In the late 1970s in Lawrence, Kansas, I was hardly working. Every morning, when Linda left for her job at the Casbah Café and later, when she began teaching first grade, I sat down to write for at least two hours.
My meager income to date had often relied on skills that required my back, my hands, and my patience—but never my writing skills. During these morning sessions I began to write short stories, primarily because they were short. Seemed easier to write something short. I attempted that one true sentence technique ala Hemingway. I bought a copy of the Writer’s Digest and versed myself in the art of the submission. A few of my stories received hand-written rejection slips with words of encouragement from the editor or publisher. Being politely rejected was progress of sorts. Most of the stories were never sent to anyone or seen by anyone but Linda and a close friend or two. They currently rest in a file cabinet to my right.
In this age, prior to personal computers, a yellow legal pad and a #2 and-a-half pencil or a ball point pen were my writing tools. I sat on the same upholstered chair every day, in the same tiny house—that we referred to as the cottage—legal pad on my lap with scattered stacks of other legal pads and loose papers at my feet and on the surrounding furniture. At the end of the writing day, I would straighten the papers into a stack, which Linda referred to as “my piles.”
During this time, I wrote lyrics for a song that I finally recorded in June 2021. Have a listen:
Truck Drivin’ Astronaut is one of the first songs I wrote, probably around 1973, though I can’t specifically pin down the date. The moon landing was an obvious inspiration.
My astronaut is an everyman who remains grounded even while in space. He’s the cowboy next door who takes out his own trash and sips beer on the front porch. Commercial endorsement rewards will soon be coming his way as they do to many successful Americans. In the last verse, now that he’s been in space, he’s uncertain that he prefers his earthly existence.
It’s also possible that the protagonist is not even an astronaut but instead is just a dreamer. Or a songwriter.
Many of the photos are from a Sunflower Cablevision video shoot for Randy Mason’s program “Bringin’ It All Back Home.” They were shot in and around Lawrence, Kansas. Probably around 1979 but not certain. Pretty sure the photog was Jim Jewell. The outfit is compliments of my dear friend, Jim Vaughn, who was working for a fire retardant company at the time. I photographed his visit to my wife Linda’s classroom at Wakarusa Valley Elementary. The shot of wife, Linda, and I (me in the cowboy hat) was taken by our friend Steve Burkhart near Lake Powell, Utah in 1973. The astronaut with wine was shot last week by Linda. Space shots compliments of NASA. The suit is still in our attic and one day will be donated to either to the Smithsonian or Good Will.
Is ignorance a curable disease? This song is an observation of current media consumption habits which primarily reinforce rather than challenge or inform our worldview. Social media and 24 hour news exacerbate this polarizing condition. Of course we will always have disagreements but now, we have a fundamental disagreement about truth. Decency, civility and critical thinking take a back seat to emotion. A culture without civility cannot stand. We are in a bubble of our own choosing. Pop that bubble now!
The flue season of early 2013 has been big news but will be soon forgotten. For now, there are endless warnings of how to avoid germs. The only solution seems to be to avoid people. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman tells us that we should all stay at least 6 feet apart from each other until April.
“Get away from me!” warns Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
Fact Alert: Microbiology pioneer, Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek, is generally credited with being the first human to see germs using his 17th century microscope. (He reportedly became romantically involved with several germs.)
Antoine van Leeuwenhoek
But what about germs? They have lives too. And they enjoy a good frolic. And once you get to know them, they’re a lot like we are. They just want a good piece of cheese.
That’s the line that gets to me in Nelson Algren’s “The Man With The Golden Arm.”
You could start a religion based upon this sentence. Or a political movement. You could sum up life with this sentence.
Golden Arm is one of those books I’d been meaning to read for years and I finally marched to the library and checked it out. Not an easy book. Surreal. You’re not sure exactly what’s going on but when you stand back you can see it take shape. (Like when you open your eyes inches from an expressionist painting and then slowly step back. Same effect.)
Compassion—but not glorification—of the addict is another theme. The addict is not evil, not heroic. A common man, lost.
Art Shay photo of Algren playing cards.
Frankie Machine is the ex-soldier, addict who is also a card dealer in the neighborhood game—Chicago’s gritty, post-war Division Street. 1946 or so. The precinct Captain Bednar is the one whose interior monologue espresses that we all are within each other.
I felt no color while reading. The book is written in black and white and gray. Brought tears.