Category Archives: Childhood Memories
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I beg to differ. Quite often (and more often than not), it’s annoying. When I was growing up, it wasn’t good enough to just go to school wearing Members Only jackets and Jordache jeans. In the 80′s, a lot of the kids at my school routinely liked to show up at our educational establishment mimicking their favorite entertainers.
I kid you not, some girls would actually come to school with the exact same haircut and wardrobe ensemble as Pat Benatar or Madonna. Then there was a section of the student body who felt obliged to pay homage to Boy George from Culture Club on a daily basis. And don’t get me started on the dudes who came to school wearing a replica of the jacket Michael Jackson made famous in the “Beat It” video.
Which leads me to yet another atrocity of copy cats I’d like to discuss - the doppelganger world I see whenever I stroll down the cereal aisle at my local grocery store.
As if it weren’t already bad enough that I can only get Count Chocula at Halloween time, half of the shelves that once housed such morning goodness as Quisp, Frute Brute and Waffle O’s are now home to the wannabes; generic cereal that’s been cleverly disguised as some of my all time favorites.
You don’t fool me.
Sure, grocery chains tout that by purchasing generic brands, consumers can still enjoy their favorite breakfast cereal and also save money at the same time. Although there is some truth to that statement, these same people who claim to know what’s best for Americans seem to have forgotten about one very important thing – the fun factor.
Time is a precious commodity in this day and age, and there’s only a certain amount of it we get to spend using it on breakfast. Personally, I’d much rather spend mine with Lucky the Leprechaun, Toucan Sam or Fred Flintstone than with some stranger trying to imitate my homies.
I find it funny how these generic brands of cereal attempt to make themselves out to be alternatives to the name brand by using slightly different names (and characters) in their promotion. For instance, compare the use of the word “swirl” in Fruit Swirls with the “loop” in Froot Loops; an obvious Jedi mind trick. Oh, and look! How convenient…a monkey pitching the product. Could it be that both a monkey AND a toucan might be found in the same deep jungle? I’m sure it was just a coincidence. NOT!
Sometimes, the characters used to pitch generic versions are more blatant than others. As is the case with “Fruity Bits”; a knock off of my beloved Fruity Pebbles. You’ve got to give them credit for using a dinosaur to appeal to the Jurassic customers who’ve regularly indulged in the name brand for years. Sorry, but eating a bowl or these bits doesn’t even come close to the euphoria I’ve experienced by having breakfast with Fred and Barney over the years.
And what’s with the word “bits” anyway? Bits sounds like something you’d give to your dog. It’s not as manly as “pebbles”. Sure, it might sound like you’re eating rocks (and who knows, maybe you are), but this is the stone age we’re talking about, right?
If it were me and the decision had to be made, I’d go with the name brand cereal every time. If for no other reason than I would much rather be sitting at the table in the wee hours of the morning reading about the games Fred and Barney have in store for me than contemplating if it was really worth it to save thirty cents just to buy some knock off. You can’t put a price on happiness.
And as for the grocers who think it’s cool to not stock Count Chocula and some of my other favorites in order to make room for products like these, there’s a special place in Guantanamo for you.
I really am grateful that I took the time to semi-regularly write a journal during my high school days. It gives me the opportunity now to look back and see where I was and just how far I’ve come. Back then, the future was bright and there were no limitations. Oh sure, there are definitely some things I lament doing and not doing, but all things considered, I wouldn’t change a thing. The good, the bad, the mistakes I’ve made – they’ve all made me into the person I am today.
This was my situation 25 year ago this very day: I had just graduated from high school nine months ago and was already a college drop out, living at home and without a job. Most of my time was spent either practicing my guitar, driving a beat up 1974 Ford Torino, bumming money off of my mom and grandmother and doing anything I could do to make it to the big time.
One of the biggest regrets I had musically in high school was not being able to participate in my senior year Battle of The Bands competition. It was an annual event held in the high school gym every spring, and gave students the opportunity to showcase their musical talent in front of the greatest audience of all: their peers. Even if you didn’t win, just being in the battle was a right of passage for future rock-star musicians.
At the time, I had no band and thus couldn’t participate. But for some reason that now escapes me, (I blame it on the ten Zimas I drank on my wedding night), I was somehow able to submit an entry for the competition the following year, 1988. By this point, I had already formed my first three-piece band and had begun the process of taking over the world with our brand of face melting metal. Needless to say, I was elated to have this opportunity (albeit a year later) and wanted to really shine.
Reading this journal entry now, a quarter century later is surreal. I was (still am) a huge Ozzy/Randy Rhoads fan and at the time must have played the song ‘Crazy Train’ a million times. I was also hugely into Poison and AC/DC, so those songs also had to be included on the live demo tape we recorded for the judging panel to see if we had what it took to compete. We never did get a call back about being in the battle that year, and I never followed up on it. By that time, my band had already started playing real gigs and the battle (much like the reason we could compete in it in the first place) soon became a distant memory.
Even better than the entry I wrote about the battle of the bands was the question I posed to myself afterwards. I asked myself what it was that was making me so happy in life. My answer is pretty cool.
Here’s my journal entry from 25 years ago: March 30th, 1988:
3/30: I attended a meeting of the Battle of The Bands. It will be quite a competition. I think we’ll get in. They only take eight bands and I’m confident that ‘Silent Rage’ will be one of them. We have a demo and I think it is really good. My situation has really changed since last year at this time. Back then, I was the high school student who dreamed of being in the battle and now I’m actually living the thing I should’ve done last year. Even if we’re turned down, at least we tried.
All I know is, the other seven bands they choose better be extremely good. We played and recorded Crazy Train three times on my cassette player and kept the best version; the one that’s there now. The first attempt had no bass, then too much bass and on this one, it’s an even balance. I swear, some parts of that song make me think Randy Rhoads was controlling me. Even the Poison shit sounds professional. Where it goes “I’ve gotta have you, oh yes I do!” I swear, that little lead I play is C. C. Deville. My original is quite good too and Shook Me by AC/DC is kick ass.
Why are you so happy lately?
The band is the reason. For once in my life, I’m doing something that I really want to do. I’m in my career. No one understands why I talk about it so much. They think it’s probably a phase. It’s not.
I didn’t want to play guitar to be a hobby. I wanna be the best. I want to someday look in a guitar magazine and see my picture as an artist and be recognized as a guitarist and songwriter. Sure, in the beginning everyone gets into it for other reasons; like girls, money and fast cars. I originally thought girls were the reason I got into it too. But deep down, I had this weird feeling and as each day passed, I fell more in love with music than ever before.
Before my junior year in high school was over, I was taking Music Theory. But even that wasn’t enough. In my senior year, I took Music Appreciation, Choir and Theory II. During that time I had guitar lessons and sometimes practiced for five hours a day. Now, the girls don’t matter. As long as I can live normally, I don’t care about the money or the fast cars either. I’ll drive a Torino until I’m 90. All I wanna do is play and make money that way. I want to write songs and have money to go out to dinner. After three long years it’s starting to happen.
I’m so happy about my life at this point, I can’t help but talk about it. Someday, my hope is that everyone else will understand it too.
I suppose it’s best to start from the beginning. It was somewhere in tenth grade when our paths crossed for the very first time. Now, thirty years is a long time to hold on to such memories but bear with me here. It was definitely the first year of high school; a time when the future seemed oh, so bright and the feeling of being in the home stretch of public education was finally starting to settle in.
Although I had just started playing guitar and dreamed of one day being the next Eddie Van-Halen, my original intent going into high school was to become a doctor. I had even taken some courses to help prepare me for my journey, including algebra and Latin. I really wanted to help people.
Anyway, I was sitting in tenth grade history class; a required subject, but one that I fell in love with right from the start. It was the only class in all of my years of education where I actually sat in the front row. I know this not because I was a nerd or anything (seriously, I wasn’t), but because last spring, Michele reminded me.
Michele, who also happened to be in the same class, could tell you exactly where I was sitting in proximity to her location and the classroom door. She has an amazing memory (in fact, when we reunited with each other last spring after too many years, it was one of the first things she pointed out remembering). I’m sure that if she thought long and hard about it, she could probably even tell you exactly what I was wearing. My guess is that it was a J’s Subs T-shirt and Lee jeans that I liked to wear religiously in those days.
High school years can be trying times, and mine were no different. But with all of the peer pressure and trying to find out where I fit in, I always found solace in art and music. And although we had never become friends and were nothing more than “another classmate” to each other, I do remember that Michele was also in my art class at one time too. Perhaps it was because she had written the word “Dokken” or “DIO” on her math book that jars my own memory about it. After all, she was a “metal head” too!
I always enjoyed doodling and writing poems in those days, never realizing what it might eventually turn into. But as the years went by, the hunger to become “Eddie” soon began to outweigh the desire to take the Hippocratic Oath, and music and art would become my life.
After high school was over, Michele and I both went our own separate ways. She would go on to become an educator and artist. As for me well, I did what most struggling musicians often do: bounce from job to job, attend community colleges and play the occasional bar gig or party. Eventually, I was able to balance my love of art with steady, full time employment.
Over the years, I have been extremely blessed to have been able to write and record my own songs and interview many of my favorite musicians for news articles, but there was always another dream I had running in the back of my mind: to one day write a book of my own. But as is often the case, life always seems to have other intentions and the dream would always wind up being placed on the back burner. Then last year, I began to have this idea for a rhyming story about a little girl and a dog. It was a spiritual story; one where both characters wonder about how things were made. The time was finally right. It was something I knew I had to do, but what I really needed was someone to come in and do the hard part: the illustrations. That’s when fate stepped in.
With our “big” 25th high school reunion approaching, the class of 1987 students began reuniting with each other via Facebook. It was there that Michele and I connected again. She was now living in Ohio but mentioned that she was going to be visiting the area and (along with another amazing friend) we all hooked up for dinner one night. I bounced the idea off of Michele, who coincidentally, also had the same dream of publishing a book. After a series of back and forth emails and months of organizing, proof-reading and spell-checking, “Doodle” finally came to life. It may be a children’s book about innocence, spirituality and wonder, but on a personal level, it’s also about friendship, reunions and good memories.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Shortly after the release of the book, Michele asked me if it were possible to donate her share of the profits of the book to her friend, whose daughter Ashley has been ill for quite some time. Ashley will soon require a bone marrow transplant and her medical bills are astronomical. Without hesitation, I decided the best thing to do was to donate 100% of all of the profits we make from the book to Ashley.
Check out the video of my interview discussing the Story Of Doodle and our mission:
The cost of each book is $7 and can be purchased online via Create Space or Amazon.Com. Depending upon where you order, we will receive a different royalty rate per copy. If you order through Create Space, we receive a royalty of $1.95 for each book. Purchasing through Amazon’s website will give us a royalty of .55 cents per copy ordered.
If you get a chance, please check out our “Doodle” Facebook page. Even if you don’t purchase the book, please consider giving the page a “Like” and share it to help raise some awareness. We’d greatly appreciate it!
Because in the end, while creating this book has fulfilled a life-long dream for both Michele and I, there is nothing greater than accomplishing that dream than with a true purpose.
For more information about Ashley’s Army Click Here
Click here to purchase your own copy of “Doodle”.
I’m not sure of the exact day, but I can tell you that it was sometime during the summer of 1983. Back when I was but a wee-lad of 13 and innocence was all the rage.
In those days, my father used to like to take my brother and me on drives to visit his friend Hal, who lived in a small ranch about five miles away. In order to get to his house, we would have to take the winding, back roads that wound along the Lehigh, a river which separated our home in Pennsylvania from the New Jersey border.
With windows rolled down, it was always a pleasant drive to Hal’s; particularly on sunny days when (from my vantage point in the back seat of my Dad’s 1977 Malibu Classic) I could take in the beauty of the scenic overlook, smell the honeysuckle in the air and feel the wind rush by my face. Little did I know at the time, but this was going to be one of those special days.
Our visit with Hal that particular day is not something I have any real recollection of. My brother and I were most likely tossing a football around in his back yard while Hal and my father kabitzed about work or something. In fact, it wasn’t until the ride home that I actually had the epiphany that would change my life forever.
We were nearly home and were listening to the local radio station when it came on. At that precise moment, we could have driven right off the road and into the river and I would have been oblivious to it. Once I heard it, I was hooked. The song was “Cum on Feel The Noize” by Quiet Riot and at the time, I had no idea that it was originally a #1 hit for the band Slade ten years earlier. All I knew was that this updated version was the most incredible song I had ever heard in my entire life. Who would have thought that girls rocking boys would have had such an impact on me? It would be the first time that I would ever make a demand of my father. Three words: “Turn It Up!”, to which he thankfully obliged.
I remember we pulled into our driveway and (much to my father and brother’s chagrin), I made them sit there in the car with me until the song was completely over. Back in 1983, there was no way of knowing when I would hear that song again, which in retrospect actually made me appreciate the song even more whenever I did hear it.
I instantly longed to be the one who vocalist Kevin DuBrow put on his shoulders and played the guitar solo instead of Carlos Cavazo. I wanted to be the one standing alongside the thundering bass of Rudy Sarzo and the infectious drums of Frankie Banali. I wanted to be the one to get wild, wild, WILD!
It wouldn’t be long before the album, ‘Metal Health’ found its way into my possession. But Metal Health was more than just an album. It pushed the metal genre into the mainstream and ushered in a new wave of music euphoria for a generation of starving ears. For me personally, the album went much deeper. It actually became a part of me. So much so, that when I started taking proper guitar lessons a year after that drive along the Lehigh River, the very first song I ever learned how to play was ‘Metal Health (Bang Your Head)’. Perhaps it was the reckless abandon of the songs, or maybe it was because Quiet Riot once had Randy Rhoads in its line-up at one time that made the album appeal to me as a guitarist. One of the all time greatest players was once part of the band whose album I now enjoyed. Whatever the reason, I gave up trying to find an excuse for why I liked it long ago. Good music speaks for itself.
I picked this up from Wikipedia: Metal Health was released on March 11, 1983 (thirty years ago), bolstered by the #5 hit “Cum on Feel the Noize” and the #31 hit “Metal Health”. The album is notable for being the very first heavy metal album to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 and knocking The Police’s Synchronicity out of #1 spot in the US. Metal Health went on to sell over six million copies and it is considered a classic among heavy metal fans to this day.
On my last day of junior high in 1984, I remember blasting “Cum on Feel The Noize” from the back seat of the big yellow school bus on my boom box. It was my final year before starting high school in the fall, and I felt like a king. Me, James Wood was privy to musical greatness and I just had to share it with the world.
There are certain albums that you instantly bond with, and then there are those that remain with you for a lifetime.
It’s that time again. Time for another stroll through the archives of a struggling musician. Today’s journal entry takes us back 25 years to March of 1988; a significant date for me, because it marked the first time I ever joined a band.
My own quest for music glory actually began on May 24, 1985 (the day I took my first legitimate guitar lesson), but it took me nearly three years to get into my first working band. As an aspiring young guitarist, there is no better time then when you join your first band. You’re young, fresh-faced and haven’t yet gotten to the point where bitching, late nights and getting screwed over by club owners is routine. Instead, all you see are Grammy awards, cameras flashing, girls as far as the eye can see, hotel rooms being demolished and your name on the marquee. Ah, to be young again!
One of the things I liked to do with my journal entries back then was pretend that I was being interviewed by some big time journalist. I’d have back and forth discussions with a phantom interviewer (Rolling Stone, MTV, Guitar World – take your pick) regarding my career, and I always liked to answer the questions as if I already had achieved some degree of success in the music business. I found that by doing these “interviews”, it gave me the inspiration to keep pushing on. What’s interesting is that I’ve since discovered (by doing my own “real” interviews) is that a lot of my guitar heroes did exactly the same thing.
My very first band was called ‘Silent Rage’; a name which I’m sure dozens of other groups had. In fact, one such band even had success with it:
Believe it or not, this was exactly what I wanted to look and sound like. If you want to see what my dream band was back then, here it is. Ok, maybe I wouldn’t have named the album “Don’t Touch Me There”, but I mean come on… what’s not to like about hair metal, guitars and hot chicks on motorcycles? It doesn’t get more rock and roll than that.
But, back to the journal entry….
I began this “interview” by asking myself whether I preferred doing cover songs as opposed to originals. This in turn made me consider the band I had just joined a few days earlier and what our possible first gig might be like.
From March, 1988
Interviewer: You say that you like playing live. Do you like doing cover tunes?
Me: To an extent. As an amateur on the club circuit, or gigging at all I would start out with an even mixture. Here’s how a typical night would go:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for coming to Joe’s Bar and Grill. For your entertainment tonight, this is a young band which has a lot of talent: Silent Rage!”
Then we’d come on. All ready to jam.
We’d start off with a good loosen up song to get everyone going: “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. Then, we’d try something good and challenging like “Still of The Night” by Whitesnake. After that, an original or two (don’t forget to introduce them as such so people won’t go – “What the hell song is THAT?”) Tell them its original, maybe who wrote it or a little story of its origin.
Afterwards, get really going with “Here I Go Again” from Whitesnake. Then another original or two (again, introduce them as such). Take a break for 15 minutes (you should have been playing for about an hour or so by now).
Come back, do originals for the second set (maybe three). Then right back into it with a monster hit, “Crazy Train” by Ozzy. Follow it with “Photograph” by Def Leppard, some more originals and then afterwards thank everyone for coming and go out with “More Than A Feeling” by Boston and maybe (if the crowd is teeny-boppers) “Talk Dirty To Me” by Poison.
For the Boston song: try to get the audience to clap along during the chorus. In fact, try to get them involved in the show as much as possible. No, I don’t mean try to see which section is louder (save that until you’re at Stabler Arena).
Look good, do a few movements, look at your crowd and be friendly.
Above all: Rock and Roll!
One of the things I enjoyed most about reading this entry again (aside from having listed every single detail of how a show would go and my Whitesnake fetish) were my own individual song choices. I certainly had a lot to learn about what songs worked in clubs (and would find out the hard way). Having said that, you can definitely see my hair metal influence and the music that was popular at the time.
The days when the sky really was the limit!
Since the release of his debut album in 1994, Jim Brickman’s romantic piano sound has made him the best-selling solo piano artist of our time. Jim’s best-known compositions include the chart-toppers “Valentine,” “The Gift,” “Love of My Life,” and “Peace.” He’s established a reputation for his collaborations with artists like Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Kenny Loggins and Michael W. Smith. His signature style has brought him six gold and platinum albums as well as two Grammy nominations, and he’s also received international acclaim as both a songwriter and concert performer, taking his live shows to more than 125 cities each year.
Now, Brickman is paying homage to the decade of music that influenced his own musical style. Jim Brickman’s Celebration of the 70’s will be held Saturday, March 2nd at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT. Scheduled to appear with Brickman on stage include platinum selling artist and 1970’s heart-throb, David Cassidy; two-time Grammy award winner Rita Coolidge; Billboard Hot 100 chart topper Stephen Bishop; Motown legend Thelma Houston and 70’s pop-icon Yvonne Elliman.
In addition to this one of a kind performance, the show will also be filmed and released later this spring as a part of an exclusive broadcast for Xfinity TV customers across New England through its popular On Demand service.
I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Jim and getting more information on this one of a kind event.
What made you decide to do a show celebrating this decade of music?
As a songwriter, I began to look back and wonder how I become the musician I am. I asked myself “What shaped my direction and path to write songs in this inspirational, romantic style?” I realized that a lot of my writing comes from being influenced by the great artists and songs from the 1970′s and thought it would be fun to do a show that would pay tribute to it and have a little bit of nostalgia as well.
What do you think was the best thing about that decade?
The environment. So much of what came after the 60′s and that revolution made such a big difference in the 70′s. It was after flower power and politically, we were in a different time. It was a very turbulent time too in many ways, but the music (much like today) was more pop in nature. In the 70′s, you had such a wide variety of music. There were the singer/songwriters like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Then you also had bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and The Carpenters. Then at the other end of the spectrum, you had Disco and rock and roll with bands like Aerosmith and Three Dog Night.
What can fans expect from this Celebration of the 70′s?
A little bit of everything. We’ve got Yvonne Elliman, who was on the biggest soundtrack of all time (Saturday Night Fever); David Cassidy (“I Think I Love You”) and Stephen Bishop (“On and On”, “It Might Be You”). Thelma Houston is doing “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and a Donna Summer tribute, and David Pack will be performing Ambrosia (“How Much I Feel”). These songs are iconic in so many ways.
I’m also going to be a doing a lot of my music as well, but as it relates to being influenced by these other songs. A lot of them (like “Valentine” or “Destiny”) were influenced by Carole King, Burt Bacharach and other people I loved growing up.
You’re also going to be filming the show for TV?
Yes, we’re going to be filming it for XFinity On Demand as well as for PBS.
Tell me a little about your background.
I started playing piano when I was five. I didn’t come from a musical family, but was drawn to piano and melody and anything that was emotional or connected to a feeling. I played for the feeling more than the music. I still feel that way. Growing up, I loved listening to singers who knew what the lyrics meant and what they were singing about.
In addition to touring, what else have you got planned for this year?
We have an event coming up on July 18th called the “Brickman Nash Bash”. It’s a three-day, Nashville-centric fan event. We’re going to be getting together with many of my country friends and singer/songwriters for a concert, workshop and tours of Nashville landmarks. Much like the 70′s show, it’s curating with the artists I collaborate with and bringing them together to share with fans. I like to call it, “Brickman-Palooza.” [laughs]
I’m so thankful to have had so many hit songs over the years, and it’s an honor for me to be able to do these shows with the people I admire. I learn so much from them and then in turn, I’m able to share that with others.
Jim Brickman’s Celebration of the 70’s is Saturday, March 2nd. 2013 at the
Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT.
For More information Click Here
Sometime during he mid 1970′s, I stumbled upon a bunch of old record albums that had been accumulating under my grandparents large stereo system. My family and I had lived with my grandparents at the time, and their house and property was used by aunts, uncles and cousins as a repository for such things as old records, books, hand me down clothing and the occasional automobile that did not run anymore. Every once in a while, especially when there was nothing else to do on a rainy day, it was always cool to take stock of the things relatives had dumped off with no intention of ever taking back.
It was during one of these rainy days, while picking my way through the Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow and Carpenters albums, that I discovered it. The picture on the album was both creepy and cool. There they were, four dudes standing on some street corner against a pole; perhaps waiting for a bus (or an ambulance to take them all to the loony bin). They were all dressed in suits and ties; wearing the highest of high water pants the seventies had to offer. Big white shoes and the coolest make-up I had ever seen in the seven years that I had been alive.
The album was KISS’ Dressed To Kill, and unless my grandmother was a closeted guitar shredder and told none of us kids, I still to this day have no idea how the album wound up with all of those other relics. But I was so glad I did. Thanks Nan!
I quickly fired up the turntable and placed needle on vinyl (for those of you born after 1995 or so, that means I played the record). At the time, I remember not being all that much interested in most of what I heard. Sure, songs like “Two Timer”, “Rock Bottom” and “She” were kind of catchy, but nothing that really did anything for me on a first listen.
Then it happened.
The final song on the album was played and a spark went off. The cool little drum intro, the crunch guitars, the catchy lyrics! When I heard “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the very first time, I had an epiphany. Something snapped inside of me and I knew I would be changed forever. Yes Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace, I did wanna rock and roll all night AND party EH-VER-EEE Day!
Over the next several years, I couldn’t get enough of KISS. The “Alive”, “Alive II” and “Destroyer” albums were soon added to my collection (yes, I took ownership of “Dressed To Kill”). Each a masterpiece of music and mystery. I signed up as a member in good standing of the KISS Army and whenever the band appeared on TV, I just had to watch. I even remember there were times I was bummed out when I saw that a “Jean Simmons“ movie was coming on and only found out (after watching most of it) that they really didn’t spell Gene’s name wrong. Whether it was the music, watching Ace Frehley’s guitar catch fire or Gene Simmons’ spitting up blood (always a fan favorite), I was obsessed with these “unknown” guys.
In retrospect, I suppose it was the combination of everything that made KISS appeal to me so much. But little did I know at the time, the band (and particularly the song, “Rock and Roll All Nite”) planted the seed that made me want to become a rock star.
HI! It’s me… Jimmy Wood. I’m pretty sure you remember me. I was the kid who used to ask you for the Star Wars Millennium Falcon back in the mid 70′s. I remember writing you every day about it, asking for you to please, PLEASE bring one for me.
I was going to be the talk of the neighborhood ‘cus only the rich kid across the street had one. I even held out hope until the very last-minute. You must have been busy that year though ‘cus all I got were some crummy socks. Anyways, hope you had a good Thanksgiving!
It’s been a while since I’ve written. The truth is, a lot of my friends have told me that you weren’t real and so I stopped writing. You know, peer pressure and all.
Anyways, I’ve been a super good boy all year (well, unless you count that one bad website I visited – but I SWEAR it was an accident!). Anyways, I thought it would be a good time to send you an updated list of things I still want. Things that will make me feel happy during my middle age. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you for things like a Seattle Seahawks Superbowl victory or World Peace or anything like that. Heck, even I know there are some things that even Santa can’t do.
To help your elves with the construction of these items (of which you’ll be happy to know there are only three) I’ve enclosed a few pictures as well. If you have any questions, just let me know!:
Poison Pinto: This was the one car my lousy cousin always had. He’d never trade me for it either. I’m hoping you can give me one. Ps. Since you see everything with your magic crystal snowball, please don’t tell him about the time I took a hammer to his Pinto when he wasn’t looking.
Spiderman: Me and Spidey go WAY back! Here’s a picture of the two of us from a Christmas a long time ago. He went off to fight crime one day and never came back. Mom says I left him at a family picnic one summer at the lake, but I don’t believe her. If you could reunite us, that would be super awesome!
1965 Mustang Shelby GT-350: A real one please. Not the fake toy ones my family and friends like to give me as a joke every year. Funny, they’ll give me a Hot Wheels Mustang but not the Poison Pinto.
Thanks so much Santa. I really hope you and Mrs. C have a wonderful Christmas. Oooh, and if you still have my Millennium Falcon in your sack of toys, I’ll take it that too!
What or where is your Utopia? For me, Utopia is the name of a store in downtown Easton that I frequented quite a bit as a teenager in the 1980′s. And not just any store mind you, Utopia was THE place to go if you were a connoisseur of music and someone whose parents had absolutely no intention of driving you across town to the Listening Booth store in the mall. Yes, in an age where record album sales and concert tickets were all the rage, Utopia was the closest place to go to get your music fix if you lived on South Side.
For a melodic rock / hair metal enthusiast like me, it truly was utopia. I still remember the hot summer days of youth walking downtown with a group of kids from the neighborhood with money burning a hole in my pocket. We all knew that what awaited us between those musty smelling walls was pure musical heaven. And unlike some of the more “modern” record stores of the day that allowed you to listen to new music before buying, Utopia was a shopping only experience.
You knew you had arrived at Utopia when you were greeted by the wicker furniture that resided in the store front windows. And once you crossed the threshold and into the store, the smell of cheap burning incense would consume you. Utopia showcased many of the newest albums of the day and even had a ticket counter where you could purchase tickets to the latest concerts coming to the area.
Utopia was the place where I purchased all of my concert tickets for shows at Stabler Arena and The Allentown Fairgrounds, including my first ever concert in 1984: The Scorpions and some new band named Bon Jovi. It was also where I purchased my first Dokken, Ozzy, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon and Stevie Nicks albums.
Perhaps the only thing I didn’t fully understand about the store were these peculiar objects they peddled in addition to albums and chairs made of sticks. They were oddly shaped, glass bottles that resided behind the counter. I found it strange that these vases were in the same location as the “dirty” men’s magazines and something you would embarrassingly have to ask a clerk to get for you.
I never inquired about them, but occasionally thought about getting my Mom one with flowers in it for Mother’s Day. They looked cool; almost like a genie bottle or glass pipe. My brother even had a blue one in his bedroom that he told me never to touch.
Last night I purchased an album on iTunes and it got me to thinking about the old shop again. It’s been years since I’ve visited Utopia. Perhaps its time to pay a visit and see how much has changed in a quarter of a century. Although I’m sure they still sell wicker furniture and cheap incense, I’m fairly certain that new music and concert tickets are no longer being peddled. I guess I’ll find out. And who knows? I might even get up the nerve to finally ask them about the glass pipes behind the counter.
But I highly doubt it.
This is a re post from a blog I wrote back in August of 2011. Considering it’s been fifteen years since my father passed away, I thought it was fitting. October 17, 1997 is a day that will live with me forever. If you’ve read this post already, my apologies. I felt obligated to reflect on the life of my Dad once again. If this is the first time you’re reading, I hope this gives you some perspective on why life is so precious.
Where to begin?
There are so many things I remember about my Dad. He was a tough guy. A south paw that everyone else in my family respected. A hard ass at times. Someone you didn’t want to get into a scuffle with.
But beneath all the tough guy exterior, Dad also liked to have fun too. Some of my best memories from childhood were of him taking our family on long camping trips with my other relatives every summer.
I’ve heard more than one person say that having all of us crazy “Wood’s” in one place during the summer was a sure sign of the apocalypse. But there was no fire or brimstone raining down. All we did was play cards, fish, pitch quoits and sit by the campfire.
Of all the times my father and I shared together, there are three moments I’d like to share with you today:
1. The Stop and Think Moment
2. The Drifting Apart Moment
3. The Prodigal Son Moment
The Stop and Think Moment is the one I’ll remember most of all. It began during a rain storm in summer when there was nothing else to do and nowhere to go.
It was late afternoon and I had just come in from playing football outside just prior to the rain. I was upset at having gotten into a fight with one of the neighborhood kids (over what I can’t remember). Dad was sitting alone at the kitchen table drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.
Our home didn’t have central air conditioning so to keep cool we’d usually keep the windows open just enough to let the breeze in while keeping the water out. We’d also use big portable fans to help vent the kitchen. The smell of the hot asphalt street outside cooling down from the steady stream of rain would fill the room and also allow for the escape of the second-hand smoke.
It was on this occasion that Dad asked his disgruntled son what happened. “So and So threw the ball at my head” or something similar to that I said. And for the next fifteen minutes Dad gave me a lecture on the football, friendship and life. “Stop and Think…”, he’d say. “Did you do anything to bring on this situation?”.
Inevitably, there would have been something I had done to put some of the blame on myself. I’d usually start with a “but…but” and he’d always continue on. Telling me to just “Stop and Think” for a minute.
Stop and think. Do you think that person who thinks he’s so tough and treats you bad is your friend? He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag. (I still laugh to this day about that one).
There were plenty of other “stop and thinks” over the course of the conversation but the one I remember most was the last one he told me:
“Stop and think. Do you know how much your Mother and I love you guys? (referring to me and my siblings).
Those three words stuck with me and eventually I was able to settle down and actually start to think about what had happened. By the time our conversation was over it seemed like my brain was exhausted but I felt better for it.
On certain days now, when the weather is grey and rainy, I’ll sit at my table staring out the window and think of that day in the kitchen. I never forgot “Stop and Think”. Someday I’ll probably write a book about it and dedicate it to him.
The Drifting Apart moment came during the separation and eventual divorce of my parents in the mid 1980′s. By then, alcohol (which has always been the Achilles heel in my family) had estranged me from my father. We spoke many times over the years on the phone and in person but rarely when beer hadn’t influenced him in some way to make conversations short.
My brother and sister would see and talk to him way more frequently then me. They were able to see past the alcohol. I couldn’t. Soon I was off to college and living on my own and the phone calls became less and less frequent. Years would go by where we didn’t speak at all and were lost to each other.
I eventually heard that he had remarried but the next time I would actually see him for any extended length of time would be at my own wedding in 1995. Strangely, it was a bit awkward at first but I remember it being one of the best times of my life. For, in addition to me getting married to the woman I love, it was the first time in years we all got to take pictures as a “family” again.
It’s not that I didn’t love him or anything like that. On the contrary, the love I had for my Dad never changed. The separation was just a result of our going our separate ways and me not being able to deal with him in that condition. Especially when it got to the point where nothing was ever going to change.
The Prodigal Son Moment
I’ll never forget it. It was mid 1996 when I got a call from my Aunt telling me my father was in the hospital. They had found a mass in his colon and were operating on it. The doctors had thought they had caught it in time. And it appeared so. They had instructed him he needed to give up drinking and smoking if he wanted any chance of fully recovering and he agreed to it.
The next 15 months were spent reconnecting with my Dad.Ironically, the one thing I remember most is going to the bar with him and my brother for the first time (myself now also a legal drinker) and watching him play the poker machines and drink non alcoholic beer.
One might assume that a bar would be the LAST place I’d want to take my father to all things considered. And truth be told I really didn’t want to go into the Lion’s Den either. But he was adamant about taking his sons to the bar with him. Maybe it was some kind of rite of passage that made him this way. Or maybe it was to prove to me that he finally had control over his problem. In any event, and after everything he had gone through with his cancer treatment, he wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. So off we went.
Sadly, his condition continued to worsen until he was finally hospitalized in August of 1997. A man who had just celebrated his 51st birthday was now lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of him and morphine running through his veins.
I visited him almost every chance I could in between my full-time job and duties at home. Some nights we would have conversations when he felt up to it. I longed to have another Stop and Think session but at that point I was willing to take whatever I could get.
Then there was the moment I had as October rolled around and his condition deteriorated. I remember sitting at his bedside while he was going in and out of consciousness, closing my eyes and asking God that if he was going to take him, to please not take him on my birthday. Any day but on the 5th. It was selfish. But at that time I just couldn’t bear the thought of having my date of birth coincide with the day he died. Looking back now, it wouldn’t have even mattered.
Yet someone on high must have heard me because I was able to spend my 28th birthday with him. The best gift I ever received. And over the next ten days it seemed like he was actually coming around a bit. There was reason to hope even though the doctors had all told us he was the sickest person in the entire hospital.
October 17th, 1997 – 10PM. It was just me in the darkened hospital room along with my stepmother. My brother and sister weren’t there. The single light over the bed and digital displays on morphine pumps and heparin drips were the only illumination.
Now I’m no expert on theology but I do believe souls can feel when another soul moves on. For as he began to gasp for breath I could tell the end was near.
At that moment I literally felt the temperature dramatically drop in the room. So much so that I began to shiver. And I’ll go to my own grave feeling this way but I swear, at that very moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that someone (or something) was coming for him.
I remember we told him we loved him and although his eyes seemed to be fixated somewhere else he was able to say that he loved us back. And that was when my father uttered the last word he’d ever speak:
Tears streamed down my face. A man who never so much as went to church and who, to my knowledge at least, never said a prayer or even read the bible. The last word he ever spoke on this Earth was “God”.
What did he see?
The distance between us and everything that happened in the past was gone. All that mattered was that he was my Dad, and I was there with him at the end.
I sometimes wonder if I would change anything if I was given another chance. I mean, would things have turned out any differently? Probably not.
Cancer has done horrible things to my family. Things I hope no one ever has to go through. But in some odd way, with all the pain and suffering that it brings, there’s one thing I have to actually be grateful to it for.
Without cancer, I probably never would have gotten my father back.