orchestration, and working with the late Mark X. Hatfield to turn my music scores into reality and bring the words to life. Alas, Mark was probably the only one that ever heard my rock opera. It, like the hundreds of songs (lyrics) I wrote in me teens and twenties, lost to time.

When it was time to enter college, I decided to study Music Theory and Composition. That decision was heavily influenced by composing (and I use that word loosely) my rock opera. While I learned very quickly one had to have talent (and play an instrument…rock guitar did not count) and changed my major, I continued to write song lyrics and poetry well into my 30’s.

I won’t be as bold as to say Jesus Christ Superstar saved my life, but to an awkward, pimple-faced, shy teenager it was magic and I can say, it forever changed his life!

July 19, 2017: The day the music died.

July 19th the world lost Mark X. Hatfield, and, yes, on July 19th…the music died.

Mark X. Hatfield - The day the music died...

Mark X. Hatfield (Photo from Mark’s Facebook page)

Mark as an organist. A church organist. He brought his gift to thousands around the world. Words cannot describe the majesty of his music. I urge you to listen to some of his performances on YouTube.

If Mark had played rock ‘n roll, he would have been known as a “keyboardist”. With no disrespect to Elton John, Billy Joel or the late Keith Emerson, that label diminishes the enormous talent God had given Mark. Whenever Mark played the organ, the congregation would come early to hear the prelude. After the service, they would sit in the pews until the last notes of the postlude echoed throughout the sanctuary.

Mark was an organist. A church organist…and so much more. Mark came to our church in the early 70’s to be the organist. When the Minister of Music left, Mark took over those duties as well and truly began his ministry. The music became an integral part of the service. He would work with my dad (the minister) to really understand the message he wanted to convey on Sunday and deeply tie the music to that message.

Mark brought a bright sense of humor with him as well. Member of the choir having a birthday? Aren’t those notes of “Happy Birthday” subtly being played underneath the melody of the offertory? “The Bringing of the Tithes” Sunday in November? I swear I hear the tones of “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof!

As Mark expanded his ministry, he resurrected the youth choir and started a youth handbell choir. The bell choir became known across the state. We were a ROCKING bell choir. I don’t mean we played rock music (other than Tubular Bells, I can’t imagine bells in rock music), I mean we ROCKED it! He was able to take us all as a group further than we ever imagined. The complexities of some of the pieces we played required some of us to play four, five, six and more bells in a given song. We were GOOD…because Mark taught us to accept nothing less than perfection.

The world will forever remember Mark for the music he made through his own fingers and feet and through the voices, hands, and instruments of those he led. Me? I will always remember Mark for what he did for me. As a young pimple-faced teenager of 17 or 18 he took me seriously. He took my dream of music seriously when few others did. All I ever wanted to do when I grew up was be a rock star.

During the 70’s I was deeply moved by the Broadway Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. So moved, I wrote the sequel. After writing the lyrics to 20 or so songs and plinking out the melodies on guitar, I nervously shared it with Mark. To my amazement, he did not laugh. He did not make fun of me. What he did do, was spend hours and hours meeting me before Bell Choir practice and helping me write the music. When Mark took my melodies and played them, it was magical. He made those silly little songs sound REAL!

As I prepared to graduate high school, I turned my attention to college. I enrolled at Indiana State to major in Music Theory & Composition. I submitted my rock opera as part of my portfolio of work. About six weeks before school was to start I learned that even in Music Theory & Composition one must declare an instrument…oh, and rock guitar did not count (uh, nor did classical guitar). I was crushed! But, there was Mark.

Mark found an accelerated piano curriculum for adults and for the next six weeks we met several evenings a week. Mark taught me to play. He taught me to play well enough to actually audition…and to pass. I was given provisional acceptance into the school of Music.

For a variety of reasons (mostly because I had no talent) my career in rock and roll never materialized. What was born in me through Mark was a lifelong love of music, a dedication to lifelong learning and the dare to dream. Last summer, Carmen and I, along with our friends Hal and Beth Bloss, had a chance to reconnect with Mark for lunch. With tears swelling in my eyes, I was able to tell him what he meant to that pimple-faced teenager and what he means to a somewhat older and grayer grandfather today.

Mark, you will be missed deeply.  Your music will live on in the ears of all who heard it, your love will live on in the hearts of all of us who felt it!

 

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My mother was a closet Jesus Freak!

Who knew!??! Do you remember that group of hippies in the early seventies? OK, if you are too young to remember the early 70’s, look it up! Instead of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, they were all about Jesus, God and rock ‘n roll. My mom had to be one of them, the coincidences are just too many. This will be a long story, but, allow me to explain…

I received an email a couple weeks ago from a dear friend, asking me in short, to write a devotional for an Advent Devotional Blog he was putting together (A devotional? Me? OK, quit laughing). He suggested I could use a previous blog post I had written about our Christmas Donut tradition, “Do This in Remembrance of Me”. I could update it with my thoughts of how the tradition might be different this year after mom’s passing.

Coincidence Number 1: I explained to him I was already thinking of writing a post for my blog about a tradition we had when I was a kid so his timing was perfect. Believe it or not, mom and dad would get us up early on a Sunday morning (remember, my dad was the minister) before church each of the four Sundays of Advent so we could go carol (unannounced) for a family in the church and give them a gift. No, I am not kidding. For the full story check out  “Maranatha, in this way, our Lord comes”. My friend thought that sounded like a great idea.

My quest began. Quite honestly, the only thing I could remember was the chorus of the song we would sing, “Maranatha, maranatha, maranatha, Our Lord Come”. I needed more. I sent a note to my three siblings asking for their memories. Unfortunately, they remembered less than I did!

I turned to the internet to try to find the song itself, which is where I hit Coincidence Number 2, or rather it hit me. Family, Tradition, ChristmasAfter, reading the Wikipedia entry for “Maranatha”, I was intrigued to learn that Maranatha! Records was one of the first Christian rock record labels and part of the Jesus People movement. Returning to the Google search list, I clicked on the next entry, when WHAM! There on the page was a photo of a 1971 Time Magazine cover. The cover was a pixelated rendering of Jesus. The SAME pixelated rendering of Jesus that hung as a poster in my bedroom for years when I was a teenager. I even have a picture in a box someplace of myself sitting in front of that poster.

The website described the Jesus People movement. In some circles they were referred to as Jesus Freaks. A label that was mean to be pejorative, but was later adopted by the movement itself. The movement had its roots in Berkeley, California. Further down on the page were some references to some of the founding musicians. In a minor coincidence (call it 2.5) , one of the artists listed was Larry Norman. At one point, I had all of his albums (for you youngsters those were 12 inch vinyl disks that had music on them). His logo eerily resembles my favorite rock band’s logo (an open mouth with a tongue hanging out…his has crosses on it though 🙂 ).

Larry NormanRolling StonesThinking I was getting close the song lyrics, I went to the website for Maranatha! Records and found the track listing for the first album produced. It was a collection of artists. There on the listing, was a song called “Maranatha”. Underscoring the fact that you can find anything on the internet, I found a recording of the song. BUUUUUZZZZZZZZ! Wrong song.

Dismayed, I called dad to see if he could shed any light. Coincidence Number 3: Yes, he remembered. In fact, every Advent since 1972, my mom would pull the song lyrics out of her Advent folder, and the two of them would sing it during their daily devotional (they always did know how to party)! He was sure he could find it. I learned more about our Advent caroling from dad as well, but that is a different post. My younger brother was flying in for a visit from Dallas, so, I gave him the assignment of digging through mom’s folders and finding the song.

In the meantime, I had lunch with the same dear friend who asked me to do the devotional in the first place. Coincidence Number 4: He and his wife were the first family we caroled to way back in 1972! As we talked, he remembered the gifts we gave them. One of them was a banner (my mom was the banner making queen back in the day). The banner simply said “Maranatha!”. I remembered that banner! It had a flying dove, carrying an olive branch in its beak! Coincidence Number 5: THE LOGO FOR MARANATHA! RECORDS WAS A FLYING DOVE WITH AN OLIVE BRANCH IN ITS BEAK!

A few days later I received an email from my brother. He found the song! He sent me a scanned copy. I was ready! I knew I could get somewhere now! Armed with the true title “Come, Our Lord” and the composer, John Harrell, and the Copyright of John and Mary Harrell 1966. I went back to the internet. First the song…”BUUUUUZZZZZZZZ”!…you CAN’T find everything on the internet. A search on John Harrell also was fruitless…who knew there were so many people named John Harrell. OK, let’s try “John and Mary Harrell”. Boom BABY! There was a link to the online catalogue for the University of California and there I found Coincidence Number 6. John was an episcopalian minister and had donated a collection of the audio visual materials that he and Mary had developed over their lifetimes. Guess where John was in ministry in the late 60’s and the 70’s…Berkeley, California. For those of you not paying attention…that is where the Jesus Freak movement had its roots.

Man, if Mom was not a Jesus Freak, she was at least following the movement!

A day or two later, I received an email from my brother. Actually, it was a group email to all of the siblings, apologizing that it appeared the website he had chosen to host all of the family photos from Mom’s collection he was scanning did not allow downloads. What the heck does THIS have to do with the story, you ask? Patience, my dear reader, patience. I could not believe there was an online photo store that did not allow authorized users to download photos…especially, Flickr. I jumped over to a new tab went to Flickr, found my brothers share and promptly downloaded a picture.

Humph! I knew it would work. About that time, I noticed an album titled “Jeff’s Box”. I had to take a moment and browse. I learned that not only were there photos, there were other documents. My commencement program from my high school graduation, my grade report from first semester of college (was THAT ever embarrassing to see!), the program from my wedding to Carmen, and Coincidence Number 7. It was a scan of an article from the Newsette, the newsletter of the American Baptist Youth of Indiana. I was editor (which meant I wrote a lot of the articles) in the early 70’s. The title was “Very Special Gifts”. It talked about receiving a gift from my Mom on each Sunday of Advent! This had to be Christmas 1974. The gifts were meaningful, but it was the note she wrote on the first Sunday that caught my attention. “May your journey to Christmas be as this candle’s flame and as warm as its glow. Maranatha!”. THIS is where the second part of the tradition started…giving meaningful gifts and a note and each Sunday of the Advent season!

Whether my Mom was a Jesus Freak or not, doesn’t really matter. What DOES matter I was reminded of next. The morning my Mom passed away, that same dear friend was by her side with the rest of the family. Taking some time of quiet reflection, he walked into their bedroom and began to look at the picture collage they had by the by the bed. Pictures of family, very old pictures of a young couple in love, but what was in the center is what caught his attention. It was a typewritten page with the words from a hymn, “Find Us Faithful”. It struck him so much, he read it at Mom’s Celebration Service. I barely heard the words. And yet, months later, in an email I was reminded and my journey of discovery was complete, or is it just starting?

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

Words and Music: Jon Mohr / Copyright 1988 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music

 If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

No, this post is not about an obscure rock band from Sweden, but it is about music (I warned you this blog would be an eclectic collection of all my passions!) and how music intertwines itself in our lives. It is amazing to me how music can bring back long lost memories and emotions. I can still tell you what book I was reading in the early seventies when I first heard “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles.

It is also striking how music can tie us together. How many love-struck couples have “their song”? For Carmen and I, its Eric Clapton’s “Pretty Girl”. When I was a teenager all I ever wanted to do was to be a rockstar, so much so that I was never without a radio or stereo blasting away some Rod Stewart, Rolling Stones, or Eric Clapton. (I later found out, you actually had to have SOME talent to be a rockstar so I went into computers instead!). As my teens turned into my 20’s and 30’s I was never without music (probably why I have that “Ton deaf ear” today). I can remember pulling into our neighborhood with my two sons in the back seat, a favorite song would come on and I would circle the block until it was over (yes, I am weird). What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was composing the soundtrack that would form the foundation of my relationship with the two of them.

It’s still Rock ‘n Roll to me

When Jeremy (my oldest) was a little guy, he was extremely colic-ie. The only way to console him was to hold him while standing up. I spent hours and hours (and hours) holding him while I played darts in our apartment listening to Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. As he grew into a toddler, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” became “our song”. Anytime it came on the stereo or the radio, he and I would sing it together at the top of our lungs. Even as we battled through those teenage years, music still bound us together. He became my “date” for many a concert…Tom Petty, Kiss, and more.

A couple of years ago T (Jeremy became JT, which became T) called my cell. I was unable to answer so he left a voice mail. “Hey Daddio, I was driving home for lunch and I thought of you when this song came on and I wanted you to hear it”…

How about a pair of pink sidewinders
And a bright orange pair of pants?
“You could really be a Beau Brummel baby
If you just give it half a chance.
Don’t waste your money on a new set of speakers,
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers.

You got it…”It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me”. I still have that voice mail on my phone and EVERY time I listen to it I get a huge grin on my face.

Just this past week, as I sat in the waiting room and he was back in the delivery room awaiting the arrival of Braxton, his son and my first grandchild, T and I were texting and quoting that song to help relieve some of the waiting and waiting and waiting. I can’t help but wonder what song T and Braxton will be singing together 30 years from now.

Emotional

That brings me to Brad (my youngest). Unlike his father, Brad actually does have musical talent. Otherwise known as Brad Real (www.BradReal.com), he is a popular rapper here in the midwest. When he was an adolescent, my favorite local band was Push Down and Turn. Their lead singer, Jason Brown, grew up in our church (I was actually his junior high sunday school teacher, if you can believe that!).  Whenever Push Down and Turn performed an all ages show I would take Brad with me to see them.

Fast forward to Father’s Day 2012. Brad’s gift to me was a framed copy of the lyrics to a new song he had written. “Emotional” is a tribute to fathers, but more personally, it is a tribute to me, Brad’s father. What makes it even cooler is that he arranged with Jason Brown to sing the hook on the song. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to those Push Down and Turn shows and watching Jason that inspired Brad to pursue his music! http://soundcloud.com/brad-real/emotional-brad-real-x-jason Click to listen or download

Please allow me to introduce myself
I am a man of wealth and taste
I hear it every day, it’s the soundtrack of my youth
 

To thank Jason for the vocals on the song, Brad suggested that he and I, along with T go to see Jason’s new band Cousin Roger. So a few nights ago the three of us headed out to catch the show. On a set break, Jason came out into the audience to talk with us. We were able to thank him and Brad gave him a copy of his CD “Married to the Music”. As they were about to wrap up their final set, Jason walked up to the microphone and said:

It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, Satisfaction, just to name a few

a direct quote from “Emotional”. They then broke into an awesome cover of “Satisfaction”…and there in the front row. were three guys, bound together by music and blood, singing their hearts out!

No matter how crazy life gets, or how busy our schedules get we will always have music. We will always have “our songs”!

I am sure you have many examples from your own soundtrack. I would love to hear about them! Oh, and the book? The Hardy Boys Great Airport Mystery…

As I stated when I started writing “Rivers of Thought” several months ago, I intend to write about a wide variety of topics from the environment, to sustainability, to history, to whatever. So today I am writing about Hip-Hop, yes, Hip-Hop…a pretty strange topic coming from a classic rock junkie to be sure.

A year ago I knew nothing about Hip-Hop, never listened to it, never cared for it. I can remember telling my sons what back in the day that rap and Hip-Hop burst on the scene that it is a fad, just like disco, and it would disappear. I probably even told them that if they were still listening to it in 10 or 15 years, then come tell me how great it is. I, like a lot of people my age, had a preconceived notion about the music and frankly about the performers. I probably had the same view of this genre that my parents had of rock back when the Beatles and the Stones invaded America.

I never thought I would become an adult that would judge people based on appearance. My generation was looked down upon because we wore our hair long, grew beards, wore bell-bottomed jeans, and had our own way of communicating with each other, from “hey man”, or “dude”, to “groovy” and “peace” to the even more obscure. Our songs had meanings that only we could understand. To our parents it was too loud, all about drugs, or sex, anti government (ok they WERE all about drugs and sex and anti-government but don’t tell my folks!)

I can remember several years ago taking my son and a couple of his friends to a Jay-Z and DMX concert. I never felt so out of place. It was too loud, I didn’t understand any of the words, and everybody was dressed funny. I can’t remember now if it was Jay-Z or DMX or Redman or Method Man, but one of those guys wore his pants so low he spent the entire show grabbing them and hitching them back up. Don’t know if any of the songs were anti-government, but I know that sex and drugs were covered. At least I think they were, even when I could understand the words, I couldn’t understand the words.

Just about a year ago my son, Brad, launched his career in Hip-Hop. Through his various gigs I have had the opportunity to meet a number of local Hip-Hop performers and have gotten to learn a little about the business of Hip-Hop, yes the business of Hip-Hop. These guys (and gals) are working incredibly hard at pursuing their dreams of expressing themselves through music. Most of them are working full time at other professions, while spending the remainder of the waking hours performing, writing, producing, marketing, selling, networking, negotiating, and promoting their music. Watching Brad navigate through the business side has been a fascinating experience. He’s had some wonderful experiences and some “learning experiences”.

Underneath the sideways, oversized hat, the baggy shirt and pants, underneath the necklaces and “bling” are business men and women tirelessly working for the love of the music. Shame on me for falling into the trap of generations and judging based on the clothes, or based on the music.

So to Jaecyn, Rusty Redenbacher, Son of Thought, Ace One, Saint Recon and of course, Brad Real thank you for letting me hang and for the honor and privilege of sharing your music with a 51 year-old former long-haired hippie freak.

Peace,

Papa Real