My Two Bean Songs

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Songwriters write about anything you can see, feel, taste, or think. Thousands of songs are about love, but two of mine are about the love of beans. I composed a brace of bean songs mid-decade during the 1970s and thought I had discovered a new genre of songwriting. Maybe I did.

Both of my bean songs feature the pinto bean. The songs are quite different in musical style, yet each professes bean love. Pinto Bean Blues is played in the style of Blind Lemon Jefferson. The other song, Frijoles, is a Slavic march sung in Spanish.

I had been introduced to the wonders of pinto beans by an amiable fellow I hung out with in San Francisco in 1971, John Lopez, who was from East LA. John taught me to barely cover the dried beans with water, add salt, pepper and cumin, bring to a simmer and keep adding water as needed until the skin furls off when you blow on one. Usually takes a couple of hours depending upon altitude and kitchen vibe. John frequently made a pot of pintos, then refried them—mashed them in hot oil in a skillet. Spread this delightful result on tortillas with some chopped onion, shredded cheese, avocado and salsa and you’re set.

The inspiration for Frijoles! came in 1974 while Linda and I were staying at the Hotel La Riviera in Playa Rodedero near Santa Marta, Colombia.  An eight-year-old girl from Bogota, Olgita, was vacationing at La Riviera with her dad and uncle at the same time. The hotel was situated a block from the beach next to a rubble pile with a trash heap across the street. It was lovely.

I conjured Frijoles! as entertainment for Olgita. After playing it one time, she and her drunken uncle made constant requests for encores. They were wild about the song. The uncle, a medical doctor from Bogota, would sit there plastered on afternoon rum and request a performance: “Rogélio. Toca Frijoles!” I am certain that Olgita, now a grown woman, would still remember Frijoles!

A person sitting on a bench next to a body of water

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With Olgita at La Riviera Hotel circa 1974

Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Clarendon hills, the beans we ate were green, often from a can. Nice that we have expandable palates. Long live legumes!

Campaign Promise Realized

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RB News

At a recent campaign rally in MAGALAND, the President requested volunteers to be shot on 5th Avenue in New York City. The entire rally crowd raised their collective hand. From the throng, the President’s re-election staff selected one hundred participants for the campaign stunt. The next day, at taxpayer expense, the lucky 100 were flown to JFK airport, where they crammed into a large MAGA bus and were driven to a spot in front of the President’s tower on 5th Avenue. There they huddled in an area roped off for the joyous occasion.

The mood was festive as the presidential “beast” pulled in front of the crowd. Some raised “Lock Her Up” signs. The President, accompanied by his attorney general, lumbered out of the back seat. The unhealthy looking AG handed the President a holster and pistol, which, after some fumbling, the President managed to strap around his ample waste. “Are you ready?” shouted the President. The lucky 100 roared their readiness. The President first gave a rambling update on the wall he was building to make the country great once more, how the press was out to get him, how anyone opposed to his rule was a traitor, how climate change was a Chinese hoax, how he was clearly the most magnificent specimen the species has yet produced…then drew his pistol and shot into the crowd. His aim was high, and the crowd instinctively ducked. The bullet found no patriotic volunteer but instead smashed through the glass of the President’s tower and embedded into a new issue of Time magazine that perched on a rack in the tower’s fake news stand. The President looked at his attorney general. “What do I do now?” his expression seemed to ask. The AG whispered into the presidential ear. The Pres nodded, took a few steps toward the crowd, aimed the pistol at the head of a red-hatted supporter and squeezed the trigger from near point-blank range. Click. Nothing. The gun had been loaded with but one bullet.

“I know how the fake news media is going to cover this,” shouted the President. “Does anyone have a loaded gun?” inquired the leader of the free world. Many of the lucky 100 pulled out their concealed pistols. The luckiest one was selected by the President. “For the sake of American greatness,” proclaimed the President, as he blasted the gun owner in the face with his own gun. Bits of bone, gray matter and blood splattered the crowd as they roared their approval. Many seemed disappointed that they had not received the presidential bullet.

As the dead supporter lay in a pool of blood, campaign aides swarmed though the crowd with non-disclosure agreements for all witnesses to sign. The President shambled back inside “the beast” and was driven to an awaiting helicopter that took him to his nearby golf resort.

News of the shooting quickly overwhelmed social media. Opinion was divided along partisan lines. The opposition party condemned the shooting and called for the President’s arrest. The President immediately tweeted that he had done nothing wrong. “The shooting was perfect.” During a break at the impeachment hearings on capitol hill, reporters solicited reaction from members of the President’s party. “Democracy is a messy business,” said the senator from South Carolina, while rushing for the nearest exit. “Another promise kept by our President,” tweeted a senator from Texas. “All presidents have done this. Get over it,” opined the head of the RNC. “It’s troubling if it’s true,” offered a Senator from Utah. “This is a nothing burger,” said the President’s son. The White House miscommunication director floated the idea of similar events in the future. “ Let’s see if this lifts our poll numbers,” said the rinsed out spokesblonde. “If not, we’ll spin it as a suicide.”

The stock market remained flat at the end of the trading day. An iPhone update was rumored.

Eating Garbage

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Eating Garbage

Hey. I’m the Bossman. That’s book, baby.

Naismith Hall, Kansas University, Fall 1966

excerpt from my memoir, Hardly Working.

“We will never run out of food,” stated a brochure for Naismith Hall, a newly opened, private dormitory named after basketball’s inventor, James Naismith. I was a big basketball fan—one of the reasons I attended KU—and in the fall semester of my freshman year, Naismith Hall seemed like a good place to work. This would be my first job in the food service industry. I had no qualifications other than the fact that I was a student with a pulse who had properly filled out an application form.

The promise of delicious, plentiful meals was a motivating factor for choosing to work this gig but once hired, I was given a choice of compensation: either $1.00 per hour or free meals. Though $1.00 an hour was below the federal minimum wage standard, the state of Kansas didn’t bother with such trivialities. I chose the money option. What 18-year-old didn’t want an extra $10 or $15 bucks in their pocket in 1966?

It rankled me, though, when I witnessed trays of perfectly good chicken fried steak, that moments before had been served to the darlings, now must be thrown out. These were the rules. But rules are for fools. When nobody was looking, I planned on feasting.

One of my duties was trash detail. I was instructed to throw out everything that had gone un-eaten except pie and cake, which had a two-day shelf life: A costly lunch item one minute, became garbage the next minute. My system was simple: I lined the inside of an empty five gallon can of vegetables or fruit with paper napkins, nonchalantly filled the can with uneaten cheeseburgers—the most popular lunch item—carefully placed the can in the trash barrel, wheeled the trash out to the garbage dock, pulled out the can of cheeseburgers, then took one bite of 25 different burgers. Seemed less wasteful then eating two entire burgers and throwing away 23 whole ones. I also ravaged the day-old cakes and pies.

When the staff bakers made banana bread for the dorm, I requested they save the peels for me. Time magazine (I think) had published an article about various methods that “today’s youth” were experimenting with to catch a buzz. The inside of the banana peel was purported to have a psychedelic component. The baker ladies thought I was crazy, which I was just beginning to realize—I was. I scraped the insides of a dozen peels, put the scrapings on a tray, baked them for a few minutes, emptied the tobacco from a filter cigarette, filled it with the baked inner peel stuff, went out on the back dock and proceeded to give myself a sore throat. Much more pleasure could be derived from actually eating the banana. The same magazine article also suggested cigarettes soaked in vanilla extract and some concoction of rotted green pepper were buzzworthy. They weren’t. Obviously, I had no weed connection yet.

The food service manager at Naismith was a short guy with a crew cut named Preston. This guy was an archetype of a square. There was not a molecule of hipness in his DNA. I’m sure he went through life without listening to Miles Davis, visiting Amsterdam or ingesting DMMDA. He had a white face and rosy cheeks and always wore a gray suit. Or maybe every suit turned gray when he put it on. I had just turned 18; he was about 28. He thought I was some cool guy because instead of saying “cool,” I would say “boss,” a term I had picked up listening to WVON (the Voice of the Negro) in Chicago. Then he found out my nickname, recently given to me at my fraternity, was Bossman. He called me Bossman and thought he was cool by doing this.

During one back dock feast, after I had shoved an unbelievable amount of food into my always hungry mouth, Preston burst through the back-dock door. I jumped off the dock with my back to the boss. “Hey, Bossman,” he said. “Do we need to do something about all the sweat bees out here?” My mouth was too full for a reply, so I began to furiously swat at imaginary sweat bees while flailing around the dumpster, where I bent down low and spit out the contraband. “Yes, the bees are bad today,” I answered with a straight face, licking a smear of chocolate from the corner of my mouth.

Being a wise ass, I decided to coin a new adjective just for Preston—book. Man, that’s book. I wanted to hear him exclaim that something was “book.” When one day he informed me that he was feeling book, I felt that I had learned something about human behavior but wasn’t sure what.

A Brief History of the Barking Geckos

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Adapted from the memoir, Hardly Working

The Barking Geckos hatched in 1975 during lazy Kansas afternoons spent catching a buzz, listening to Bob Marley, banging pots, pans, and tambourines and singing along with the Wailers albums. We began as a ragtag aggregation of non-professional music lovers with varying degrees of musical acumen, joined together by a lack of inhibition and the absence of demanding employment. We never advanced much beyond that stage, but we became legendary. Almost mythical. At least in our own minds.

Somehow, it all mades sense. Or nonsense. Melinda, Linda, Eileen, Kurt, Brian, Doug?, Roger

Our raggedy improvisations were punctuated with frequent, spontaneous outbursts of joyous barking and yipping. My mission was to remind all that conformity is not a pillar of freedom. Absurdity is truth. The songs I was writing careened from the preposterous to the unconventional with an occasional dose of blues or rock. The Geckos were a perfect vehicle for the nonsensical.

We were the opening band on the opening night of Off the Wall Hall. It was not a paying gig because there were too many of us to pay. Our motivation was based in joy. It wasn’t monetary.

The lineup was Brian and I on guitars, an ever-changing cast on bass, drums, mandolin, harmonica plus a vast array of rhythm shakers that often ended up in the audience. As many as five Geckettes provided percussion and background vocals, though being on key was never a primary goal. Linda was a Geckette and would be the first to admit that she has trouble singing on key. We weren’t an on-key band. Geckettes roamed the stage yipping profusely between songs which in turn caused the audience to bark. Spontaneous barking was our signature sound. At times, I had to politely ask the Geckettes to quit barking and yipping.

The Gecko look was influenced by thrift stores, the Marx Brothers, Sgt. Pepper’s, the Beggar’s Banquet photo shoot, and a host of mind-altering substances. It was anything goes. When Jaw Harp Joe spent a dollar on a box of fifty aprons at a yard sale, he donated them to the cause. I wrote a song now lost for the ages, “Cheap Apron Fashion Show.” Each Geckette improvised a way to showcase her apron at our next gig, either as an anti-fashion statement or as a giveaway item for the audience, a gaggle of tripping hedonists assembled to witness a myth in the making.

Melinda, Suzie, Linda, Eileen and Sally. Geckettes forever!

For one gig, the Geckettes dressed as nuns in homemade pastel hued habits. At another, they stood behind ironing boards, playing kazoo and washboard. At another, a bagpipe player led them around the block as the rest of the band joined the goofy procession, gathering curious potential fans as we advanced through sleepy downtown Lawrence. I often wore pajamas and a pencil thin fake mustache above my lip. Our drummer wore a gas mask, just in case. Brian sported pantaloons tucked into high boots as he meandered about the stage tuning his axe before, during, and after each song. Jaw Harp Joe wore reflecto mirror shades and a towel wrapped high on his head. Others wore fake noses, leopard skin prints, and garish un-matching outfits picked from Salvation Army bins. The audience yipped and yapped and held up signs. Mimes circulated. I gave away fake puke and other novelty gag gifts from the stage. The whole thing was wonderfully life affirming

National Surrealist Convention 1976, Off the Wall Hall, Lawrence, Ks.

Our most noteworthy gig was at the National Surrealist Party Convention, a brainchild of Firesign Theater founding member, David Ossman and his wife, Tiny. Firesign Theater was an absurdist group that began in the 60s and had recorded a few well-known comedy albums. The Surrealist candidate for President was George Papoon, a guy with a brown paper bag over his head. His campaign slogan was “Not Insane”.

Presidential candidate George Papoon makes his case.

The national presidential candidates in 1976 were eventual winner, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford, whose running mate was Kansan, Bob Dole, who we referred to as Bob Dull. The Surrealist Party Convention was an antidote to Dullsville. We were in opposite-land, at the far reaches of time and space. I have no idea how the convention came to Lawrence but when Ossman saw the Geckos he knew we were of the same cloth. And it wasn’t polyester.

You had to be there. And maybe you were.
Can anybody identify this drummer?

The Reformation

The Geckos re-formed in 1980, a bit more rehearsed and elaborate. We had two shows, both at the Lawrence Opera House. The first performance, in 1980, was staged for Randy Mason’s “Bringing It All Back Home” blockbuster cable show on Sunflower Cablevision. All of the band members were different than the first Gecko iteration except for myself and Kurt Sigmon (RIP). We were on to something and should have continued but life got in the way. Tell your kids about the Barking Geckos!

Trading riffs with Mitch Fabulous during Halloween 1980 show.
Range Wars
Mike Barlow illustration of the 2nd generation Geckos.
My Plastic Inflatable Companion with Pete, Ardys and Mary
Eek eek it’s a Dead Mouse Resting on my Conscience.
Follow That Cab
At Sunflower Cable. Directed by Randy Mason. Live mix by Kent Elliot.

I Fell in Love with a Young Young Girl

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The first time I took Linda on a west coast road trip, we left Carbondale with $300 and stretched it nearly three months, thanks to the kindness of friends, acquaintances, cheap gas, free rides, hitchhiking and a diet of canned tuna, avocados, cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly, pinto beans, hard rolls, and eggs. A reader might think that surely this is an exaggeration: only $300 for an entire summer road trip of thousands of miles? This was 1972. We had no car, no rent, no insurance, bought no clothes and never went to restaurants except for a truck stop apple pie or fried rice at the Moon Café in San Francisco, which cost a dollar.

(excerpt from my memoir, Hardly Working.)

This song chronicles our adventure.

Not a care in the world.

Is it Art or is it Magic?

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Making music. Is it art or is it magic? Certain performances/collected works/bands/songs hit the notes of magic. Profound, mysterious, other-worldly. Running Dry and Helpless, by Neil Young, have always aroused the hairs on the back of my neck, invoking a sense of longing that exceeds the flaccid emotion of most pop songs. Moonlight Mile, by the Stones, transports me to a different, shimmering, druggy world. When I hear Billie Holiday’s recording of Pennies From Heaven I hear a voice that is a true musical instrument, like she’s being played by an unseen hand. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos warps me to the 17th century, at the intersection of music, math and creativity.

Ry Cooder’s cover of the Blind Willie Johnson instrumental, Dark Is The Night,  gets me every time. When I first heard it, I thought, this is why you learn to play guitar. Emotional. Profound. Moving. Perfect. Is it the simplicity, the complexity or the utter mastery of the guitar strings that creates my sense of wonder?

Every band or project of Ry’s is bit of magic—Sticky Finger-era Stones, Early Captain Beefheart, Paris Texas soundtrack, the collaborations with musicians of Cuba, Africa, India, Mexico, the American south and folk and blues.  If you’re a fan of Ry, you’re a fan of musical history, politics, anthropology and the connection we have with each other. Seeing him play live or being interviewed, he seems to be a regular dude.

The pathway that led me toward Ry Cooder began when my Dad put Green Door on the turntable, sometime in the early 1950s. I noticed how enthused my father was. He dug the beat. Pop music was on the cusp of rocking. I felt it, too. Then Elvis came, and my life—American life—was never the same. Music has shaped me.

Elvis was a big deal because he looked cool and he had the moves and sang some crazy songs; a sneer with sideburns. At the same time, Chuck Berry at Chess Records was exploding, and though his catalog is as important as any American songbook ever, Chuck couldn’t compete with the Elvis package. Chuck was black. It was 1956, the Jim Crow era.  Also, Chuck had done three years for armed robbery. It took years before I learned that the early rock & roll of Arthur Big Boy Crudup never reached a mainstream audience because Crudup was also the wrong color for the times. So, it was Elvis who introduced young white people to a new way of life. The opportunity to express pleasure by shaking your hips. He was the right guy at the right time to codify the potent combination of gospel music, country music, teenage insolence, sex, blues and rebelliousness.

To be a cultural force takes frequency—just like advertising. James Dean was a rebel without a cause, a sneering young movie star adored by the same demographic as Elvis, but Dean didn’t turn the culture upside down as Elvis did, because Elvis was on the radio every day. You could spin his record on your turntable at will. His first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show reached an 82 percent share of the television audience. This dwarfed the movie audience. Elvis had constant visibility. You want some Elvis? Put him on your turntable whenever you want. The radio played him all day and all night. You want some James Dean? Find a movie theater that’s featuring one of his movies and buy a ticket, because there is no VCR and no American Movies Classics and no Netflix. Elvis had the technological advantage over James Dean.

I was hooked on rock & roll as soon as I saw Elvis. I have a hazy recollection of my dad taking me to a record store somewhere on the west side of Chicago— there were no record stores in my tiny suburb of Clarendon Hills—to buy the Elvis 45, “Money Honey.” In 1956 the young rock and roll record industry relied mainly on 45 rpm singles. The “A” side was deemed the hit or potential hit, the “B” side was the toss off, the neglected sibling. The 33 1/3 rpm, long playing (LP) disc had been introduced the same year I was born, 1948, but that format was used primarily for classical music. Elvis was the first rock & roller to release an album’s-worth of singles. This first LP included “Money Honey” but I can only assume that we got the 45 because it was cheaper or maybe our phonograph didn’t have a 33 1/3 rpm speed setting.

Like Lou Reed would sing, my life was changed by rock & roll. In 3rd grade, I took a blonde wooden hair brush to school and often excused myself to go to the washroom where I could wet my hair and attempt to fashion an Elvis do. My hair wasn’t quite long enough, though, and I didn’t use Brylcream to give it the proper greasy look. The teacher must have thought that I had a weak bladder.

There could be only one Elvis, and the groundbreaking effect he had on our culture—to be fair, white culture—was at least the equal of other pop kings like Michael Jackson and even The Beatles. Young girls called bobby sox-ers, had screamed for Frank Sinatra in the 1940s but not quite as wantonly as they did for Elvis. And although the young girl screams would be more deafening for the Beatles, the venues were a hundred times larger and the young girls screaming for the Beatles were screaming because the cuddly Brits were so cute. The young girls screaming for Elvis was because he aroused them sexually. That made him dangerous.

In 1956, I had not yet been exposed directly to the Blues but “Money Honey” and “Don’t be Cruel” and “Jailhouse Rock” evolved from the blues. It became inevitable that I would make the path backward to this source. You’ll understand where rock & roll originated by listening to the early blues of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson, black music for a black audience—they even called it race music. These country blues performers were the influencers of the Chicago blues beginning in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Buddy Guy were the bridge between the country blues of the south and the rock & roll that was about to sweep the nation. Call it a migration.

When I finally picked up an acoustic guitar at age 21, it was this early country blues that captivated me: The same holy grail that snared Mick and Keith and Eric Clapton and Ry Cooder. I learned the guitar styles of Blind Lemon, Blind Blake and Mississippi John Hurt from records, perfecting my technique on lunch breaks, back porches, saggy couches, VW mini vans, train stations and straight back chairs, while on the road in Lawrence, Kansas and Carbondale, Illinois, South America, Europe, Minneapolis and San Francisco. 

When you begin playing guitar—and you’re serious about it—you sense your progress, you sense how your skills plateau and then lurch forward. I learned to break things down and play them slowly before trying to play at the speed or the singular rhythm of the masters. I remember the liberating feeling of being able to bounce my thumb between the bass strings while my other fingers pinched and picked the trebles on Shake That Thing by Mississippi John Hurt. I was certain that I would play guitar for the rest of my life and that nothing would ever be more important to me. Time has confirmed this.

Magic enchants the supernatural part of our soul. The languid sustain of a long, drawn out note from Miles Davis triggers the many layers of consciousness. There’s more going on than meets the eye; or the ear. What was his trick? How did he do it? An insane amount of dedication and practice. Slight of hand.

Music is a big magical deal. I am thankful that I have been able to both live and craft a living with my guitar being either at the center of or dancing around the edges of my career, magically. I recently saw Ry Cooder perform at Thalia Hall in Chicago with my wife and son. It was magical. Long live rock & roll. Long live the blues. Long live magic.

©2019 Roger Bain

More Money Than God

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“He has more money than God.”

We’ve all heard this description applied to somebody who is well off, often uttered by somebody who wishes that they were as well off. It is the ultimate praise in our capitalist society. God is rich but this person is richer. The richer you are, the more god-like. God is money. God could replace Bennie Franklin on the $100 bill, if only we could figure out how to illustrate God’s likeness. A stack of Benjamins would become a stack of Gods. Cocaine sniffed through a rolled up hundred would, in a way, have God’s blessing. Or, at least, HIS assistance.

Does God have mortgage payments, pay for Impossible Whoppers, owe membership dues at Augusta, possess a garage full of vintage Aston Martins? Does God owe back taxes? Child support? No. God has none of these markers of wealth. A need to be transported in a helicopter? Overdue health insurance premiums? No-no-nah-no-noh! God has a credit card with no limits.

On reflection, don’t we all have more money than God? Forget it. That was a stupid notion. God is so well off that he doesn’t even need money? God is a penniless, omniscient presence who owes nothing, oversees everything, who is worshipped by billions. The poor one in the family was God’s son. He was notoriously poor. But he developed a lot of followers. He went viral. Since his passing, trillions have been raised in his name. It is a thriving business because there are a lot of customers with an insatiable demand for the product.

You know who has more money than God? Who is rolling in dough? The devil. Here is a mischievous dude adept at the financial arts, able to live high on the hog by whatever means necessary. The colloquial saying should be: “He has more money than the devil.” That is a more accurate statement. If you really have a lot of money, the devil is your guy. Like God, the devil needs your dough.

Remember. God never picks up the tab, but the devil might buy you a few drinks. Maybe even a nice dinner and a show. Would you rather be in Vegas with God or the devil? Would God frown on your gambling or would he turn a blind eye, which of course is impossible because God sees everything at all times.

The next time someone say, “She has more money than God,” keep this in mind.

Photos by Dave Clark

Character Doesn’t Count

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Some 25 years ago there was a popular campaign aimed at school children themed, “Character counts.” How we behave matters. Not whether we win, but how we conduct ourselves. It was a very obvious, almost vapid notion. Who could oppose teaching our children the importance of how we should treat one another? No lying, no bullying, no cheating. Kindness. Open-mindedness. Truthfulness. These were the traits we wished to instill on the future generation.

Today, character matters not a whit to nearly half of the country. On television, I heard some regular person in a coffee shop in New Hampshire say, “The president is despicable but I’m even more for him today than I was when I voted for him the last time.  He’s done a lot of good things for the country.” What might those good things be? Standing up for white people? Bad mouthing Mexicans? Attempting a Muslim ban? Appointing the supremely incompetent Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education? Rolling back environmental standards? Using cruelty as an immigration policy? Declaring the free press to be the enemy of the people? Attacking private citizens from the presidential twitter feed? Normalizing mendacity? Exacerbating income inequality? Doing everything possible to make health care worse for millions? Increasing the national debt? Confusing our allies? Empowering authoritarians? Obstructing justice? Promoting a private business from the oval office? Actually, the “good thing” that matters the most may be the white people thing.

During our 200 year plus experiment in democracy, we are now in a place where voters willingly vote for someone they consider to be despicable. Not unlikeable, or imperfect. Despicable. Instead of “I Like Ike” or “Hope and Change,” we now have “I’m With the Asshole” as a campaign slogan. A large swath of the American electorate has been exposed to be bigots or willful idiots. If a crackpot grifter can use mendacious conspiracy theories to get elected, then govern, does the future bode well for the good ol’ USA. Ponder that while you decide if the tag team of Putin/Trump has succeeded in permanently altering democracy.

I Meet Keith

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(from my memoir, Hardly Working.)

The advertising industry is fueled by seminars, conventions and cocktail parties. At an after-work Holiday cocktail bash sponsored by a now-defunct cable channel, I ran into a friend who worked for MTV. Between sips of punch, we commented on the general lameness of everything in sight, how shallow and full of shit so much of the industry was, especially most of the anointed rising stars. This is what you do when you are not a rising star yourself and are generally skeptical at the power dynamics that have passed you by, even though you wanted to be passed by. That was the goal.

This exercise in mockery eventually meandered into a discussion of things that we considered to be worthy of our praise. That’s when we discovered our mutual love of the Rolling Stones. We settled into animated chat of our favorite Stones tracks. Sway. Spider and the Fly. You Got the Silver, Moonlight Mile. I relayed my story of speaking to Bill Wyman on the phone while I was in high school. My cohort had a story about a Mick encounter. Then she dropped the bombshell: How would I like two passes to the live taping of a Keith Richards and The Expensive Winos concert that VH-1 was producing locally at WTTW’s soundstage? And maybe an after-show introduction to Keith! This is why we work. It’s not just for the money, it’s for the opportunity to meet Rock Gods. If offered the chance to meet any musician from any era, if Robert Johnson was busy being chased by a hellhound, I would have chosen Keith.

On the day of the taping, Linda contracted stomach flu but was going to give it a try anyway. After all, it was Keith! Sadly, on the way to the show we had to turn the car around and return Linda home to deal with her gastric misery. This lost opportunity amplified her illness. She was now both sick and devastated. After dropping her off, I didn’t have time to think about anything other than threading through expressway traffic and getting to WTTW on time.

The studio held about 200 standing fans. A low-key, pre-concert buzz filled the room, emitted by rock fans in the know, sharing stories of other times they had seen Keith or the Stones or other famous rockers. We were the chosen ones and we knew it. This wasn’t some stadium show with 30,000 anybodys in attendance. This was a hyper exclusive event to witness a legend. I wormed my way to the very front, pressed against the stage. A small camera tethered to a cable zipped behind me. The director was practicing a shot that would swoop over the crowd, right up to the Winos. Just before the band appeared, I heard my name over the studio public address system. “Bain! Move to the back. Your bald head is in my shot.” I knew the woman who was directing, and she had recognized me. I moved about twenty feet back. Still a great spot to see the band smash through Take It So Hard and about ten other tunes including Time Is on My Side, sung by Sara Dash.

The set ended with no encore because it was a television taping. I headed for the stage door where my MTV friend had told me to meet her. As I made my way to the backstage door, I said hello to Winos drummer, Steve Jordan and sax legend, Bobby Keys. “Great set, guys!” What else could I say? The rock royalty was looking for the room where the buffet was. Because of the small, private nature of the show there wasn’t much security. I walked in. Backstage was a non-descript, dark-ish room with drapes on the walls and a few overhead lights. The gathering was just me, the MTV gal, the President of VH-1 and a guitar maker with a custom guitar for Keith to autograph. As we waited for Keith, we were all equals.

I was making small talk with the VH-1 President when a hush seemed to settle over us, a barely discernable change in atmosphere like the pressure drop that precedes a tornado. From the shadows, Keith materialized and noiselessly glided our way. He simply appeared, as if waved in by an unseen wand. I swear I detected an aura surrounding him. He seemed in good spirits but how would I know? Had he just smoked hash? Had he just looked at his bank account? Had he just had a plate of bangers and mash? In any case, there was no pretense. I could tell that he had done this meet and greet hundreds of times. It was the retail part of his rock star god job. He was polite, gracious, at once both all-knowing and oblivious.

What do you say to an icon? I hadn’t rehearsed any questions. I thought that a prepared question would seem hokey. Do stars ever get tired of being told how much we love them? Or how many times we have played their first album? I settled on blurting out, “My wife got sick this morning and she’s going to die because she didn’t get to see the show and meet you.” Without missing a beat, Keith says, “What you want from me mate? To pay for her funeral?” He was busting my balls. “That won’t be necessary,” I replied, “but could you tell her to get well soon?” An assistant who had slipped into the room handed Keith an event invitation postcard and a sharpie and Keith scribbled, “To Linda. Get well soon,” and signed his name. I posed for a quick photo with Keith and the others. For reasons known only to God and Elvis, I never got a copy. It slipped through the cracks of my life. What I most remember was the handshake. Keith’s hands were incredibly soft.