Mountaintop Days: The Beginning

I started blogging when my wife was battling cancer and we knew it was terminal. I quit work to be home with her, and to occupy my time I started to write. What time we had to share was more important than any amount of future financial security I might have after she was gone.

That lack of finances and my own weariness combined to find me at another crossroads, and I have decided to do what many have asked me to do in the past: tell you part of my life story. I hope some will now understand where I’m coming from.

Recent world and personal events have led me to this day. Actually, a lifetime has led me to this day in the last week of the eleventh month of the year 2015. But the beginning was sometime in the spring of 1966.

It was May when I first drove the winding roads through the deepest parts of one of the most beautiful states in our country, West Virginia. The Vietnam War was raging, and young men and women were dying. Protesters were marching and going to jail, and some of them were dying as well. It was a time of almost diabolical contrast, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the loving fields of San Francisco. Woodstock was yet to be. United States President Lyndon Johnson was saying that we should stay in Vietnam until communist aggression was stopped there. US troops totaled 190,000, and 20,000 Buddhists marched in demonstrations against the policies of the military government in South Vietnam.

Driving that back-country road with the beauty of spring coming to life, I was feeling far removed from all that was going on in the “outside world.” But I was about as not removed as a person could be. I was, in the words of John Fogerty, “a fortunate one.” I had already refused to take part in the safe life, having publicly burned my draft card. I had refused induction into the Vietnam War, after forcing the Selective Service to reclassify me from “fortunate” (otherwise known as 3-A, that is, a family hardship deferment) [What Hardship? you ask] and a college deferment, to boot, which meant I was never going to Vietnam. Except I was not going to sit silently and watch others die while I took the easy way out.

As I drove that beautiful country road, I thought about the day I was supposed to step forward and accept enlistment but instead stepped backward and said “No, thank you.” I laughed as I remembered the Sergeant’s face, which looked like it was about to explode. Prison, no doubt, was in my future as it was part of my plan to accept no deal “they” would offer, but first I was going to have a little fun and lead them, the FBI, and a few others on a merry chase. There might be more on those adventures in the future, but this is about the wonder and beauty of being alone and the ability to sink into my mind, leaving behind the sounds of the city and the normal rush and noise of the day-to-day world.

To get where I was going there would be a few more miles on paved road, the last few covered on foot, and there was no cabin. That would need to be built before the first cold spell on my mountaintop.

(To be continued)

I might say more about this blog in the podcast, but there will be definitely some rock-and-roll history, music, news, and more on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  Join me there.



The Art and Power of Protest

I once told someone that I was a student at UCLA in the 1960’s, and they responded by saying, in a most complimentary way, “Oh, that den of radicals!” I just smiled.

True nonviolent protest is an art, it is a learning process, and it has a system. Some of the protests I had seen recently had been discouraging. To me, a protest, hunger strike, or boycott has nothing to do with throwing things, setting fires, or looting. I have also been more than discouraged by the way the authorities have handled peaceful protests. Billy clubs, mace, or tasers should not be used on anyone doing nothing but sitting on the ground or locking arms in a circle of solidarity.  Part of the art of peaceful protest is to keep your head when confronted by a big uniform with a big stick. The largest student strike/boycott in American history occurred in May and June, 1970, during the aftermath of the American invasion of Cambodia and the killings of student protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. An estimated four million students at more than 450 universities, colleges, and high schools participated in the student strike.

I had thought that students today had become so apathetic that not only did they not know how to protest, they didn’t care enough to do so, but now there has been an awakening not only of the power of protest but the art of protest.  The series of actions recently at the University of Missouri related to race, workplace benefits, and leadership included a hunger strike by student Jonathan Butler and a boycott by the football team and resulted in the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, and the chancellor of that flagship Columbia campus, R. Bowen Loftin. These results were infectious. Students at Ithaca College in upstate New York gathered last Wednesday, 11/11, for a major protest on campus, demanding that the school's president, Tom Rochon, resign over a series of racist incidents at the school. According to the Ithaca Journal, about 1,000 students participated in what they called a solidarity walkout, inspired by the student protests over racism at the University of Missouri as well as at Yale University and Smith College. I hope these protests continue to grow and branch out into all the social issues that are facing us, but most of all I hope there will be teachers to show students how to protest peacefully and those in uniform learn how to handle peaceful protests.

Music, of course, has always played a part in protest. Phil Ochs once said "A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for BS." John Fogerty, in a 2004 protest song titled "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" noted that voices that started as whispers a long time ago became louder and stronger day by day, and I hope this continues to happen.

There’s more on the power and art of protest in the podcast as well as a rock-and-roll timeline and the answer to this question: What song has the Prince of Protest Music, Bob Dylan, not performed since 1976, and why? Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.



I’m No Lunatic, I Just Love the Sun

The moon gets a lot of credit in songs for being romantic, but to me some of the most romantic songs are about the sun. Maybe I feel that way only because I am a sun worshiper. The sun is my god and goddess. Elton John wants the sun to not go down on him, and John Denver said sunshine made him high. It does me also. The Beatles gave praise in “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Summertime,” composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, is one of the most covered songs in music.

I put a post on Facebook not long ago dealing with two things. One is the changing of the clocks, or falling back, as it is not-so-lovingly called in my world, an exercise that no one seems to like and for which no one seems to have a logical explanation, but every year, like clockwork, there it goes. The other issue is SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I have suffered from SAD since I was a young boy and anyone who says it’s all in your head is right, but if one more person in my presence denies it’s a real medical issue, it’s all going to be in their head as I sucker-smack them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year, and if you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months. SAD saps your energy and makes you feel moody. The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, but your biological clock might come into play. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight disrupts the body's internal clock and causes feelings of depression. Bubble-headed news types tell me I’ll gain an hour of sleep when the clocks change in fall, but they have rubbed my ticker the wrong way. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood and might trigger depression, and the change in seasons can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

It’s estimated that about 6% of the population suffers from mild to severe SAD, and from what I can tell, nearly 100% of the population suffers from the time change. If I let myself, I could get really depressed thinking it’s some type of government plot to make me crazy.

In the podcast, there might not be much more about SAD, but who knows what will pop into my brain when I open the mic? There will be a rock-and-roll timeline and the answer to this question: What famous, now deceased, singer-songwriter was once a Harvard theology major? Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.


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