Here’s the very latest from my very talented daughter Maura…
2014 was the fifth year for this blog — and though I have to admit I was a relatively infrequent blogger this year — there were a handful of events I could not let pass without trying to say something. Most important was the loss of two iconic figures who granted me (and many others) the privilege of their invaluable friendship and mentorship. The passing of Sheldon Patinkin and Ray Shepardson made 2014 a year I will always remember.
Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted 189,401 viewers since it began — 24,929 in 2014. The busiest day of the year was September 21st with 505 views. The most viewed post that day was O Captain! My Comedy Captain! – my post on the passing of Sheldon Patinkin.
I continue to be honored that 179 subscribers have now signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 59 more who follow this blog on Twitter.)
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What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2014.
Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.
There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. It’s one of the posts that has generated the most comments. A lot of people feel I’ve left one of their favorites off the list. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.
I don’t know where my life would have gone if the great Sheldon Patinkin had not walked into a small storefront theatre on Howard Street in Evanston — and took my silliness seriously. Sheldon didn’t just change my life. He changed generations of lives. I will miss him every damn day. But, in essential ways, he will always be with me — and with all of the thousands of creative people whose lives he touched. (Posted on September 21, 2014.)
What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan. In 2013, I wrote another report on an excellent World War Two book, The Day of Battle, about the campaign to liberate Italy. A few weeks after I wrote that post, my family and I visited the American cemetery in Tuscany and paid our respects to the soldiers whose valor, sacrifice and victory are recounted in Rick Atkinson’s fine book.
I honestly had no idea how to headline this tribute to the great Ray Shepardson, who died suddenly and shockingly in Aurora, Illinois in the spring of 2014. The man who saved dozens of great old theatres and movie palaces from the wrecking ball was a man of prodigious energy, drive, and “can do” creativity. He is greatly missed by many. This was posted on April 16, 2014 — my birthday.
Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower.
Though we didn’t hear much about it in 2013, the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011. This post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of foolish, immature anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response? Without Occupy Wall Street, would the concept of the 99% and 1% have ever entered the Zeitgeist? And can Occupy Wall Street — or something even more effective yet peaceful — please come back in 2o15?
On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution and it’s become one of the most-read posts in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.
One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the coolest chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night Live, Behind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Classics all. Can I retire now?
This was originally posted on June 18, 2012. That day was not just Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday – it was also the 200th anniversary of The War of 1812. 130 years after the young upstart United States declared war on Great Britain, Paul McCartney was born. I thought that was a real fun fact.
As a Cleveland native, I’ve often been asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers several years ago — and my friends and co-workers are usually shocked that I’m not upset or indignant or jilted, etc. And while the blogosphere hardly needed one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I wrote this post on July 9, 2010 to explain that LeBron James didn’t owe me anything. He’s a professional basketball player who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. The two NBA championships he’s won in Miami since I wrote this post have given LeBron all the scoreboard he needs. in 2014, The King came back to Cleveland, which is doubtless the reason for renewed interest in this post.
So, that’s the best of 2014. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please keep posting your comments!
Here’s to a worthy, adventurous voyage in 2015!
And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:
This post was the #3 post in 2010. 24 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)
On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day. Unlike the Pearl Harbor post, I haven’t re-posted this article every year — but readers still find it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” The shootings at Kent State should never be forgotten.
I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.
The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.
And there was, and ever will be, Caliban.
Historians tell us that cats were cult animals in ancient Egypt, but it’s believed that cats may have been domesticated as early as the Neotlithic Period (7500 BC). As for wild cats, there are still a handful of savage undomesticated felines in our neighborhood.
An article in the August 14, 2014 edition of The Los Angeles Times, noted that there are still 8 to 10 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Our Caliban considered himself among their wild number.
But, in fact, our Caliban was unique. He was a domesticated wild cat — The Pocket Puma: an animal as comfortable in the wild and he was in our den.
Born on the Fourth of July, Caliban came into our lives sixteen and half years ago. For 15 years he lived the adventurous life of a bold indoor-outdoor cat in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, slaying rabbits, gophers, rats, mice, birds, and lizards – all the while frustrating the murderous designs of the coyote hordes who sought his demise.
And yet, in our home – where he chose to nap, occasionally dine, and accept our petting and adoration – this savage killer was always the cutest and cuddliest of pets.
I can only imagine what a fleeing rabbit saw in Caliban’s eyes in those last bloody moments before he became yet another trophy to be laid upon our doorstep – but my wife and daughters and I saw only the tame and affectionate boy who became, over the years, our loyal and devoted son.
Between Christmas 2014 and New Year’s 2015, Caliban went to Kitty Valhalla. He passed away in his home, surrounded by his family, and was buried beneath the hills upon which he hunted with unrivaled ferocity and flair.
We’re having a hard time saying goodbye to such a good, good boy. But our very dear friend, Brad Hall, has penned a tribute that says a great deal of what we feel about our dear, sweet, savage Caliban.
SONNET FOR CALIBAN
Escape from death’s dark shadow Caliban,
And hear thy praises sweetly named and sung;
Homage must be giv’n; now, the best I can,
Your song I’ll sing, tho sadness has my tongue.
Courage! Honor! How can a cat have these?
Virtue! Kindness! All yours, and in excess!
Famous your kills, brought home in twos and threes!
Little bloody trophies to your success.
Your philosophy – what you tried to do,
Four footed Adonis, whiskered Ajax,
Live your life beside, but without us too;
Living room and forest both hold your tracks.
In mem’ry your spirit will play some part
I love Glen Campbell — and so does legendary radio Dee-jay and TV host Wink Martindale.
Wink knew Glen very well.
Here’s Wink’s recent tribute to the guitar-shredding troubadour of Delight, Arkansas.
Take a listen.
The significance of December 7, 1941 is something that most of our parents do not need to be reminded about. It was a shocking, indelible moment for them, much like September 11, 2001 was for another generation of Americans. I don’t want to spend time here comparing those two disastrous attacks: one by a hostile state, the other by a handful of extremists. That’s for another time, another post.
This is a day of remembrance.
There are not many veterans of Pearl Harbor still with us. Not many left who saw the Japanese planes diving out of the sky, felt the concussions as great battleships shuddered, burned, and sank. Not many left who can stand on the observation deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, gaze at that sunken iron tomb and say, “I knew a guy who went down with that ship.”
On December 7th, we remember what was lost at Pearl Harbor: the lives, the ships, the planes – our national innocence.
But on this day, we should also remember the miracle of Pearl Harbor: the incredible effort that raised so many of those ships from the bottom of the harbor, patched them up – and sent them back into the fight. Only three of the ships that were bombed in Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy were forever lost to the fleet.
And of the 30 ships in the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, only one survived the war without being sunk.
The dynamism, optimism and resolve displayed by those military crewmen and civilians who, within months, raised and repaired the devastated wreckage of Pearl Harbor are qualities that Americans must call on once again to overcome our national challenges. Would that our leaders would spend less time sowing the fear of future attacks – and more time appealing to the better angels of our national identity.
“Can do” was the unofficial motto of the Seabees, the legendary Navy outfit that led the reconstruction effort at Pearl Harbor.
Where’s that American “Can do” spirit now?
P.S. Click here for a WWII-era Pearl Harbor song I found online. It may seem a bit too upbeat at first, but in the context of our ultimate victory at Pearl Harbor, it’s not too bouncy after all. It’s got that confidence and “Can do” spirit.
P.S.S. On this day, let’s remember one of the great WWII POW escape artists. If you have any pals who love The Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption, please point them toward the story of William Ash: Texan, RAF pilot, POW — and a guy who escaped the Nazi prison camps 13 times!
He’s the guy that inspired Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape.
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1481088858/
Kindle ebook: (free to Prime members) http://amzn.com/B00AF4I0K8
Comments from authors on UNDER THE WIRE:
What a splendid book! A young Texan brought up in the middle of the Depression who pulls himself up by his bootstraps, thereafter hikes to Canada to fly Spitfires for the Brits while America is still neutral. Just as the U. S. enters the war, he is shot down, and another exciting and terrible episode in his life begins. Living under terrible conditions he makes several attempts to escape until he finally succeeds in saving himself and many of his fellow POWs. This is a moving and heroic story of a young man who overcomes all obstacles with a sense of humor and succeeds in the end. Hollywood should snap this book up in a flash. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.
Charles Whiting, author of Hero: Life and Death of Audie Murphy
UNDER THE WIRE is a well-written and exciting memoir of wartime captivity that is packed with incident and vividly recreates the oft-neglected early days of Stalag Luft III and the now forgotten mass escape from Oflag XXIB, Schubin — a sort of dress rehearsal for the famous Great Escape. The author himself is one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War, as are some of those whose adventures he records in this remarkable book. It also makes a refreshing change to read a memoir by someone who is politically literate and knew exactly what he was fighting against and what he was fighting for.’ There are passages in this book – particularly those concerning the political awakening of POWs and their determination to create a better post-war world – that make the reader want to stand up and cheer.
Charles Rollings, author of Wire and Walls, Wire and Worse
UNDER THE WIRE is everything I would expect from a memoir by Bill Ash — fast-paced, exciting and moving, but also colored by his mischievous sense of humor. He has a real gift as a storyteller — the characters and events come off the page as if we were meeting and experiencing them ourselves. Bill Ash was one of the great escape artists of the Second World War, and always managed to put himself in the centre of the action. He endured a lot, but never lost his essential humanity and zest for life, something that comes through very strongly in his book. That’s what makes UNDER THE WIRE such a joy to read — getting to know the irrepressible Ash and reliving his adventures with him.
Jonathan Vance, author of A Gallant Company: The Men of the Great Escape.
Memphis, Tennessee is the birthplace of rock and roll. It’s where the King of Rock & Roll lived and died. It’s where the Delta blues stopped for a drink on Beale Street before heading up to Chicago. And it’s where my late brother Peter managed the city’s finest luxury hotel, The Peabody. So, let’s celebrate Memphis in song…
1. Long Way from Memphis (The Automatics)
This cut is by a band of English ex-pats living in Los Angeles. The drummer (Paul Crowder) is friend of mine. He’s also a great video editor. I met him while working on “Behind The Music”. Saw him and the band play live at a club in Los Angeles and they opened with this fine rock & roll tune – which includes an Elvis sighting in Kalamazoo.
2. All the Way to Memphis (Mott the Hoople)
For years I loved this song – but I had no idea what Ian Hunter was singing about. The song was my favorite on the 1973 album “Mott”, which was the follow-up to “All The Young Dudes.” Listening to the song over and over, I can now tell that it’s about Hunter losing a guitar and having a hard time getting it returned to him. Never knew there was an Oriole, Kentucky – but it’s lucky for Ian, because Oriole rhymes with Rock & Roll if you pronounce it that way. The song’s best line? “It’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll, from the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl.”
3. I’ve Been to Memphis (Lyle Lovett)
Of course Lyle Lovett’s been to Memphis. This song, like so many songs with a Memphis connection, mentions a lot of other towns – and women – along the way. I love the honky-tonk feel of this one.
4. Memphis In the Meantime (John Hiatt)
John Hiatt ditches Nashville so he and his lady can “get good and greasy” in Memphis. The band on this track is an all-star group: Hiatt (acoustic guitar), Ry Cooder (electric guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums). Nice company, huh? Ronnie Milsap, it’s your loss.
5. Graceland (Paul Simon)
While John Hiatt goes to Memphis to enjoy the down and dirty rhythm and blues with some boozy babe, Paul Simon is traveling on a pilgrimage seeking benediction and redemption. The title track of one of Simon’s greatest albums, it has some of his finest lyrics – and Simon nails the allure and power of Memphis and The King’s mansion. I have just one quibble with Simon. The Mississippi delta can surely shine like a National guitar – but it’s not “the cradle of the Civil War.” That infamy belongs to South Carolina. Just ask General Sherman’s troops.
6. I’m Going to Memphis (Johnny Cash)
The Man in Black got his start in Memphis with Sam Phillips and Sun Records: part of the Million Dollar Quartet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. In this song, credited to Alan Lomax and associated with Memphis Slim, Johnny is journeying to Memphis to see and do a lot of strange things. I don’t think Johnny’s on the same holy pilgrimage that Paul Simon is going on.
7. Going Back to Memphis (The Levon Helm Band)
The whole thing is a party, led by Levon at his gravelly best.
One of rock and roll’s best examples of a guy who can lead a band from behind his drum kit, Levon takes another journey through song to the great musical Mecca on the Mississippi.
8. Memphis (Chuck Berry)
“Long-distance information, get me Memphis, Tennessee.” Thus, Chuck Berry begins one of the most oft-covered tunes ever written about Memphis. Chuck says he recorded this one at his office in St. Louis on an $80 Sears Roebuck reel-to-reel. (Although $80 was a lot of money in those days.) With its surprise ending, in which we learn that “Marie is only 6-years old,” this is one of those perfect rock and roll songs that Chuck Berry churned out so magically in the 1950’s. It’s another reason we’re all Chuck’s children.
9. Guitar Man (Elvis Presley)
This is a great comeback Elvis track, proving that the King of Rock & Roll had survived Hollywood and emerged with his voice and flawless sense of rhythm and dynamics intact. Jerry Reed, who wrote the song (and could also play guitar like a-ringin’ a bell) had a minor hit with the tune in 1967 — but Elvis’ cover (with Reed on guitar) became a chart topper. Recorded in Nashville in the late 1960’s, it was re-remixed and re-released four years after The King’s death, scoring him a posthumous #1 hit on the country charts in 1981.
Here’s a clip from the ’68 Comeback Special. There’s some fun stuff at the top, then Elvis tears into a bit of “Guitar Man”, proving he’s still the King of Rock & Roll.
10. Johnny Bye-Bye (Bruce Springsteen)
In this short, dark and complex song, Bruce ties Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry together. The Boss starts out with the opening lyrics of Chuck’s “Bye Bye Johnny,” (“She drew out all her money from the Southern Trust, and put her little boy aboard a Greyhound bus”) then pivots to a meditation on the death of Elvis, from his rise to stardom (“Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand, a one-way ticket to the promised land”) to his death at Graceland (“They found him slumped up against the drain, a whole lot of trouble running through his veins”).
11. King’s Call (Phil Lynott)
Another musical meditation on the death of Elvis Presley: this one’s a deeply personal tribute by Thin Lizzy’s lead singer, Phil Lynott – who also died tragically young, passing away at the age of 36 in 1986. “King’s Call” is a track from Lynott’s first solo album – and if the guitar playing sounds familiar, that’s because Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler sat in on guitar and backing vocals. I love this tune.
12. Memphis Monday Morning (Bobby “Blue” Bland)
As Phil Lynott sang in the previous track, “It was a rainy night, the night The King went down.” So perhaps Mr. Bobby Blue Bland is singing about that very night, as he takes us through this jazzy, bluesy walk through the late night/early morning streets of Memphis. Along the way, he name checks my brother’s hotel and several other Memphis locations. The musicianship on this track is awesome: a little cool jazz mixed with the blues for all you classy cats.
13. Big Train (From Memphis) (John Fogerty)
The great John Fogerty’s tribute to Sam Phillips and Sun records is dominated by the train imagery evoked in so many songs from and about Memphis. (By the way, I had the honor of meeting Sam Phillips in the late 1990’s when I interviewed him for Rick Nelson: Behind The Music. We sat at the same Formica kitchen table in Sam’s Memphis house where he sat with Elvis when he told the future King of Rock & Roll that he was selling his contract to RCA. No brag, just fact.) This song was on Fogerty’s hit 1985 “comeback album” Centerfield, and was covered the next year by the living Sun Records legends: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Alas, only The Killer is still with us at the age of 79.
14. Night Train To Memphis (Dean Martin)
Somehow, Dean Martin makes everything he does sound groovy and utterly cool.
Given that Dean was one of Elvis’ biggest heroes – and that Elvis tried to emulate Dino’s sound – it’s only fitting that the King of Cool have his spot in this Memphis themed lineup.
15. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)
In this fabulous track from Blonde on Blonde, Dylan puts together perhaps the greatest word collage in the history of rock & roll. And among all those words, he keeps referring to “the Memphis blues”, which he obviously has again – though he (and Jerry Reed’s guitar man) are stuck in Mobile, Alabama at the time. If this song had been sung by Ian Hunter it would be completely incomprehensible, but Dylan makes the words quite clear even if the meaning is elusive. Who cares? It’s great. It rocks. And it’s the last tune on this tribute to Memphis, Tennessee – the birthplace of rock & roll.
I don’t know where my life would have gone if the great Sheldon Patinkin had not walked into a small storefront theatre on Howard Street in Evanston — and took my silliness seriously. Sheldon didn’t just change my life. He changed generations of lives. I will miss him every damn day. But, in essential ways, he will always be with me. And he’ll be with Victoria and all of the thousands of creative people whose lives he touched.
We worked to meet his expectations because he was Sheldon. And we did not want to disappoint him. His laughter was the coin of the realm.
Sheldon Patinkin was funny and wise and warm and the very best humanity has to offer.
And now he’s gone?
Sheldon would have something funny to say about this.
I am at a loss.
We’ll always love you, Sheldon. And we’ll never forget you.