GENERATION GAPS …

She’s my last remaining connection to the “Greatest Generation” and she lays dying in a hospital bed. She can barely hear me and doesn’t really respond when I talk to her. So, whatever conversations I was ever going to have with her …have been had.

My grandmother won’t survive the month. She’s 92. And once she’s gone, I won’t know anyone left who lived through the depression or World War II. People who lived through WWII never called it that. When you’re in the middle of something you don’t call it what pointy-headed history buffs label it in books, years later. My grandparents always just called it, “the war.” My son will never hear someone talk about it like that. He’ll never have a meaningful conversation with anyone who remembers it first hand. They’re all about gone.

As I watch my grandmother slip away, I think a lot about her generation. I’ve been binge watching every made-for-TV-mini-series and documentary I can find, lately. I’m missing something about the stability of having those folks around. I’m craving something about them I can’t quite put my finger on.

My mother and father’s generation went to the moon and invented rock and roll. And I love their generation for a lot of things, too. They soared higher, raced faster and reached farther than any generation before them. But let’s be honest …they can be a little unstable at times. And they are prone to wild swings in belief. They developed plastic – wrapped everything in it – then told us to stop using it or we’d kill the planet. They got free love …we got AIDS. They invented the credit card …and left us a pile of debt.

I suppose with great accomplishment comes a downside.

Our generation didn’t win a great war OR go to the moon. No, we took the most advanced technological achievements mankind has ever seen and used them to argue about politics, post cat videos, and send pictures of our penises to people. I’ve been wondering where it all went wrong. When did the adults leave the room?

Don’t get me wrong. I have some mixed feelings about the Greatest Generation. If you think about it globally, only about half of them were really great. The other half actually STARTED World War II. You wouldn’t really put old Japanese or German people in the same group as the American, British and French people we call “the greatest.” And that drags our politically correct, “safe-space” notions to the edge of our comfort zone. We don’t like the idea of “enemies” any more. But guess what? That was reality in the 1940s.

I’ve been examining what made that generation “great.” Was it it their toughness? Their ability to endure hardship? Their absolute refusal to give up? Their unmatched bravery? Honestly, I don’t believe it was any of those things. I know Iraq war vets who are as brave as anyone this country has ever produced. I sang at a soldier’s homecoming once, who had volunteered for NINE (that’s 9) tours in Iraq. On his ninth tour, both his legs got blown off by an IED. And when they found him he was still dragging himself toward his men to help them …without legs. That’s as brave and as tough as anything I’ve ever heard about, in any war, anywhere.

Lots of people have endured horrible things. But generationally, what was it that made these people special?

I was watching a documentary on WWII and something jumped out at me. In one of the South Pacific sea battles, there were over two hundred (200) American war ships engaged …in one single battle. I sat up in my chair and realized THAT was the answer. It was right there.

These days you wouldn’t be able to get two hundred PEOPLE to agree on anything, much less two hundred WAR SHIPS full of people. And yet there they were, in ONE battle, in ONE theater of war, among thousands of other battles, being fought in concert and striving toward the same goal. ONE voice. ONE purpose. ONE focus. That’s spectacular.

When my grandmother was born, women had only been allowed to vote for 5 years. We were 40 years away from the civil rights movement. Homosexuality was still considered (by the medical profession) to be a mental disorder. Slavery had only been abolished for 62 years. No one had yet flown from New York to Paris. And the possession of wine was illegal.

Yet the people of that time rose up in unison to defend an unfulfilled idea and a flawed republic. Why? Why would a Tuskegee airman go wheels up at sun up for a country that wouldn’t allow him to eat at the same lunch counter as his white counterpart? Why would a Navaho wind talker share his ancient secret with a nation that had defaulted on every treaty it had ever signed with his ancestors? How could a Japanese American solider become “gung ho” for a president who was imprisoning his relatives in an interment camp? How did these disparate, victimized groups get beyond their own grievances long enough to fight alongside their oppressors? Somehow, these people knew something about the promise of America that we seem to have forgotten.

Maybe they didn’t see America as an injustice that was DONE to them. Maybe they saw it, rather, as an idea they could affect by participation. Somehow, they ALL knew they were on the side of the good guys …even if the good guys were still pretty messed up.

To me, THAT’S the greatness of the greatest generation. Their ability to see the greater good and their willingness to fight for it.

There are a lot of things I love about now. I love that individuals are more free to be themselves than ever before. I love that everyone has a voice and a way to express it. But I do miss the idea of common experience and shared belief. Today, we can’t even agree that our president is duly elected. We can’t agree on common facts. We don’t even know if the news being read to us is true or made up. In that kind of environment, could we defeat a modern-day Hitler? We would first have to agree that WE aren’t him. Then we’d have to agree that he must actually be defeated. Then, we’d ALL have to take some part – some responsibility – in destroying him. I fear public sentiment would turn against the struggle and moral equivalence would crowd out reason before the job could get done. Maybe even before it could get underway.

When my grandmother dies, a lot of memories and ideas and beliefs and ways of doing things will die with her. And maybe some of them should. But I’m gonna miss people who got dressed up for church. I’m gonna miss people who didn’t feel the need to constantly tell and show the world every single thing they were thinking or feeling …or eating. I miss the idea of lifetime commitment. I miss dignity. I miss grace. I miss humility. I miss understatement. I even (in a weird way) miss consequences. I love undo buttons. But life sure got taken a lot more seriously before they were there.

My grandmother has travelled a long, wonderful journey. And while I will grieve her passing, I know it’s time. She has lived well and she will die well, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, probably in her sleep …peacefully.

I will miss her. But I think I will miss her generation, and the example they set, just as much.

R

KOOL AID AND COOKIES …

“I’m in your garage,” is the last text I have from him. I keep reading it over and over. There’s something surreal about an active text thread from someone who is no longer alive. But I keep reading it. And I can hear him say it in my mind.

Greg was in my garage, standing at my office door, waiting to have a meeting with my friend, Tim Akers. Tim is one of the best musicians in the world and heads a band called the Smoking Section …full of several other of the best musicians in the world. Their shows are legendary in Nashville. And A-list artists love to sit in with them.

When you see a Smoking Section show you never know when Michael McDonald or Vince Gill or someone like that is just going to show up. It’s one of the coolest perks of living in this town. Tim just happens to be one of my best friends and I was connecting him with another of my best friends for a very strange meeting.

Greg Murtha lived three doors down from me for several years. And he (along with the rest of the neighborhood) watched us turn an old ranch house (that hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1973) into a custom home for a child with special needs. He didn’t know that’s what we were doing in there. But he was the ONLY neighbor who would constantly stop and comment on our progress.

“Reg, it’s looking great, man!” he yelled from his car one day. And I was a bit taken aback because I wasn’t sure how he knew my name. His son Jackson would come over and ask if my daughter could come out to play, when they were small. There was no easy way to explain to him why she couldn’t. And we always felt for little Jackson. He so wanted to play with her. But through the sheer will of continually knocking on our door, the entire Murtha family became our friends.

When my book came out, Greg insisted on reading it as soon as possible. And after he read it, he insisted on barging further and further into my life …and I’m so thankful he did. We became very close. He told me once why my book impacted him so much. He said, “Reg, I think some of us in the neighborhood used to think you guys were just anti-social people who were over protective of your daughter. After reading your book, I realized that what was ACTUALLY happening in that house was completely the opposite of my perception. You guys were going through hell in there. And I was within walking distance …not knowing it.”

For the next several years, Greg would occasionally order an entire box of books from me and hand them out to people randomly. His big takeaway was that you can be standing (or living) right next to someone and have no idea of what they’re going through. He wanted people to think about that.

If Greg Murtha got a single epiphany from my story, I got MANY from his life. Greg went on to sit on the board of directors of my foundation, Angel Wings. And in every board meeting or planning session, he was the one challenging us to think bigger. He was always asking the important questions. And he was genuinely curious about the answers.

I heard him say on more than one occasion, “when and if we talk to the president about this …” and I would interrupt and say, “the president of what, Greg?” His answer? “The president of the United States. Is this important or not?” That attitude made me re-think pretty much everything I do.

Greg travelled the world and worked for organizations that made a difference in people’s lives. I think we all aggregate our own personalities with the personalities of others. In my own case, I have consciously added a lot of Greg Murtha into my interaction with people. To Greg, no one was unimportant. No one’s story was boring. No moment was insignificant. Everything mattered and every action was a supreme opportunity to show love to someone or to speak it into a situation.

And so …the meeting in my office.

Greg wanted to meet Tim Akers and hire the Smoking Section to play at his memorial service. He told us the story of a funeral he’d recently attended where the deceased had been an amazing woman. She’d connected people all over the world and spoken love into people’s lives. And at the reception, after the service, they were serving Kool Aid and cookies and playing very somber music.

In Greg’s own words, “that really pissed me off.” His thought was that her service should have been a huge celebration of a life well-lived. He couldn’t get his extraordinary mind around allowing a person of that much significance to be laid to rest in such somber tones.

So Greg spent the last few months of his life planning his own memorial celebration. And he said he wanted the “best band in Nashville” to play it. He didn’t want anyone wearing black or having to endure “horrible organ music” (again …his words). He wanted a lot of people who didn’t know each other, to show up and meet and drink great wine, eat great food, and dance to great grooves.

We sat in my office and made the plans. And as awkward as it started (for US …it was NEVER awkward for Greg), it ended with smiles and hugs. And after he left, Tim and I talked about what a great idea it was to have this kind of a celebration.

Greg fought through 75 rounds of chemo until his body was simply unable to walk another step. And when my wife kissed him on the head to say goodbye, last night, he was still trying to open his eyes and tell us all something. We left the hospital …and Greg was gone two hours later.

I’ve cried a lot. I’m sure I will cry more. But what I learned from Greg outweighs the sadness. Every time I hear someone say something about their life that they think is a minor detail, I say, “tell me more about that.” I learned that from Greg. I wouldn’t have come up with that on my own. When I hear and see people writhing in anger over religion or politics or something they perceive to be injustice, I try to take a step back and ask more questions, instead of meeting them head on with more anger. God knows I learned that from Greg …and I’m still learning it.

I’m learning that the best life is one of service …NOT ambition and self-focus. And I learned a lot of that from Greg as well.

I don’t know how Greg knew all of this life wisdom at such a young age. But he will be indelibly marked in my heart and on my life. His easy smile and eagerness to serve people is something I will miss. But his inability to end a conversation without telling “just ONE more story, and I’ll let you go” is what I will miss the most. Whenever I hear someone say “last but not least,” I’ll think of Greg …and smile.

People from all over the world, from all walks of life, will be at Greg’s memorial celebration. And I don’t know exactly where he’ll be. Some people hope the loved one is looking down. I tend to hope they have moved on to something so dazzling they wouldn’t WANT to look down.

Either way, Greg, at YOUR celebration …there will be NO Kool Aid and cookies.

R

OH, JUST ONE MORE THING …

I loved the fact that he never drew his weapon or got flustered or had to run anywhere. I was transfixed by how this unlikely genius was always underestimated, never seen as credible, and always dismissed as a fool. No one ever saw him coming. But HE was the one asking the nagging question. HE was the one approaching it all without passion or prejudice. And when it was all said and done, HE was always the one besting the so-called “great master mind.”

I loved Columbo. I still do.

I actually carried a lot of the lessons I learned watching Columbo into my adult (and even professional) life. The first lesson I learned was, don’t judge anyone based on what they look like or sound like. Brilliance AND ignorance comes in all shapes, colors and sizes. The second thing I learned was, trust that little voice telling you, “something here isn’t right.” I listen to that voice even now when I’m writing or producing or performing.

The last thing I learned was, ask the stupid question. Seriously …ask it.

I’ve been in a lot of meetings where I raise my hand and ask something that everyone snickers at …at first. Then, when the thing is cleared up, people will come to me and say things like, “thank you for asking that. I thought I was the only one who didn’t get it.”

Now that I’m older, I care even less what people think of me. That makes me even less afraid to ask the glaring, I’m sure-we-covered-all-this-already-but-bear-with-me question. I learned all of this from Columbo.

Columbo would ask the “8-year-old” question while everyone else was off in the weeds, building grandiose theories. He solved a case once based on the way a right-handed person ties their shoes. Once, he cracked the code based on someone’s love of country music over classical. I love how Columbo thinks. And I find myself thinking that way, often.

My wife and I sat down to watch some of the Comey hearings, last week. All of this seems like such a mess. I just wanted to get some sort of a handle on it. As I understand it, we are being told that the Russian government hacked into the DNC email servers and then released DNC emails to Wikileaks. Then Wikileaks made them public. Then people (voters) saw the private emails. Then they decided who to vote for based on that. And that was how the Russians tampered with the election.

Am I right so far?

And there’s this theory that Donald Trump may have asked the Russians to do this or conspired with them in some way to make it happen. Am I correct on this? I think I am.

And so far there’s no real evidence in any direction that supports much of anything other than the Russians tried to mess with our election. And we know they try to do this all the time. Okay. I think I’m up to speed.

The first question I heard asked of Mr Comey was whether the FBI has actually seen the DNC servers. His answer was “no.” After that answer, I stopped the DVR and looked at my wife. “I don’t need to see anything else,” I told her. “Everything AFTER that answer seems like speculation to me.”

Maybe I’m missing something simple. But if the FBI hasn’t actually EXAMINED the servers in question, how can they know who the hackers were? In fact, how do they know it even WAS a hack? Could it have been a leak? Our own CIA has talked about how they can put anyone’s “fingerprints” on something cyber to make one party look like someone else (a fact that freaking terrifies me). It just seems like someone isn’t dwelling on the most obvious question of all: WAS there actually a hack?

Look, I am agnostic when it comes to Donald Trump. I was the FIRST blogger to assert publicly that I think the man might have some form of Autism. I blasted him again publicly when he made fun of the man with the disability.

I only came to his defense when people started comparing him to Hitler. And I did that mainly because of the abject disrespect that comparison shows to human beings who actually survived the REAL Hitler.

As far as I know, Donald Trump picked up his golden phone, called his friend Vladamir and they conspired to take down Hillary Clinton together. That might actually be true. I have no idea. And if it IS true then Mr Trump should be punished in whatever way you punish people who do that sort of thing (I honestly don’t know what the punishment is).

But is it just me, or shouldn’t the FBI subpoena the servers in question? If some sort of charges were to be filed, from what source would they bring EVIDENCE without the actual servers? Am I the only one thinking this? Surely I’m not.

To my mind, all the noise beyond this crucial piece of the puzzle, is just that …political noise.

I don’t love or hate any of the players involved in these theatrics. But I am raising my cigar to my forehead. I am furrowing my brow. I am folding my arms with a puzzled look on my face. And with a thick, Queens accent I’m saying, “so, just for my own personal notes, sir. Pardon me. I’m a little slow sometimes.” And I’m patting my pockets. “Please bear with me here. I know I’ve got my notes somewhere. Just a second sir. Oh yes …here they are.”

I’m dialing through a tiny note pad, my lazy eye wandering, and examining recipes and random phone numbers and then …yes there it is …

“You’re saying that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is simply taking the word of a third party …a privately funded firm …that the people who HIRED them were hacked by the Russians? That’s your statement, sir?”

Apparently, the straight-faced answer to that question is …yes.

All I know is, where is Columbo when you need him?

 

R

THE HELPERS …

I’m about to begin a string of summer house concerts. I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I’m not all that excited about anything on either side of the show itself. Traveling isn’t the adventure it used to be. Hanging out after a show is getting more and more difficult. I usually just want to go to bed …and sleep.

Over the last few years I’ve gone through a metamorphosis in how approach my entire career. From writing to producing to performing, I find myself in a servant’s frame of mind more than anything.

A few weeks ago I played the Nashville Unplugged show, in Vegas, with my Ghost Town Troubadour comrades and Rita Wilson. Before the show, Travis Howard and I had a conversation about greatness. Great songs. Great lyrics. Great artists. The conversation was honestly awkward for me because I suppose I haven’t thought about that subject in some time. And as I age, I almost feel like a “musical monk” of sorts. I don’t know any other way to explain it. The veneer of accolades and applause and the ability to “wow” a group of people doesn’t hold the same attraction that it once did.

That particular night went something like this:

Although I’ve never been nervous on stage, RIGHT before my first note I think to myself, “they’re going to hate me.” So I play a little harder and sing a little louder. I’m just trying to catch everyone off guard long enough to get through the first song and get my confidence together.

By ten minutes into the set I start the inner dialogue: “What have I been doing my whole life? I should have become an investment banker. What is it I’m doing up here that these people like? DO they like it? Why do people seem to need this? DO they need it? Are they just being nice? They’re just being nice. I should’ve taken lessons. They can’t see what a musical fraud I am. There’s a thing I want to do with my left hand that I haven’t practiced. Crap. Did they hear that wrong note? That girl in the back looks lonely. I’m gonna sing to her. Oh …she isn’t lonely. She was just waiting on her drink and her date. Never mind. The woman to my left is crying. I wonder why. Play to the back of the room. Breathe. Someone on stage just made a comment I can make funny …find the funny. Make them laugh. You need a laugh right here. I suck. I’m awesome. I’m sure I look weird on this note. Can’t help it. This note is hard to hit …focus. I’m quitting tomorrow and getting a real job. I’m never quitting.”

These are the thoughts constantly running through my mind during a show. And I’ve been doing this for decades. I’m sure similar thoughts are running through the head of anyone, on any stage, at any given time.

Because that’s what performing is. And even if you’re famous, the act of performing is courageous every time you do it. You’re leading people somewhere. YOU are in charge of what they are thinking. YOU are taking them into rooms and corridors and spaces of YOUR choosing. And that forces the art of performance into a place of responsibility.

I left that particular night feeling a little depressed. Before the show, a man came up to me and asked me to do one of my CCM songs from twenty years ago. I didn’t do it …but I should have. I don’t even know if I would have even remembered all the words …or ANY of the words. It probably wouldn’t have played well in a club in Vegas. But I should’ve done it for him just the same. And it bothers me that I didn’t …even now.

Because at the end of every show – after I’ve done battle with myself in my head and heart for two hours – I find myself asking, “did I help these people?” I don’t know if other performers think that but it has become my standing question as it pertains to art. Have I helped?

When people tell me they are listening to my music or reading a blog or enjoying something I’ve created, my default question is always, “has it helped you?” I don’t know why I’ve settled on that question. But it seems to be appropriate.

Trends die. Styles change. Crazes evolve. And I find myself less and less interested in popularity and more and more interested in connection. Was I honest? Could you relate? Did it move you?

Art makes us think and cry and laugh and pray and dance and fight and love. Movies and music and literature and art are all here to move us forward and …well …help. If we do our art well, we help. And that seems to be what I aspire to more and more.

I want you to leave my show thinking to yourself, “I feel more love than I did when I came here. I feel some release and connection to something bigger. He helped me think about something I’ve needed to think about. He helped me laugh at something I didn’t realize was funny. He helped me cry about something I’ve been needing to address. It helped.”

I’m looking forward to the upcoming series of house concerts on the “Pass The Hat” tour. I’ll be posting where the shows will be and maybe I’ll see you at one of them. And if I do, I hope it helps you in some way.

I’m an artist.

And artists are the helpers.

 

R

WHY I LOVE KATHY GRIFFIN …

Scorsese knew it thirty years ago. And he used it.

I wasn’t planning on seeing The Last Temptation Of Christ. But then the protests started. And they led the evening news. And my interest honestly got piqued. There was so much hubbub (I think that’s an actual, technical term) surrounding the film, I simply HAD to see what it was all about. And if Christians were this up in arms about something …well, then …there must be something about it worth seeing.

Sorry, Christians …we tend to bring it on ourselves.

Then, after seeing the film, I realized if everyone had just been cool and let it go, not only would I not have seen it, but millions of other people wouldn’t have seen it either. And it would’ve died a quiet death at the box office. It just wasn’t one of Martin’s greatest offerings.

But people (particularly religious folk) can’t let things go. We always feel the need to stand up and fight for our side. But all it does, in the long run, is add oxygen to smoldering flames.

I literally JUST read a meme that has offered a reward for Kathy Griffin’s head. And I’m just shaking mine in disgust. THIS is how she becomes a sympathetic character. THIS is how she ends up being re-embraced by the entertainment community. We’re already seeing it happen. Comedians are coming to her defense. And as anger and hatred rise up against her, she will become what she says she is …a victim.

My opinion is, the best response to all of this might be to simply offer our prayers and love. Smile and say “I understand.” The best tweet Donald Trump could send right now is one that reads, “Our entire family forgives Kathy Griffin for her misguided photo and we accept her apology.”

If he did that …the story would be over. If WE stopped posting angry things about her and simply yawned and moved on …the story would be over.

But better yet, what if Christians (the people she has impugned the most) embraced her and showered her with love, asking for nothing in return? What might that look like? And what if we did it without being smug or trying to appear morally superior?

What if we actually said, “Kathy, we love you …no matter what. That’s all.”

I don’t know …that just sounds like something Jesus might do.

But as it stands, people are doing what they always do …overreaching. Even while being on the correct side of an argument, you can be wrong in your response. And it creates a moral high ground for the other side.

My only tweet about Kathy Griffin was a prediction that she would be a presenter at a major award show next year and that she would come out to a standing ovation. And I’ve had several detractors to that tweet. “How on earth can that happen? She’s done. She’s finished. She will not recover from this!” are some favorite retorts.

But I stand by my tweet. Because I remember those Last Temptation protests. And I know all to well how giving in to your anger and disgust can fan flames.

The way someone recovers from something like this is by being threatened over and over again. The way they become a “truth teller” is when what they say is happening to them …starts actually happening to them.

Well, I would like to be the first to say that I pray for Kathy Griffin. I said it in my first blog and I reiterate it in this one. I really did pray for her today. And I want good things for her. In fact, I prayed for better things for her than I want for myself. I don’t want her to suffer because of a mistake. God knows I’ve made plenty of them. And there are many more to come. Trust me.

I may choose not to watch her but that doesn’t mean I want her to starve or go without. To the contrary …I wish her great blessing. I hope that through all of this, she finds redemptive love and true forgiveness instead of hate and retribution.

And I hope that if (and when) I do something incredibly ill-advised, I find someone out there who will still love and forgive me as well. I promise you I will do it …and I will need it.

This is where Jesus gets real. And, ironically, it was the whole point of the Last Temptation. The “temptation” was to give in to his humanity and act on his baser instincts instead of forgiving all of us.

I’m glad he didn’t do that. Because it’s the only thing that keeps me hanging on.

So I’m trying to follow suit.

Kathy …I love you no matter what. That’s all.

 

R

FAME ART …

The Chinese children were a stark contrast to American children. Every time I pointed a camera at them, they scattered. No one mugged for the lens or flashed a precocious smile or did a silly dance. These children were not oriented toward performance. And as an American, steeped in the notion that being famous is all that matters, I found that odd.

But the last government official we had to see to officially adopt our daughter, couldn’t stop staring at her. Finally, she asked (through the translator) what plans we had for our daughter’s education and future profession. We assured her our daughter would be allowed to soar as high as her wings would carry her. But that’s not what the lady was driving at. She went on to explain that given my profession and my daughter’s uncommon beauty (which is a real thing to this day), maybe I could help her become someone like Brittany Spears.

I stared back coldly. I directed a question toward the translator: “Is the Chinese government really asking me to turn my daughter into Brittany Spears?”

The young translator conversed in Mandarin with the official lady. Then, they both said (in unison) with huge smiles, “YES!”

Even on the other side of the world, the most crass parts of western culture had taken root. I felt a little sorry for the future of those children who would eventually come to know the unspoken pressures of performance. And for the first time in my life, I felt a little sick about what I did for a living.

Now, almost fifteen years later, fame and notoriety has become its own industry. I had a meeting recently with a pod cast producer. A lot of people have asked me to start one. So, I listened to the details of all the things I need to do to “push my brand.” And I suppose I do need to do all those things. Selling myself has always been my weak suit. But in today’s culture the selling is becoming more important than the product. As long as I get your eye balls or ear drums it almost doesn’t matter what I put in them.

And it doesn’t matter if you love me or hate me …as long as you’re thinking about me. THAT is the nature of fame art. And it rules the day.

We elected a president who understands fame art like no one else. His outlandish statements and brash claims kept him in the news cycle when everyone else was spending millions of dollars to get a sliver of attention. And although I don’t believe that alone is why he was elected, I DO believe his ability to “stay on your mind” – for better or worse – probably captured voters no one else could’ve captured.

Enter Kathy Griffin …

Her internet-crashing picture was so disturbing I made my son turn his head away when it came on the news. And then as I watched the “outrage” begin, I shook my head and thought to myself, “why hasn’t someone thought of this before now?” Because the content ITSELF isn’t what is going to be remembered here. Kathy Griffin is going to be remembered.

Sure, she lost a gig at CNN and a lot of people are denouncing her. But just watch and wait. See how this plays out.

I don’t know if what she did was calculated or misguided. I don’t know if she fully comprehended what the reaction would be or if she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. But what I DO know is there are people who know her name now, who would’ve lived their entire lives and died without EVER having a clue Kathy Griffin ever existed. And that may be the point.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for Kathy. She is actually a very funny person who has some severe self-image issues. And that translates into a deep need to be seen and heard. The entertainment world is overflowing with people like that. I’ve whispered prayers for her in the past. I do still. And in a strange way, I don’t even completely blame her for this. I kinda blame US. And even as I blame “US” …I’M WRITING ABOUT IT! UGH!

Because now, as she files a lawsuit against a sitting president, she is guaranteed more of the attention she so desperately craves. And make no mistake, there will be experts brought to bear who might make a pretty cogent argument on her behalf. PTSD and variations thereof will no doubt be called into the equation. And it will lead the evening news. And even as people line up to virtually spit on her in cyberspace, her twitter footprint will grow. And her social media shares will grow. And her presence in the world will expand. And her first ability – that wonderful gift of being able to make people laugh – will no longer matter all that much. It will be secondary and inconsequential. And THAT part is what makes me the saddest these days.

We’ve finally gotten to the place where what you do isn’t as important as how many people watch you do it.

R

PHONE JACKS …

That damn phone jack bothers me.

I see it literally every day of my life and it just bothers me. It’s there doing nothing. It will never be used again. It is obsolete. And yet it wasn’t that long ago when we had to make allowances for where the “phone would go” in any given room.

Now, that plastic covered wire center is nothing more than a relic of the distant past. We haven’t used a land line, connected to phone cables, in years. And every time I look down at that thing it gets me thinking …

Why isn’t there a “Phone Research Endowment” in the government? Or, the P.R.E. (it’s all about the acronym). Why don’t we have to stand in line and have congressional hearings to get funding for phone development? Why don’t we have to apply for grants and fill out paper work in triplicate and cross our fingers that we got the wording right in our dissertations? Why don’t we hold national referendums and vote on which direction phone technology will go?

The answer is simple, really. Phones are doing just fine without the government. Yes, communication is regulated to a degree. But while we are barking and marching and protesting everything under the sun, we’re texting our friends to make sure they meet us at the designated protest site. Then we’re Tweeting where we are and what we’re doing. We’re posting pictures of our protest to Instagram and Face Booking live our utter disdain for this or that.

Yes, while we’re arguing back and forth about politics and all things related to it, phones are quietly changing the world. So, why aren’t they funded by the government? Because they don’t need to be.

The President’s new budget came out this week and the gasps could be heard all around the country. To be fair, I haven’t read it. And to be fairer …I don’t actually need to. I’m absolutely certain he’s cutting things that are making people livid. There is life and death in that budget. I get it.

But here’s the thing …

Conservatives often get labeled as “monsters” and “inhumane” and (my personal favorite) “draconian” (although I defy anyone to define that word without Google.)

The buttoned-down white guy with the fresh haircut and boring suit is often made to look like Satan incarnate, when he proposes a governmental budget cut. Kids aren’t going to get lunch. Grandma is going to die. Things aren’t going to get funded. But he’s DEFINITELY giving his “fat cat” friends a tax cut. That’s for sure!

If you see a government’s budget through that prism, you’re not alone. Many people do. And I totally understand your anger. But I keep going back to those phone jacks …

The thing is this: just because someone believes the government shouldn’t fund something, doesn’t mean they believe it shouldn’t be funded. Let me explain …

I’ve always been for de-funding the NEA. That’s weird because I live and breathe in the arts. Why on earth would I want art to be DE-funded?!?! That doesn’t make any sense. Does it?

The thing is art was funded just fine before the NEA was put in place, in 1965. The Beatles’ “Help” got made. Yesterday got written. Elvis recorded Hound Dog. Frank Sinatra recorded Come Fly With Me. Annie Get Your Gun was produced. Rhapsody In Blue was composed. Hank Williams lived, wrote and died. Citizen Kane (ranked one of the greatest films in history on EVERY recognized list) was shot. James Brown made records. Aretha Franklin made records. Jackson Pollock dribbled on canvass. There was art …BEFORE the National Endowment of the Arts was ever even thought about. Why? Because the genius of the free market had allowed it to happen.

I not only want art to be made, I want it to be FREELY made and as unconstrained as possible. In China I remember hearing about how the state owns all intellectual property …including copyrights. And my heart sank. That is the end game for those who want a safe artistic space. Government funded art is always suspect to me.

I understand the funding of school bands and local art centers and things of that nature. But there is nothing in our society that the NEA COMPLETELY funds. So when it comes to government funded art, if there’s not enough …there’s too much. Let the project find its own legs and its own way. And let the government stay out of it. That’s MY opinion.

As we debate this upcoming budget, I keep seeing that stupid phone jack in my living room and remembering: just because the government doesn’t fund it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t get funded. And THAT’S the essence of the conservative view point.

Do I want art funded? Absolutely! It’s my life’s blood. But I keep seeing Mozart standing at the mercy of Emperor Joseph II, as he tells him, “there are too many notes.” THAT’S what happens when the government funds your anything. Some duly elected official tells you you’ve written too many notes. No thanks.

I believe the concept of “other” funding can apply to science and healthcare and a half dozen other things we think can only be funded out of Washington DC.

Sometimes well-meaning friends of mine tell me I should run for office. I always tell them no I shouldn’t. When they ask why, I give them the same answer: “Because you probably wouldn’t vote for me.”

And the reason is I would lobby to de-fund a lot of stuff I think could be more efficiently funded OUTSIDE of the government sphere. On the surface it would look like I didn’t care about such things surviving. But the truth is I would be setting them free to find greener and more creative pastures outside the government prison.

You see, I love texts and siri and tweeting and updated posts and all of the things we do on our phones …that are not funded by government. And I would love to see how cool everything else in our life could become if we found a way to fund it in a way that didn’t involve tax dollars.

If you’re reading this on your phone, maybe you would too …whether you know it or not.

R

THE STRAIGHT STORY …

We were already opening champagne anyway …don’t ask. Let’s just say it’s not uncommon to open champagne at my house. Don’t judge.

Anyway …

The flip phone rang. In those days I usually unflipped it and said, “hello.” These were different times. The voice on the other end was a dear friend who was breathless, “Turn on American Idol right now. Krippayne is on. He won a contest. He’s on camera right now. Ok. Bye!”

So, I grabbed the remote and flipped over to American Idol. And sure enough, there was my friend Scott Krippayne, talking to Ryan Seacrest about the coronation song he’d written. I had no idea such a thing existed. I soon pieced together that Idol had run some sort of songwriting contest in tandem with the show itself. And I learned – right there, in real time – that my friend of well over a decade had won said contest.

I distinctly remember my wife and I doing a little victory dance around the kitchen bar and toasting Scott and his wife Katie. Then I began calling other mutual friends to discuss the awesome news of our dear friend. This was a “chalk one up for the good guys” moment.

Months later, Scott flew in from Seattle (where he lives) to Nashville (where I live). We had drinks at a local bar and grill with several other friends. After a few minutes we got him to tell us about his American Idol experience. It took all of fifteen minutes and was sandwiched in the middle of a conversation about kids, wives, the state of the music industry, and probably a dozen other minor issues and topics unique to old friends. It certainly didn’t dominate the conversation. It was just great seeing him.

The following American Idol season, I entered the same song contest, at the behest of my wife. I called Scott for pointers in entering. He had none. He simply told me “good luck.”

Then I called a friend who knew some people at 19 Management. I asked if HE knew any inside info on the contest. He said he didn’t. And again, “good luck.”

After I entered the song, I called him back to see if he could at least confirm that my song was entered correctly. He called a friend of a friend who confirmed that my title was in the data base. Other than that, “good luck.”

That was all I got from anyone in the 2008 American Idol songwriting contest. Even though I “knew some people.”

After I won the contest, some VERY angry songwriters began piecing together a theory. They postulated that the connection between Scott and I was simply TOO close to be coincidence. They refused to accept the results of the contest because Scott Krippayne and I had a prior relationship. And they were absolutely right. We did. A close one.

And THAT fact alone HAD to mean that something about this “contest” didn’t smell right …if it actually WAS a contest at all. Someone did the math on forty-two thousand entries – at ten bucks a pop – and was fairly certain American Idol had created a “fake” contest in order to make an extra four hundred thousand dollars. And they concluded that the songwriters were pre-determined from the beginning. The proof was in the fact that Scott and I knew each other prior to the contest. And that we were both professionals. And this was supposed to be a contest for amateurs ONLY.

The truth was this: the contest rules said nothing about “amateur” or “professional.” They were only looking for UNPUBLISHED works. Scott and I both owned our own publishing at the times we entered. And if you had any real sense of how much money American Idol was making at the time, you’d know that an extra four hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t have been worth the time for them to set up a website and hold the contest. They were making that much money on any given 30-second spot.

After hiring the extra people needed to comb through the thousands of songs, they actually broke even on the contest.

Their REAL goal in setting up the contest was to simply be able to control the copyright of the coronation song. That was all. They had used songs in the past that were published and well known works as their coronation songs. And they’d had so much difficulty in getting permission to license them they decided to control the process as much as possible. I totally got it from a business stand point.

But if you are a songwriter who just poured your heart and soul into a song you truly believe should be heard by the world, and you feel like you’ve been duped and railroaded, you don’t want to understand such things. It feels better to believe two guys met in a dark room, somewhere, with American Idol executives and cooked up a plan to take advantage of you and get your ten bucks.

I can assure you I have not, to this very moment, EVER met with an American Idol executive. I’ve tried. But they don’t know (or care) who I am.

Still, there were class-action lawsuits pending and public accusations and dedicated blogs and web sites devoted to getting to the bottom of this issue …that did not exist. Ever.

By the time my finale night came around, my ONE contact at the show pleaded with me to NOT bring up Scott’s name in any of the press I did. He told me that the controversy (that was completely MADE UP) was so heated that they were probably never going to do the contest again. His exact words were, “I work around creative people and songwriters have proven to be the craziest of the bunch.” I could’ve told him that part.

Why do I bring all this up now? Almost a decade later? Because I was an eye-witness to – in fact, a PARTY to – a wave of assumption that had absolutely NO basis in reality. But it got traction. It got scrutiny and investigation. It got enough believers in it to make a board room of executives, of the most popular TV show on the planet, shut down a contest that might’ve launched or saved the careers of a few more songwriters. That last part has always made me sad.

I’m really glad Face Book and Twitter didn’t exist back then. I often wonder what the outcry would’ve been if there had been platforms with such power to persuade during my contest controversy. I have no doubt I would’ve been forced to forfeit the contest, somehow. Because even if a thing is not true, if enough people believe it …it almost becomes true. When a huge consciousness moves in a certain direction, the truth almost doesn’t matter anymore.

As I watch media forces play tug-of-war with our current president and his alleged entanglements, I stay silent on these issues. I don’t post “reports” or “breaking news.” And I don’t write opinions on whether I believe or disbelieve this or that. I didn’t do that with the last president either.

I’ve seen, first hand, how simple, well-intentioned truth can get buried in an avalanche of noise. I’ve lived it. And I just don’t jump to conclusions anymore.

Did Donald Trump collude with the Russians to rig an election? Maybe. Maybe not. I have no idea. Neither do you. Could it have happened? Sure. Anything could and can happen.

But through my own experience, I’ve learned to wait and listen. And I’ve also learned that the truth – the straight story – is probably not what anybody thinks it is. It may be worse than you think …or it may be better.

Either way, I’m sure there are still some songwriters out there who think I somehow stole an opportunity from them. No one can know for sure that I didn’t. You can only decide to believe me or not.

Unless we get evidence to the contrary (and we might – I have no dog in the fight either way), my hunch is we’re going to have to finally accept our 2016 presidential election results in much the same way.

R

MAMA KNOWS …

I’m THAT dad.

The one who says, “rub some dirt on it. Walk it off. You’re fine. It’s just a scratch.” I never believe anything is anything. Everything is nothing …to me.

I don’t like to panic the kids. I like to get all the facts before I rush off to the emergency room. I know that some things feel worse at the time than they actually are. Injuries need to be addressed logically and calmly. That’s how dads do it. That’s how I do it.

But my wife, on the other hand, can FEEL when something isn’t right. She can hear something in the way one of my children is crying, that tells her something. It tells her something it doesn’t tell me.

Once, my daughter was given a certain drug for an ear infection. My wife knew nothing about the drug scientifically. But she kept saying, “THAT drug is not working. I know it. I can tell.”

This bothered me a great deal. Because I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember when my wife got a medical degree. With my daughter being non-verbal, she couldn’t tell us if her ear was feeling better or not. But somehow my wife could SENSE that she wasn’t getting better. I thought she was fine. But finally, on a Sunday, my wife dragged us both to the ER and forced a doctor to take another look at the ear in question. I thought the doctor was going to say, “Mom, rest easy. Everything is okay. She’s doing just fine.”

But instead what the doctor said was, “Mom …good call. This medication hasn’t been working. And the infection has gotten worse. We need to change medications.”

I’m not gonna lie …I was stunned.

This past weekend my son went to one of those bouncy places with his cousins. Apparently, on one epic jump, he landed the wrong way on his wrist. My father called to let us know he had hurt himself a little but that everything was okay. I was satisfied with the call. But my wife heard my son crying beyond my father’s voice and KNEW everything was, indeed, NOT okay. She heard something in his cry that bothered her …through the phone …in the background.

We had dinner guests over. But my wife excused herself and jumped in the car to go bring my son home. After she left, the guests asked me if I thought the damage was as bad as my wife thought it was. My answer was, “I can’t imagine that place would allow my son to leave with a broken arm. And I can’t imagine they wouldn’t know something serious if they saw it.” But I finished the sentence with, “but she needs to do what she needs to do. And we will see.”

My son came home, took and Advil, and went to bed. His wrist didn’t look that bad when he went to bed. I thought maybe he’d sprained it. And I HOPED my wife had been overly cautious. But when he woke up the next morning, his wrist was swollen and in pain. My wife jumped into action and rushed him to the ER, where they found that he had actually BROKEN his wrist. He came back home in a full cast.

And again, I marveled at my wife’s intuition with all of this. Left up to me, I shudder to think of what condition my children would constantly be in. But the mother “sense” is strong. They know stuff. They know when their children are in distress. Even if they didn’t give birth to the child, they still know.

Both my children are adopted. But my wife still has this strange, spiritual connection to them that I cannot comprehend. I love them with all my heart. I would lay down on train tracks for them without thinking twice about it. But I can’t look into their eyes and know they are scared. I can’t tell by the way they hold their head that they had an incident at school. I don’t hear the same thing in the tone of their voice that she does.

THIS is what mothers are all about. Moms know. They just do. You might think you’re fooling yours. But you’re not. She knows you’re in pain. She knows you’re having trouble. She knows you’re battling an addiction. She knows you’re lonely. She knows you’re unhappy. She knows you’re depressed. And that’s why she prays for you for seemingly no reason.

When she calls you and says, “I’ve been thinking about you,” don’t blow it off. Don’t just try to hurry and get off the line. She’s dialed in to you somehow …even if she’s driving you crazy in the process.

Mothers don’t just love us. They KNOW us. And they know us until the day we …or THEY …die.

So, do something nice for your mother today. She feels things about you all the time.

And SHE knows you’ve got a broken arm …even if YOU don’t.

R

THE IL …

As I type this, FBI director James Comey, has just been fired by president Donald Trump. If you’re reading this years from now, that will be an important fact.

The firing of Mr Comey has set off a fire storm of innuendo and speculation about a certain theory. The theory is that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government to hack into the DNC email servers, in order to release private emails to the world that would show Hillary Clinton in a bad light …thus swaying voters to vote for him. I think that’s about the gist of it.

As of yet, this theory has yet to be proven. We do know the Russians tampered. We just don’t know why. But if the collusion theory ends up being true I would find that an incredibly risky move on Mr Trump’s part. After all, you don’t really know what’s in those emails. And if they just turn out to be yoga schedules and pasta recipes you’ve broken a bunch of serious laws to get that information. I personally would never take a risk like that. But that’s just me.

Conversely, the “the-world-got-to-see-first-hand-that-I-was-liar-and-that’s-why-I-lost-an-election” defense is certainly an interesting one by Mrs Clinton. The world also got to see that Mr Trump was a misogynist and yet he won. Personally, I think the reasons for who won and who lost are a million miles away from leaked emails and leaked Hollywood Reporter interviews. But none of that is the real interesting part to me.

The interesting part to me …is the infamous “il.”

According to the DNC the “hack” wasn’t as much a hack as it was a phish. Someone sent John Podesta a phishing email. Before opening it, he texted his IT guy asking if the email was legitimate. The IT guy says he meant to text, “the email is ILLEGITIMATE.” But spell check turned “ILLegitimate” into “Legitimate.” And he didn’t catch it until he read back over the texts later and realized what had happened. By then, it was too late. And through Mr Podesta’s email, dozens of other people’s emails were hacked …including Mrs Cilnton’s.

I’ve dubbed scenarios like this “the IL theory.” That’s the idea that the course of history gets changed by two letters. I think that’s just about right.

The battle of Gettysburg happened because a Union scout found Confederate battle plans wrapped in three cigars, that had fallen off some general’s horse. Three cigars changed the fate of millions of people. Wrapped around three cigars was the balance of power on planet earth, the future of slavery as an institution, the life and death of thousands of men, and the ultimate question of how the United States would continue as a nation. Three loose cigars fell off a horse …and changed every moment from that day to this.

If you study enough history, you find “ils” everywhere. Someone shoots the Archduke Ferdinand and starts WWI. Then, during that war, someone has a clear shot at a young, private Adolph Hitler …but his gun jams. How many little “ils” had to happen for that particular gun to jam at that particular time? In that one gun jamming incident hung the fate of six million Jews and millions more allies. One gun jamming. The “il” theory.

I don’t know how all this Trump/Clinton/Comey stuff will play out. It all feels like a reality show to me. Those who supported Trump still defend him. Those who hated Trump still hate him. If you thought he rigged the election, you think it even more now. If you thought Mrs Clinton was corrupt, you probably think it even more now.

NONE of that is interesting on any level. That’s all predictable and kind of a yawn. What isn’t predictable is what “il” is going to show up and turn the whole thing on a dime.

The “il” is the human folly in every endeavor of life. It’s the tiniest detail that brings down an empire. The “il” is the accidental cough, at just the right time, that keeps someone from hearing the operative word in a meeting …then they go do the opposite of what they were told to do.

The “il” is the cat’s tail that knocks over a coffee cup that stains a dress that then has to be taken to the cleaners before it normally would. And the wife, taking in the dress at the earlier time, happens to see her husband’s shirt with lipstick stains on the collar laying in a bin.

The “il” is the thing we cannot account for. It’s the maddening (seemingly) random event that can be our doing or our undoing.

And in this current climate, more than ever, the “il” is what I watch for.

 

R