My Breakfast Club essay

“Dear Mr. Vernon,

 It’s been 30 years since we have last “met”. What have I been up to and where did the time go?

It’s hard to believe this year I will be turning 50 years old. It’s incredibly shocking and in a sense I am totally in dismay at best over the whole ordeal. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was wondering the halls of Henderson County High like everyone else my age. Trying to get to my next class on time while trying to define who I was and where I was going. It was an awkward time. Like most people, I didn’t have a clue about life.  I didn’t fit in with the “in” crowd. I didn’t really fit “in’ with the “out” crowd either. I wasn’t a jock. I wasn’t in the social clubs. I couldn’t play sports. I didn’t make good enough grades to get into the glee club or marching band.  I really just coasted. I tried to be funny and the occasional class clown in hopes of someone acknowledging that I actually existed beyond the small group of neighborhood kids I grew up with. For simply” having some “background noise”. Let’s look back.

80_jl_playing_organA few years before High school, I had picked up a sears catalog (or maybe Service Merchandise, I dunno we got them all) and saw a drum set that was advertised in the music section. I guess this was around 1977. My “mom” (grandmother) promised me the kit if I would learn how to play the organ we had at the house. It was a cheap little thing that we had but it had music books with it. (I included a photo of the type we had, it’s not me playing just grabbed it off the net). I cut out the drum set and taped  it to the kitchen wall to remind her that she promised me that kit and I promised to learn the organ. So I did my part. I practiced all summer long…Keep in mind I wasn’t playing Bach. I was playing simple one and two notes melodies but I practiced and practiced. I could read the music and play Christmas songs, Yankee Doodle Dandy songs and a few traditional songs like “Aura Lee’, ( basically Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” with a different title). The odd thing was when I started practicing, I enjoyed playing that thing. I really didn’t understand the damper pedals but I could pick out those melodies. I even learned the main part to the piece “The Entertainer”. I was pretty proud of that. Mom would have me play a few times when she had friends over. She sold Avon and I guess I was cheap entertainment. It really wasn’t much too due about anything though. No recitals or audiences. Just me sitting in the bedroom playing while they would be in the other room. Summer came and went and on Christmas morning I ran into the front room to see the drum set I just knew I was getting but instead there lay two guitars…One for my brother and one for me. Not exactly what I was expecting. But I picked it up anyway.

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By middle school I was ok enough to play with other people in a band and I played at one of my Boy Scout awards meeting. We played four songs. Nothing earth shattering again, but I was playing.

Ok, Ok, Ok… I will speed this up a bit.

By High school we had played a few parties and were actually writing our own songs which seemed to come “naturally”. They just kind of fell out. So we started recording. Mind you I was in high school and young, dumb and the rest of that saying…

We started laying down music at a local recording studio. Looking back it, it wasn’t really a “professional recording studio”. It was pretty much an older guy’s hobby studio he had built in his attic. I listen to the recordings today and think “wth” was we thinking? But we thought we were on top of the world back then. He listened to the play back of one of the songs and said (looking back, he was probably joking but we missed it) that we all would be famous in about 5 years. Well, that’s all I needed to hear. All bets were off after that. I was so sure of it. I took easy classes in school. I had a couple of study halls. I took every elective class like woodshop, metal shop, electronics and art classes I could get in. All I wanted was an easy credit. I didn’t need the rest of the hard stuff… I was going to be “famous”. I even promised my electronics teacher Mr. Newcom if I made it big I would buy him a 1955 red convertible. A car he said he had always wanted. I so wanted to make that happen for him. Mr. Newcom was so poor I would see him in woodshop making wooden toys for his kids. He had dreams too.

So, with that mentality, all my eggs went into one basket. No back up plans. All or nothing. It couldn’t fail. We started playing regularly and continued to scrap together money to record. We started to go to Paducah to record at a recording studio there. Amulet, a “big” local band had recorded there so that’s where we headed.

Along the way, I mowed yards. When I turned 16 I started to work at the Farm family restaurant and would call that place my job home until I graduated High School. My boss Mr. O’Brian would tell me, “I was a hero in my own mind”. I used to jokingly tell him I would be famous one day and come back and buy “the farm” and fire him. Mr. O’Brian had dreams too. But here he was in his late-30’s managing a crummy restaurant around a bunch of teenage kids. No future there. While most kids where at the Friday night football games I worked almost every Friday night and missed the games. If Henderson County won, we gave away free cokes. The place would be packed to the hilt! I was the head grill cook and may have went to one game my whole time in High School. On my lunch breaks I would run to my girlfriend’s house Denise, who would later become my wife. All the time playing music. Switching band members, pawning guitars to buy other equipment etc. etc. The list goes on and on. Dreaming of that big break. A friend of ours lived in Los Angeles. She managed to get our demo’s played on KNAC out there. One of the song writers for the band Heart was interested in us. He liked our stuff but our demo’s were rushed and choppy due to money constraints. (we were broke as hell).We did what we could do but the opportunity slipped away. He stopped calling. Most of my friends from school went on to College. Dexter Gilbert and I drove to the Lindsey Wilson College for a tour of the place. I left after the tour. He went back and stayed. Others slipped away in the ebb and flows of life. Time moved on.

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Denise and I probably 1986

I got married. We already had two kids and then had one more after the wedding vows. Still my dream was there. I hung vinyl siding on houses. I worked at starter generator shops to help support the family. I washed cars at a car lot. All the time writing and recording. All my eggs still in that same basket. He said we would be “famous.” Maybe he was wrong on the timing… Just a little further out from his original 5 years so I hung on. I went to Los Angeles not once but twice. I didn’t really give it enough time. I couldn’t. I had a family but in the time that I had I gave it my best shot. Birthdays and anniversaries came and went. I missed a few for practices. I never noticed the lights were changing…

The 90’s were here. My wife was in church so I migrated that way. I wrote and recorded several Christian songs. Played,prayed and toured in a Christian rock band. The dream was still there. A little different at that time but still there. I pressed on. At 26 years old, While at the zoo with my wife and kids I stooped down to tie my shoes and my wife goes “You have grey hair!”. I was devastated. Time marched on. A little hair dye and we had the time of our lives raising those three little rugrats.

By that time I had actually got lucky? And fell into a job for the city. More specifically, the wastewater (sewer) plant. I busted my butt, decided I wasn’t going to be the tail but be the head. I took the proper training to move up the ladder and awaited my turn. All the while the embers of the dream still burned bright. I worked hard at work, and one the side pushed the music thing as much as I could.

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Our son Josh waiting for the van with my gear

Over time the Christian thing looked like it was working out. We had the attention of some big hitters in the classic rock field. People from the outside of the band were actually interested in us. People would could do something. We were selling cd’s and t-shirts all over the world. Not a lot but they were moving out the door. We were getting monthly fan mail and unfortunately stalker mail too. The future looked bright. We had graduated from van after van after van to a remodeled city bus. We now had bunks and a kitchen area and a sitting area. The other guys could watch Nascar while I slept in the bunk. I wasn’t interested in cars going around in a circle but I would jump on that bus after work with five bucks in my pocket and have to borrow money from one of the guys to buy my son and I snacks on the road but it was worth it. It all was looking bright but I remember clearly looking around one day and telling my son (he always travelled with us) to enjoy the ride because it will stop all of a sudden. And it did. Another project that along with my precious time and devotion slowly like the Hindenburg….lost lift, crashed and burnt. From playing 60 to 70 shows a year for almost five years to nothing…We unloaded the music trailer, sorted the gear and went home.

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See Mr. Vernon, that’s one of my many faults. I never get to enjoy the ride. I always looked at things in perspective, I never got to live “In the moment”. I was too worried that the ride would be over before it started. Oh, the dream was still there but I knew even if it happened it would eventually end. Books, like life have a Chapter 1 and a final Chapter. I read stories to my kids, knowing ahead of me one day they would be grown and on their own and there would be no more stories to tell as they fell into dream land. We had a lot of vacations and fun times. I recorded most of those memories on a old heavy VHS camcorder and rolls of film. Always documenting, never stopping to smell the roses. I am in almost no family photographs or videos since I was always the one doing it. I was trying to save those moments because I knew they would be gone.

I, for some reason, have always used song lyrics and bits of pieces of movie dialogue to get thru this thing called life. See if you can recognize some of them. I would watch a movie. Especially the old black and white ones and make mental notes of the lines that struck me like a chord. “We’re taking the Nautilus down for the last time”…(20,000 leagues under the sea)  Twilight Zone also was always good for moral judgments and the afterlife. ( You gotta play kick the can). I get inspired listening to songs. When I was a kid I thought songs were “real” stories. Like books. My imagination would flow. I never “got” that it was just wordsmith stuff until later in life. For example, when I listen to Bob Seger’s “roll me away” I can just see him doing that.

Stood alone on a mountain top starin’ out at the Great Divide
I could go east I could go west it was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’ and my soul began to rise
And pretty soon
My heart was singin’

Even at my age still, when I hear songs that mean something to me my heart still moves. Like these deep, deep lyrics…

Jim Stafford wrote in “None of us are Here”

 

“Somewhere someone went to sleep and dreamed us both alive’

Dreams get pushed around a lot and I doubt if we’ll survive

We won’t get to wake up, dreams were born to disappear

and I am sure neither one of us are here.

 

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My Grand Pa “Pops”

Songs still excite me. I go to concerts, the sights, the sounds, the curtain falls and I am 15 again. I can’t explain it. The thought of one day being old is terrifying to me. I do not want to die. I want to live forever but stay young. My grand pa is 93, he will be 94 in March. He has seen a lot. Things that were science fiction to him now are a reality to us. He watched Buck Rogers, now we have Space Flight. He hitch hiked on trains. For all practical points, trains are no longer used to carry people but just for freight. Though his mind is sharp as it ever was, his body has been aged and slowed by time. The hands that used to make wooden furniture at Delkers no longer can. He can no longer read the morning paper. His generation and the generations before worked hard. He wants to be relevant in world that no longer cares about him. He doesn’t understand all this technology. He has a cell phone he can’t operate or call with. He can’t even hear it ring but he carries it on his belt. He sits every day in front of the television watching the weather channel. He has about 200 cable channels but only watches the weather channel. He lives by himself and I go visit him and he will tell me all the weather calamity in the world. He wants to be involved. Not put out to pasture like he has been. It’s not fair to him. He has very few visitors. If I don’t go and see him it may days or a week before he talks to anyone. I feel sad for him. He tells me all his kin folks are on the other side and one day he will join them. He also tells me stories of his youth. It was a whole different time. He said his grandpa hunted Indians and he still has his shot gun. How cool but sad is that? But it’s his history. He also played street baseball with a broom handle and ball of twine.  He didn’t write it, he lived it. I showed him the live feed of the camera on the international space station. He couldn’t understand it was real time and we were actually looking through a camera mounted on that space craft looking at our beautiful Earth at that moment. Then he said “Can I see the Eiffel tower too?” He had never seen it in real life. Nor Niagara Falls. We looked them all up. In real time. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Where does that leave me? Here at the dawn of 50. I still have “that dream”. It’s fleeting. In reality it left before I even got a good start. But in my mind I am still relevant. I get so mad (not really mad but sad is a better word for it) when I hear words like “act your age” or “”age appropriate”. Who the hell made the rules? I am responsible. That part is easy. Being “me” is easy. Convincing everyone else to be themselves or let me be me and not what everyone else thinks they or I  should be? Impossible I think? I have said it before. Who wrote the book? Why at 20 or 30 (50, 60 or 70 for that matter)  should one be “finished”? This life isn’t “carousal”. You aren’t supposed to burst into flames at 21. (Logan’s Run)…If you blossom late. Blossom late. But blossom. Recently Madonna caught a lot of flak for literally showing her ass at the Mtv music awards. I wasn’t impressed with the Matador outfit but applaud her for basically telling the world she is still risky and sexy at 56.I am not implying everyone needs to buy clothes that show their asses but to be who they are. Who they want to be. Wear what you want. Be who you want to be…Get out and “LIVE”… Age appropriate. Screw that…I still haven’t cut my hair. Maybe one day I will. Maybe one day I won’t. But like Bob Seger said, “I could go east I could go west it was all up to me to decide”.  The hint being “Me to decide”.

  The guys in KISS are in their 60’s and still put on the face paint. Yea, they have been successful for many years but even at their age they are still selling out arenas. I think age is a mental state brought on by traditions and other peoples’ influences and what can it do to each of us? Hurt us. Convince us not to turn right instead of left. To take the same route as everyone else. To crush your dreams. Not cut your own path. Only play your safe cards.

IMG_0230 Pigman Mr. Vernon. I really sucked at English but I really excelled at reading. Those books came alive to me. I remember Mr. Wathen’s having us read “The Pigman”. Years later I would buy it twice off the net to read and reread it again. I recently bought another book I read in Jr. High. “It must be love because I feel so dumb”…Lol. You know what? I still like it. No, it’s not Shakespeare or “War and Peace” but it means something to me.  Ray Bradbury. There’s another one. What an Author. Ever read “The Illustrated Man?” I never even considered being a writer. I “as one English Teacher told me” make trains. My sentences run on forever. So the being “famous” dream took total control of me and off I went into the great nothing’ish.

So was I successful in life so far? I dunno. We managed to raise three wonderful kids while still being kids. So that’s a win in my book. No guide books just winged it. Everything else? I always expected more out of me. I have a good paying job that I call “golden handcuffs”… That comes from Morgan Freeman. How so you may ask? Early in his career he was on the PBS kids show “The Electric Company”. I loved that show as a kid. I guess he hated it. He said he stayed on because of the pay. The “golden handcuffs” is the money part. That’s where I am at. The job affords me time to write and do other things. I don’t work on an assembly line. I work at a desk. I do mundane things. I do a good job at it. My integrity won’t let me do anything less than the best. Is it fulfilling? Not at all. Is it “me”? Not at all. Was it ever me? No…

Ever see the video ‘Another Brick in the wall” by Pink Floyd? The scene where the kids are on a conveyor belt system and they are being dumped into the meat grinder? That’s how I feel a lot of the times. I have no control of the conveyor belt. It will take me to the end whether I want to go or not. It’s taking us all. Some are closer to the end of the line than others. Unfortunately some have already went to the end. But all will go to the end of “the” book. Some years ago, with a slap on the bottom we drew in our first breaths of air and our journey started and the conveyor belt turned on by itself. But it’s what we do in the middle of the of the book that matters. Some chapters will be more exciting than others but we have chapters. Make the best of them.

So that’s where I am at Mr. Vernon. I really never wanted to be famous…I only wanted to be validated. Accepted. Now reevaluating my life again at this age. Still wanting to make that jump. Take that risk. As Cindi Lauper said. “I want to be the one to walk in the sun”. The road ahead leads head long into the night. I am not ready for the night. If I could go back in time what would I tell my younger self? First off, my younger self would ignore any advice he received. He may make a mental note of it but He was young, arrogant and foolish. He clearly will waste his youth on the youth as they say…He believed in pipe dreams and fairy tales. In some ways he still does. His kids will be his legacy. He has a lot of good memories… I guess after that, nothing else matters. I want to live forever like Peter Pan but I can’t. Little  Jackie Paper also grew up and left Puff the Magic Dragon :(…I feel like maybe I peaked while still in high school but in the end when the book is closed…

I will have been just another brick in a wall…But, I was a Brick!

The always optimistic introvert.

 

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

the Breakfast Club.

 

 

 

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