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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RAZOR’S EDGE …

My son was bullied last week.

It involved his newly acquired smart phone and something kind of sinister; quite possibly even illegal. It was high tech and it cut to the core of his insecurities as a person. The bully wasn’t a big kid, stealing his lunch money or a jock taunting him on the playground. No, in this particular case, the bully in question was a girl. And by the time she was finished with him, he’d already received a text telling him to kill himself. He’s 12.

I think I speak for a lot of men right now, when I say I am often at a loss as to how to teach my son to be a man in the current world. What does being a man even mean, anymore? I know what it means to me. And I intend on being my version of a man until they scatter my ashes over I-40. But what tools will my 12-year-old son need to navigate the world in which he will be sent? Some days I honestly don’t know.

I’m trying to teach him to be respectful and kind yet strong and steady; accomplished yet humble, courteous yet informed. I’m trying to teach him to be well-groomed yet adventurous; clean but rugged, quick to laugh yet ready to fight. I want him to understand why freedom is important and why it’s worth defending. I want him to have a sense of his own power while teaching him how to use it wisely. I want him to understand what makes a car cool and what makes friend indispensable. I want him to understand what makes a woman amazing and how to treat her when he finds her.

I want to teach him how to be a leader and how to stand up for what he believes. And in my teaching him, I’m hoping that what he believes…is right.

I want to tech my son all of those things, but I’m probably not. I only have his attention for a few minutes here and a few minutes there. The world in which he lives and moves is dominated by screens and people around him with screens and screens at school and screens in the bathrooms of restaurants and screens in the mall and screens everywhere. So, I’ve gotten to teach him how to tie his shoes and use an allen wrench and find a couple of notes on a piano and a few other things. But for the most part, my son doesn’t care much about what I have to teach him. He’s far more interested in the expert on Youtube with a million more followers. So, I at least try to monitor the messages he’s receiving through his screens.

About four years ago, he said, off-handedly, that girls were better than boys. When I asked him where he heard that, he just shrugged and said, “Dad, that’s a scientific fact. Everybody knows that. Boys just aren’t that good.” He was 8.

Nobody likes to hear the majority whine. I get it. But at the risk of never getting to host the Oscars, I have to say that as a man, it sometimes feels like nobody likes me. Sure, I have friends and colleagues and (given what I do for a living) even fans. But in the larger sense, societally, I feel like (and I’m speaking for me, personally) being a man is seen as some sort of detriment in and of itself.

It’s true that we don’t do ourselves any favors. Men break a lot of things and destroy a lot of beauty in the world. Men abandon their children and kill each other with impunity. Men rape and kidnap and bludgeon and shoot and belittle and demean and disregard and objectify and generally do all the things we are accused of. We shrink into the corner, then lash out; disconnect emotionally then pound our chests and scream at the world to listen.

But the older I get, the more I’m starting to realize that women do a lot of those things too. The truth is women are equal to men in every way…including human darkness.

At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, there’s a crisis of manhood, at the moment, in our culture. We (men) are, in real time, learning to suppress more and more of our primal instincts, to fit ourselves into a society suitable for our children. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t want to raise bullies and brutes. Those of us who are trying to be dads, are trying to be good ones. And yet everything coming at us from the media tells us we are stupid and backward and inferior and, quite frankly, “the problem.”

And the problem is…so many of us actually are the problem. It makes for a confusing existence.

Still, watch any three-hour block of prime time TV. See how many husbands or boyfriends are the foils or the idiots in any commercial. See how many times the woman has to come in and save the situation. See how many frumpy cowards you can count, or lovable oafs. Sometimes it feels like the only acceptable males left are the compliant Betas in skinny jeans, without opinions or ideas. As long as they keep that beard trimmed and that non-threatening smile on their face, they will still be allowed to participate. The rest are seen as “toxic.”

Speaking of trimming beards, the new Gillette commercial is the latest example of males being asked to take a seat and listen in class. This will be yet another message sent to my son through his screen. And it will tell him how much of his nature he needs to change.

I miss the days when football was just football and I could watch it, still believing that all those guys on that field kinda believed in the same things I believed in and didn’t secretly hate me. During the commercial breaks of those games, I knew that I was going to be sold colder beer and stronger trucks and a closer shave. And I was cool with that. The whole bunch of people on my screen basically said, “You raise your son. We’re here to entertain you and give you the payload stats on the newest F-150. Oh …and now, our razors have FIVE blades. This will be the closest shave of your life!” THAT was a good Sunday afternoon. And it allowed me to indulge in a fantasy, for at least a few hours, that things might actually be okay.

Now, all those people on the screens have decided to get into my personal life, my politics, and my core belief systems. They’ve all decided not to let me have a day off – not a MOMENT off – from thinking about what they want out of me and my son.

The truth is what they may end up getting is a society of men who simply withdraw and never say why. They may end up with a group of men who channel all their hostility in an unhealthy way. They may end up with more of what they despise and less of what they actually want. Because you can only be told “you’re a problem” so many times. And then you simply don’t know what else to do or how else to act.

The men in my life, who have been examples to me, have been good men. They’ve taken care of things. They’ve tried to fix broken things and tried to make bad situations better. And they’ve stood up to all those men out there who are currently on trial for existing.

I want to be one of those men. I want my son to be one of those men too. But at the moment, he’s just trying to survive middle school. And he’s learning to fear girls as much as he fears other boys.

I didn’t teach him that lesson…a girl did.

R

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WALLS …

I guess he’d be around nineteen, now.

When my wife and I were adopting our daughter, in China, we had to take her to a rural hospital in Nan Chung…twice. This was the hospital they didn’t want Americans to see. And it was pretty clear that we were the first Americans many of these people had ever witnessed, in the flesh.

Standing at the nurses station, waiting on two women to put a needle in my eight-month-old daughter’s head, I was suddenly accosted by someone behind me. When I turned around, a little peasant woman (that’s the only way I know how to describe her), with no teeth and torn clothes, was screaming at me in Cantonese. I kept trying to somehow convey to her that I didn’t understand what she was saying. But she persisted.

She reached down and picked up a little boy, maybe three. She held him up to me and thrust him in my arms. He was wearing a red sweater. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I had no idea what this woman was saying to me or what the kid had to do with any of it.

Then, Sarah (our translator) explained to me that the woman wanted me to take her son back to America and raise him as my own. She knew that America would be a better life for him. So, she took her shot and offered the boy to the first American she’d ever seen.

Before too long, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, the police (who are stationed everywhere – yay, Communism!) came over and escorted her, and her son, away.

I think about that little boy all the time. I wonder how his life is turning out. I hope he’s doing better than his parents were doing. I fear he is not.

Why couldn’t I just take the kid with me? What was stopping us from making the transaction? Well, a lot of rules and regulations were stopping us. Agreements between governments and agencies were stopping us. Passports and paper work was stopping us. Understandings between nations were stopping us.

Sometimes, I think I should’ve at least tried to do something to maybe make it happen. But as it turns out, we ended up having our hands full with the one child we brought home.

My daughter is a legally naturalized American citizen. We did two years of paper work to make that happen. My wife and I went through background checks and fingerprinting with the FBI and provided medical and financial records to TWO governments, to bring a person born in one country, to OUR country. And I think that’s as it should be.

I didn’t hear the President’s speech last night. And I only heard snippets of the counter argument by the opposition. But I’ve always been baffled by the United States’ southern border policy. I can’t for the life of me understand why we haven’t had a wall or a continual fence down there for the last fifty years. Why? Because that seems to be a place so often violated. Walking across the southern border is just a matter of not getting caught. And a lot of people do it. And we all know it.

At some point, we are all going to have to ask ourselves THE question: is that okay? Should everybody be allowed to simply walk across the border of any country they wish, and live there without signing in? If so, I’m not sure why I have to have a passport to travel? If so, why do we have extradition treaties and national laws and border agents and customs agents and immigration offices and TSA agents and G4 Summits and NATO and even the Olympic games?

Because if borders don’t matter, then none of the things we do in deference to those borders matters, either.

If twenty million Canadians had poured over our northern border without documentation, and were living in the shadows of our society, 60 Minutes wouldn’t be able to do do enough pieces on it. Geraldo Rivera would be showing up at houses all over the country, narcing on people who love Hockey and say “ay” after everything.

I continually find myself in the strange position of being on President Trump’s side of things, even though I did not support him for president. But he’s correct when he talks about building a barrier (a wall). We’ve already got miles and miles of it in some places. Should we tear that part down? Is what’s already there immoral?

If you drive through El Paso, Texas, you’ll see a border fence, with Mexico on one side and The United States on the other. Should they just start dismantling it? I’m confused.

After 9/11, I thought we should’ve completed a southern barrier and sealed the border. Is it because I hate “brown people”? Of course not. I’m married to a brown person. It just made sense, the way it makes sense to fix your front door if it’s broken.

I’m a fan of immigration …LEGAL immigration. I’m raising a LEGAL immigrant. I’m also very much in favor of providing asylum to those seeking it. My heart breaks for those not fortunate enough to have been born in a free society. And I embrace the idea of helping them. People in my family have sponsored asylum seekers and my own mother and father have opened their home to South American refugees in the past. I believe that’s the kind of responsibility the American experiment should foster in its fortunate citizens.

But these days there seems to be a type of hostility woven into the fabric of migration from certain countries in the world. It’s as if America is seen (by some) as a place that owes its wealth, resources and land to everyone on earth, no matter how they decide to come here. That sentiment is shared by a lot of our own citizens. But coming to America in defiance of America looks and feels threatening to Americans who love and appreciate what the country is all about. When those boats brought wave after wave of immigrants through Ellis Island, the beleaguered people aboard them were flying American flags from the bow. They wanted to become something new and embrace a new way of life. They didn’t see America as an entitlement owed to them, but as a hope they could find nowhere else and one they wanted to treat with respect.

If you want to become an American, I believe you should stand up and be counted; fully participate in the idea and the ideal.  Let the world know who you are and what your intentions are. My wife and I had to do that for our daughter. And we did it happily so. Because American citizenship is something valuable.

I don’t know if the politics of “wall funding” will work out or not. Is Mexico going to ultimately pay for it? Probably not. Although, I suppose one could argue that if the numbers of illegal border crossings were thwarted, the money saved in welfare services to undocumented immigrants might end up paying for said wall. That might be one way you could technically off-load the cost to Mexico. Who knows? But regardless of how it’s funded, doesn’t border security seem like a reasonable idea?

What I do know is that a little boy in China didn’t have the privilege of being born in a country that borders The United States. His tired and poor parents, yearning to breathe free, didn’t have the option of simply walking here and demanding to be let in. He was at the mercy of laws and regulations. So was I.

And if everyone else on the planet isn’t subject to those same laws, then somebody owes that kid an apology …and a better life.

R

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REBIRTH …

I often wonder if it’s the real reason we are so obsessed with sex.

Our inner, biological prime directive to create more of us, seems to be an unhealthy obsession in the spectrum of our modern lives. I dunno …maybe I’m just talking about myself, here. Either way, I often wonder if the obsession we cannot seem to understand, articulate or restrain is actually not as much an obsession with the act of sex itself, as it is with the primal instinct to procreate …the act of getting another shot at life.

Babies are just that …another shot at life. It’s why we will die and kill for our children and God only knows what we will do for our grandchildren. Because they are our hope. They are our gamble; our shot at maybe getting it right this time. Sex is frowned on by the old folks and preached against by the pious and scoffed at by the upstanding, until it produces an offspring. Then, all is forgiven because we now watch this new life intently, to see if he or she does the right things; makes the right choices; fixes what we broke.

Our lives and the time in which we live are all marked by a shot at re-birth.

It’s no accident that Christmas and New Year’s are so close in proximity. We created the Christmas rituals out of a mashup of sacred history and pagan dates; tradition and hearsay; folklore and scripture, to become this magical morning where our children’s’ eyes fill with wonder and for a brief moment they are at one with the beautiful world. We cling to those moments and try to re-live our own lost magic through them.

Then, a week later, we raise our grown-up toasts to new beginnings and resolutions and re-sets and getting right all the things we couldn’t get right in the previous year. We desperately seek re-birth in our most celebrated holidays.

On the first day of this year, the man wearing the smile bagged my groceries …and I knew he was lying. He’s a Facebook friend of my wife’s. And though he always greets us with a smile, we know (through his posts) that he struggles with feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. He wonders why he’s on the planet and asks publicly if he matters at all. Every time he bags my groceries I want to pull him aside and say, “dude …you matter to me. I love seeing you here. It helps me make sense of my life when I see you here.” But that seems a bit heavy for the grocery line.

Maybe this year I’ll get the courage to say it.

So much of what we are searching for is meaning. We want to believe there was a reason for all of this. We need to know something deeper was happening that just waking up and making coffee and going to work and taking a vacation and posting it all on social media …then doing it all again, the next year. We’re searching for the divine and the eternal. It’s why we still go to church even though we probably don’t believe half of what they’re saying from the stage and only tolerate the worship band. It’s why we pray even though we’re not exactly sure who is listening or where they might actually be. It’s why we cry at weddings even though we know they probably won’t make it.

We need some magic; some hope; some redemption. We want it all to make sense and we want to make sense in it.

What if I told you that you were part of the powerful play, whether you wanted to be or not? What if I told you that you were divine, even when you felt corrupt? What if I told you that everything single thing you ever did was important? Would that seem far-fetched?

We look for meaning in the winning of a football game. We look deep in the eyes of our children for that spark on Christmas morning. We drink and ingest substances to feel good again and hopeful. We raise our hands and sing worship songs. We listen to pastors and priests and rabbis and imams tell us where to zig and zag, and how we should conduct ourselves. We resolve to get back in shape and cut out the toxins and find our “old self” again. We bounce babies on our knees and hope they hold the keys to something …something we lost.

We’re searching for the truth; for rebirth.

I’m a person who often allows things to fall into disrepair. Things around the house, projects I should pay closer attention to, even relationships, sometimes fall by the wayside. When I analyze why I do this, it usually comes back to my not believing in my own importance or my own worth. And I often wonder how many great and important moments or opportunities I’ve let slip away in pursuit of a different, more perfect one …somewhere, out there.

Maybe we should be accepting our here-and-now and understanding the sacredness of the moment at hand. Maybe it isn’t about somewhere else or something else or something better or newer. Maybe everything is about right now. Maybe right where you are and what you have to offer at this very moment is the magic. Maybe you’re causing ripples on the ocean without even knowing it.

Jesus offers us a rebirth. But the more I learn about him, the more I wonder if his offer at rebirth was simply a way of allowing us to embrace how amazing our first one was.

 

R

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ONE SILENT NIGHT …

For a topical blogger, there are so many issues to talk about.

And yet at Christmas time I find myself not wanting to talk about any of it. I’m one of those people who becomes a kid at Christmas. Sometimes, I put Rudolph on TV  …even after the kids are asleep. The show itself holds no excitement for me, anymore. The production value is laughable by today’s standards. And don’t even get me started on the characters and archetypes represented, juxtaposed against today’s standards. It’s a politically correct nightmare.

But having it on in the background, is soothing in a weird way. With the tree lit up and the fire roaring, Rudolph and Hermie being “independent together” is kind of nice. I can be seven-years-old again …if for the briefest of moments. The little cocoon it creates keeps out the internet fighting and the bills stacking up and the adult decisions that must be made and the friends getting older and sicker and, yes, the ones passing away.

I think humans need a recharging station. Christmas is a great one for us.

And so, I listen to the music and go see the lights and generally enjoy the season as much as a 51-year-old man can.

My love for the season always makes me remember things from my childhood. Several years ago, I wrote about a Christmas memory that haunts me to this day. Something that happened to me and my family, at a homeless shelter, many decades ago. That memory became a blog …and that blog led me to write the book, One Silent Night.

It has been optioned to become a film and I am excited about that. We thought the film would be ready for release next Christmas …but probably not. Most likely it will be ready in 2020. And so I’m still working on book rights and getting into the market place on time, etc. etc.

But I wanted to let people hear it. So, I’m offering an MP3 of the audio book to everyone for free, starting today. If you feel Christmassy, you can throw a tip in the virtual jar (my PayPal link). But you certainly don’t have to.

The audio book contains 10 songs embedded in it, that are also my Christmas CD. So, I think it’s a nice 3-and-a-half-hour listening experience.

Below is a link to the book. All you have to do is click and listen. The PayPal link is below that …if you want to donate. I can assure you all the proceeds go to a Chinese orphan (wink).

Thank you all for following me and reading this blog, this year. I have so much to be thankful for. And I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

R

One Silent Night link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/mda8d439ukyc4kg/ONE%20SILENT%20NIGHT%20by%20Regie%20Hamm.mp3?dl=0

paypal.me/regieHamm

IN OUR TIME …

The theory goes something like this …

At whatever age you become famous, that’s the age at which you stop growing emotionally and intellectually. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it sure would explain a lot of people, from Michael Jackson to Elvis. It’s one of the reasons I’m so adamantly against the creation of child stars. So many of them have to re-learn how to live in society once the cute wears off and they realize they don’t want to spend their lives on a TV or movie set. Anyway, I digress …

Whenever I watch Paul McCartney in an interview, I always think to myself, “He’s really only 22 …inside. That’s when he became famous.” And when you start looking at the world through that lens, a lot of things start to make sense. Don’t get me wrong …I love Sir Paul and his body of work. But he does still kind of embody the spirit of a 22-year-old …and that may be our gain as music consumers. You don’t want a 50-year-old man writing silly love songs …you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

This theory of stunted development, always leads me to more questions about where we stop understanding things; where we stop evolving. All of us know that one guy who still has a ponytail or a mullet. He’s a walking memorial to reaching your peak hair potential in 1989, and just saying, “I’ll never do better than this.” He looks in the mirror EVERYDAY and still says, “Yep. This works.” Or we know the girl who got her hair and makeup just right, around 1998, achieving the perfect “Rachael.” And while Jennifer Anniston hasn’t rocked a “Rachael” in almost twenty years, our friend is still flat-ironing her way to 90s greatness …in 2018.

The passing of time can be brutal to humans because we have this special type of hubris that allows us to think the world started turning on the day we were born. Given this special brand of narcissism, we often fail to realize there are children coming up right behind us who have no idea about our experiences or points of view. I think about this concept often …almost to the point of obsession.

In my show, I do a mash-up type bit about Elton John records and old gospel songs. It’s a true story – a funny story – and it usually works for most audiences. But I did it once for an audience of teenagers and they had no reference point for the basic premise. They didn’t know the songs and they didn’t really have a concept of having to be in church if they didn’t want to be. That’s an attitude from MY generation …not theirs. The whole thing fell flat because …well …quite frankly …they weren’t born when all the stuff I was talking about was happening. It’s all ubiquitous to me. But they’re not me.

It honestly doesn’t take that long for large swaths of a population to change their attitudes about things. When he was a kid, one of my father’s best friends was black. This was during southern segregation and my father often recounts how he an his friend would dare each other to run inside the other’s designated restroom. At ten-years-old, after breaking the law over and over, they both realized (upon comparing notes) that all the restrooms were exactly the same. And segregating them made absolutely no sense to the boys. My father says that he was certain his generation would get rid of segregation because they understood the stupidity of it.

If you tried to reinstitute racially segregated bathrooms right now, literally everyone on the planet would look at you weird. We don’t do that anymore. And we haven’t in almost sixty years. My generation wasn’t raised with it, so I can’t even fathom the idea of it. But there are still people of a certain age who think that might actually be a thing, one day. Those people are pretty much rocking idea mullets …they just don’t know it.

Some (maybe more than some) people view life through an old prism of another time to inform their political beliefs. Barbara Streisand sounded like one of those people, this past week, in her recent comment about women who vote how their husbands want them to vote, etc, etc. When I first read it I thought it was a joke or a fake news meme. Then I did some research and found that it was a true statement. And the first thing I thought was, “idea mullet” or “concept Rachael.”

Literally ZERO people, in 2018, believe that men are dictating how their wives vote. Society just doesn’t work like that anymore. Maybe it does in some weird commune somewhere, or in a select household here or there, or in an Islamic country. But by and large, men don’t wake up and expect the “little woman” to have breakfast on the table. They don’t sit in their suit and tie and read the paper, then splash Burma Shave on their face before climbing into the 1958 Studebaker and dashing off to their Mad Men job, where they drink bourbon all day and call women “doll” and “angel face,” demanding coffee and donuts for the next meeting with other men who came from the same morning routine.

It doesn’t work like that anymore. That’s a caricature …a stereotype …a punch line. It’s fodder for period piece movies and kitschy commercials. Does that mean there’s not sexism in the world? Of course not. Does it mean misogyny is over? Nope. But the notion of wives being ideologically subordinate to their husbands, without their own concerns and issues and political autonomy, is just a notion from another time. The world has moved on.

As a history buff, I know all too well that history can repeat itself in horrible ways. But sometimes, we see patterns of the past …because we’re FROM the past …and we need a new haircut.

R

THE REAL SANTA CLAUS …

I choose this as my seasonal profile pic every year. But you may not know the story behind it …

The year before this was taken, my wife and I took our daughter to see this very same Santa …for the last time. She pulled his hair and yanked his beard, grabbed his hat and constantly went for his glasses. She was officially too hard for Santa to handle. A 4-year-old with Angelman Syndrome (the rare genetic disorder with which she is afflicted, that presents like severe Autism)  is hard for anyone to handle. And it was almost impossible to get a picture with him.

This Santa (in this pic) pulled us both aside after we took Isabella from him, and prayed over us. He told us how much he admired us for taking on such a challenge and that he loved us for doing it. He told us it was going to be okay, then he wished us all a big, jolly Merry Christmas …the way Santa always does. My wife and I stood at Santa’s big chair and sobbed like children.

The next year, we took our new 1-year-old baby boy to see him. We just wanted some kind of normalcy in our life; just ONE picture with our “typical” child that wasn’t strained and didn’t involve us sweating from trying to keep him still or being worried about him doing damage to anything, the way we’d worried about our daughter for half a decade.

We waited for what seemed like a lifetime to get to the big chair, and our son was irritated, whining and crying the whole time. But we wanted …maybe even needed …a good memory; a sweet moment. We just wanted a simple Christmas picture to remind us that things could be okay.

By the time we got to Santa, the 1-year-old was out like a light. We weren’t sure what to do. There was NO WAY we were waking a sleeping baby and throwing him on Santa’s knee. Not after what we’d asked Santa to endure the year before.

As soon as Santa saw us and the sleeping baby, he said softly, “Give him to me. I have an idea.”

He took off his glasses and grabbed a little picture book …then posed like this with our sleeping boy. It was absolute magic.

Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. I know him to be a true thing. And every year I post this miraculous picture to remind me that sometimes there’s magic in the most unexpected of places. And maybe everything IS going to be okay. You just have to believe …

Years later, that same 1-year-old was at a crossroads of belief. As a 7-year-old he asked me if there was really a Santa Claus. I just smiled and said, “well …even if he isn’t exactly what we think he is, Santa Claus sure is a good idea. Don’t you think?”

That seemed to be exactly what he needed to hear.

Enjoy the holiday season, everyone!

R

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BEST SHOT …

This week, a good friend of mine (and many others here in Music City), Jimmie Allen, hit the tippy-top of the country music charts with his debut single, “Best Shot.”

Getting to the top of any chart, anywhere, is a seriously difficult achievement. People don’t realize what it takes to get there. It takes a great song, of course, but it takes hard work and savvy and smarts and a great team and a committed label and even some luck. All of that starts and ends with the artist being “worth the climb” for everyone involved. Take it from an artist who never got there …the ones who do, are special.

I’ve been watching Jimmie’s career for about ten years, now. We met at the gym, where he was working. He came to Nashville with nothing and actually lived in his car for a while. As the story goes, he hung curtains behind his driver’s seat and placed things in such a way in the car, so that when he skyped his mom, she would think he was in an apartment and not worry about him. Jimmie would sleep in that car, then clean up in the gym …then go to work …then get off work and go kill himself, lifting and running and keeping himself in shape. Then he’d be out writing or playing or networking.

I wish I’d known he was sleeping in that car. He could’ve stayed at our place. Anyway …

At first, Jimmie was just another one of the slew of dream chasers you run into in this city. And I cheered him on quietly, but wasn’t sure he was going to make it. After a while, I was secretly hoping he would choose a different path …one that was easier and not as heart-breaking. Once I got invested in Jimmie as a person, I just didn’t want to see him get hurt or have to sacrifice any more than he already had. But nothing could stop Jimmie and no amount of disappointment could sway him from his goal. He. Just. Kept. Going.

He went through many incarnations on his journey. If I remember correctly, he fronted a pop band for a while …then fronted a country band …then tried to be a solo pop artist …and then …and then …and then …and so it goes. Sometimes, Jimmie would disappear for months (sometimes even years) at a time, while he was touring or working a different job or going to check on his mom up north. Jimmie’s journey was taking him a bunch of different places and I couldn’t keep up with all of it. But I kept cheering for him. Then, one day he would show up in a Taylor Swift, Pepsi commercial or on American Idol …then I wouldn’t see him again for months.

Then, out of the blue, I would see him again in the locker room …getting ready to go kill it in the weight room. I was usually just trying to get to the sauna or hot tub. Anyway …I ended up writing a song or two with Jimmie, even though (at the time) I wasn’t sure why I was doing it and I definitely wasn’t sure why HE was doing it. My heat as a songwriter cooled years ago. Still, he showed up excited and we wrote a couple of songs together. I’ve always enjoyed the process with him. What you learn about somebody in a writer’s room is where they are coming from …what their soul is about …how they process life.

Every time I was in that room with Jimmie, I always realized I was working with a good soul; somebody who deserved to get a win. Sometimes you’re working with people and after they leave, you really couldn’t care less if they succeed or not. They are chasing the brass ring just like everybody else. They’re in the mix and you just wish them well and move on. When Jimmie would leave, however, I would always think to myself, “Man, I hope that dude gets what he’s after. I’d sure like to see that. But I fear it might not happen for him.” As much as I was always pulling for him, I knew he had some pretty big hurtles to clear if he was going to be a country music star. A lot of us who knew and loved Jimmie, secretly knew it …but we never wanted to say it out loud or put it in the universe …for his sake. His talent and heart were as big as they come. But we all kinda feared that might not be enough.

Now …years later …here he is with a number one country single and a full touring schedule for the next year. He did it! And I couldn’t be prouder or happier for him. If I never see any other kind of redemption happen in this business, I can honestly say that the success of Jimmie Allen is one of those things that balances the scales of justice in a business that very often rewards the worst of human instincts and crushes the angels inside us all. Jimmie’s success makes me believe again.

I’ve seen a bunch of people get to the top of a lot of different charts. I’ve been there as a songwriter a few times, myself. I’ve got friends who are superstars and I’ve been blessed enough to have been a part of some really famous happenings. So what makes Jimmie’s story so special? Why did I maybe root a little harder for him? Well, he’s the FIRST black country artist to have a debut single go number one. In other words, Jimmie Allen hasn’t just found success …he has made history. And the thing that’s so cool about it is I doubt Jimmie will talk too much about that part of it. He’s about the music and the songs and doing the work.

I’m sure there will be a lot written about this achievement in the coming months. Someone will find controversy in it somewhere, and I have no doubt that social commentary after social commentary will be made to fit all sorts of agendas. Jimmie might find himself in the middle of all kinds of whirlwinds he didn’t ask for. Then again, maybe not. Who knows? I love the fact that he has been embraced by the country audience. And maybe his skin tone isn’t a news story anymore. Nothing would make me happier than for it to not be.

All I know is in a world where we can find things to argue about at the drop of a hat, the success story of Jimmie Allen is a breath of fresh air just in time for the Thanksgiving season. If you’re looking for something other than politics, to talk about around the dinner table …talk about this. It’s the great American if-you-set-your-mind-to-it-you-can-achieve-anything story …and it’s all true. I’ve been witnessing it first hand, for a decade.

I guess, most of all, I’m just happy for my friend. He worked his ass off. He stayed focussed. He stayed positive. He would not be denied. And he got there.

Congratulations, Jimmie. Those of us who know you, know you’ve always been giving it your best shot.

R

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BENDING OVER BACKWARDS …

I decided to hold my pee and go home …

I had just had a meeting in one of those hip, new eateries in Nashville, and I thought I’d visit the restroom before braving the completely out-of-hand traffic. But upon getting to the bank of restrooms, I discovered there were four rooms – all male/female accessible. And there were seven women standing in the area. And suddenly, I was completely confused.

Men and women were coming out of those rooms all willy nilly and I suddenly panicked. I wasn’t sure which room to go in. It just felt weird and eerily disordered. The men’s room used to be a regrouping station, where dudes could nod at each other, burp, fart and scratch without offending anyone. There was some comfort in the idea that the two genders had separate corners to which they could retreat, powder a nose, change a tampon, cover a mustard stain or adjust a penis, then head back out into the battle of the sexes. The TWO sexes.

But I was face-to-face with the new reality. We’re all going to have to learn to share restrooms, now. Why? Because we are trying to accommodate a third gender; those who might be in transition from one sex to another. Never mind the fact that there is no such thing as a third gender …not according to science, anyway …we are still so determined not to offend, in this country, that we are building our businesses in deference to one of the smallest minorities in society. And we’re accepting a social movement as a scientific one. But listen …no matter how inclusive you want to be, there are still only two genders.

Now, before you sharpen your hate-comment-pencil and give me a lesson in “being woke,” let me freely admit that I’m an old white guy who might just be uncomfortable with change. Let me also admit that I believe in accommodating minorities. The Americans With Disabilities Act has been a great thing for marginalized people. And has given a lot of access to people who might not have otherwise gotten it. Yes …as a society we should value everyone. I get it and agree with it.

Still …

The bathroom incident made me think about the lengths to which we will go, in this country, to fix things that might not have actually been broken, and to prove our support for concepts. Hear me out …

Truthfully, I’m probably a “situational democrat” when it comes to a lot of things. I think a lot of people are. Being kind and inclusive and nonjudgmental is where I tend to land …it’s at least where I want to land. But I’m always frightened at what kinds of laws people on the left are going to enact and sign. They tend to allow wonderful concepts and theories that they want to be true, to cloud the empirical reality of what actually is true. And I personally find that dangerous.

Legislating absolutes in order to accommodate the theoretical, is where we lose our way as a free society.

I speak with people all this time who just, as a matter of course, blame the weather in their hometown on climate change, when even climate change scientists admit that current weather patterns are probably not being affected by whatever climate change is. But we so want it to be true, that we personalize it to our own zip code. If the summer is unusually hot, we have this ominous feeling that we somehow haven’t passed the right laws yet. Or if there’s a really bad hurricane, we start questioning if we’ve elected the right president. When maybe …just maybe …it’s just weather and billions and billions of humans had to deal with it long before we were a gleam in our gender-normative parents’ eyes. Maybe we should build stronger levies and lean into more innovative ways of mitigating our violent planet, rather than wringing our hands about our involvement in twisters and flash floods. Again …maybe I’m just an old white guy.

In California we are witnessing this very thing in action. I have read, for years, about issues with forest management and wildlife management and water management. There are places in California drying up because diverting water there will endanger a species of lizard too small to be seen with the human eye. And this is where the democrats always lose me. At the risk of sounding like a red-state brute, humans are a species too, with the right to act in human self-interest. Sometimes, micro-lizards just go extinct. Sorry. If I were in charge …we’d move the water.

Native Americans used to manage forests by doing controlled burns and clearing dead foliage (firefighters call this “fuel” for a reason). We’ve got pretty good forensic evidence to that affect. But in our current environmental climate, we have this belief that the minute a bulldozer shows up, man is destroying nature, when maybe man is helping nature with that bulldozer. Maybe managing the forest is better than letting it overgrow then burn for a solid month. Again …old white guy talking.

Another old white guy in Europe decided to identify as someone twenty years younger, last week. While I understand his thinking and I really want his concept to be true, the empirical often makes us face hard realities. He’s not 49 …no matter how badly he wants to be. There are only two genders, no matter how much we bend them. If you’re in a drought …go get the water. Climate change isn’t why fires start. They’ve been starting for centuries and they can actually be managed before the Santa Anna winds carry them all over the state.

No matter how much we bend over backwards to make things true that we so want to be true, true always wins in the end …and singing “Imagine” over and over again, won’t change it.

My wife and I used to have some neighbors (from California, ironically) who desperately wanted their cat to meet our dog and become friends. When I told them that our dog would rip their cat to shreds if we tried that, they got visibly upset and stormed off. We all want things to be warm and fuzzy youtube clips, of dogs and cats hugging each other. But as I’m tying this, my current dog is barking and snarling at the cat next door. And his intentions aren’t good.

Sometimes, it’s best to just accept how things actually are.

R

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