Friday, March 22, 2013

The power of words and music: Dan Fogelberg remembered

As I was scrolling down my Facebook page on a recent evening, I stumbled across a post on late singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg’s tribute page. 

The post included an image of a letter a young girl had written to Fogelberg, asking the meaning of a line in one of his songs. What made the image all the more exciting, all the more powerful, was Fogelberg’s handwritten reply in return. 

He answered, that yes, though the words were literal, the related metaphorical meaning was much as she had suspected. 

The song in question was my favorite Fogelberg tune, “Same Old Lang Syne.” It’s a song reportedly based on a real event in Fogelberg’s life—a chance encounter with an old girlfriend in the grocery store on Christmas Eve. 

The tune captures all the surprise, awkwardness, giddiness, memories, regret, warmth and more that such an encounter elicits. It has an uncanny ability to draw its listener into the song, to invite her to watch as a silent observer as the two experience more emotions than they must have imagined possible in such a short time. 

Perhaps the reasons it struck me so strongly, years ago when I first heard it, and as I listened to it on tapes, CDs or car radios through the decades, are twofold—I’ve seen the song from the outside looking in and inside looking out. 

I spent nearly 30 years of my life in a grocery store, from the high school days when I met my first steady boyfriend in the check-out lane until I was a middle-aged mother and grandmother, watching much younger coworkers re-live those same excitement-filled moments. 

Grocery store clerks see and hear a lot. 

We witness those hugs and “Oh my gawds” when parted lovers home for the holidays see each other—sometimes after months apart, sometimes years. We watch warmly as widowers or divorcees bump into someone from long ago, and we can see a spark, long smoldering, begin to re-ignite. And, yes, we see those who have their regrets, bumping into old flames they let slip away, those who have built a life with someones new

And, too, because I lived in a rather small community, it wasn’t unlikely for me to have my own “Same Old Lang Syne” moments. 

On more than one occasion, I’d look up and see, across the counter, someone I’d met years earlier in the check-out lane, the library, the old neighborhood, or in a small town nearby—and had dated a time or two or a season. 

As with Fogelberg and his “old lover in the grocery store,” it was awkward at first, giddy at times, and sometimes warm—for the lives that touch ours, no matter how fleeting, often do bring with them memories worth remembering. It doesn’t take a six-pack from the liquor store or a songwriter’s recollection to warm us with memories of days gone by, even when we’re ever so thankful of the love we know today. 

Though Peoria’s Dan Fogelberg, singer/storyteller to the world, didn’t have his encounter in the frozen food aisle of the store where I worked all those years, I saw scores of Dans and lovers meet again.

Through his words, from time to time, as the song played in my mind, those others faded and Dan came into view. Tonight, writing this, I see his face again and, as I do, the music plays anew. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A funfetti kind of night

One of my young family members loves funfetti birthday cake—a white cake full of hard candy sprinkles with even more sprinkles in the frosting than on the cake itself. 

There’s something about that kind of cake that just says “happy,” don’t you think?

Last year, Barry Manilow came to the community where we lived. 

We’ve never been big Manilow fans, but the guy is a music legend. So were Elvis, Liberace, Frank Sinatra. We weren’t particularly big fans of any of them either and never saw any of them in concert; yet, when they were no longer, I always regretted not seeing them in person. 

That’s why I bought the concert tickets first—and told my husband later. If I had asked before ordering tickets, I thought he’d think of every reason why we couldn’t go. I envisioned him saying things like: 

“You never listen to Barry Manilow. Why would you go to his concert?” 

“We’re too busy.” 

“The tickets are too expensive.”

“Shouldn’t you be packing (or writing a blog post, or doing the laundry, or grooming the dog)?” 

Oh, wait, we don’t have a dog. 

Get the picture? 

I ordered the tickets, though, dragged hubby along to the concert, and noticed as we looked around that we were among the youngest people in the audience. It hit me that night, as it does every time my husband and I go somewhere in the community of seniors where we now live, that our peers aren’t as young as they used to be, nor are the artists of our era.

As I watched the guests filling the arena, though, I noticed an aura in the room, an air about its occupantsand it wasn't from the glow sticks we received when we arrived. The concert-goers may have looked “old,” but they acted young. These were the same girls who screamed for the Beatles and begged Elvis to grind his pelvis, and the same guys who rolled up their sleeves and cruised in muscle cars for that cool guy-look of the 1950s and early sixties. 

Although Manilow was recovering from hip surgery when we saw him in concert, the almost-septuagenarian put on a show that would have many people half his age panting for air. The evening was a nice mix of storytelling and song, with such signature tunes and crowd favorites as “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” and “Can’t Smile Without You.”

Looking back on that night of nearly a year ago, my husband and I have to agree that, though Manilow wasn’t on our bucket lists, we know now each of ours would have been a bit less full without the experience. 

From the oldsters-turned-young-again to the gotta-sing-along tunes to the entertainer-extraordinaire, our night with Manilow was one we’ll long remember. 

As the concert drew to a close with one of Manilow’s most energetic classic tunes, the performer had one more trick up his sleeve. In some sort of super-stage magic, confetti-like streamers of at least a half-dozen different colors shot from the front of the arena to almost the back of the crowd—a spectacular end to a back-in-time kind of night, one that made us greater Manilow fans than we’d imagined possible.

When we go places where large crowds congregate, my husband is one to say, “Wait. Let the crowd thin out before we leave.” I’m not one to just sit, or even to stand and wait, so I used the time to gather a big batch of the streamers, making sure I had one of each color. 

When we got home, I took this picture to capture the essence of our funfetti night—and to remind me to stay always young, to live a funfetti kind of life. 

What about you? Do you maintain the youthful exuberance of Manilow and his fans? Are you living a funfetti life? 

Believe me—that kind of outlook makes life as sweet as a cake with sprinkles, no matter how many birthdays you’ve got behind you. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Richard Bach pens another soaring adventure tale

It first happened around 1970 or so. I was 18 and impressionable and into my life walked (or was it flew?) the words of a man on the wings of a bird. Not a cardinal, the bird of my home state, or a robin, so common in those parts, or even a mallard, which flies overhead each spring and fall. 

The bird that flew into my life and the man, whose carefully crafted sentences were to touch it again and again for 40 years and still counting, were Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his creator Richard Bach. 

Since that day—specific date on the calendar left unremembered back in those days of tie-died t-shirts and bellbottom blue jeans—Bach has flown into my life again and again, each time bringing me new characters to love, new words to entertain, new thoughts to inspire. 

Just when I needed them they found me—his books and his characters. Donald Shimoda in “Illusions,” little Dickie in “Running from Safety,” Budgeron Ferret in “Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse,” and more. 

About this time last year, Bach, whose path had crossed mine in real life (IRL, in cyber terms) while he was on Twitter for a short time a couple years ago, embarked on an adventure. As he did, he chronicled it on a website, now inactive. 

The adventure was a cross-country flight with a new love, a character not unlike Jonathan Livingston Seagull. 

This love of Bach’s life had wings like Jonathan, could touch down on the water like the illustrious gull, and had the ability to inspire, just like that prodigy-turned-mentor in Bach’s first bestseller. Her name is Puff. She can swim. She can fly. 

Mortals would call her an amphibious airplane, a SeaRey. Bach would call her a spirit, for that she is. 

Those posts Richard Bach first shared with a family of readers in cyberspace are now available in the pages of a book, one I held in my hands this week, so hot off the press that I can smell the inks used to bring it to life. 

In “Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Life and Death,” the author pours onto the pages a love story, an adventure chronicle, an inspirational work sure to warm the hearts of his most avid family of readers and strong enough to draw into that family a new band of members. 

In the early pages, we see a dance of courtship, reminiscent of some ritual of nature’s precious creatures, as Richard and Puff take steps, cautious at first, elegant before long, falling one for the other, earning trust, growing in love. 

Bach’s adventures with Puff begin near the lakes of Florida, Puff’s birthplace and first home, but the author’s dream is to get her to his hangar in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. 

As the pair court, the author and long-time pilot begins to prepare for the journey. He and Puff cavort in the Sunshine State’s skies and splash in its inland waters. Richard does all the practical things seasoned aviators must do before embarking on an adventure across the land, purchasing essential items and getting Puff all gussied up for her big dance. 

Richard Bach, the storyteller, has always been a master at word pictures. Because of this, he could have told Puff’s tale in words alone and it would have been a magnificent work. But, just as Russell Munson’s images of flight brought Jonathan to life in the pages of his book, another wayfarer's lens shows us Puff in all her  sojourner’s finery. 

A fellow aviator, Dan Nickens, a man with a passion not only for flight and for adventure, but also for geology, joins Bach on the journey, capturing in photos what Bach paints in words. The marriage of words and images makes the magnificent even more glorious. 

Nickens’ own  SeaRey, Jennifer, becomes a comfortable friend for Puff on the cross-country double date, and as the photographer sees the country and life through Bach’s eyes, Bach discovers wonders of the earth’s surface visible only through the lens of someone with Nickens’ loves. 

In “Travels with Puff,” the seasoned reader of Bach's work will see reminders of his earlier storiesa bit of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, glimpses of the iconic feather from “Illusions,” reminders of his Ferret Chronicles, images first shared by little Dickie in “Running from Safety,”  and more. 

In this work, Bach also weaves morsels that pay tribute to books that drew him in years ago and warm his heart still today—Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows,” L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the work of Mark Twain. It’s a nice touch.

Nothing on the dust jacket says, "Only read this if an experienced lover of Bach's books," just as nothing warns, "Beware, at the end of this book, you'll be in love, too—with the words on these pages and the freedom of flight." The first warning is unnecessary, as this book is sure to draw new readers. The second warning, I am certain, holds true.

Richard Bach hasn't lost the ability he has to pull us in on the very first page, take us flying toward his dreams and our own, and inspire us to find our passion and pursue it with the same child heart he shows us each time he puts words on paper.

As did Jonathan and Puff, with his latest book, Richard Bach does soar. And, as he did with each of his earlier books, Bach still draws me in, entertains me, and inspires me. 

“Travels with Puff” is published by Nice Tiger and available through major online booksellers. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013

(Image via)

Monday, March 11, 2013

A shower of words

If you’re a writer or someone who whips up dreams or solves problems, you know how the best brain blasts always come at the most inopportune times—such as when you’re in the shower.

For me it never fails, I’ve slept like a rock, exhausted from writing for days on end, or I’ve tossed and turned all night, listening as my muse tell me where it’s taking me next in my latest written work. The ideas either come or they don’t, but one thing is for certain. As I stand in the shower, the words come pouring down faster than the drops of water. I’m there with no pen, no paper, and a shower of words and ideas that would drown a cruise ship. 

To celebrate a special anniversary last year, my husband tried hard to get me to go to Hawaii—the real place—but because we were planning to move at the time, making job changes, and more, I said, “No, not now, please.”

The week of anniversary rolled around and I drove from our new home in Missouri to the apartment he was renting near his job in Illinois until his pending retirement date. 

We left the apartment one morning to go out for a nice lunch, run some errands, and leave for our destination. 

Remember how I said, “Not Hawaii. Not this year.”

He took me anyway. 

We opened our motel room and saw a rainforest shower, a volcano pouring into our hot tub, a sauna, and a room with thatched roof and tiki torches. We were in Hawaii—on the prairies of Illinois. He’d rented us one of those themed hotel rooms. The atmosphere of the islands was there—for a whole lot less money. 

We, both in our sixties, were like a couple of little kids in that room, hoping from one attraction to the next, giggling when we discovered a bidet in the Jack and Jill bathroom. 

We were having a wonderful time, until I decided to take a shower. This rainforest didn’t just have trees and tropical vegetation painted on the walls, it also had shower heads with all sorts of knobs and spouts and sprayers. I turned it on, and the next thing I knew water was coming at me from everywhere.  It was pounding my yes, drenching my hair, beating against my body. It was liquid sensory overload. 

And, it was a lot like those word showers I have at home, when the story or blog or news article ideas come when I don’t have a waterproof pen and paper, a bucket in which to catch the ideas before they are lost forever down the drain. 

A big fluffy towel helped me to wipe the water from my eyes, to see my Hawaiian room again on that special vacation day. 

Maybe that’s why the torrents of words come pouring down on me at home, so that as I step from the shower, and pat myself dry, the best ideas have soaked through to my core, to fall as thoughts onto a page, helping me to bring my readers to our destinations in the posts within this blog. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013

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