Let it never be said that, as a performer, I’m inflexible. I’m still pliable enough to wiggle into a chicken costume (ask me sometime how I got it), and by Foghorn Leghorn, I’m doing it in a new musical program. “Boogie in the Barnyard” celebrates country life and animalia from around the world, with songs ranging from, “Turkey in the Straw” and, ”There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” to my own compositions such as, “Don’t Ever Be a Bully (Unless You’re a Male Cow).” And of course, we Chicken Dance. It’s a feather-flapping good time for kids of all ages, including those of us who refuse to grow up.
On the other side of the musical hedgerow, in anticipation of the balmy weather that has to arrive one of these days in Wisconsin, I’m springing ahead with another new musical program. “Songs of the Sprit” is a collection of happy and hopeful refrains, that celebrate good times and help pull us through the tough ones. I pull from a variety of genres from traditional and country gospel to modern aspirations by The Beatles and Bob Marley—accompanied on guitar, mandolin and drum. Although the music is uplifting and strongly spiritual, it is not “preachy” and my show is appropriate for any senior venue or other adult audience.
As always, my “10% Solution” applies: 10% of all my performance income will be donated to charity; especially organizations that benefit children and seniors, my two most frequent audiences. Don’t you think it’s about time to put a singing chicken, or another of my sonic soirees, into the life of your organization?
Patty was the lead singer and last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters, a trio of youngsters who blew out of Minneapolis like a hurricane and dominated the pop charts as favorites of the Greatest Generation during the late 30s and 40s. They became the best selling female vocal group of all time (sorry, Supremes), and were outsold during the World War II era only by Bing Crosby. In fact, Bing, Patty and her sisters LaVerne and Maxine sang together several times during the war years on such hits as “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”
They also tirelessly entertained hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and lent their voices to campaigns for War Bonds. At many concerts, a lottery for three lucky winners of a dinner date with the Andrew Sisters had GIs crossing their fingers. They made combat hardened veterans sing, laugh and occasionally weep to sentimental reminders of home such as, “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time.”
I grew up listening to my Mom sing—and jitterbug—to songs like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, but I filed the Andrews Sisters and other music from their era in the sonic dustbin the first time I heard this little band from Liverpool called the Beatles. Then, shortly after the Fab Four imploded, a newcomer named Bette Midler burst on the scene and hit Number 1 with an imitation of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which the Minneapolis girls flung up the pop chart 30 years earlier. In the grip of a nostalgic seizure, I bought a double album of Andrews Sisters hits, and have been a fool for them ever since.
I include a medley of some of their classics in a 1940s musical revue called, “Sentimental Journey,” which I perform largely for seniors. I’ve always told audiences that Patty is still alive, and encouraged them to sing along loud enough that she can hear us where she now lives in California. Now we’ll have to emote even louder so Patty can hear us in Swing Heaven, where I hope she’s bubbling like a fountain drink with LaVerne, Maxine, Bing; and backed by an angel band of Duke, Benny, Glenn, Satchmo and the Count.
It’s a white Christmas morning on my little cul-de-sac behind the Cheddar Curtain, thanks to a blizzard five days ago that registered as the second-highest 24-hour snowdump in Madison history. I’m flushing out the cobwebs with coffee after attending an old-fashioned midnight service with all the celebratory trimmings with my neighbors at their cathedral-like church. Soon I’ll be on my way to perform my Holiday Sing-Along at a Madison Senior Center luncheon, the show that traditionally wraps up my Yuletide concert season. After four seasons I can now do it in my sleep– which today is most fortunate. Thanks to Mother Nature—or more accurately the Ice Queen that rules my realm—my last gig this year will be tomorrow, rescheduled from Thursday’s snow day.
We sang “Silent Night” last evening my favorite way, by the tiny lights of hand-held candles. And while all is calm this morning, I’m not feeling that it’s very bright. This holiday season is tempered by the horrible tragedy in Newtown. Any shooting death is one too many, but these defenseless children could have been our grandkids—or yours. All told, 88 people died in 16 U.S. mass shootings this year. And that doesn’t begin to approach the 34 Americans murdered each day through gun violence, a rate that if unchecked will total almost 50,000 during President Obama’s second term.
My wife and I both grew up in responsible hunting families, but assault weapons are for people who stalk human beings en masse. No private citizen should own one, let alone be able to purchase unlimited quantities with no background checks through gun dealers who exploit gaping legal loopholes. This isn’t about politics; it’s about our lives. I hope you’ll stand up wherever you are, and do whatever you can to end this insanity.
With that, I wish you peace and squeaky curds!
Does it strike anyone else as curious that the gluttonous shopping orgy we call Black Friday has the same label used over the years to describe:
- One of the worst financial days in U.S. history – A windstorm on the Scottish coast that killed 189 fishermen - A women’s suffrage event where over 200 females were assaulted by English police - A day of devastating bushfires in Australia that killed 71 people – A massacre of protesters in Iran - A devastating tornado in Alberta
Are we having fun yet? Though they say don’t knock something until you’ve tried it, unlike the lemings re-enacting Wrestlemania at Walmart, the prospect of this annual post-Thanksgiving mosh pit sounds as delightful to me as the cheery Black Friday events described above. And this is done in the name of “giving”?
I prefer kicking off the holiday season with the “Bright Saturday” I spent recently with a bunch of people bestowing not Black Friday bargains, but their talents to recipients truly in need. My friend and fellow musician Skip Jones’ daughter Amandalynn is a professional photographer who recruits her peers for an annual event here in Madison called Help Portrait. It provides studio-quality pictures to individuals and families free of charge to those who cannot afford them. Meanwhile, Skip enlisted me and others to entertain the hundreds of subjects who milled about the warehouse warren awaiting their turn to be snapped in one of the impromptu photo booths
“Cute” doesn’t begin to describe getting family of fourteen– including a newborn– to beam simultaneously, or a little girl trying to rein in her ornery kitty. Since in reality many of the posers were out of jobs, even homeless, it was nice to see them smile for a few minutes at a camera or a song. My pay was in pizza, but I came home feeling truly rich from being among people like Amandalynn, Skip and all those who came to The River.
Others can race to 12-hour sales this holiday season; I’d rather try to keep up with the Joneses.
This time of year, around Veteran’s Day, I perform my “Sentimental Journey’ show of World War II era music a lot at senior venues. Many in the audience are veterans of military service, but all are journeymen (and women) from one of the toughest roads life has ever thrown in our nation’s path. These are people who persevered through the Great Depression (not just the downturn we face right now), and slammed straight into the sacrifices necessary to win World War II. It is because of this generation, which includes my parents and grandparents, that my wife and I, our children and grandchildren can enjoy the life we have in our great nation.
A few years ago I wrote a song for them called, ”The Greatest Generation.” Here, with a big salute to our elders, are the lyrics:
You’re the Greatest Generation, you stepped up and saved our nation
From depression, from aggression and war
Jeepers Creepers, how’d you do it? Can’t believe you pulled us through it
Downing Zeros, launching heroes galore.
On the front or back at home, listening to the radio
Up with the sun, you got it done, Rosie the Riveter and GI Joe
You’re the Greatest Generation, can’t hide my admiration,
With adulation, here’s an ovation for you
You’re the Greatest Generation, you learned to sacrifice and ration
Through each setback, you could get back in gear
No excuses, no complaining, when the dark clouds kept on raining
You were a model, not to wobble in fear
Honest work for honest pay, separating right from wrong,
Clung to joy and boy-oh-boy, did you ever leave us with some songs
You’re the Greatest Generation, please accept this demonstration
Of jubilation, a celebration of you
No calculation can total what we owe you
I normally try to keep politics off my web blog, figuring that most people get overstuffed from several other places. But I just had to respond to your concern about the 47 percent of “takers” in our country that threaten “makers” like you and those rich folks you addressed.
You’re absolutely right, these parasites are everywhere. Just today I performed for maybe 100 of them at the Central Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled. They were people the State houses because they can’t function on their own, and evidently don’t have adequate financial or family support for their care. Tough crap, huh? Each of them had a helper—but don’t get nervous, at least those were volunteers giving their time, not part of that government juggernaut you say is consuming us all. But I know that even some of those bleeding hearts were takers. Some were seniors, meaning they presume to collect Social Security and Medicare after paying into the system their entire working life. Others were young people who might have nicked the taxpayers for a student loan or something. And what were they doing here serving helpless people on a Wednesday morning anyway; shouldn’t they be out there making money like you did at Bain?
I do have to admit to some guilty pleasure, though, sort of like you did for peanut butter cups and Snooki. The residents are very moved by live music, especially since they don’t hear it often. I know, go figure. Hold up a stock certificate in front of these folks and it doesn’t do a thing. You and Paul would probably say that’s what is wrong with this country. (Feel free to use this anecdote at your next fund raiser.)
Besides my shameful enjoyment of performing there, I must confess that I was also paid by the venue– which is in turn paid for with tax dollars forked over by hard-working makers like you. I apologize that money pried from pockets of the 53 percent who aren’t the 47 percent went for something as frivolous as entertaining people who have no other life. But there’s a silver lining: Part of my performance was funded by an arts group that is privately endowed mostly by makers who, for some reason, think that things like this are good ways to use their extra money. Again, go figure.
When you and Paul are elected, we’ll be rid of such freeloaders as the disabled when you eliminate government programs to care for them. When you make people like those at the CWC fend for themselves, most will die and be out of our hair. Still, we can’t have them clogging up the streets and sidewalks with their wheelchairs in the meantime; God knows we pay way too many taxes to keep them operational. I’d take them in, but in all fairness, you make far more than me and pay a lower tax rate. But since I have contacts at the CWC, I’d be happy to have them transferred off the backs of taxpayers and into your personal care. To which of your houses should I have them sent?
Your fellow maker,
Almost 49 years after their iconic American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, there is still nothing like the Beatles. But the next best thing is a tribute to the Fab Four, such as the BeatleFest I played in Spring Green, Wisconsin on Labor Day. My role in the seven-hour Liverpoolooza was small—I sang five Beatles “mother” related songs—but the crowd of hundreds was appreciative, or at least kind-hearted. My approach was fairly straightforward, but takes from others ranged from Zydeco versions of Beatle hits played on accordion, to a group of young people who reverently—and exquisitely—recreated most of the side two medley from Abbey Road. It was encouraging to a Baby Boomer like me to witness such Beatlemania from folks born long after McCartney dissolved Wings.
The host of the event, the Spring Green General Store, has sent out the call for its all-Dylan BobFest scheduled for next Memorial Day. Let’s see; I could do a set of Byrds covers to Dylan songs that I played in junior high and… argh! Stop me before I flash back again!
To see my heapin’ helpin’ of the Sixties for yourself, check out:
I’d like to welcome two more new people to my ever-growing list from international commercial real estate leader Jones Lang LaSalle, my largest client for the past several years. One is Sophia Stewart, who has engaged me to write a paper involving data center real estate decision making. The other is Kerry Perez, who has tapped me to write an internal communication. Sophia and Kerry work on teams headed by two of my longtime clients, Kim Crouse and Julie Allen. Thanks to all of you for adding to an account that continues to soar like some of the office towers you manage!
I recently participated in perhaps the only type of talent exhibition not splashed all over reality TV. It was for residents and staff of St. Mary’s Care Center, where as John the Drummer Guy I’ve led a senior drumming circle called the “Beat Generation” for many months. We play different rhythms, some of which we invent on the spot, and come up with popular songs that go with them. About 20 drummers attend each session, some of whom can’t even move– they just like being there.
A corps of eight of my best drummers volunteered for the annual St. Mary’s Talent Show. We kicked off the proceedings with a routine that included “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Waltzing Matilda,” “Minnie the Moocher” (complete with hi-dee-his and ho-dee-hos), and the perfect finale for our Cheesehead audience, “Beer Barrel Polka.” The Beat Generation truly rose to the occasion, and never drummed better. Nobody fell asleep, dropped their instrument or even noticeably missed a beat. The audience roared its delight, my percussionists were absolutely beaming, and I was one proud Drummer Guy.
Since beginning a senior drumming circle at St. Mary’s a year ago at the suggestion of staffer Julie Puntney, I have expanded the Beat Generation to other care facilities and the result is always the same: residents typically exceed their expectations and they have a great time, regardless of their mobility level. (I stress that the two most important words in drumming are, “Have fun!”) To bring this rhythmic romp to your facility, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently finished my biggest author tour ever: Seven days, sixteen programs and God knows how many chicken dance snapshots. To borrow from Field of Dreams, it wasn’t heaven, but it was Iowa, and the subject of my book was the state’s native son and American Gothic painter Grant Wood.
I can’t remember a more enjoyable writer’s road trip, each stop was special in its own way:
- Danville, population 1,000, whose little school generated a 35-copy book order.
- Wilton, whose librarian, Shirley Roudybush Peterson, was a partner in crime from my high school class.
- Burlington, where I strolled down Snake Alley, cited by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! as the world’s crookedest street.
- Eldon, where I first performed in front of the famous American Gothic farmhouse, then enjoyed a beer in its living room.
- Muscatine, where I was almost within shouting distance of the hospital where I was born.
- Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest city, where I have performed so often.
A million thanks to my hosts and everybody else who moved bleachers, fetched extension cords, fed me lunch and in every way made these performances such a pleasure.
The tour was a personal stroll down Memory Lane as well. My days usually ended yakking with my parents Dick and Grace Duggleby, who both put me up and put up with me most evenings. I visited my grandparents Red and Peg Harter as well, beneath a sprawling oak tree at the family burial plot in Wilton. These four people were the pillars that supported my “Wonder Years,” and when audiences applaud me, they’re actually paying tribute to my family. It is to their unfailing love that I dedicate this extraordinary tour.