Musing City USA … November 20, 2012

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Just about a third of my life.

Driving down I-65 South yesterday heading to Nashville, I realized I had spent twenty years–in two stints–living in the country music mecca. It gave me pause–because I am not a country music artist, nor really am I what you would call a conventional gospel picker. I am just kind of my own thing, which is often the best excuse for being truly erratic. So I had to ask myself, how did I end up spending so much of my life in this Tennessee capital?

Growing up in Central Ohio, I had a predilection for gospel music, so it did seem logical to me, when I graduated from high school, to at least take a stab at where such sounds were not only permissible, but promoted.

I remember the first time I drove into Nashville and went to Dickerson Pike–to Jimmy Snow’s church. Jimmy Snow is the son of Hank Snow, a legend in the business. I was a punky, inexperienced yokel–but you see, I had this new song, called Resurrection Day, and I decided to perform it with my nervous little green combo–and received a standing ovation from the audience.

I recall the first time I drove to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to record at the House of Cash, and during the session for our album, Johnny, himself, walked in, introduced himself, and struck up more than a polite conversation with us bunch of confirmed nobodies.

I had to laugh to myself when I considered the number of times I walked up and down Music Row, from one publisher to another, sharing my songs with bored office employees, who more often than not, found a bit of glee in dashing my hopes with negative comments.

Then I remembered meeting Dottie Rambo. Dottie was that beautiful combination of earthy, spiritual and humorous which rarely comes our way in the human family and should always be treasured. She loved me–plump bundle of insecurity that I was–and even graciously recorded one of my songs on her album. It’s quite an astonishing honor to have one of the greatest gospel songwriters cover your tune.

Then there was Marijohn Wilkin, who wrote One Day at a Time. She was my mentor and friend. She recorded an album for me that enabled me to chart on the religious radio stations.

Taking another trip up to Hendersonville, my van passed by the city park, where we took a 25-piece orchestra called the Sumner Pops, of our own founding, and in the presence of five thousand folks, put on a July 4th show, melding local talent and our ability at arranging and conducting.

There isn’t a school I pass on the way in that doesn’t conjure a memory of a performance, in which we took a very special show to the young humans, encouraging them to be creative and open-hearted to their fellow-man.

I had a house on Bayshore Drive, where I built a swimming pool, a couple of additions, a circular driveway and tossed in a gazebo. Of course in the long run, it was rather ludicrous, because nomads like myself make very poor landlords. We’re just better with sheep and goats.

Yet in that city, I wrote ten books, recorded fifteen Cd’s and penned thirteen movies. It was a strange sensation to return to Music City after all my touring this year. I’m coming back to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family, which is congregating like a bunch of misguided birds to a location where we can nest and fellowship for a few days.

But as I drove into town, I thought to myself, “I lived here for one-third of my life, but it was never my home.”

The realization did not sadden me. Nashville is a place where I built a house of faith. Sometimes that’s the best we can do, folks. We may not be able to change the world or even redecorate the rooms. The best we can do is leave clear evidence of what we thought was important, what we believed and how fruit was born through our lives.

Nashville was never my home. I saw too much of the underbelly of lingering prejudice and false piety for me to ever embrace the community and kiss it square on the mouth. I saw a false sense of security over Southern hospitality, which was often dished out in sparing helpings to those who had stood in line the longest. I experienced a reluctance to change, simply because the word connoted something other than the fraternity philosophy. I always loved the people, I just didn’t always buy in to the pills that were being swallowed.

It’s good to be back, though. It festers memories, good and bad, joyous and sad, but in all cases, earth-shaking and ultimately fulfilling.

I would like to have been closer to this town where I hung my hat for so many years but I always found it a bit difficult to join into “whistling Dixie”–and maybe it’s just not in my character … to “look away.”

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Not Too Swift… October 27, 2012

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Human beings like to be right.

I am a human being.

Therefore I like to be right.

That is called a syllogism. In other words, if A=B and B=C, then therefore A=C.

I don’t share this with you to discuss principles of geometry. I put this thought into discussion because it is probably our greatest weakness. The fear of being wrong has caused people to continue errant ways long past reasonableness.

I saw this in myself last night. Having a night off from sharing my program, I turned on the television and watched a special about Taylor Swift. She is a twenty-two-year-old girl in country music who has set the world on fire with her songs, personality and diversity.

Now, I actually heard Taylor sing when she was a young girl of twelve–at a local middle school in Hendersonville, Tennessee. She was just another young lady in the school, involved in a talent show–but there was something special there.

Now for a bit of candor. When she released her first album and started her career on television, I was highly critical of her. She had some pitch problems and seemed awkward in her new position. Matter of fact, I made fun of her to my sons and family members. I pronounced a bit of doom and gloom for her career. I found her music to be trivial and her approach to be tentative and weak.

I do have a reputation for being right every once in a while, but it doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of being wrong. So as I watched the special last night about this dear young woman, I realized that she had not only superseded everyone’s expectations, but had also proven me to be a false prophet. Now she sings in tune, her songs are poignant and ripe with personal experience, and even though she’s been criticized strongly by people in the industry, she has kept a sweet spirit, hung in there and continued to excel. She is the personification of everything that old, grumpy people say young humans are incapable of achieving.

I was humbled by my stupidity. I was ashamed of the judgmental attitude which nearly eliminated a valuable voice from being considered–at least by the members of my own family. And even though I have an excellent reputation for being insightful, I missed it on this one.

So you see, I thought all of this to myself and even repented within my own heart of being so flat and without mercy. I was convinced that this was sufficient–that I had no need to inform anyone else of my past nasty behavior. But–that’s just not true.

Some things need to be repented of in public. Otherwise, our private moment of contrition is lost and unknown to those who need to hear it the most.

This is why the Republicans and Democrats need to admit their part of the responsibility in today’s problems. It is why the South needs to continually make it clear that slavery, prejudice and the old Confederacy are a part of their dark past. It is why the President of the United States needs to explain that he bit off more than he could chew, but since he’s in the middle of chewing on it, it might be ridiculous to switch mouths.

It is why the Republicans should be honest–that the Iraqi war and many of their policies brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy. (For after all, it was not Osama bin Laden‘s goal to merely kill 3000 people on 9/11. No, from his private collection of videos, it is crystal clear that what he wanted to do was paralyze the US in a series of vengeful wars.)

Contrary to public opinion, repentance is not a private matter. It is why the Bible demands that we bring forth fruit–so that it’s obvious to all comers and goers that our past actions were filled with error.

So let me say it loud and clear–I was not too swift. I failed to give a young girl a chance to be herself, discover her talent, and establish the beauty of her gift in our presence. Here are three things I need to keep in mind, and maybe you’d like to add them to your collection of procedures also:

1. Don’t be conventional. Remember, life is not a convention of fellow believers, but rather, more like a cafe, where you arrive famished and discover that the waiter doesn’t speak English.

2. Being wrong is smart if it’s your idea. Don’t wait around for the final exam, when the teacher and other students will discover how ignorant you are when your grade is posted on the bulletin board.

3. People get better. Give them space and give them time–and of course, both of these thing minus your interference and gossip.

So my apologies to Taylor Swift for judging her when she was still on the vine. My apologies to my family and friends for being a premature grumper. And my apologies to myself for being prejudiced and missing the opportunity of being on the cutting edge of a great idea instead of casting the first stone.

There are times that I’m just not too “Swift.” This one was “Taylor” made … for me.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Clazzy… April 21, 2012

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She bounced back into my life about seventeen years ago in the midst of a nasty divorce and custody battle over her three children. Even though she had spent the majority of her time growing up learning to play the oboe and performing in orchestras, she was working a regular job and was a bit shell-shocked by the whole experience of exploding matrimonial promises.

We invited her to come and live in Nashville, Tennessee, and she settled in, prepared to be normal. The process was interrupted. I was finishing up a novel entitled I’M … the legend of the son of man, so she decided to pitch in and assist in the editing process. She continued her involvement by helping me find someone who was willing to publish the volume, and then when I got the crazy notion to go out and tour across the country, reading from the book and showcasing music, she volunteered to help schedule the events and accompany me on the tours, playing her oboe.

Somewhere along the line we got the idea of starting a symphony in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Even though she had never conducted an orchestra, she was excited about the notion of multiplying her talents–standing before the orchestra instead of existing within it. In the process, we kind of stumbled on a new style of music which we dubbed Clazzy“the spirit of classical with the soul of jazz–pop-minded.” She liked the name so well (and was looking for an excuse to abandon her former surname) so she became Janet Clazzy, conductor of the Sumner County Symphony.

Ten symphonies later, with many concerts and countless adventures into the school system, she joined me on a new endeavor.  I was prodded by one of my sons to start writing screenplays for independent films. She leaped in, found the Final Draft program necessary for such an occupation and became the typist for all seventeen of the motion pictures I have penned. When we discovered that a musical soundtrack was needed for movies, she began writing tunes for the films, creating beautiful melodies to enhance the stories.

All the while, she continued to be mother to three children, tour the country and dazzle audiences with her oboe, which had now taken on a new companion, as she also mastered the WX-5 Wind Machine, a horn sporting the sounds of 250 different instruments.

When I decided to start writing this jonathots column four years ago, she was there on the first day and remains here on day 1,491–typing away and assisting in my cursory edits. She tours America, having criss-crossed with me at least nine times, in front of tens of thousands of people, often exhausted, never complaining, and always looking for a way to make it better.

You may want to know what her secret is. Somewhere along the line, seventeen years ago–my creative partner, Janet Clazzy, decided that the most important thing in life was to find out what matters. Lots of people worry about what’s in their face or what has inconvenienced them. Some people become overly concerned with obligations or traditions. But Janet has found a key–she asks herself, “Does it matter?” And if it does, she buckles down and finds a way to do it.

And because she knows she is doing what matters, it brings joy to her heart and good cheer to her soul.

Last night as we prepared to head off to Long Beach, California, for a concert, she opened the back door of the van and our amplifier fell out and crashed down on the concrete. She felt really stupid. Matter of fact, it bothered her so much that she became preoccupied with her mistake (even though, as it turned out, the instrument survived the mishap). But the professional she is–and the human being she’s become–she shook it off and gave those lovely folks a tremendous performance from her heart. Why? Because it matters.

It’s not a very deep thought, but Janet has taught me–and is available to teach others–that at the beginning of the day, if you find out what really matters, by the end of the day you discover that you’ve accomplished valuable things … and your importance is assured.

Today is her birthday. She is on the road. She is getting ready to perform in Whittier, California. She hasn’t asked for any special presents. She hasn’t demanded an elaborate cake with trimmings. She’s just happy because she’s doing what matters. And you know the beauty of it? Because she’s found what matters, the gift that God, nature and those who love her bestow upon her soul is to let her know, on this her birthday … that she matters.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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