RHONDA’S REMEDY …

It’s one of those old chestnuts you really hope happened.

As the legendary story goes, a semi-truck got stuck under an overpass bridge. The clearance was just low enough to wedge the top of the 18-wheeler into the underside concrete and grind it to a halt. For hours, authorities scratched their heads and rubbed their chins and diverted traffic and contacted the best and brightest engineers.

While the bone fide geniuses were devising ways of removing part of the bridge or cutting off the top of the truck with a diamond blade, or actually imploding the entire truck and simply taking a loss on the cargo and machinery, a little 9-year-old girl, who was watching the whole thing from her halted car, kept tugging at her father’s trousers with an idea.

At first, the bystander father was too enthralled in the drama several car lengths ahead and didn’t pay any attention to her. But then he heard her idea and it made sense. Surely these experts had thought of this, hadn’t they? I mean, it was so obvious. Surely his 9-year-old daughter hadn’t come up with the solution that was right in front of them. Had she? But eventually, once he saw civil engineers rolling in the TNT, he raced up to the scene and let the little girl talk to the powers that be.

She told them her idea, and they all looked at each other completely stunned and embarrassed. Of course. It was so simple. All it took was someone with an open mind to figure it out.

In less than an hour, the truck was released from the underpass and on its way. And all the traffic was moving again. Nothing had to be blown up or severed or destroyed or harmed in any way. You see all they ever had to do was one thing: let air out of the tires. It was genius. It was simple. And it didn’t cost a thing.

That scenario could’ve turned into a months-long public works program. It could’ve required dozens of strong backs and hundreds of man hours, cutting through concrete and steel. It could’ve put people in extreme danger and even forced the city or state to tear down the entire bridge and re-build it with higher clearance, requiring new grading above it and new elevation surveys. That process might have taken years to complete. In the meantime, a new detour would’ve been needed and alternate routes put in place.

People’s lives would change and their commutes would be extended. An entire ecosystem might’ve been deconstructed because of one overreaction to a problem that looked daunting…but actually wasn’t.

In the state of Oregon, a small miracle is taking place.

A 450 person software company is reaping the benefits of some simple, obvious fixes. While political candidates are scratching their heads and making grand declarations and devising new, tectonic-plate-shifting plans to upend the American healthcare system…again (remember when we did this nine years ago?), an unassuming surgical nurse may be bringing a revolution to healthcare, one patient at a time.

Rhonda Nerenberg was listening to her husband grapple with the near impossible challenges facing his company, regarding healthcare compliance. In her husband Billy’s own words …

“When I took the reins four years ago, one of the biggest problems we had was our medical insurance premiums. They were already through the roof and were going to be raised 25% yet again. Insurance companies work on utilization rates and ours was apparently 173%, so we were basically out of luck. I did a national search to find someone who could help and found nothing useful. My wife suggested I start a wellness program. In my experience, they are next to useless and so I just laughed and said no. She just smiled at me and said she would design one with an onsite clinic, nutrition education, insurance advocacy and tie them together with behavioral coaching. She said if it worked, it would lower our utilization rates and if not, it wouldn’t cost us much and we would at least be trying something. Now, almost 4 years later, our utilization rates are down 68%, employee’s out-of-pocket expenses are down 39% and she has taken us self-insured. She has reversed dozens of long-term diseases including type II Diabetes pulling people off medications, lot’s of people have stopped smoking and we’ve lost a ton of weight as an organization. This program not only measurably works, it pays for itself, all within our current broken healthcare system.”

Rhonda doesn’t just get people eating right and exercising. She doesn’t just get them to quit smoking. But, being a nurse, she also helps with consultations on when key medical tests should be done and helps to tweak certain pieces of the insurance plans to incentivize certain tests at certain times for each individual patient. She also personally consults on preventative treatments and measures that have helped a half-dozen people side-step major issues.

All of this work (and resounding success) for her husband’s company has led to her starting her own business and doing this work for corporations across the country. Corporation by corporation; individual by individual, Rhonda is showing people how to simply let the air out of the tires and get the truck rolling again.

When Republicans held power of both chambers of Congress (and the Presidency), they did not address the cracks in the American Health Care system. Every time they had the chance to fix the broken pieces (and there WERE broken pieces), they failed. Every. Single. Time. My daughter and my family were direct victims of these problems. There have been over 15 Republican healthcare reform bills. And NONE of them has ever seen the floor for a vote, much less been implemented. When it comes to the issues regarding health care, either the Republicans have been mentally inferior or they have been cowards.

On the other hand, Democrats have used healthcare as a political tool for decades. And keep in mind that every piece of your current health care – EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE – was designed by and voted into law by DEMOCRATS. If you do not like the way our current health care system works, there is only one party to blame. They were the only ones who voted for it. NO Republicans voted for it – they were too busy being mentally inferior or being cowards. And now, ALL of the Democrat candidates are coming back, a decade later, to fix what they broke in the first place.

If Rhonda’s plan could be implemented nation wide, at every corporation, and she got even close to the same success rate at each company she’s had at her husband’s company, insurers would have to lower premiums and get creative with coverage, just to stay in business. If they had to do that, they would have to pay closer attention to the details of their payouts and make those calls to medical institutions, saying, “we’re not paying $60 for an aspirin anymore.”

If that were to happen, the medical profession itself would have to become more efficient and lean. I have seen this happen personally with the music business. People ask us all the time how we can make records for 25% of what we used to make them for. The answer is WE SIMPLY HAVE TO. The market forced us to.

THIS is how costs actually come down naturally, in a market driven way. Not by mandate or quota. But by incentives and market pressures.

In this political football game, where life and death is literally on the line, stories like Rhonda’s Remedy give me hope. Maybe the answer to our perpetual healthcare question is not in politics or who you vote for. Maybe it’s in the mind of someone who sees things a little differently; someone who sees the whole truck…and not just the top of it.

 

R

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THE FLAT EARTH …

It’s one of my favorite stories about my father’s epic life.

He is 12-years-old and sailing across the Atlantic to England. It’s 1959. In the middle of the voyage he contracts the Mumps and is confined to sick bay for the duration of the journey. When they reach England, he’s not allowed off the ship. But somehow, he is smuggled off and into the home of a Jamaican minister, where he recovers. It’s a great story.

One of the interesting side stories from that episode, is that Liberace was on the ship with him. He was going to London for a court battle. It seems the London Times had accused Mr Liberace of being a homosexual. In 1959 that would’ve been a career killer. So he sailed to merry old England and promptly won the case, proving that he was indeed, NOT a homosexual.

Everyone who just read that is snickering right now. And that’s because we know beyond all doubt that Liberace was absolutely a homosexual. One hundred percent. He was literally shouting it from the rooftops in every way imaginable. But, in 1959 everyone had to act like it wasn’t true because …well, you know …let’s just not talk about it. He just hasn’t found the right girl yet.

It’s amazing what humans will continue to believe if they want to. I am amazed at the new movement asserting that the world is actually flat. I don’t even know what to say about it. We literally base all air and sea travel on the curvature of the planet. We have pictures of it from space. You can see it curve from the top of Mt Everest. We base our time zones on it. It’s round. We’ve proven it…like…a million times. Of all the things we should be proving, this is one thing we don’t need to prove anymore. We live on a ball.

But some people have found holes in the theory; cracks in the facts (if you will). And they are one hundred percent certain it’s a pancake and not an M&M (insert eye rolling emoji here).

To be honest, I am personally getting sick and tired of having to entertain absolute bullshit just because someone has poked around the internet and found some crazy websites. We’re living in a time with more information than ever. We have more empirical evidence than ever. And yet we are asked to consider more idiocy than ever.

Our culture has become a stew filled with organic vegetables that taste horrible yet are good for us, right next to mounds of marshmallows that have no nutritional value whatsoever. And we’re constantly asked to eat both things with a smile, acting like they belong together.

Our press coverage doesn’t help with this problem. I’m reminded of watching (with my own eyes) George Stephanopoulos shaking his head dutifully and squinting his eyes in earnest, listening to Michael Avenatti talk about his client, who asserted (without proof) that Bret Kavanaugh ran “rape trains” in college. Wow. That would be horrible if that were true. An accusation that affected that many people would surely have corroborators, right? Nope. Surely someone, somewhere would remember that. Right? Nope. That kind of pathology would leave evidence and a pattern of behavior. Right? Nope. Apparently, these days, we’ll just put you on Good Morning America and let you talk about pretty much anything that literally nobody can prove, as if it’s the gospel. Okay …

At some point you have to see things for what they actually are and accept them, even if you don’t like the conclusion. Look, our president is an unconventional guy. You might not like his tweets or his attitude or his personality or his policies. But he didn’t conspire with Russia to win his election. We know this. It has been studied from every angle in which you can study these things. So, to watch elected officials say they have evidence that contradicts these findings is maddening.

I’ve interviewed Adam Schiff. He and I shared a couple of laughs. He seemed like a nice guy. But dude, if you’ve got evidence that a sitting president committed TREASON (which, in case we’ve all forgotten, is a crime still punishable by death) drop it on us…TODAY. Because this thing was investigated by pretty much everyone who investigates things like this. It’s over. It was a rouse. It didn’t happen. We have to come to terms with this as a nation.

Jussie Smollett might have had his charges dropped, but for him to stand up in front of cameras and declare his innocence as if he’s still a victim of something, makes my eyes roll so far back in my head I can see memories from 1986. Dude, just say no comment and get on with your life. Please don’t ask us to participate in a notion that has already been completely disproven. If you’re going to ask us to do that, then we need to start a Gofundme to raise money for a private investigator, to find these horrible white supremacists and bring them to justice. I’ll contribute to it. Let’s get to the bottom of this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Oh yeah…I forgot…the Chicago police department ALREADY DID THAT! Shut up and stop making me part of your movie, bro!

I watched R. Kelly scream and cry and throw a fit on national TV, declaring his innocence. Never mind that LITERALLY. EVERY. WOMAN. IN. HIS. LIFE (and most of the men) corroborate the fact that he needs to be behind bars.

I have dear friends who refuse to believe the boys who have come forward in the new Michael Jackson claims. I’ve literally seen posts that say things like, “I knew the guy who engineered for Michael for years. And he knows beyond all doubt that he would never do something like that!” I dearly love all the guys who have engineered for me, through the years. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t tell any of them if I was molesting little boys.

Guys, the FBI found stacks of porn in Michael’s bedroom, with his fingerprints on it. Okay – whatever. But then, they found the fingerprints of several children on it as well…SEVERAL. That means at the very least, while they were having popcorn parties and watching Spielberg movies, kids kept finding the private stash and asking uncle Michael what it was, as they were all bedding down for the night, together. Apparently, he was just saying, “this is not something you need to look at right now. get your jammies on and let’s snuggle.” Come on, man. Really???

My friends, it’s time to face some things we might not want to face:

We went to the moon.

Donald Trump won the 2016 fair and square (or at least as fair and square as we win elections in this country).

Jussie Smollett is guilty of his crimes but got some strings pulled to get the charges dropped.

R. Kelly is a monster.

Michael Jackson was a child molester.

Rachael Dolezal is a white woman.

Elizabeth Warren is a VERY white woman.

The world is not ending in 12 years and we are never building a land bridge to Hawaii (mainly because we don’t have to – because WE. CAN. F&*CKING. FLY. THERE!)

Peppermint Patty is not into Charlie Brown (or really any boys – her own best friend calls her “sir”).

Liberace was not straight.

And, for the love of Peter, Paul and Mary, the world is NOT flat!

If you want to indulge in things you wish were true, there’s an Ancient Aliens marathon every Friday on A&E. I love it. It’s fun to suspend your disbelief sometimes, when it isn’t hurting anyone.

But please stop asking me to believe in things that are provably untrue or not believe in things that have been proven to be true in every way you can prove them. A refusal to share common absolutes is how the human race gets plunged into things like the Dark Ages.

If you don’t know what “The Dark Ages” are, you can find out about it on the internet. We’re pretty sure it really happened.

R

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THE GREEK HOUSE …

They were the first things I noticed.

I was groggy from the flight and plenty jet lagged. But I was sure I was seeing unfinished houses or abandoned houses or gutted houses or something. Maybe there had been some tragedy or recession I didn’t know about. Maybe there was a work stoppage or a union strike. This was before the internet exploded with information. So, something like that wouldn’t have been reported in America.

All I knew was there sure were a lot of uninhabited domiciles.

Finally, my long time friend, and our host for the ten-day excursion in Greece, explained what was up with all the unfinished houses. He told us that when you have the money to get a piece of land and build on it, there, you get as much built as you can, as quickly as you can. Because with every new election comes new building codes and regulations. Sometimes these new regulations balloon the cost of building so high it’s almost impossible to finish a job site. So people build in stages, as they can. And sometimes they have to simply stop at the second floor and wait till they can afford the rest of it.

I found it ironic that in the cradle of western civilization; the birthplace of democracy, they were having trouble with simple building codes. But these things can happen. And they can happen easier than you think.

I’m not sure I’ve ever, in my lifetime, heard more people complaining about the actual American system. It’s one thing to complain about the rotting state of the culture or the spirit of consumerism or the right or the left or this politician or that one. But it’s quite another to actually want the underpinning of the greatest governmental, judicial and economic system ever devised by man, to be completely blown up and re-formed. And not re-formed into something we’ve never seen before. Just plain re-formed into something that has been tried time and time again.

I’m always willing to listen to any intellectual who has a new idea or is forming a renaissance of some kind. But man, those are so few and far between these days. Most people talking about changing the American system are talking about basic socialism and/or basic, majority-rule democracy. All that stuff has been tried to death …literally.

Even those white, slave-owning, puritanical, 18th century founders knew that basic democracy didn’t work in the long run. They wrote about it extensively. If you care to read, there’s a whole bunch of words on that subject, by those guys. And they pretty accurately spelled out why just having the majority rule a place wasn’t a great idea.

See, a majority can be wrong. In fact, majorities are wrong all the time. The majority in this country used to be white. And if we had simple majority rule, I wonder how integrated our schools would be right now. I wonder how many black leaders would be holding office?

Majorities can be dangerous things. A vast majority of people refused, for the longest time, to believe that Michael Jackson was a child molester. And yet, the majority belief doesn’t make it true. A majority of people once thought Disco was awesome. And then the majority didn’t.

The majority, when it comes to politics, is tricky. Because we want the “will of the people” to be served. And it seems pretty simple that the will of the people should be whatever the majority of them want. But that’s how you divide up the bill at dinner …not run a government.

The founders were pretty ingenious in how they set up our system of government. And it’s based on the individual, not the majority. That is the key to everything in the United States. The individual. Once you divorce yourself from the idea that the individual matters, then of course the American system makes no sense.

The American system is a system of law…not majority. The white majority might decide that it’s okay to keep people of other races out of their schools. If the majority votes on that, why wouldn’t it be legal? Because the LAW says it’s not. And for something to become a law, it must go through a process that at least tries to wash it clean of simple majority. This is why we have a House of Representatives. This is why we also have a Senate. This is why we have a President. And this is why we have a Supreme Court. And yes, this is why we have an Electoral College. Because our system is designed to safeguard us from majority rule as much as possible.

Is it complicated and slow? Absolutely. Is it sometimes frustrating? No doubt. But the establishment of laws that aren’t easily or quickly overturned is a good thing. The attempt to represent everyone equally…EQUALLY – that means that you don’t have more representation if you live in a more populated state – is a good thing. The law holding as much weight for the minority as it does the majority is a wonderful thing.

I always think of one lone little girl, who…I dunno…might have a disability or even be naturalized from a different country. I think of her maybe not being able to speak or do much for herself. But I think about the fact that she has just as much standing in this country as someone with a lot of money and a majority on their side. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. Especially when that little girl is my daughter.

Our system guarantees that one day we will all be in the majority and then one day we will be in the minority. We will win some elections and then lose some. We’ll love our leaders and then hate them. We’ll have all kinds of opinions and go on angry tirades and want to just start the whole thing over again.

But the system is good and, dare I say, just. It works. And it keeps us engaged with one another. We HAVE to deal with each other as long as the majority doesn’t hold the power.

Because once that starts happening, good luck on finishing your house.

R

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Blog News …

Hello friends who follow this blog.

After much deliberation and thought, I’ve had to make a decision. Starting April 1st, my blog will be subscription only, on my Patreon site:

https://www.patreon.com/blahblahblogger

I’ve gone back and forth on how to keep going with this. I don’t have quite enough followers to get advertisers but this blog has become my full time job. So, I’ve had to make a tough decision.

If you become a Patreon member at $3 a month, you’ll get the daily blog every Monday thru Friday.  If you become a $5 a month subscriber, you will, in addition, get access to all of my music as well as all of my books.

I will still make one of the blogs public every other week or so on social media. But this site is going to be transformed into my website and online store.

So, as bad as I hate to charge people for anything, becoming a Patreon blog subscriber will insure that I get to keep doing this and you get to keep reading it.

For those of you who want to keep following, I greatly appreciate it. For those who don’t, that’s okay too.

I love you all either way.

Once again, here is the link if you want to keep following:

https://www.patreon.com/blahblahblogger

 

Thank you all for your time and attention!

 

R

CINDERELLA MAN …

It’s that scene all great movies need.

The hero is at the end of his rope. He’s got nowhere left to turn. He’s out of options. And so he must walk into the LAST place he wants to go. In the movie, Cinderella Man, this particular scene brought me to tears …because I’ve been there.

Cinderella Man is a movie from 2005, starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. I saw it years ago at the theater, but it was on TV this past week so I sat down and watched it again. And so much more of it rang true this time around.

It’s based on the true story of Jim Braddock, an up-and-coming prize fighter in the mid 1920’s, who is on his way to championship belts and the good life. He’s got plenty of money and plenty of promise. He lives in a beautiful home with a beautiful wife and nothing but blue sky ahead of him. What could go wrong?

Well, 1929 goes wrong. REAL wrong. And the next time we see Jim, he’s fighting with a broken hand, living in a dingy basement apartment, trying to eek out a living and stay commercially valuable enough to keep fighting. But just when you think it can’t get worse …it does. And then we find ourselves at the critical point of the film.

Jim humbles himself and walks into the country club where he used to be the toast. All the big shots from the boxing commission are there, smoking cigars and playing cards. Jim takes off his hat and meekly asks if they will pitch in enough money to help him get his electricity turned back on, so his kids can come home and his family won’t be separated. The scene is hard to watch. And I can never get through it without shedding a tear or two (or 30). I know what it’s like to fall that far down. And there’s nothing more dehumanizing.

The thing that makes the scene so powerful is that these men had ALL made money off the bruises and punches of this man. They’d all gone to dinner and a movie and bought furniture and houses and cars with money he had, at one time, helped generate with his fists and foot work. And now, after HE had taken the beatings (literally), THEY were the ones still holding the money and he was still fighting for every dime. Although it’s hard find someone specific to blame, you know that somehow this isn’t fair on any level.

Why am I talking about a 15-year-old movie? Because, after watching it again, I found the Cinderella Man in a unique predicament that exists today …right now …as we speak. The government had let him down. His country had let him down. His profession had let him down. And he was literally fighting for his life.

As I am typing this, there is an entire industry of Cinderella Men and Cinderella Women, trying to figure out what the hell has happened to them. They are called songwriters.

They are a cadre of talented, accomplished people who have lived their lives in a business that has provided them almost no protections of any kind. And now, after their government has let them down and their country has let them down. And their profession is letting them down day after day. And they are fighting for their very survival.

Songwriters have always been unsure of what they are and where they belong. Stephen Foster, the man who wrote the soundtrack of 19th century America (Camp Town Races, Oh Susana, Oh My Darlin’ Clementine), had no idea how to get paid from his little songs. He died in a homeless shelter, with two pennies in his pocket. Two decades later, people with his same little talent were starving down in “Tin Pan Alley,” in New York City. So the government stepped in, completely in good faith, and set some rates for the ragged little songwriters. Then they didn’t raise them again for around 60 years, when the delivery formats had all changed and people consumed media completely differently. Then they didn’t raise them again for another 30 years or so, when the formats had all changed and people consumed media completely differently.

At no point in the history of professional songwriting have the songwriters themselves had complete AGENCY to negotiate their own rates or their own place at the table, whenever a new format comes out.

Songwriters used to get paid in 3 ways: Sales royalties. Airplay royalties. Film and TV licenses.

Those were all based on the way people consumed media. And although the rates were still only a tiny part of the music business, you could still earn a pretty good living as a songwriter …if you were great at it and worked your butt off. In other words, if you got up every morning and kept punching. Some songwriters have even gotten rich. Not many …but a few. So, what could go wrong?

Well, what went wrong was subtle at first. It was just a new way of getting music called “streaming.” And it works great. You pull up songs on your phone just like you access everything else, from maps to plane tickets. The technology is wonderful and convenient. There’s just ONE little problem: the people who create the underlying product the streaming companies are selling, were never invited to the “one for you, one for me” party. It would be like opening a Lemonade stand and simply assuming that the sugar will be free. And then never talking to the sugar people. Or worse, making the sugar deal with the lemon people. Songwriters make the sugar.

Streaming is now the standard medium for accessing music. My son wouldn’t even know what to do with a CD if I handed one to him. He tells SIRI what to play and she accesses Apple Music and plays it. And nobody is suggesting that anyone wants to go back to hauling plastic around in order to listen to your jams. But the Cinderella Men and Women are standing in that boxing club, trying to figure out how to pay their bills and nobody seems to be helping them.

The president signed the Music Modernization Act last year. And we hope it helps us as songwriters navigate whatever new worlds of media there are to navigate and get paid fairly …or just get paid SOMETHING.

In the meantime, Spotify, Amazon and others are suing the songwriters for having the audacity to want rate increases. In terms of contractual agreements and legal precedents, there may be a case of some kind we aren’t all privy to. I don’t know enough about the details of their suit to simply condemn them out right. And I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt.

But here’s the thing …

Somewhere along the line, we all lost sight of who owns what in all of this. We lost sight of who the show is and who the bus is. Listening to one of my songs might have a value of $32 dollars per spin. I have no idea. I have never been allowed to let market forces find out what it’s worth. A judge decides what the radio spins are worth. And congress decides what the sales royalties are worth. And it’s all arbitrary. Who knows what the value really is?

And now the big tech companies have decided that the delivery systems are worth more …WAY more …than the stuff they’re delivering. And who knows if that’s true or not? The market never got to decide.

Jim Braddock finally gets back to great form and commands and larger purse. And HE sells out Madison Square Garden again, for a heavyweight fight, and regains his leverage over the “powers that be.” You’ll have to watch the movie to see if he wins the final fight. It’s Hollywood. So, you know …

But what’s happening to songwriters isn’t Hollywood. It’s a downward spiral of confusion. There was a time when a great songwriter might be able to walk into a publishing company and command a base salary of 70 or 80 thousand dollars a year. Maybe more. Now, there are Hall Of Fame writers who can’t get 10 or 15, which isn’t enough to live on. Why? Mainly because when it comes to investing in songwriters, NOBODY. KNOWS. HOW. TO. MAKE. THEIR. MONEY. BACK. Why is that? Because streaming is the way most people now consume music …and streaming doesn’t pay songwriters enough live.

That is the de-stabilization of an entire industry by another. This happens all the time. It’s economic Darwinism. The problem is, in this case, the industry being de-stabilized is still required to exist in order to prop up the one de-stabilizing it. Songwriting isn’t being replaced by something faster and cheaper. It’s being eaten by the very thing that delivers it. I believe they call that anti-trust.

The average employee at Spotify earns five times more per year than the average songwriter. And Spotify employees don’t have quotas or have to produce hits or have to have their work scrutinized every damn day of their lives. They are the metaphorical boxing commission …and songwriters are the boxers.

The boxers are trying to pull themselves up for another round. But they are getting the hell beaten out of them again and again. They keep going for a Cinderella ending. But those only happen in the movies.

R

I SURRENDER ALL …

Twenty-five years ago today, a world changed. My world.

It wasn’t a monumental breakthrough for all of humankind or a watershed moment for western culture. But for a poor preacher’s kid, from the wrong side of the tracks; a musical Gypsy from a wilderness of tent revivals and ear-splitting, multi-hour Pentecostal altar services, a new road was discovered. Somehow, as a songwriter, I had penned something that was resonating with a mass audience and it found its way to the top of a radio chart.

That’s something that never happened in the world I came from. It was something that happened to other people. And yet on this day, twenty-five years ago, it happened for me.

My 26-year-old self didn’t know how to fully appreciate the moment or the implications or (most of all) the ominous foreshadowing that particular song represented. All I knew was I did something someone liked. I hoped it would mean I wouldn’t have to live in an upstairs apartment anymore. I hoped it would mean I could get a better car for my new wife and that that, in turn, would make her respect me or even admire me more. I hoped it would be a substitute for my lack of a college education and a remedy for my lack of other job skills.

When you’re just slugging it out in the world, you pray for help from somewhere – anywhere. And if it comes, you don’t think too much about it. You’re just grateful. I thought the song I Surrender All just might be my answer to those prayers. And in a lot of ways …it was.

A song I co-wrote in an upstairs writer’s room, with David Moffitt, on an out-of-tune piano, became a catapult for me. And over the next seven years I would see the top of those charts another sixteen times, have my songs recorded hundreds of times, be on millions of records, and see my words and music be the backdrop for major Hollywood movies.

Not only did I get out of that upstairs apartment, I bought real estate…with acreage. Not only did I get my wife a better car, I got her a Mercedes Benz (looking back, maybe the BMW would’ve brought about the respect and admiration …but I digress). Not only did I make up for the lack of a college degree, I SPOKE at some of those colleges I could’ve never afforded. I made more money than anyone in my family had ever made. I bought expensive champagne by the case…you know…just so we’d always have it on hand. I would pick up the tab for strangers in restaurants, just for the fun of it. I won awards and got noticed and got acclaim …and got love…all because I had a talent of some kind, that I had worked into a bankable product.

People like that.

I went from writer to producer to artist; each time making more money and being more successful and being more acclaimed.

But then, something happened. I lost all of it. Everything I thought I could count on went away, almost in the blink of an eye.    I went from hit maker to care giver…overnight. And I struggled and battled and tried to fix it and tried to regain it. But when I finally surrendered it, something amazing happened…it all came back. And it came back ten fold. And I got back on top of the charts and won more awards and made more money and got more acclaim …and got more love.

Then, over time, that too faded away.

Now, most of my career is a distant memory. My songs are the ones kids tell me their moms and dads used to love. A handful of people remember a record I did or some song I wrote. And that’s always nice. I haven’t actively tried to get back to my former life for over a decade, now. I realize that when I was younger I was so focussed on doing something I forgot to ask myself if I actually wanted to do it in the first place. Now that I’m more able to be honest with myself, I know that the answer to that question, a lot of the time, is no.

These days, I stitch together royalty checks and live gigs and whatever else I can do to make a living. But the business I jumped into a quarter century ago, just doesn’t exist anymore. And that’s okay. The kid I was a quarter century ago doesn’t exist either.

So, twenty-five years after my first number one song, I’m back where I started, wondering what the future holds.

My next chapter might very well be pizza delivery. And I find that wonderful. At my age, and with where I am as a person, the idea of having time alone in my car…with pizza…sounds absolutely amazing.

Now I’m more interested in WHAT I’m saying than I am in how many people are hearing it. I’m far more concerned with how and why I’m connecting with someone than I am with how many paying customers are out there. I’m more interested in the work than the business. And where I was once enamored with how successful something was, I am now not all that interested in whether or not it even gets released.

I’ve found that I actually like myself better as a human being, when I’m not having success. When I’m having success I tend to like it. Then I start to believe it. Then I start to trust it. And that’s when it all has to get removed.

I keep learning every day that surrender is the key ingredient to everything. It might very well be the meaning of life. Until you surrender to love, you can’t really say you’re doing it right. Until you surrender to faith, you don’t really have any. Until you surrender to God, you don’t really know him.

I Surrender All is something I wrote twenty five years ago. But it’s something I’m still learning to do every day.

 

R

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Rare Disease Day …

Today is rare disease awareness day.

Rather than just blogging about my daughter and her condition, I thought I’d give everyone a little historical context on Angelman Syndrome.

What she has isn’t technically a “disease”. It’s called a “disorder,” but it IS part of the rare disease lexicon.

I think we’re going to find, as more medical and scientific breakthroughs happen, that a lot of the things we thought were people being weird or delayed or “affected” are probably caused by something real – some actual anomaly that is measurable, diagnosable and treatable.

40 years ago, Isabella would’ve been categorized as a “happy puppet.” Or she would’ve been called “mentally retarded,” or (in my pentecostal circles) she might’ve even been called demon possessed.

But now we know that she’s missing a piece of a chromosome. Imagine all the things we’re going to know, that we don’t now know, 40 years from now?

This is why we need state-of-the-art, cutting edge medicine. We don’t need to go backwards in our healthcare and scientific research.

I don’t know if my daughter will ever be “cured” of this. I don’t even know what a “cure” would look like. Most researchers don’t either.

But we’ve come a long way in my lifetime. And I’d like to think my daughter is one of the people on earth who will be helpful in taking us farther.

It’s why I’m so passionate about our film and getting it made. THAT could be the biggest, single awareness piece on Angelman Syndrome ever done. And maybe it could start a national conversation. And if just ONE young couple, sleep deprived and losing their minds, see their child’s symptoms on the screen and see their life playing out, and it leads them to get a correct diagnosis, then it will have all been worth it.

Thank you all for indulging me on this. But now you have information that you didn’t have before.

And information is the key to all of it …

R

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THE LOVE I NEED …

It sounds weird, but I often think about visiting Harvey Weinstein in prison.

I know, I know…he’s a monster. And don’t get me wrong, I neither condone nor excuse any crime the man committed. And I don’t want to “hang out” with the guy or even be his friend. But there’s something about humanity in its most broken, humiliated and despised state that breaks my heart. Those among us who deserve love the least are probably the ones who need it the most.

I was raised by a preacher who was raised by a preacher who was married to a preacher who was raised by a preacher. There were twenty-one licensed ministers in my family at one time. My mother was raised by a preacher as well as my wife, who was raised by a preacher who was raised by a preacher. There might not be anything about modern Christianity in the 20th or 21st century, that I don’t know about already. Every person I’ve ever heard of who had some kind of “new light” was old news to me. I’ve heard it all and seen it all and sung it all read it all.

The Christian religion was my family business. I’ve watched my father hold ten thousand people in the palm of his hand, spellbound under the sound of his voice. I know how it feels “when the spirit moves.” I’ve fasted and prayed. And then I’ve lost faith. I’ve asked all the questions and I’ve gotten all the answers. And guess what? The answers didn’t cut it for me most of the time.

I snicker at most pastors. I yawn at mega churches. And don’t even get me started on “worship music.” Church, for me, became a construct; a nice place for people to hang out and sing songs and learn about Bible stories and check the box of tending to their spiritual self. But none of it was ever all that spiritual to me. It was work. It was a gig. It was a room full of people hoping they were in the right place, hiding all their deep dark secrets and literally praying to God that there was some forgiveness up there somewhere.

I love my family more than life itself, and a lot of people in the world need a church in their lives. But I personally stopped buying into church a long time ago. The only thing that has kept me intrigued by, halted by, changed by Jesus Christ is this one thing I can’t seem to get past …unconditional love.

See, love makes you do things that run counter to human nature. And that is significant in human events. No animal will rise against its own instinct for an abstract idea. But something happened around two thousand years ago, in the human race, that instructed all of us to do just that: bless those who hurt you, love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you. And that bothers me to no end. THAT’S the thing that separates Jesus, and what he stood for, from every other religion on earth. And it gives me hope that I too could be and can be loved despite who I actually am.

Because trust me …underneath this gorgeous exterior, I am unloveable.

Jesus walked in and among people who wanted to stone sinners. And yet he didn’t pick up any stones. Instead, he reasoned and called out the religious and forgave the unforgivable, even when stoning would’ve been completely legal and acceptable. Why did he do that? I’ve always wondered. Surely Jesus understood that laws had to be obeyed. Surely he knew that we couldn’t just run around letting people commit adultery, willy nilly. Surely he was a student of the scriptures and not some new age, bleeding heart fanatic trying to water down the gospel. Yet, he circumvented the ENTIRE law …for ONE whore. That’s got to mean something.

And that is what I constantly wrestle with these days. THAT is the only thing left that keeps me hanging on to anything having to do with the name of Jesus.

I was in a bar in New York once, with a famous atheist. We ordered drinks and he said, “Okay …give me your best shot. I know you’re a God guy. Let me hear your sales pitch.”

I just stared at him blankly. Finally I said, “dude, I’m here to drink, not turn you into a believer. I can’t do that. I don’t even want to do that. I’m only going to tell you this: I love you. And all of it is about love. God is a spirit and God is love. So if love exists, God must exist. And even if you don’t believe it …I love you. So cheers and shut up.”

At the end of the night he told me that was closest anyone had ever come to convincing him God was real. And he wanted to hear more. I just hugged him as his cab showed up. “I don’t care. I love you no matter what.” He climbed into the cab in tears. I’m pretty sure he’s still an atheist and I don’t care. I still love him.

And that gets me back to Harvey Weinstein. I just want to look through the prison glass at him and tell him that someone loves him. Because I somehow think that’s what Jesus would do. And I think people like Harvey probably need to hear it more than anyone.

And that leads me to Jussie Smollett …

That kid has done something he will never be able to rise above. Or maybe he will. Maybe he’s just waiting on the smoke to clear so he can sell his story to Netflix for seven figures, once he gets out of prison…which is where he’s going. Maybe he has no conscience. Maybe he is a despicable human being. Maybe he is everything we want and need to despise. Well, once you get there …Jesus shows up. And it still makes us uncomfortable. And that’s why Jesus is still relevant.

I don’t like what Jussie Smollett did. It was dangerous and evil and despicable. And I think he should be punished severely for it. And yet something inside me wants to reach out to that kid and tell him that I love him. I want to tell him that I also love president Trump. I want to tell him I’m sorry he lives in a world where what he lied about was even plausible. Then, I want to tell him that there’s a hope you can find that will allow you to disagree with people and still love them. It will drive you to tenderness and mercy, when those things aren’t deserved. It’s the love that forgives the unforgivable and redeems the unredeemable.

And if it’s not big enough for him …then it’s not big enough.

But it is big enough. And that’s good news for all of us.

Especially me …

 

R

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THE NEW DREAM …

It’s a subtlety that’s easy to miss.

In fact, I don’t even think some people of color (of a certain generation) see it. It has taken years for me to see it. But Gladys Knight totally brought it to light for me.

The American Dream has always been something we talk about as a good thing, in this country. I always thought it was a good thing. I wrote a whole song about it. Now granted, I put a bit of a dark spin on it and I examined the idea that millions of people never achieved (or were ever going to) achieve the dream, leaving the listener to draw their own conclusions about said dream. Still, I think a country with its own “dream” is a pretty good thing. It’s a miraculous thing.

For years – centuries, in fact – the idea of “equality” was the idea that first: the dream was good. It was righteous. It was worth the time to pursue and it wasn’t a sin. We had a collective, social agreement that having opportunity and freedom and access, was the goal. We all agreed that it was not only fine, but encouraged, to chase your dreams and fly as high and as far as your talent and ambition would take you. There was a cultural consensus on this.

Hometown Boy Makes Good. That was the headline everyone was striving for.

Second: The Civil Rights movement was a movement to allow people of ALL races to participate in that promise; that dream. Martin Luther King Jr talked about it in terms of an un-cashed check they had showed up on the capital steps to cash. And the idea was to allow little boys who don’t look like me, the exact same opportunities as little boys who do look like me.

And you know what? In a lot of ways that check got cashed. The society did soften towards race and move and shift in its thinking and make allowances for “other” and promote the unlikely and celebrate the unusual and reward the unrewarded. America thought that its own dream was a good idea and that that dream simply needed to extend its promise to everyone, and all would be well.

A lot of people still think that’s what’s going on. I still thought it …until recently.

Listening to Gladys Knight talk about what an honor it was for her to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, made the light bulb go off in my head. She still thinks about it the way I’ve always thought about it. She still sees America as a good thing. She still sees our national idea as something to aspire to. She still believes she has risen to something as an African America woman, being asked to sing on the biggest stage in the world. See, that was her struggle. Growing up, she wanted the same opportunities as Jo Stafford or Peggy Lee. She wanted to fully participate in the dream and not have to walk in through the service entrance. She wanted the same room service everyone else got. She wanted to be judged on her talent first, not her color.

So for her, singing at the Super Bowl means something has changed for the better. The fact that she gets driven to the game in the same limo they would send for Madonna (which …don’t get me started on how THAT National Anthem would sound) means we’ve gained ground and gotten closer to the dream Dr. King so eloquently talked about.

Most of us see that and cheer. Because we are still buying into idea number one: that America (and its dream) is basically good.

But the new breed of civil rights warriors are showing their hand. Many of those in the white dresses at the recent SOTU address actually reject idea number one. And that’s where the fundamental disconnect is.

Howard Shultz is reeling in confusion at the fact that he’s being destroyed for having achieved something. His company insured my special needs daughter for several years, by my wife only working there 20 hours a week. God bless him. He found solutions. And if he could talk people into paying 7 bucks for coffee, then why shouldn’t he enjoy the success? But THAT is where the new struggle is: identifying the core of the American Dream as a basic sin. And quite frankly …it’s terrifying.

Gladys Knight is of an age of people who would see her success as a blessing and a wonder. She sees the Super Bowl performance as something to aspire to. But the kids today, who espouse the new piety of collectivism and reject the very notion of acquiring wealth, see her as a relic from another time. They see singing at the Super Bowl as an opportunity to make a statement against the country. And if she didn’t use it as such, she was somehow betraying something. For her, it was a realization of the promised dream. For them, it was a platform to point out the absurdity of the dream.

See, it’s not about dreams, anymore. It’s about managing the herd. Socialists always remove the art and wonder from everything. Nothing great for any one person. Mediocre everything for everybody. That’s the new civil rights.

That’s the kind of thinking that will make you not stand up and cheer for record unemployment or higher GDP or people getting off food stamps. Because it means someone, somewhere is achieving. And that could lead to them soaring. And we simply cannot have that.

Progressives talk about rooting for the underdog and trying to give the downtrodden a hand up. Well, just know that if you’re the underdog, they absolutely cheer you on to succeed. But, God help you if you actually do.

 

R

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MY GENERATION …

You can still find them On Demand or on Youtube.

Clips and TV shows about the possible impending disaster that might happen. There’s a whole thing with the Mayan calendar and current events and ancient prophecies and I think there are even Aliens in there somewhere. Add it all up and you’ve got yourself a problem…in 2012. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 22.

The 2012 thing was kind of a fun little parlor game, that was mostly camp and folklore. But it does make me think about a conversation I had with a friend, in Vegas.

He works in the oil and gas industry and he confided in me, after a few drinks, that the Earth only has enough oil supplies to last humanity about 10 more years. That’s it. And THAT is from an industry insider. He was really worried and admitted that when that limited supply runs out, life as we have known it on this planet, will be pretty much over unless we find some sort of renewable energy source before then. Oh, by the way …that conversation took place in 2003. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 13.

But that made me think about Y2K and the year leading up to it, and how my friends were storing water in barrels and withdrawing cash to hide in mattresses and stocking up on ammunition and dried food and batteries. They did all that and all I got was a lousy hangover. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 10.

But that reminded me of the time my best friend and brother hugged each other and boldly walked outside as the clock struck midnight, 1980. We wanted to face the Soviet missiles head-on, instead of cowering under a bed or in a closet. We stood in my buddy’s front yard like brave little soldiers, waiting on what everyone was speculating would happen. After all, Ronald Reagan was about to be sworn into office and it was believed that the Russians were going to launch the first strike to take out this tyrant and the evil super power he represented. We got sleepy and tired of waiting around 2 AM, and went to bed. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 10 years away from being born.

But thinking about 1980 made me think about 1978 and thumbing through the Sears Winter catalog, looking for the warmest clothes I could find. Once Newsweek announces that scientists have concluded, with relative certainty, that the world is going into another Ice Age, you don’t want to be unprepared. So I made a list of the different layers I would need and how much they would cost. I just needed to convince my mother and father to buy them for me. I was 11. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 12 years away from being born.

I am not picking on Ms. Cortez. She seems like a lovely young lady. But when she asserted, just this week, that we only have about 12 years to save the world from climate change I smiled at the video clip the way a dad smiles at a child who’s trying to learn to drive a stick shift but isn’t shifting the gears correctly. Then I head thunderous applause from the audience she was speaking to and it re-dawned on me that this woman is a sitting member of congress. And my “bless her little heart” smile turned into a wave of horrified disbelief.

And then she said it was her generation’s World War II. And then, knowing what I know about World War II, I was kind of offended. But it made sense.

We need something to aspire to. We need big causes to tackle and big problems to solve. That seems to be a trademark of human nature; the hero journey; the struggle; the climb. We all want to believe we are a part of some army, marching toward a just end, making a difference and leaving things better than we found them. We need to vanquish the evil and redeem the good. The Greatest Generation actually did all of those things. Like, for real did them. But the thing is this: they didn’t choose to. They weren’t given a choice. They were fighting for their very survival unlike any generation since them.

I am squarely in Generation X. Kurt Cobain and I are almost the exact same age…well…we would’ve been. And our generation was one of the first truly leisure generations in history that wasn’t tied to some sort of aristocracy. And to be honest, sometimes it is a hard thing to reconcile, knowing you are among the few in human events who was born into and have lived an entire life in relative peace and prosperity. The Baby Boomers went wild and focussed their freedom on themselves. Our generation stood back and made fun of it all and lampooned ourselves constantly. We saw the absurdity in our privilege. But we came to be thankful for it and have tried to honor those who provided it.

Millenials and those after them have no such sense of self-deprecation. And they refuse to believe that some things may be about as solved as they’re ever going to be. Surely the world can’t be this easy. Surely there is a dragon to slay, somewhere. And if you’re looking for dragons, big, bad climate change is a good one to fight. It’s got all the proper villains: rich, white-run companies who don’t want to give up their quarterly profits, backward, mouth-breathing neo-fascists who want to build walls and keep women in the kitchen, and out-and-out science deniers, who still believe the Earth is only 6 thousand years old and when it rains it is literally God crying because of all the gay people.

But no one who has ever been to a 7th grade science class really denies climate change. Apparently, the climate on planet Earth has been changing since the big bang. We’ve been through a few ice ages and a few warming periods. And I would imagine we will go through some of that stuff again. Equating all that to carbon footprints and tax rates is where a lot of us get off the train. Plus, we’re all old enough to remember when they had to change it from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” because all the satellites started showing that the surface temperatures weren’t actually going up …for like 18 years. Basically, when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was 10.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is a result. She’s the result of school systems that want to be as politically active in their curriculums as they are educationally active. She’s the result of a culture that only wants to hear ITS side of any given argument. And she’s the result of a generation that has been told how powerful and fierce it is and how it’s going to change the world. Then one day it looked up from its iPhone and couldn’t find anything to change.

Barring some existential disaster with the super colider at Cern, that sends the universe into a black hole, the world will not be ending in 12 years. Not only won’t it be ending but it will probably be a lot like it is right now; hot summers, followed by weird falls, followed by cold winters. And there will be weather we can’t explain and have to adapt to. And we’ll get out there and shovel the walk or water the grass. And we’ll be fine. And one day, we’ll look back on it and laugh at how we thought it was all going to end.

And we’ll wish we spent more time enjoying what it actually was rather than wringing our hands over what it meant.

 

 

R

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