Dear friends of Switchback,
Welcome to the High Holy Season of the Year! No, not Easter, but St. Patrick’s Day Season, which for us began in February and will not end until around April 10th. We are pretty busy at this time of year, celebrating our Irish heritage through music with as many people as we can. And we are pretty far-flung these days too, heading across the Midwest and on to Arizona and ending up playing Kona and Oahu in Hawaii. It could be argued that our season never really ends.
But at this time of year I always go back in my mind to the early days before Switchback, when Brian and I were with the Wailin’ Banshees. This was in B.R.D. time (Before River Dance) when there really was no such thing as the Irish pubs we see in abundance today. Yes, there were Irish pubs in Chicago, but they were pubs that had Irish in them. They had names like The Abbey Pub, Sixpenny Bit, and The Goalpost. And there were Irish cabaret-style places like the Irish Village, which would have dances and bring entertainers over from Ireland. The Irish Heritage Center on the north side of Chicago was still a vacant high school, and Gaelic Park on the south side didn’t have the hall and pub it has today. It was a park for Gaelic football.
In those days during the mid-1980's, you were identified as being either a “greenhorn” which was an Irish-born immigrant or a “narrowback,” an Irish-American. Irish dance and certainly Irish music were still an “ethnic” thing, not the form we see today, embraced, celebrated, and often played and danced by people without any Celtic blood. And that is a good thing, in my opinion.
Still, as a band that was comprised of one greenhorn and three narrowbacks, the Wailin’ Banshees was an unusual group. That we also were four people, two of whom were 40 years our seniors, united in the love of Irish music was also unusual. We made for a fun but slightly dysfunctional Irish band, acting more like a family band than anything else.
Some of the pubs we played were only for greenhorn Irish. And in those days there were pubs that leaned heavily toward the IRA. And I don’t mean places that just sang rebel songs either. As narrowbacks, Brian and I were not always welcomed and always viewed with suspicion. But with Galway-born Bert McMahon along, with his easy demeanor, glint in his eye, and fantastic banjo playing, we were safe. Some pubs and events were more politically oriented. These were places where Irish aldermen held sway, and their lackeys would uphold fealty to the point of obnoxiousness.
I remember Brian and I once played a fundraiser for a northside Alderman. We were hungry and went to where the food was being served. As musicians it was customary to be fed at such events as part of the deal. We got two plates of mostaccioli and chicken (which people don’t realize is really the food served at all Irish weddings and events, not corn beef and cabbage) and were about to sit and eat when a crowd of angry looking men gathered around us.
“You bettah make a donation for the alderman,” growled one. “That food ain’t free.”
“Well, if it isn’t free, I ain’t eating it,” I retorted.
“Oh, you’re going to eat it,” replied one glowering lackey.
So Brian and I, hired to play and already playing at a discount for that alderman, literally ate with a circle of people standing over our table. In came our fiddler Mary McDonagh who was known and respected by many in the Irish community, greenhorn and narrowback alike. She snarled at the pack surrounding her boys and they skulked off. But we got a lesson in Irish politics that day: always bring the alderman with you.
When Jayne Byrne ran for re-election as the first (and to date only) female Mayor of Chicago, our band was hired to supply the music. And since it was an Irish event, Jayne had to prove her own fealty to the homeland. She made a rousing speech and soon someone was yelling, “Sing with Marty, sing with Marty!”
I was pushed over to the microphone where Jayne stood.
“Do you know ‘The Town I Love So Well?’” Jayne asked.
“Sure,” I said, knowing that the song is about 20 minutes long and totally uncertain why she would ask for that song. But we did it.
We were standing eyeball to eyeball around a microphone, Jayne belting out every word as we went through the whole story of Derry. Perhaps for her, as Mayor, it was symbolic of her aspiration to make Chicago a better town. “I can only pray for a brand new day for the town I love so well,” goes the last line of the song, which is beautiful, except it comes 19 minutes and 45 seconds down the pike. Jayne wasn’t the best of singers, but enthusiastic. Her singing was better than her re-election campaign though. Still I smile when I think back on her and those narrowback politicians. They thought like Irish and fought like Irish. Jayne allowed the filming of the movie The Blues Brothers in Chicago, and for that she should have a statue erected to her. But in true Chicago fashion, something better has been done: the automotive interchange that unites I-290 and I-90 and spins off I-55 a couple miles south is all named after her. Thousands of swearing truck drivers, scared visitors on their first foray to the Windy City, and I-Phone reading commuters hunker down at that spaghetti bowl of roadway every morning and afternoon. Jayne would have loved the chaos, I figure.
It was St. Patrick’s Day that put the Banshees into high gear. For at that time of the year not only did the regular pubs want a band, but the Knights of Columbus groups, the country clubs with their WASP-ish take on the holiday, and the odd tour boat filled with St. Patrick’s Parade revelers would be vying for an Irish band. And a lot of bands fought to have a slice of the St. Paddy pie, Irish and non-Irish alike. There was a group, whose name I can’t remember, that had the right idea to dress up as Germans for Oktoberfest, Italians for St. Joseph’s Day, and all in green for St. Patrick’s Day. But for the places that wanted a bona fide Irish band, we were a good choice and the phones would start ringing to hire us in January.
A typical St. Patrick’s Day would consist of four or five gigs of one or two hours, with a lot of driving between. There were no cell phones in those days, so I wore a watch and had to call each venue the day prior to confirm the start time, save a parking spot for us to quickly park, and most importantly supply some food to keep us going. It was supposed to be pulled off with military precision, but never did that happen.
We would try to dress well for the shows. In the early days we all wore different outfits. Brian would have an Irish cap on. I would have a vest and white shirt, and Bert would wear a jacket. Mary always wore a lovely green flowered dress. Later we got wise and had the three lads all decked out in matching Kelly green Arnold Palmer jackets with grey slacks. It was a good look and set us apart even more from most groups. We were an odd outfit: part Irish showband, part bluegrass group, part family-band, and part traditional Irish, and we didn’t give a damn what others thought of us.
The first gig would be playing on the boat the Spirit of Chicago. We would all pile into Mary’s Crown Victoria and put the sound system and our instruments into the trunk. Down to Navy Pier we would roll, and we would trundle out the sound system and set up for the early revelers. A group of excited step dancers, released from grade school for the day, would also be on hand to help us celebrate. These kids would have simple Irish outfits on. It would be several years before we would start seeing the result of A.R.D. (after River Dance) with the $1000 glittering, bejeweled dresses and bouncy curl wigs.
Down the Chicago River we would sail to where the river was dyed green near the Michigan Avenue bridge. Revelers would be out early, wearing loud green hats, scarves, and huge sunglasses. The deck of the boat would be swarming with Irish-for-the-day types, having green beer and enjoying the view of other revelers lining up over the bridge.
We would play several sets and then play for the step dancers. I would look nervously at my watch, for we had to keep moving to make our next stop at WGN Radio. We would do a radio interview and play a tune or two for Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey. They both loved Bertie. Bert was a handsome man, with sparkling greenish grey eyes and snow white hair. His soft brogue could charm any lady within hearing distance of it. So Bert would chat with them and then we would play a couple of traditional Irish tunes. All the time, I would be checking the clock to make sure we would make our next stop on time.
And soon it would be on to a pub for another two sets. Depending on which pub hired us, that could be a dash out to Palatine, Illinois for a stint at Durty Nellie’s or over to Grandpa’s in Glenview for their St. Patrick’s celebration. Soon it was two o’clock and we were only halfway into the day. It was a tradition to play at FitzGerald’s, and so we would run out to Berwyn. There we would wolf down corn beef sandwiches and play another two sets. Paul and Mary McHugh would play for the step dancers, then we would get up and play. Finally, we would vacate the stage for the big act of the evening, the Dooley Brothers.
All the time, the clock is ticking. Now it would be close to 7 p.m., and I had already sung “Danny Boy” four times. We all are tired and Bert, not wishing to be rushed, would be seated at the bar having a beer and a shot of VO. Brian would be off securing some food for us to eat as we drove to the next show. Mary would be pacing nervously, her fiddle packed and her jacket on. And I would be trying to get paid. Somehow we would make it back to the Crown Vic, maneuver the big hulking beast out of the crowded parking lot, and running late, hightail it back out to the suburbs to a country club for their St. Patrick’s affair. Nothing ran smoother than Mary’s Crown Victoria after I got it up to 80 miles an hour. St. Patrick’s Day was the only day of the year that the car had its speedometer over 25 mph, and as I hit the gas, a puff of carbon would kick out of the tailpipe. Mary would nervously say, “Oh no, Marty, too fast.” But we had to get to the next show and set up.
Thankfully, the country club gigs would be rather subdued events. The manager would always look at us like we were savages brought in from the wild. And I guess in some ways we were. We would be set up in a far corner, and the general rule was to be “heard but not seen.” No drinks at the bar. Bert would have to get his beer on the sly.
The members of the club would come politely dressed in green in complete contrast to the hooting and hollering hordes that were crowding the bars 40 miles to the east. The whole evening would consist of us playing background music as they dined. We would have to dive into Irish-American standards like “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” And I would be asked to sing “Danny Boy.” It was never too long of an evening, and the great pay made up for us missing all the fun going on back at the clubs. But by this time the whole band would be exhausted, and there was a huge relief that all the clubs and obligations had been met with no hiccups.
After the last number was played, the guests would vanish like a receding floor. The manager, assured now that the band he hired had delivered and free of the need to maintain appearances, would invite us over for a drink at the club bar. And we would head over to the bar and have some drinks. Slowly we would pack up one last time for the day. We would all pile back into the Crown Victoria and rumble back into the city at a respectable 55 miles per hour. It would be about midnight when we would get to Bert’s girlfriend Eileen Fleming’s house. Eileen would have some tea waiting, and we would sit around laughing about the day and not really wanting to let the excitement of St. Patrick’s end.
Dear friends of Switchback,
I was asked by the staff of the Venu, a residential resort community in Scottsdale, Arizona, to write an article about how Switchback has adopted them as not only a place to play, but as a base camp for our Southwestern U.S. touring. I realized that this article could explain the synergy that is created by our friends who support our music and aid in our ability to bring our music to new audiences. This article might also inspire you to join in the effort.
This cooperative effort is what I call “making a WayGood World.” I tease that “The WayGood World is a vast and ever-expanding Empire that is larger than Switchback itself.” People new to our music, and the close relationship we maintain with our friends, are confused. Some wonder if we are a cult! We aren’t, nor do we offer Kool-Aid at any of our concerts, nor espouse dressing alike or having our haircuts all look like Dr. Spock’s.
Our friends realize that I am referring to that collective joy that has been created between them and ourselves. Picture a bunch of Deadheads that actually help the Grateful Dead tour, donate money to make records, sell merchandise and spread the word about their music, and you get the picture. The Venu is a location where there now resides a whole passel of Switchheads. And it didn’t happen overnight.
The Venu is a collection of condominiums and rental properties, very much like a lot of resort communities in the Southwest. So there is a community room and a swimming pool. A lot of people who stay there are “snowbirds” coming from the colder climes of North America, with a few European stragglers thrown in. The result is a very vibrant community that coalesces around wintertime. Add in one very determined, energetic friend of Switchback, Norm Weitzman, and faster than a flu-virus the joy of the WayGood World can spread.
Norm used to live in Chicago and moved permanently to Arizona a few years ago. Keen on having the band come to the Southwest, he reached out to Brian and myself. Norm did two important things to make it happen. He offered us a place to stay and he created some initial concerts at the Venu that in turn brought in more friends to the music. This happened not by coincidence, but by some very thoughtful planning on his part. The first concert we did was in the great room of the Venu. We had driven down to Arizona, so were able to bring our equipment. The result was an enthusiastic embrace from folks who really enjoy live music. Soon we had Diane Gilbert making dinner for the band and that then morphed into a potluck dinner for the residents who attended the concert. The general public soon started coming due to word of mouth, so the traffic (and subtle marketing) at the Venu increased.
Norm decided that we should have an outdoor concert. The beautiful desert behind the Venu was the logical choice to have it. Surrounded by stately saguaro cacti and desert plants, the event took place much like a Mickey Rooney “Andy Hardy” movie. We decided to see how much extension cord we could run out from the Venu. John Steinsky volunteered to film the event and Brenda Steinsky helped mobilize folks to come out and attend. Flyers were created announcing the date and pretty soon an amazing “Concert in the Desert” was created. It was nicknamed “Desert Norm” in honor of Norm and the name stuck. Pretty soon the public heard about this concert and came from as far as Sedona and Mesa to attend, along with a dish to pass. Some friends of Switchback, vacationing in Arizona, made the trip to the Venu and in turn met the Switchback friends living there. The community-creating aspect of the shows brought new attention to the Venu and new friends to Switchback and the WayGood World. And the unique setting of “Desert Norm,” with the mountains bathed in the red-orange sunset, hummingbirds, quail and the odd javelina walking by, made the music that much more magical.
Obviously Brian and I carve out a living making music and it takes money to travel. So over the course of three years, Norm doggedly worked on having Switchback come at regular intervals to the greater Phoenix area. And much like an invading army, Switchback and our supporters at the Venu have collectively struggled to get a toehold on the beachhead of regular shows in Arizona, as well as back in their summer homes. Robin Gilbert has been working with our agent to have us play in Canada and John and Brenda Steinsky have plans for a future Switchback concert on Prince Edward Island. Joel Greenburg and his wife, Judi, have mentioned our invading Boston.
In addition, Switchback now maintains a complete sound system at the Venu. We fly to Phoenix, rent a van and head to our Southwest home. We not only continue to present concerts at the Venu, but plan to offer a poolside party as well as some other special events in the future. The desert concerts will continue with the next one being offered on March 24.
We have been blessed over the years to have people who believe and support our music. Many of you reading this did what Norm and the folks at the Venu are doing. I would encourage you to mention where and how you helped in the comments section of our blog page to encourage others to do the same. We have been able to travel and present our music without the support of a major label or company because we have the support and company of our friends. As I have also said, “We are only as successful and popular as our friends wish us to be.” Thanks to our friends, like the ones at the Venu, it truly is becoming a WayGood World.
Dear Friends of Switchback,
Four years have gone by since the polar vortex of 2014 and the birth of my daughter, Áine. In a lot of ways, I now measure the years by her growth. It’s been fun to line her up with the well-traveled bass case and see the changes. And, so far, she has been willing to cooperate with these yearly pictures. I don’t know how it will go when she turns 13.
The big change this year for Áine has been preschool. Preschool did not exist when I was a kid, and so it was sort of an odd thing to have to enroll in it to begin with. Growing up, kindergarten (what was considered formal education) did not start until age 6. In our family, the years of three to five were spent doing things that made sense, like eating and learning how to flush the toilet.
Mom had courses for us, like Diaper Folding 101, which was an advanced study of taking a diaper out of the dryer and folding it. I got pretty good at it by the time I was four and so I was advanced to Sock Mating. This course I flunked out of and still to this day am a remedial sock mater.
So with Áine heading over to preschool, I was befuddled by having two more years of education prior to kindergarten. And, since we enrolled her in Catholic school, two more years of tuition. But Annie and I reasoned (and our calculators confirmed) that in some ways it was more reasonable than a nanny or daycare.
I was all for the idea of taking her on the road with Switchback and letting her education start there. However, Annie felt that pre-K (the technical term used nowadays) was the way to go. Brian and I do not have the best track record for keeping the Switchback van clean. We also lose things from time to time, like microphone stands and well, whole vans. It would be “Two Men and a Baby” meets “Dumb and Dumber.” So, Annie won out and we enrolled Áine where she would be able to eat something other than trail mix.
She was excited to be going to school and became part of a class called the Caterpillars. Now, anyone who has a kid born in the last 20 years would quickly recognize that this is a reference to the Eric Carle book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” This is staple pre-K reading. Carle has built an empire on it, and for us parents, that translates into “Hungry Caterpillar” videos, stuffed dolls, games, and the like. A slew of spin-off books by Carle have also become “must haves” in this weird Pre-K world. My book is going to be called “The Empty Wallet.”
There are about 20 kids in her class and already the dynamics of personality are emerging. Some kids are “popular,” which at almost four means that you get hugged by the other kids and asked to be a friend. Some kids are lone wolves, hanging out by their cubby holes where the books, coats and shoes are placed. Áine is very social and both types of kids are confusing to her. She just wants everyone “to be my friend.” And so tirelessly she will go around hugging kids, occasionally getting bitten or hugged in return, depending on the kid.
Dropping her off at school last November, I was very proud when she approached a new child crying by her cubby hole. Áine put her arm around her and said, “Don’t be scared. I was scared too when I started here, but you will like it.” Already an old salt in the Pre-K world. The little girl hugged Áine back, excited to have a “new friend.”
Some kids get weepy when leaving their parents. Áine walked into the classroom and did not look back. She is very happy to see us at the end of the day but already a streak of independence flares up, especially as I try to get her buckled into the child seat, ask her to eat dinner, go to bed, blow her nose, or say her prayers. Already she is starting to write songs and cuts me off if I start singing with her. “Poppa, I am singing.” So I sort of know my place in the music business around our house.
The hardest part is seeing the child emerge from the toddler. Pre-K is not a toddler world. The kids are learning how to write (cursive as well, thank God) and do some simple math, read a bit, and oh, run a computer program. So much for folding diapers.
One thing I could not wrap my head around was being asked to attend “parent-teacher” conferences. “C’mon,” I said to Annie. “What are we going to talk about? I am not going to discuss her macaroni and glue art!” But sure enough, I went dutifully to meet her teacher. I suspect this was a ruse to train me instead. Annie and I sat in the little chairs and discussed seriously her writing skills and social skills and looked at how many stickers she had by her picture for good behavior. That last one is a good idea for Switchback.
Still, this veteran of Pre-K is our little girl, and so great to hold, carry and play with. I think of how Brian talked of playing the board game “Candyland” with his daughter, Siobhan. And now here I am, purposely losing to Áine as he did to his daughter.
We spent the Christmas vacation building pillow forts, seeing a movie (her first), and watching with delight as she reveled in the magic of the holidays. She was a star in the nativity play. Literally a star, as in starry night. I think that was less of an acting challenge than the kid who was the donkey. But those roles, like donkeys and shepherds, are for the Butterflies, who are a year older and wiser.
I realize as she grows and I age, the gift of now, of what time I get to spend with her is so precious. As Bil Keane best put it, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
My wife Annie sent me an interesting column, written by Kat Eschner for Smithsonian.com. It was about none other than the fantastic military marching music maker himself, John Philip Sousa. The inspiration of the Sousaphone (which everyone knows is the hybrid of a tuba and helicon -- what the heck a helicon is, is anybody’s guess) and known by his nickname “The March King,” Sousa created fantastic military marches. Any lover of Monty Python has listened to his “Liberty Bell” march, which is stirring and able to make the most sedentary of humans stand up straight and start stepping.
In an essay titled “The Menace of Mechanical Music,” which he wrote for Appleton Magazine in 1906, Sousa laments this horrible new era, the era of recorded music. He sees that recorded music will take away the feeling of community, creativity and class. Anyone watching a DJ gyrate at a wedding can see that his prediction has, alas, come true. In the essay, Sousa states that mechanical music is “sweeping across the country with the speed of a transient fashion in slang or Panama hats, political war cries, or popular novels” and would form a “substitute for human skill, intelligence and soul.” In other words: “Beware the DJ.” He also was right about political war cries, but that is for another article.
In his essay, Sousa was railing in part about the lack of composer rights, an issue that dogs songwriters to this day. But in a larger sense, before television and the iPhone, Sousa laments the loss of the common man playing an instrument in community.
When the essay was written, in 1906, the phonograph was just starting to take off. Sousa was afraid that it would chip away at the unique “musical mecca” that America had become. He testified to Congress that “these talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day.”
When I was a boy, my great Uncle Frank reminisced about his youth in 1906 Dubuque, Iowa, when neighbors would do just that, gather at homes to play the piano and sing. Everyone learned the piano because it was a social instrument for entertainment and community. The creation of the phonograph and later devices did not stop music. But it did change community.
What Sousa felt was that the vital and vibrant part of our sense of “we” that centers around community participation would be laid waste by a profusion of technology, and a commercial lack of taste.
In an era when laws have to be created to fine people from texting while crossing the street, the danger of devices does lie in the elimination of community, of literally seeing our neighbor and being in the moment. Why talk to someone when I can text anyone? And why attend a concert when I can watch it on my phone? (Or worse, spend a concert so consumed with trying to capture it on our phones so we can share it to social media rather than actually experience communion with the artist giving their all on stage.) We are now distressed by what is happening halfway around the globe without knowing what is happening halfway down the block.
Sousa also lamented “the general assault on personality in music.” Just watch the CMA awards and you will see he wasn’t too far off the mark. Like devices that are mass produced, taste trends toward vanilla in an effort to accommodate the majority.
So what is the lesson to take away from this? As the holidays approach, get out to see live, original music. Start a house concert series in your home and foster community. Learn an instrument or put the smartphone in the drawer for an hour or two. Encourage your children and grandchildren to pick up an instrument with an eye toward mastering it.
I think Sousa would want us to shake things up, to break the spell that mechanical devices can give us, if we allow them to. Sure, I am grateful for technology and the fact that even ol’ John Philip Sousa was recorded leading his band for me to hear today.
But anyone who has joined Switchback in a cave concert, or jingled keys during a Christmas show, or looked over the hills of Ireland while Brian’s mandolin strums, understands that we are creatures of the moment.
Those moments cannot be recorded. One has to be there, be present and share that moment with others. And sharing those moments together is the ultimate culmination of being alive.
Dear friends of Switchback,
As I woke up on the second of October, Annie was reading her phone to catch the morning news. Aine was already up, getting ready for school. “There was a s-h-o-o-t-i-n-g in Las Vegas,” she said, so Aine couldn’t understand. “Fifty-eight d-e-a-d.” I shook my head as it was too much to comprehend. Praying that it wasn’t some terror plot, I was relatively relieved in some odd way to know that it was a lone wolf. While the fact that all those people died cannot affect me the way I know that relatives, loved ones, and the wounded and innocent bystanders are affected, still it made me feel empty inside, trying to get my head around the motivation to do so much evil. Once again it was attack on music and people gathering to celebrate life.
Once again, like the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, a person chose an attack on the one place where people can be together without any politics, religious differences, or social judgment. It is the one place in my opinion where pure joy can be created and shared.
As the news unfolds, it has become apparent that this person deliberately plotted and stalked these people. The difference between him and the terrorists who killed in Paris rendered nil. The senselessness only magnified. I am guessing this person, as well as the terrorists at the nightclub in Paris, are motivated by a misguided urge to be recognized as “somebody."
The one clue that I noted to motivation is that one of the shops that sold this person the means to kill and change so many lives is called “Guns and Guitars.” The shop has the legal right to sell such weapons, and that is not the point of this article. What is the point is what the name of the shop says about what attracts such people to these feats of evil.
It is my opinion that our world has become a place where being “somebody” is what life is about. And one way to be “somebody” is to clutch a guitar in one’s hands and stride across a stage in front of a lot of adoring people. This desire to be relevant I believe transcends the reality of the work, sacrifice, and plain luck that being a rock star is all about. But that doesn’t matter as long as the allure of it is offered. That said, it is a lot harder to master a guitar than a gun. One can have the most expensive guitar in one’s hands and that won’t make that person a rock star. However, one can have a gun in one’s hand and that alone can make that person feel powerful.
And here is where the gun issue comes into play. These guns are also misused by people wanting to be “somebody." You cannot screen or make a background check to determine who wants to be “somebody.” And so the quandary. We end up with a few with the means to do a lot with a tool that makes them think they are “somebody.” And that tool, unlike a guitar, is a hell of a lot easier to learn to use. And like with a guitar, the glamor and allure, no matter how misguided, are just as strong.
The terrorists like to extol their minions by turning them into martyrs or “somebody." They go as far as lauding them in magazines and videos. They give them just enough craving, just enough adulation, to make them go out there and kill. Not in the name of an ideology, as they would like us to believe. But in the name of being “somebody.” It has become a cult, a hollow religion in and of itself. In my opinion there is enough blame to go around for the creation of this cult, this odd need to be “somebody.” It has been around for a long time and perhaps we will always be fighting to rid our human condition of its siren call.
Like guns, in the wrong hands guitars can cause a lot havoc. Unlike guns, guitars cannot kill someone. Like guns, guitars can change someone’s life or the lives of hundreds. Where one properly used can elevate, the other improperly used can destroy.
If my line of thinking is correct, the only alternative we have is to destroy the cult of being “somebody.” Replace it with being “someone.” Someone who serves and lifts others to boot. Lincoln was “Someone.” John Wilkes Booth wanted to be “Somebody.” And that illustrates my point.
We also have to take a deep breath and admit that because we haven’t eliminated the drive for these individuals to be “somebody” we need to adopt a line that “nobody” can do or have certain things until we change this. And yes, that means that we have to eliminate the ability for the easy misuse of guns. That is something I pray we can all agree on and start from there. If we don’t, “somebody” will make sure there is nobody left.
Read writer Greg Palast's first-hand perspective, "I Went to School with the Vegas Shooter."
Dear Friends of Switchback,
While I nursed a cup of coffee and gazed out the kitchen window of my childhood home, a doe and her fawn grazed across the front pasture, nibbling on bluestem. I put on my boots and walked out the door and onto the dew-soaked grass. Immediately the deer were nowhere to be seen. I walked down to the barn, the scene of so many of my childhood memories, the place where I helped lambs get born, rode horses, stacked hay and milked the odd goat. My parents are now dead, not even a year since my father passed, and like that doe and fawn, their presence lingers but then the reality hits and they are nowhere to be seen.
I came out to the farm to help sort, pitch, save, recycle, donate, burn, and in some ways, put my parents to rest. The accumulation of years of farming and living that resulted in an excess of materials that now had to be determined and addressed. I was keenly aware of the devastation going on in Texas and Florida that served as a backdrop of the odd ritual in which I was now participating. Irma and Harvey left a lot of people doing the same heart-heavy process. That of delineating between “stuff” and “things.”
When viewed on a sheet of paper, the two words seem like two sides of the same coin. But there is a difference in my opinion. Stuff are materials gathered that have no true sentimental, historical or emotional attachment. Things are just the opposite, not perhaps having financial value, but all or part of the former make them necessary to processing our existence. There are people, who in confusing the two, make a practice of gathering as much stuff as possible in the hope that they can become things. And there are people who believe in a minimalist approach, thinking that by eliminating stuff they may just be able to have things. Those people are also touched by the same desire, to create a sense of understanding of their existence.
What to do? If you strive to surround yourself with stuff, you may never have things. If you attempt to eliminate things, you may just be left with stuff. To the archaeologist, all things become stuff and valuable in that they help to hypothesize what people must have treasured as things. That is why I don’t enjoy antique stores. So much stuff that had once been things to someone, and now are devoid of context and meaning.
The irony of works of nature such as fire, hurricane and flood is that it doesn’t choose between stuff and things, but eliminates equally. Then you have people who look at the television camera and say “we lost every-thing, but are blessed.” Or the family, before the wildfire claims their home, deciding what things they need to quickly stash into their car. And how odd those choices can be. Pictures, books, locks of hair, grandfather clocks, guitars and family bibles. You never hear of someone putting the widescreen TV and the porch chairs in the boat. That’s stuff and expendable. But those rare things are what always make us, as humans, crane our heads toward the television to see what our fellow human beings are willing to transport. Like the Ice Man, found frozen in the Alps of Italy a decade ago, we wish to grasp what things are carried to identify us. And we ponder, what did the Ice Man deem as stuff and what, if anything, was a thing to him?
And so it is a slow process with my parents “remains.” For things may just be stuff in hiding. The clock that was there in the front parlor for decades. Do I attach false value to it? Was it just a clock or was it something that reminds me of some-thing. It is a tough walk through a minefield of emotions. Ultimately, a decision is made. Fire curling through old picture frames and broken chairs. Or a piece of children’s art, with 40-year-old glued macaroni and painted gold, held onto like a treasure from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Perhaps that is why I need to decide in my own life what I want my loved ones to think of as some-thing of mine. A connection to me. And how important it is to separate the stuff of my daily life, material and nonmaterial, from the things that really matter. To not, in my opinion, runs the risk of stuff overruling life itself. The peculiar havoc a disaster brings, whether manmade or natural, allows us a chance to take stock and let go of the stuff and give us the blessing to bestow things to others.
We have a saying in Switchback, “Travel light to travel far.” Certainly when it comes to stuff that is true. And I will never forget the one great thing my best friend Dave’s dad gave him. An envelope on which he wrote, “You may open this and find nothing in it, but you would be wrong, for it is filled with my love for you.”
Dear Switchback friends,
I recently saw a video in which David Letterman, the well-loved and long-time host of Late Night, was having an exchange with Al Franken, the comedian-turned-Minnesota senator. Having come to fame in the entertainment industry, both were used to being in front of a lot of people. And both decided at some point to turn away from the limelight to concentrate on other things. For Franken, it was the desire to serve his country. For Letterman, the desire to serve his family, namely his young son.
So, when Franken mentioned that Letterman had a lot of fans, Letterman corrected him. They were not fans, said Letterman, and he pointed out that Johnny Carson was a celebrity with fans. Letterman then went on to point out that he specifically asked that his show be called “Late Night with David Letterman” to emphasize that he was not a celebrity, but rather someone who hosted a show that had celebrities on it.
It was a great example of Midwestern modesty, I thought, and of course it made me think about the WayGood World. I have always struggled with the word "fan," as it meant something that did not truly fit in to what I considered the WayGood World.
According to Wikipedia, a fan, or fanatic, sometimes also termed aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something or somebody, such as a band, a sports team, a genre, a book, a movie, or an entertainer. Collectively, the fans of a particular object or person constitute its fan base or fandom. They may show their enthusiasm in a variety of ways, such as by promoting the object of their interest, being members of a fan club, holding or participating in fan conventions, or writing fan mail. They may also engage in creative activities ("fan labor") such as creating fanzines, writing fan fiction, making memes, or drawing fan art.
Over the years, Brian and I have met fans of Switchback. I remember meeting one person who took the harp from the artwork of Bolinree and made it into tattoo on her arm. Other people have taken lyrics as tattoos. There are people on Facebook whom we have never met following our music. They would be considered fans. But there is something very limited in the scope of having fans.
I think the WayGood World has been an unconscious decision on the part of Brian and myself to foster a world of friends, brought together by the music of Switchback. What I mean by unconscious is that Brian and I didn’t sit down and say “Hey, let’s make a bunch of friends.” Rather, we played our music and met people who liked our music and because of that, came the friendships.
Merriam Webster defines "friend" as
1a: one attached to another by affection or esteem She's my best friend.
2a: one that is not hostile Is he a friend or an enemy?
b: one that is of the same nation, party, or group showbiz friends
3: one that favors or promotes something (such as a charity) The friends of the library will host a fund-raiser.
To me, it seems that the value of friendship far outweighs the value of fanship. Perhaps having fans is the luxury that comes with being a big celebrity. Taylor Swift can afford to have fans perhaps, but Switchback needs its friends.
We have been blessed over the years to have people offer time, treasure and their homes to us as we have traveled around the world. Our tours and past group gatherings (such as the Rondy and the Cave Concerts) have been the attempt to solidify that friendship, not only between Switchback and friends, but through the joy of seeing people meet each other and create friendships. To make joyful meaning of the time we are here together on Earth. There have been couples married, babies born, and friends we have lost through the WayGood World. I wonder if Garth would take a fan's ashes and scatter them in Ireland. But when our friend Wanda passed, it made sense to honor her family’s wish to bring her to where she always wanted to go with us.
Perhaps the biggest blessing is that Brian and I did not “make it” in the sense of being a commercial success, like Garth Brooks or U2. We did not become “objects of interest.” Our path has been a path thus far of forging ties of affection. Our friends have helped us secure shows, be our agents, contributed money for recordings, created concerts in backyards, and introduced their friends to our music, all to make the WayGood World “a vast and ever expanding empire,” as I like to tell Brian. And like real friendships, we have had fallings out and challenges with our friends over the years. People who have decided that we shouldn’t be friends. If a fan leaves, an entertainer might shrug his or her shoulders and look for the next one in line. But the loss of friendships -- well, that hurts. And for those who we may have hurt over the years, I am sorry. Because friendships do matter and the loss of friends for whatever reason is sad.
The WayGood World is built on affection and esteem, as Mr. Webster might say, delicately tiptoeing around the word "love." And it takes a village of friends to raise up a band as we have found out. So thank you, friends, for continuing to create and expand the WayGood World. For helping Switchback make music and bring joy to a lot of people. Thank you for helping us touch souls and allowing our own souls to be touched in return.
Dear Switchback fans,
Some years ago, when visiting my brother Tony in Decatur, Illinois, he put Brian and me up to a dare. Having just returned from a Catholic retreat in Jackson, Wyoming, Tony noted that both Brian and I grew up playing Catholic Masses and he thought that we should consider writing one.
This suggestion was sort of delayed and postponed, but not rebuffed, because both Brian and I owed a lot of our musical upbringing to playing those Masses. Back in the early days, when we were playing clubs, we would finish a club around 2 a.m. I would get home about an hour later and then wake up to drive out to Oak Park, Illinois and play the 9 a.m. Mass. Brian would be there and we would both be bleary-eyed as we stumbled up to the choir. I would open my bass case and out would waft the disconcerting smell of cigarette smoke from the night before.
We played those morning Masses for a lot of reasons. Mainly because it was good to play. It was something that, being Irish Catholics, was sort of hot-wired into our systems. And, it allowed us to grow musically while expiating some sins along the way.
Eventually we took up my brother’s dare and wrote a Mass to be performed by the choir at St. Edmund’s parish in Oak Park. It wasn't too long before we decided to write an Irish Mass after performing at the Michigan Irish Music Festival and later at the Des Moines Hibernian gathering at the Old Irish Settlement. As musicians, we found it a bit of a challenge to write a Mass. For one reason, there are certain parts of the service where one cannot deviate from the words. The Gloria for example, is probably one of the most difficult assortments of words ever to which music must be applied. The English, taken from the Latin, is not smooth and flowing. So to create something that would feel beautiful (and accessible to a congregation) to sing, while taking care of the words, was rewarding.
We have since written several Masses and have had them performed by choirs and done by ourselves for various churches (not all Catholic, either!) across the country (plus one performance in Pompeii, Italy in 2010).
When my wife suggested that we go to Rome to attend a conference for Serra International, the Catholic nonprofit she works for, I was surprised to hear that there was the chance we would meet the Pope. I basically thought that meeting the Pope would be meeting the Pope in a crowd of a lot of people. The last Pope I saw, John Paul II, was with a million other people at Grant Park in Chicago back in 1979. He was a minuscule and inaccessible figure from where I was standing. And I got harassed by a policeman who in turn got lambasted by my sainted mother (that's another story for another day).
Still, I thought that it would be amazing if Áine could see the Pope. And just in case I would be closer than a million people, I would bring along a Hibernian Mass CD. I imagined I could pass it to him through one of the Swiss guards.
Before we came over to Italy, we had to explain to Áine who Papa Francesco is. Annie told her, "He's dressed all in white and he is sort of like a superhero and Santa Claus” which I thought was pretty funny and accurate at the same time.
The day came for seeing the Pope and I was amazed. Still jetlagged, we got up early to board buses to Vatican City. Around 10 a.m., we gathered for Mass in St. Peter’s behind the big altar (the iconic Altare della Cattedra by Bernini), in the area where most people do not get to go. And here I was in a place that I probably will never get to stand or sit in for the rest of my life. It felt very strange but thrilling at the same time.
There were 40 elite people who were selected to personally meet the Holy Father, but I was happy to be with the other 500+ people in the crowd.
After Mass, our large group left St. Peter’s and headed over to the Aula Paolo VI, a large hall for private papal audiences. Up ahead were two Swiss guards with halberds at their sides, marching away from us. It felt like I had stepped back into another time. When we entered the hall it was warm (every day in Rome during our stay was over 90 degrees F) and cheerfully lit thanks to the arched skylight that made up most of the roof. At the back of the stage was a modern, rather abstract bronze sculpture of the resurrection of Christ. I thought it would be pretty weird for Christ to return and see what people thought He looked like.
Once again we filed in and sat down, waiting for the Pope to arrive. Television cameras were set up and photographers were at the ready. Slowly some cardinals came filing in, as well as some sort of Vatican orderlies dressed in grey morning coats. Plain-clothes as well as uniformed police mingled with some Swiss guards, but we had been screened prior to coming into St. Peter’s and the atmosphere was pretty electric. From her purse, Annie produced not only a Japanese fan but also a juice box and snack for Aine, who played with a parish musical director from Omaha who sat next to us.
About 20 minutes after the noon appointment time, those two Swiss guards with their halberds came walking into the room. They flanked both sides of a big chair set up in front and snapped to attention. And then, into the room walked Pope Francis. Everyone started applauding and taking pictures. After some brief introductory remarks from the Italian president of Annie's organization, the Pope gave a short address in Italian, for which unfortunately no translation was provided to us mono-lingual Americans, but here and there, he paused and made a point. I could sense from the tone, he was being gentle, but sincere in the address and the many Italians in the audience who could understand him politely applauded here and there. It didn’t matter too much as it all felt fairly surreal.
For me, being a Catholic, I was witnessing the most recent in an unbroken line of successors of St. Peter. Sure, the line got wobbly and downright erratic from time to time, but still, that line remained unbroken for almost 2000 years. And here was a pretty decent guy to boot, I thought.
Finally, the Pope walked down from the stage to shake the hands of the selected people while the rest of us waved a bit and raised our smart devices overhead to capture some pictures. I hoisted Áine up on my shoulder and brought her over to the barricade to get a better view. Annie stayed behind. Perhaps, I thought, the Pope might walk over to everyone else and Áine could receive a special blessing. A guard spotted her in her bright coral dress and motioned to me. He told me in broken English to "Get to the center of the room.” I realized he was asking us to move to where the main aisle of the hall was, to get out of the group! So, I started moving through the other hundreds of people crowding forward.
I called to Annie, “Come on, I think Áine is going to get to meet the Pope!” As we made our way to the center aisle, Annie yelled at me to adjust Áine’s dress which had migrated up over her underwear as we waded through our fellow Pope admirers. As we threaded our way through the throng, I kept looking over at the Pontiff who was working down the line of those 40 “golden ticket” folks. It was sort of a race of me against the Pope to see who was going to get down to the end of the line first. I made it to the center aisle of the hall and a serious-looking guard looked at me.
“You are going to meet the Pope, with baby,” he said.
“OK,” I said.
The guy started to undo the barrier so Áine and I could enter.
“Wait,” another guard said as Annie caught up. “You are the mother?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“You all go see the Pope,” the guard said. He opened the divider and let us through. And you know, the folks who were around us were delighted for us, but mainly for Áine. They applauded and I was totally in shock.
We got in line -- we were the very end of the line, in fact -- and there, larger than life, or at least larger than St. J2P2 (as we Star Wars-struck kids called John Paul II) in Grant Park, was my hero, the Pope I had been praying for, the Pope who was a Jesuit priest, who, like me, was educated by Jesuits, the Pope who lives in a regular apartment, wears regular shoes, and who likes to sneak out of the Vatican in regular priest garb and walk among his fellow humans. That guy. Francis.
He came over to where we were and I shook his hand. I gave him the Hibernian Mass CD.
“Here is a Mass that I wrote,” I said.
He looked at it smiling. He then looked at me and said, “Thank you.”
His aide, a German cardinal, smiled and took the CD. “Are you German?” he said, smiling at me. “No, um, Irish American,” I stammered.
Pope Francis didn’t move. He smiled and Áine smiled back at him. Despite her smile, she also seemed a bit overwhelmed.
“This is my daughter, Áine,” I said.
Pope Francis touched and kissed her cheek.
Then Áine leaned over and planted a big kiss on Pope Francis.
He smiled and laughed a little. Áine, usually such a gregarious toddler, remained pretty serious; much more aware, perhaps, of the gravity of having kissed a superhero Santa than her Poppa giving a CD from Uncle Brian’s and Poppa’s band.
“My wife, Anne,” I said. And Annie shook the Pope’s hand and said how wonderful it was to meet him.
He didn’t say too much in English. It was mainly smiles and gestures. Later Annie and I would discuss the things we would have liked to have said to Pope Francis but which evaporated when we, starstruck, actually met him -- something we had both fantasized about but which we didn't think would actually happen.
He moved on to wave to the crowd before retreating once again behind the stage.
Like that, it was over. But the enormity of that minute or two in front of him came through days later.
I held the Pope’s hand, I thought. I met a real hero. My daughter and wife met the Pope. My daughter can tell people years from now she kissed the Pope. She will be forever changed and it will be an awkward high school prom years from now when I pull out the Pope pictures and place them in front of her date.
And that CD. That representation of years of Brian and me waking up early from a late night and heading over to church. The desire to give back something and somehow bring honor to those people who have played in the church choirs with us. Now, I optimistically imagine it in the Pope’s CD collection.
Maybe, just maybe, he will sneak out of the Vatican on an early morning. Fire up his tiny Fiat and go driving a bit. As he wends his way out into the Italian countryside, far from the frenzy that is Rome, maybe he will stick that Hibernian Mass in the CD player and sing along a bit to the "Holy Saints of Ireland."
Yeah, that’s my Francis.
Dear Switchback fans,
I never was a big fan of rabbits. Even as a kid, I remember rooting for Elmer Fudd when he was up against Bugs Bunny. There was something about Bugs that rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps he was too smug, too confident that he was going to get ol’ Elmer to once again shoot himself with his shotgun. When reading Peter Rabbit, I always thought Farmer McGregor was, to some degree, in the right. It was his garden after all!
The “Hey, let me help myself to everything that’s good” mentality, to me, is embodied by the rabbit. Even though I am not in love with squirrels, either, I do have at least some respect for them. They eat nuts, hang out in trees and generally stay out of the way. Even the much maligned rat is on my respect list. The rats in our neighborhood do their thing mostly behind the taquerias that line Clark Street. They prefer to keep out of sight. Yet, they are constantly public enemy number one. No one goes around poisoning rabbits, but there are more rabbits than there are humans or rats in our neighborhood.
When I was growing up, the pest was not rats, rabbits, or even mice, but deer. “Rats with hooves” was what one farmer called them. In truth, the farmer should have said “Rabbits with hooves” because both deer and rabbits think it is perfectly fine to eat things like flowers. Purchase a creeping phlox at Home Depot? They might as well have a calorie listing, because that is manna to the rabbit. Or daisies, or any sort of native prairie plant. Even the tough cup plant, with its rigid stalk and unappetizing, scratchy leaves, is on the menu. I come home from being on the road and there it is, my “what once was a prairie flower garden.” Sticks sticking out of a denuded plot of land and there, sitting in the middle of it, is this rabbit. And of course, she has that “What?” look on her face as she is chewing on the last of my columbine.
One day, I found her eating all my tulips. This was a female for sure because after I chased her out of my “what I thought was rabbit-proof” yard, she returned. She hid out under the woodpile for a bit and then, decided that it was time to teach me a lesson: She delivered a litter of about 20 baby rabbits there on the spot. I stumbled onto them the week I was desperately trying to replace all the plants that had been eaten with plants that I thought rabbits wouldn’t like -- like cactus (turns out they like cactus). These young rabbits were fairly naive. I caught about three in a bucket and got them to the railroad tracks where I figured they at least had a fighting chance. The others got wise and scrammed, egged on by their mother.
One evening before dinner I had a "what to do about rabbits" discussion with our next door neighbor, Dave. A farm boy like me, Dave got that shovel-grabbing look on his face and said, "I know what to do about rabbits." Annie overheard us and sternly declared, said "THERE WILL BE NO BUNNICIDE ON THIS PROPERTY." Annie, a city girl and totally unaware of such things as the fact that rabbits can eat whole trees, looked at me with a look of disdain. She didn't realize that she'd done it; she'd said the “B” word: Bunny.
Now, for those of you who dislike rabbits like me, when the word "bunny" is uttered it conjures up an image of soft, cute, cuddly, friendly, non-invasive, non-denuding, big eyes almost ready to swell with tears sort of creature. (Which reminds me that I never was into the Easter Bunny, either).
“We have to do something,” I pleaded, knowing that once the “B” word is uttered, these miniature rabbits were now on the protected species list at our home.
“You will not do anything to those bunnies and certainly not in front of Amanita,” Annie said. And with that, the tiny, evil rabbits laughed and ran off into the ferns and out of sight, waiting to gnaw the paint off our house.
So, I trudged over to the hardware store. Never mind that Brian and I had to be on the road to a gig. This was war. I bought 50 feet worth of chicken wire to put over the so-called rabbit-proof fence that I bought from the same store last year. (I saw our female rabbit clear three feet of it and over to the condos to the east, thus rendering my fences de-fence-less).
With a steady, cold rain pouring down on me, I slowly rolled out the wire fence and hammered it into the areas of our property that had the slightest gaps in it. I kept at it until Annie opened a second-floor window to yell at me to cut it out and get going to Iowa. My hands were scratched and even some blood oozed onto the earth as I stood out in the pouring rain, punctuated by thunder booming and the occasional flash of lightning, raising my arms to heaven and shaking my fists at the curse that is the rabbit. Meanwhile, the rabbits were under the yew trees, watching me as they nibbled some hosta plants just for the fun of it.
As of this writing, I think am now down to one “bunny.” Yes, a cute, sweet, doe-eyed (see what I mean?) bunny. Predators seemed to have cleared out the other rabbits, or it could be that everything that could have been eaten has now been eaten at our property.
We now have coyotes in Chicago and I am all for them eating rabbits, squirrels and the odd yapping poodle. Even a mountain lion wandered down the train tracks and made a very brief visit (until it was shot by the police) a couple years back. That tells me one thing: rabbits are here and they are by no means going away. And I will fruitlessly (and plantless-ly) try, but never win in my attempt to create a rabbit-free zone on my property.
Later this month, the peach tree will ripen and we hope to have the same number of luscious fruit as last year. But I swear I saw the bunny and a squirrel the other day having a meeting. They were looking at the peach tree and then at me. I am pretty sure they both then laughed. It still is war.
Dear Switchback fans,
We were in Stillwater, Minnesota last week, and as usual we chose to do some outreach programs. We were at a retirement home called The Greeley. It was an unbelievably warm day, and the residents were brought outside for a concert on the patio. The director brought out straw hats for them to wear as we set up our sound system and commenced playing. It was a great deal of fun as always, with the twists and turns that one encounters when doing outreach programs. As our “Sycamore View” song goes, every resident has some “damn claim to fame” and more often than not, it really is a bona fide claim to fame or notable accomplishment. (I feel one of the great tragedies of modern living is that our elderly and their life experiences are not appreciated, recorded, or used for knowledge by the younger generations, but that is for another article.)
He was sitting in a wheelchair and watching us play with an intensity that made me guess that he must be a musician. We continued on and about halfway through our concert he left, wheeling back through the door and into the residence. Usually when that happens during a senior outreach, it means one of three things: a) the person is bored with our program; b) the person has to go to the bathroom; c) both. In this case, I thought that he must need to get to the bathroom, for he was clearly enjoying himself. Sure enough, out he came about two songs later with a manila envelope in his hand. He clutched it throughout the rest of the show, and when we were finished with the program, he came up to us.
“My name is Eric Sjoberd and I am a Laplander! My people came from the far north.”
“Ok,” I said, “well, you live in the right state then.”
“I do,” he smiled. “Did you know that Sjoberd is Lapp for Sea-Mountain?”
“No,” I replied, “but that is a pretty cool name.”
“I was in music,” he said.
Brian and I naturally are curious when someone says they “were in music.” That can mean a lot of things, from playing in a high school band to sharing the stage with Dizzy Gillespie. Eric carefully opened the manila envelope and pulled out a photo. It was a scene from the late 50’s of a tour bus. Hanging out of its windows and around it were various musicians, all dressed in suits of the folk era and clutching musical instruments.
“This was my group,” he said. “The Jubilaires.”
We studied the photo of the band. Here was clearly a traveling outfit which reminded me of the New Christy Minstrels-type of bands that were popular before rock and roll started taking off. It was a magical time, when folk music was king and before some other Minnesotan with the last name of Zimmerman traveled down Route 61 and literally changed the world as we knew it.
Eric pointed to people in the photograph. “Here is my wife. She played the banjo. And here is my son, he played guitar.”
Turned out that Eric and his wife lived up in the Iron Range part of Minnesota. His wife’s musical interests were something that he embraced. Together they formed a traveling folk band. Gathering other musicians around them, they formed the Jubilaires. (In research on the internet, I found the Jubalaires, which was a gospel group from the 1940’s-1950’s, but I couldn’t find any mention of Eric’s group.)
“We would plan a tour of about 28 shows and see how far we could get from the Twin Cities,” said Eric. “And we kept it going for 42 years.”
Sadly, the Sjoberds' son died of an aneurysm, and at his passing they decided to end the band.
“How old are you now?” I asked.
“96 years old,” he replied.
“Ah, another proof of music keeping you young!” I said.
He happily fist-pumped the air, holding onto his picture.
Brian and I thanked him for being a journeyman. And for taking the risk of doing what he loved. Amazingly, the fact that he, his wife, and son were able to share those 42 years bringing joy to countless others was something that stuck with me.
Too often, it seems that we are preoccupied with equating fame with success. The idea that one can be a success but not famous (or rich for that matter) is not as exciting. We were raised on the notion that to be someone in this world, we had to be something. That is why social media has become such a huge hit. We all can be something, even if it just means that it is something going out into the ether.
The journeyman (and woman) flies in the face of this notion. Their idea is that this world is just a playground for the imagination. And whoever touches the most souls during the journey wins. What wasn’t in Eric’s photo were the countless souls that were touched. Souls that most likely had no idea of the personal cost of losing his son so suddenly. Or that he is now confined to a wheelchair at a nursing home in Minnesota.
But Eric does. And that is the point.
American Roots & Celtic Soul