Category: Childhood Memories

Birthday Reflections at 49

October 5th, 2018. My 49th birthday.

I look at those words on the computer screen, with the cursor synchronously blinking, and find it hard to believe it’s even possible. I can’t help but think about my father who, when he was this age, had only two years left to live.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teen driving my beat-up, 1973 Toyota to the Palmer mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring every last cent of my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning, and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now, and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

But these past twelve months have really been something special. I finally realized my lifelong dream of writing a novel, and after six years of interviewing and writing articles for a half-dozen websites, I was invited to write for Guitar World magazine. What’s more, I submitted my first article, which should appear in the January 2019 issue, three days before my 49th birthday.

And now, the countdown is officially on. In 365 days I will officially be a half-century old. As I look to that milestone with both fear and uncertainty, I find myself going back to that 12-year-old me, and the day I received my very first student ID at school. On the back of the plastic, laminated card were the words, “Year of Graduation – 1987.”  A year that seemed a lifetime away, just like the year 2000 did… 18+ years ago.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of my 40’s it’s that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.

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Things I Think: My Favorite Songs from the 1980’s

It’s been a while since I posted a blog article on “Things I Think”, so I decided to go back and revisit a bunch of my favorite songs from the 1980’s. I’ve listed a bunch of them here, in no particular order of favorites.

These songs all remind me of growing up in the MTV generation. A time when going to the store to buy an album and then running home to listen to it alone in your bedroom was an experience. If you didn’t listen to an album in its entirety from first song to last (even if the hit was song #3) you weren’t doing it right. You listened completely and as you did, you made sure you read every lyric, liner note and thank you that was written on the sleeve. NO exceptions!

So grab an Orange Julius and Bavarian pretzel and put the quarters for Pac Man and Dragon’s Lair to the side for later. Here’s my list with a little commentary on why each song was so special to me. Let’s have some fun with this!

Ready? Let’s go.

“Africa” by Toto (From the album, Toto IV – released in 1982)

There are very few songs from my era as a teen that I will listen to whenever it comes on the radio, and this is one of them. Let’s be honest, how may writers do you know who can put the line, “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” into a song and still make it fucking cool? The song is from the band’s Toto IV album, which won six Grammys, including Album of the Year. It is the band’s first and only #1 song (“Rosanna” was also a monster hit but only reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100).

“Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates (From the album, Voices – released in 1980)

“Kiss on My List”; along with The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”, were the first two songs I vivdly remember listening to as the 80s began. The only reason the latter song didn’t make this list is because it was released in 1979. “Kiss On My List” was Hall & Oates second #1 song (“Rich Girl” was their first; four years earlier). I still remember listening to it on the radio in the summer of 1981, when I recorded my own “Weekly Top 40” countdown on a beat up cassette recorder. Of course, this song was always #1.

“She Dont Know Me” by Bon Jovi (From the album, Bon Jovi – released in 1984)

“Runaway” was a big hit and, of course, there would be a ton of other songs to follow, but this song from the band’s debut album will always be my favorite. The very first concert I ever saw was on June 16, 1984 when Bon Jovi (on their very first tour) opened for The Scorpions in Allentown, PA. It was a magical day. This track is also the only hit that wasn’t written by Jon and Richie Sambora. It was actually penned by Marc Avsec, who also wrote the song, “Ah! Leah!” Because it wasn’t written by the band, it was essentially dropped from the set once Slippery When Wet became a smash in 1986.

“Cum on Feel The Noize” by Quiet Riot (From the album, Metal Health – released in 1983)

It was during the summer of 1983. My Dad was driving me and my siblings along a rural stretch of Pennsylvania back road when the drums kicked in on the radio, and my immediate instinct was to yell, “TURN IT UP!!!” “Cum on Feel The Noize” (actually Quiet Riot’s verion of a Slade song from ten years earlier) was the first song that, as a teen, I said was “my song”. A roaring combination of guitars, vocals and groove.

“If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (From the album, Different Light – released in 1986)

I’ve loved these ladies ever since their 1984 debut, All Over The Place. They collaborated with artists like Prince and even opened for Queen on their 1986 Magic Tour. This was a tough one for me, because there are actually two Bangles’ songs from the 80’s I adored. And although I loved “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” my favorite track from their album, Different Light, was their infectious cover of Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants”.

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart (From the album, The Best of Rod Stewart – released in 1989)

I may take some heat for this one, but that’s ok. As far as the 80’s go, “Young Turks,” “Infatuation,” “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” “Forever Young,” and “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” all spoke to me. But THIS track, actually a cover of Tom Waits 1985 song, wins the day. I just love Stewart’s arrangement; particularly the guitars in the bridge and the squealing hammond-synth sound as it goes back into the chorus. Gives me chills every time. On a side note, check out Waits intriquing, original version of the song, which sounds nothing like it.

Say It Isn’t So” by The Outfield (From the album, Play Deep – released in 1985)

When you think of the 80’s, most folks gravitate toward The Outfield staple, “Your Love” from their 1985 debut album, Play Deep.  Others will consider the anthemic, “Since You’ve Been Gone” from their 1987 album, Bangin’. For yours truly, I’m going with the first single from Play Deep, and my first exposure to The Outfield – “Say It Isn’t So”. I love the intro to this song and the infectious harmonies of Tony Lewis and the late John Spinks. Do yourself a favor – fast forward to 1:50 of this video and listen to them harmonize on the bridge portion of the song. Especially the line, “I see right through you”. Killer!

“Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper (From the album, She’s So Unusual – released in 1983)

Rob Hyman from The Hooters wrote this song with Cyndi, and when I interviewed him about it, he told me Cyndi’s inspiration for the song and title came from when she was reading TV Guide and noticed the 1979 film “Time After Time” was coming on. The song orignally was much faster, but the two ended up slowing it down to the masterpiece it became.

“And We Danced” by The Hooters (From the album, Nervous Night – released in 1985)

Speaking of hooters… well, The Hooters, this is another track that makes me wanna move. This song reminds me of summer time, and I’ll never forget the first time my neighbor, Mike, exposed me to this band out of Philadelphia. Thanks, dude!

“I Can’t Hold Back” by Survivor (From the album, Vital Signs – released in 1984)

This track holds a special place for me. The entire Vital Signs album, actually. This was one of the first videos I remember seeing on MTV when it finally went mainstream, and a song that spoke to a fifteen year old kid who was looking for love. It was also one of the very first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar. The Vital Signs album I owned then is still with me to this day, and is now signed and framed on a wall in my office. Needless to say, it’s sentimental.

“Heat Of The Moment” by Asia (From the album, Asia – released in 1982)

It was June of 1982. I was in seventh grade music class sitting in an ungodly hot room during one of the last days before summer vacation. As an end-of-year gift to the class the teacher, Mr. Brobst, allowed students to bring in some of their albums to listen to while we cleared out our desks. That was when a classmate named Danny put this album on the turntable. As needle met vinyl and the crackling hum and hiss began, it was the first time I heard that now infamous guitar riff and opening line: “I never meant to be so bad to you. One thing I said that I would never do …” I don’t think I have to say anything more.

“(You Can Still) Rock In America” by Night Ranger (From the album, Midnight Madness – released in 1983)

Gotta give kudos to Mike again for introducing me to these guys way back when. Every Friday night during the school year required a mandatory visit to the mall. And it was on one of these occassions, as Mike’s mother was chauffeuring us over in this super-huge station wagon, that Mike dropped Midnight Madness into the cassette deck. If you could’ve seen my eyes when the first sounds of this track came through the speakers, they were as wide as saucers. It was something I had only heard glimpses of with Boston and Thin Lizzy, but it was also something else. Something insatiably magical.

“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles (From the album, Everything  – released in 1988)

I couldn’t end this list without giving another shout out to The Bangles. “Eternal Flame” was released as a single in 1989 and would go on to become the band’s second #1 hit (“Walk Like An Egyptian” was first). Without a doubt, this is my all-time favorite Bangles song. But when I hear it now, some thirty years later, it’s almost melancholy, because it reminds me of the end of the 80’s.

By 1989, I was already two years out of high school. The Friday night hang outs at the mall; the pep rallies and bonfires; and the cruising of the strip in my souped up ’74 Torino were over. All the friends I had grown up with were either half way done with college, entering the workforce or joining the military. As for me, I was still struggling to determine where I fit in with the big mystery called life.

The days of childhood innocence were over, but this song will forever hold a special place in my heart because, at least for me, it officially says “goodbye” to that decade.

Whew! Ok, there’s mine. Let’s hear some of yours! Drop a line in the comments below!

Birthday Reflections at 48

BirthdayCakeOctober 5th, 2017. My 48th birthday.

Hey! Wait a minute…. You mean to say that I’m 48-years old young today? Impossible. I’m a Count Chocula connoisseur. An Ultraman geek. A comic book nerd. A PS4 dork. I couldn’t possibly be someone with the big Five-Oh on the horizon.

And yet, I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teenager driving my beat-up, old Toyota to the mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

Wasn’t I the one who could go to rock concerts and then stay up to the wee hours of the morning talking to his friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made our dreams came true?

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it.

As we’ve seen with the hurricanes and Las Vegas tragedy along with the untimely death of one of my idols, Tom Petty, we’re only given a certain amount of time on this bouncing ball. My goal now is to try to make every moment count.

But I’m not here to bum you out on my birthday. Because in addition to being the one who drove to the mall and went to rock concerts, I was also the one who consistently laughed at his parents for being in their 40’s while I reveled in teenage glory.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

What was it they said about karma?

Birthday Reflections At 45

BirthdayCakeToday is October 5th, 2014: My 45th birthday.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was reminiscing about my life on my 44th birthday?

I swear, time is going by WAY too fast. I am now officially half-way to 90. A staggering accomplishment if I do say so myself.

I’m grateful every day for all of the blessings in my life: a loving family, friends, good health and being able to do something I really love to do – write.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to be a nonagenarian but what I do know is that for each year that goes by time seems to be going at breakneck speed – and I don’t think I like it.

Case in point: my daughter turned thirteen this year. And although there have certainly been a few teen drama moments that have tried my patience, I still find myself always thinking that in five short years she will begin building a life on her own.

Slow down.

2014 has been a year of firsts for me. This year saw me achieve some monumental interviews. Pipe dreams for the kid who played guitar endlessly throughout high school in his upstairs bedroom. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Ted Nugent, Steve Vai and Don Felder (The Eagles) among many others.

I’ve also had the once in a lifetime opportunity of attending Jim Peterik’s book release event in New York City where I got to see him perform an intimate acoustic set for an audience of about thirty people. I sit here now with a smile on my face recalling how the music he made with the band Survivor got me through my own teenage drama in the 1980’s. When times were tough, I knew I could always find solace in songs like “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You,” “The Search is Over,” “Is This Love,” “Man Against The World” and “In Good Faith”.

Photo: Kat Gallaso
Photo: Kath Galasso

Jim’s music was so influential to me that at my high school graduation party my friend Nathan Brown and I set up an impromptu jam session. Out on my parent’s patio, Nathan and I set up his drum set and I plugged in my guitar. Then for the next two hours — to the delight chagrin of those in attendance, the two of us jammed along to the entire “Vital Signs” album while it spun on my mother’s worn out turntable.

For me to now sit in a small club and watch Jim Peterik do a few of those same songs in 2014 was nothing short of incredible.

Slow down.

As I think of that post graduation party I am suddenly reminded that 2014 was also a year of loss. Nathan Brown and I had been the best of friends when we roamed the halls of Easton High School. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that at the time we thought would take over the world. I still remember all of those conversations we had late in the night talking about everything we were going to do once we “made it”. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

I always thought that our bond of brotherhood would be inseparable, but life sometimes has a funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best of circumstances. Sadly, towards the end of the 1990’s and the start of the 21st century, the two of us lost touch. Although we would eventually reconnect at a concert three years ago, we never really hung out again like we used to. It was the usual case of “maybe someday”. Yep, there would always be a someday — right?

Ironically, on September 11th of this year, Nathan’s name popped into my head for some reason. Suddenly, “someday” was today! I decided to do a quick Google search on him to see if maybe he had a Facebook or something so that I might reach out to him. But when the first hit came back from the search engine, my heart just sank.

It was his obituary.

Nathan had passed away suddenly in his home on August 9th. He had already been gone for more than a month. His final service was already over and I am still devastated for not being there to at least say goodbye and pay my respects.

Please….Slow down.

As I begin to celebrate my 45th year on this bouncing ball my heart is heavy but I’m feeling optimistic. There’s a big world out there just waiting to be explored. Family and friends to love, books to read, articles (and books) to write, music to create and new dreams to find.

But my real wish on this October 5th is to have the strength to seize each day and then slow down. I still want to enjoy those big moments, but now I want to savor the small ones just as much. I’ve realized there’s only so much time we are given here in this life.

And I plan on making the most of it.

A Quick Thought On The Passing of Robin Williams

MorkJust a quick little blurb with my thoughts on the passing of Robin Williams.

First of all, let me just say that I too am a huge fan of his work. I will never forget seeing him for the very first time as Mork on “Happy Days” and following him along on the “Mork and Mindy” spinoff.

As an eleven-year old boy, I also fondly recall begging my parents to take me to see him in “Popeye”, one of his first film roles.

Shortly after graduating high school, I spent the summer working as an usher at a movie theater. Coincidentally, it was also the same year that “Dead Poet’s Society” was released. So in between sweeping up popcorn and picking up stuck wads of bubblegum, I must have watched that movie no less than fifty times – and never got tired of it. There was just something about Robin Williams’ performances that were so engaging.

I can’t say that I’ve felt the same way about every one of his films. Although I did enjoy him in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Will Hunting” (the film that won him the Academy Award), I didn’t really care for “What Dreams May Come” or “Hook”.

I was one of the many who was shocked when I heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide. How could someone so larger than life and with the ability to bring joy to so many people be so sad inside that the only escape he could find was through the final solution? I am not a doctor and have never met Williams but do count my blessings that I don’t have to deal with the issues that plagued him for years.

I also find it “funny” – truthfully, a bit sad that there are people in this world who (also without having known him) are either assuming to know why Mr. Williams decided to take his own life or are using this tragedy as yet another means to forward their own agendas.

There are some in the news media who are actually calling Robin Williams a coward for “feeling sad” and for taking his own life. Which makes me wonder if these same pundits would say the same about a veteran returning from Iraq who finds it unbearable to assimilate back into civilian life? And then we have the ones who see Williams’ death as a metaphor for a political party. As if suffering from severe depression is similar to that of being a liberal. How sad it is that these people are given a nation wide platform to spew ignorance and hate while a family is grieving.

I’ll admit, I too was selfish when I first heard the news of Robin’s passing. I immediately wanted to rent all of those movies I loved just to see Robin Williams one more time. I wanted to watch that episode of “Happy Days” again. The one where he challenges Richie Cunningham and the Fonz. Yes, even though that part of my own life had moved on, I still wanted Robin Williams to be here.

DPS

We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the people we love and the ones who’ve touched our lives will not be with us forever. Instead, we tend to see them as kind of like our favorite pair of jeans or our go-to security blanket. Something that can just lie around for years in a dresser (or on a DVD shelf) and only be pulled out when we need them for comfort.

Ironically, today (August 13) also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the death of my grandfather. The first time I ever had to experience the loss of someone dear to me. So I will use Robin Williams’ death as a reminder that everything in life is only temporary, and will find comfort in the words he spoke in one of my favorite films from 25 years ago…

Carpe Diem.

A Ribbon

photo 2Last night I found myself fumbling through a collection of “stuff” that had been accumulating for years down in nether regions of my basement.

I’m sure it’s something that everyone does from time to time — going through weathered cardboard containers of old photographs, love letters and school yearbooks that clutter basements and attic crawl spaces. Of course, some of these “memories” I had told myself to dispose of years ago and yet, here they still are.

I suppose it’s just as well. It’s always nice for me to remember the curious, artistic, naive child I once was am. And by now you should be fully aware of my affection for life milestones. If there’s an anniversary of a memorable day, I love to talk about it – and today is no different. Because buried deep beneath the mounds of 1970’s comic books, VHS tapes and teenaged poetry I discovered a ribbon. And not just any regular old run-of-the-mill ribbon mind you. This was a single, purple-colored ribbon with the words “Porter School 1978-1979 – 1st” emblazoned upon it.

I tried to remember what huge endeavor I must have overcome 35 years ago to achieve this great glory. Fortunately, there was a tag affixed to the ribbon which gave me the answer.

photo 1It was near the last day of fourth grade – June 5th, 1979 to be exact. My elementary school had a fun-filled day planned at a nearby park. Kids competed with each other in games of skill like the egg toss and three-legged race – and to each victor there went a win, place or show ribbon!

This particular award I won by besting at least a hundred students in the Sack Race. (Ok, that’s a bit embellished, but to a nine-year old boy who had come in first place for the very first time, it felt like I had just won a marathon).

This ribbon is also significant because it was the final year of school before they tore down Porter Elementary. A school that had stood for nearly 88 years in Easton’s south side but by this point had become obsolete and a bit of an eye sore. By fall, I’d find myself being bussed across the city limits to Palmer Elementary School and away from my typical routine of walking three blocks to school every day. It was the first time in my life that I had experienced such a drastic change from my normal, comfortable schedule.

Porter School (Circa 1979)
Porter School (circa 1979)

What’s ironic is that in my discovery of the 1st place ribbon, I also stumbled upon another award I had won. It was exactly one year to the day of my victory on the grid-iron that my fifth grade class placed second in the Silent Spelling competition of 1980. Yet through all of the other triumphs that would follow, nothing from my childhood tops that final end of school victory at Porter Elementary.

Second Place exactly one year later.
Second Place – exactly one year later.

Busing to schools quickly became the new norm. Then there were school lockers, late bells, final exams, adolescence, girls, graduation…. you get the picture. Every year more and more responsibility and every year the award (much like its blue color that slowly became purple) faded further and further into history.

Looking back, winning that ribbon was a wonderful achievement. But I don’t think I kept it around after all this time simply because I won the Sack Race in fourth grade. No, the real reason this ribbon still exists thirty-five years later is because it will always remind me of an innocence I once had.

I Wanna Go Back

Me“I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.”

“I Wanna Go Back” was a song written thirty years ago by Danny Chauncey, Monty Byrom and Ira Walker for their band, Billy Satellite. It was the band’s debut single and peaked at #78 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

But it wasn’t until two years later when Eddie Money covered the song on his 1986 platinum album “Can’t Hold Back” that a then seventeen-year old boy man finally stood up and took notice. For me, the song resonated about innocence lost and the longing for the impossible: a return to a much simpler, less complicated time.

Of course in 1986, I had no experience in such matters and absolutely no desire to return to anywhere. Every day for me was new and exciting.

Here’s what a typical week for me was like in 1986:

It was the summer when I got my first real car. A 1973 Toyota Corona. A laughable clunker when I think about it now, but it was my Rolls Royce then.

Weekly guitar lesson: Shredding on everything from AC/DC to Zeppelin.

Dreams of being a rock star: Heck, it even says so on my yearbook picture!

High School: Which started out every morning with Concert Choir and also included Music Theory and Art in addition to the mandatory English and Math.

“I recall hanging out on Friday night”

Friday always…ALWAYS meant going to the mall and perusing through the latest album releases at the record store. I’ll admit, I was also one of those habitual bachelors who passed by the Orange Julius in hopes of seeing a gaggle of cute girls. Then using the last fifty cents of my lawn mowing money trying to obtain the high score on Centipede in the arcade and if I was lucky, one of those “out of reach” girls would be playing a game right next to me. {SIGH}

“Back then I thought that things were never gonna change”

So, thirty years after Billy Satellite originally released it, what was it that made me think of the song this morning? I suppose it was the culmination of everything that’s been going on in the world in recent days.

Here are just a few examples. Take your pick:

1. Terrorist attacks throughout the world.

2. Elected representatives voting their party rather than the people they’re supposed to represent without fear of repercussion.

3. The media’s never-ending quest to fear monger the weather and make the slightest storm out to be doomsday.

5. Neglected and abused animals, women, children and veterans.

But despite what your local newspaper, talk radio or favorite extreme Facebook group might say, the real problem with this world isn’t the fault of one particular country, political party or extended forecast.

Rather, the real problem is we, the people. We’re the ones who are to blame for the mess that we’re in. And nothing showcases this example better than The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s right. The zombie show.

In a post-apocalyptic world where it’s just humans and undead walking around, the humans can not seem to overcome their own desire for power and greed in order to survive. Instead of pulling together for a common purpose (like finding out what caused the apocalypse or better still, how to cure it), they’d rather build loyalties and fight skirmishes with both humans and zombies in order to pillage whatever they can and gain an advantage. The undead themselves are actually just pawns in their cruel game. Is it too far-fetched to believe that if this happened it real life, that’s the way we would react?

The answer to fixing our problems is so simple, so why can’t we do it? It all starts (and ends) with US.

People often wonder why I still have a fascination with 80’s music, Godzilla and breakfast cereal and I could ramble off a dozen examples of why I think it’s cool or how delicious a bowl of Lucky Charms is.

But perhaps the most accurate reason is because these things reminds me of a much simpler time. A time when I didn’t have to care.

At least, not as much as I do now.

Sure, I know now that things will never be the same but…..I wanna go back.