Tuesday, March 28, 2023

On a High Note

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

Music is my drug of choice. Coffee comes in a close second but music transforms my world on a daily basis. It once occurred to me that I listen to an average of 600 plus hours of music each year. It’s seldom if ever at home, almost always in a car instead. But everywhere I go, my music is playing. It’s been that way even before my old gang in the neighborhood introduced me to the ways of the world.

I once read about our own personal ‘music window,’ that is, that unique period in our young lives when music was paramount in extracting emotional responses from some song. For me that time began with my paper route starting in seventh grade and continuing on throughout high school.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

My Motorola transistor radio was that special beacon to a world I hardly knew even existed. Those story songs dug deep into my consciousness and long-buried sensitive bones. The lyrics and lilting melodies emitted images I’d never seen in my mind before.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

Do Wop was the beginning of this musical journey as I trudged through my neighborhood delivering newspapers. Morning and evening each day, in freezing temperatures and sauna summers, brought a repeat of old favorites and introduced me to the latest jukebox offerings.

I graduated from race music and vanilla flavorings in the U.S. Army. It took a recent German immigrant in San Francisco to introduce me to a whole new level of musical sophistication. Hans had been drafted just months after arriving in this country with his parents. The Presidio was his short stay before moving on to the language school at Ford Ord. The young man was smart, very sophisticated, and cultured. He used to read classic American novels with a thesaurus at his side.

One day he asked me if I wanted to go to a play in North Beach. It was at a small black box theater tucked in between two bars and a brothel. ‘Hell, yes,’ I answered, not really knowing what a black box theater was or what kind of play would go by the title of ‘The Fantasticks.’

 ‘Try to Remember’ was my graduation gift from pop to the classics. I began to listen to showtunes and other singer/songwriters from outside my very sheltered, limited mental musical collection. It opened a whole new world of music to me.

Then Bob Dylan came into my life along with a host of folk singers, Americana classics and historical beauties from the coal-mining hills swept me into another world that spoke directly to my wondering / wandering mind. Collectively, they spoke a language that resonated with the strange new world I was entering into in San Francisco, the whole hippie movement and social questioning that had just begun swirling around in my head. The music spoke of rambling and far-off places and exotic travel that only added to the fantastical images crowding my imaginative mind.

It sure as hell wasn’t Pat Boone or the other safe white pop singers that White America wanted me to listen to. It was race music, the blues, Gospel Music, the Appalachian classics, and edgy stuff that talked to my soul; even if I could never clearly explain it at the time.

By the time I got back home, Psychedelic music, folk-rock, country-rock, and a dozen other amalgamations of the same genre all bunched together to send my head a spinning with the volume up and the windows rolled down.

The rundown, ragged-at-the-edges Dinkytown became my haunt and the Triangle Bar my home.

Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I would immerse myself in that period’s musical library. My musical window has remained much the same as the years pass by. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to find great musical offerings from each decade to round out my collection.

Recently, I’ve discovered (remember my age and the fact that I’m slow) the wonderful offerings on YouTube. This has opened up a whole new kaleidoscope of musical offerings. Now that I’m toying with the idea of writing music myself for several of my plays, YouTube has helped my exploration of styles, sophisticated lyrical offerings, and rhythmic presentations.

I guess if you’re going to get high every day, soft tunes and hard rock isn’t a bad way to go.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Being True to Yourself

Writing plays or screenplays can be a tricky business. No matter how hard you try or don’t try, someone, someplace, somehow is going to be offended. In fact, the same goes for pretty much any kind of art when presented to the public. At its core, this piece of your heart is the vision, feelings, attitudes, and philosophy of the creative artist who gives birth to it. And one hundred percent of the time, there is someone who doesn’t like it.

Unless an artist creates their work only for themselves and never lets it see the light of other people’s eyes, that exposure will open it up to differing opinions, reactions, and dispositions. In the real world, if that work of art is for sale or distribution, then the artist must remember they are now operating in a totally different environment from their own.

In our capitalistic society, creativity often takes a backseat to commerce. At its core, art is a business, if say, you want your plays or movie scripts accepted. Potential buyers have their own objectives, standards, financial goals, etc. to consider. Then there is the question of personal tastes and what is currently acceptable / rejectable or out of ‘flavor’ with the buying public.

The flip side of creating a piece of art that meets ‘the standards of acceptability’ is for the artist to first be true to themselves. Anytime a piece of art is exposed to the public, its creator must face the mirror of self-scrutiny. Therein lies the challenge. To what degree must an artist face changing one’s own feelings, code of conduct, personal beliefs, etc. in order to get accepted, purchased, or respected by the public or buyers you are after.

I’ve faced that question on a number of my written babies. Audiences loved my first couple of plays. Box office sales and a crowded auditorium attested to the acceptance of my storyline. Still, behind the scenes, there was some crumbling because those first two plays had references in them to ‘Denver Brownies’ and ‘grass.’ I was told afterwards that some cast members objected to my storyline on personal grounds. Another play dealt with old age and coming of death. A few shadow voices were concerned that older audience members might see themselves in such roles. Others didn’t like some of my dialogue had references to God and the here-after.

A couple of my produced plays in California dealt with relationships among polyamorous throuples and single older gay men. It was subject matter that worked for a California audience but (I’m assuming here) not the fodder for your average midwestern audience.

One of my first novels was seen as pornographic by a former collaborator because it referenced ‘frolicking on the grass’ for carnal pleasure, realistic battle scenes, and the F-bomb dropped frequently throughout.

Another novel of mine ‘Playground for the Devil’ was questioned because of the age of one of my sexual targets in the opening paragraph. It only got more interesting as the storyline progressed.

Close advisors loved my comic strip idea; ‘Sweetpea and the Gang.’ But there was a unanimous opinion that it was too white when I first created the cartoon characters. I agreed but only because adding more diverse characters would add to the depth and breadth of my potential storylines. Following a PC trend wasn’t part of that decision, not even close.

Among some in the artist’s community, there is a feeling that true illustrations are hand-drawn and not computer-generated. ‘Waleed, the Skinny Hippo’ was computer generated art and thus not considered as ‘honest’ art coming from a real illustrator. Charles Schultz would probably agree. Yet based on reactions I’ve seen from the children who have read Waleed, it makes absolutely no difference at all to them.

All of which is to say, at what point does an artist say to him or herself: Sorry but that’s the way I see it, I write it or I feel about it. At what point is it okay to compromise and still be true to one self. I’ve already decided that I have to follow my gut and be true to my inner compass. I have no problem making adjustments or compromises as long as I can still sleep soundly at night and love what I’ve created. Several projects in the near future should test this assumption once again.

A new play of mine deals with the misfits, outcasts and people living off the grid. It’s an unwashed look at folks you would cross the street to avoid and a build-in distain for those who can’t help themselves. Hopefully, audiences will be empathic to their plight.

A new movie script in development, tentatively entitled: ‘Where or When,’ deals with a mutual attraction between a divorcee and the proverbial rich man’s son. There is simmering sexual tension, conflicting class status, a jealous boyfriend, an abusive ex-husband, and a scheming but well-intentioned sister. Sounds perfect for the Hallmark Channel.

We’ll have to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Mother of All Road Trips

This was an epic ‘best of all’ road trips to celebrate my Eightieth birthday. Brian and Melanie had planned this entire adventure and sprung it on me during their visit here at Christmas. It would begin in San Francisco then follow the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway, down the California coastline and end up in San Diego. I flew up to San Francisco on March 1st, met up with the gang at my gate and we were off on our adventure.

Fifty-Nine years after I first arrived there in the Fall of 1964, I was back on familiar ground… or was I? San Francisco had changed a lot since I was first deposited in front of my barracks, as a fresh-faced recruit right out of basic training.

My job was that of a staff reporter at the post newspaper. With more than two and a half years of college education, I was considered a good catch for the Army and a potential lifer.

The base quickly became my new launch pad from which to explore the city in a used motor scooter, begin work at an art theater downtown, and grow my library of paperback books and vinyl records. Just walking the old parade grounds, now covered by grass, brought back a plethora of stimulating memories.

Back in the day, the farthest I got on my motor scooter was down to Half Moon Bay. This time around, we drove through the quaint town of Santa Cruz and visited the giant redwoods there.

I had a strong visceral feeling as we drove further down the coast to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Back then, this was John Steinbeck’s world and my mother was a part of it. Long before World War Two changed California from a semi-rural state to the crowded, fast-paced world that it’s become, this area was heavy on fishing and the coastline had become a glamorous get-away for Hollywood stars and industrialists.

Eighty-three years earlier, an adventurous young woman was just beginning to spread her wings along the very same coastline. Newly escaped from the rigid confines of working as a maid on Summit Avenue and long sojourns back to the farm to care for her aging parents, Hildegarde was, for the first time in her life, free from the constraints of her rural German Catholic upbringing.

We drove through Seventeen Mile Drive in Carmel, where my mother used to work at a maid to the wealthy and enjoyed the famous bag piper at Spanish Bay who plays each evening as the sun goes down.

We visited Cannery Row and the Wharf where my mother might have gone for fresh fish for her employers or for a weekend getaway. I’ll never know but the chances are great it probably happened there.

Moving farther down the coast, the kids and I returned to where my latest cerebral adventure took place. ‘Playground for the Devil’ is my latest novel and the Henry Miller Memorial Library played a pivotal role in its storyline. I wrote about the place based on research I had done online. It was refreshing to see that my description of the structure and the atmosphere there was close to right on the spot.

I didn’t include ‘Jack the cat’ in my novel but the back porch where my protagonists first engaged in verbal fisticuffs was right there as written. The Henry Miller Memorial Library/museum/bookstore proved to be a cathartic experience for me.

From Big Sur, we swung over to Paso Robles, had a wonderful luncheon at a vineyard, visited Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, checked out the pier at Pismo Beach and finally drove down to Santa Barbara.

After leaving Santa Barbara, skirting Los Angeles, and zeroing in on the beaches of San Diego, we ended up on Mission Beach and then finally Ocean Beach.

It was a three-day whirlwind adventure, stopping where we wanted, enjoying liquid refreshments, eating in the sunsets each evening; and sharing thoughts, feelings, and appreciation for the lives we’ve created for ourselves and our families. Family time is priceless and this trip was a certain example of that. Besides, it’s given me a ton of ideas for future blogs. Now the grandchildren can find out what it was really like for Mom and Dad and Papa.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


I believe in understatement; I always have.

There is great strength in low key, unobtrusive comments, claims and conditions. Instances of self-edification, braggadocio pontificating and ‘me too’ claims only serve to diminish what might be clear and honest self-examination.

As a normal, sometimes obnoxious parent, I have lectured my kids on this principle of mine. I’ve told them over the years to let other people fill in the holes, empty spaces, vapid images left undone and unspoken. Let them exaggerate and fib; not you. If they say it about you, it carries more weight than you speaking about yourself.


The Cretin Alumni class of 1961 has had more than its share of doctors, lawyers, and captains of industry. Yet at our reunions every ten years, I’ve never heard one of my classmates talk about their own accomplishments. The conversations usually focus on family or past historic stupid antics when we were all young and dumb, always good for a laugh.

Over the ten months I spent living in my barracks at the Presidio of San Francisco, we had a very talented pool of individuals who brought their skills to the service. One close group included an artist and designer, a master mechanic and one PFC that wanted to be a writer.

We also had two real estate entrepreneurs flipping Victorian houses, a pimp with his own street corner downtown, a drug dealer (grass only), and an early version of an Uber driver; to name a few. Most of us had some kind of side hustle, mine was working at an art theater and letting my friends in for free.

In my early days in television, I was fortunate enough to work with some of the first public television pioneers. Folks who brought their understated talents to producing great educational and instructional programming. Mixed among the group were producers, directors, and writers eager to explore this new medium of communication.

Our neighborhood in Palm Springs is also a showcase of understatement. Unless you purposely pry, it’s very hard to find out what our fellow southlanders have accomplished before moving here, mainly in retirement. Understatement in homes, automobiles, and life styles are the norm. It’s only at social events such as our semi-annual neighborhood block party that one finds themselves mingling with some pretty interesting and accomplished people.

There is the retired Chief mechanic and head pilot for all of Walt Disney’s many corporate jets. The head of the Pharmacy Department at Eisenhower Medical Center lives here along with the past head of the accounting Department for Ticketmaster / Live Nation. The head of marketing for Playboy Enterprises, worldwide tells great stories of hanging out with Christie Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s daughter and CEO of the firm.

Over time, we’ve chatted with CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs, none of which was revealed unless it came up in a casual conversation about something relevant to their past employment. A lot of these folks are DINKs (dual income, no kids) and while they have the financial where-with-all for showy toys and lots of material things, they seldom have them.

Other retirees like me are doing some interesting things and not preaching about it. It’s an atmosphere of casual understatement that I find very comfortable. As much as I am fascinated with real estate, Sharon and I have only lived in two houses in fifty-two years of marriage.

Likewise, we have only had four new cars between us during that same time period. My Ford Escape was my favorite. I would have driven that beauty into the ground if an errant driver hadn’t hastened its demise. Understatement in cars and homes and other material things is a handle Sharon and I can embrace and feel comfortable with. We’ve both worked hard all our lives. We don’t have to have things to prove it.

What really matters for us is the family time we’ve accumulated thus far.