Category Archives: Friends and Family

Old Friends and Cigar-Store Indians

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Last week I spent five days in Nashville, visiting my “old” friend Greg Cook.  “Old friends” here means Cub Scouts in 1973,  “band camp” in 1982, college roomates ‘til 1986, and pretty much everything in between (including, e.g.,  at least one mild vehicular accident and one jointly-but-inadvertently-stolen tuba).  Shortly after college, life took us on very-different paths.  Greg moved to Nashville and joined another of our childhood friends, Heath Wright, to become part of a country band that would go on to have a Gold Album, a #1 hit, and more.   I became a CPA in Oklahoma, then headed off to Harvard Law School to start a life in the big-city legal world.  I was holed up in a dorm room in Cambridge studying secured transactions and antitrust; Greg and Heath were on the Tonight Show.

I’d peeked in on Greg’s world periodically.  In the mid-1990s, I was in their Nashville studio as they recorded part of their second album, and I briefly rode their tour bus as an honorary “roadie,” helping tote their equipment on and off the stage during a short arena tour of the deep South.  They got to joke that they had the most highly-educated roadie in all of country music; I got to go home and brag about my momentary brush with the show-biz big-time, and about my dear friends who were living it every day.  They must have put me down as a manager or something, because I actually got one of their gold albums with my name on it.

When I retired recently, I started giving some close friends an assignment:  Come up with something for “us” to do – an adventure, a trip, something that they’d enjoy.  I’m easily entertained, so I knew I’d be up for most anything they found interesting.  I was expecting a something like a trek in the Andes.  Greg pondered this assignment for a day or so, then returned with this:  “I want to you come to Nashville for a week and write songs with me.”    Though I assumed he’d confused me with someone else, my reponse:  “I’m in!!!”  I reminded him that I could play only about five chords on a guitar, and hadn’t participated in any organized musical activity since I last played trumpet in the OU marching band in 1986, but he was happily unphased by those tiny details.  Apparently all I needed to do was come up with a handful of witty phrases that we could fashion into what he called “third-grade poems” set to music (a.k.a., your basic country song).  So that’s how I found my way to Nashville last week.  We even had one “co-writing” session with a friend of Greg’s who’d previously co-written a #1 George Strait hit.  We wrote three songs – so get ready because I’m pretty sure I’ll be famous by this time next year.

Of course that’s Greg in the pictures.  Three-time Grandpa Greg now.  He’s sitting in the studio where we spent three days trying to write those songs.  No, he does not actually / ordinarily play the ukulele.  In fact, the ukulele belongs to me:  it’s the kind Warren Buffett plays.  I bought it (and brought it along) on the theory that it would provide a high level of amusement during my Nashville week.  I was right.  I hope Greg forgives me for the pictures – the fluorescent lights of a tiny studio are never going to be gloriously flattering for photography, but it was a week I’ll remember forever and I surely needed a picture or two.  I’d intended to do something a little more photographically glamorous like I did with Heath, but we were having too much fun doing other things.

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On an unrelated note, we drove through the countryside north of Nashville and came upon this oversized plaster cigar-store indian, which had apparently fared poorly during a recent windstorm.  Greg said it had actually been like this for months.  Given my recent photoshoot of the plaster-statue version of Marilyn Monroe, I absolutely had to get some pictures.  I’m sure if I were more philosophical there might be some great metaphorical statement in these pictures, but I’m too shallow for that and mostly it was just funny to see.

As always, I was crawling around trying to get an unusual angle.  This prompted Greg to pull out his camera phone, which in turn caused his wife, Jamie, to pull out hers…

My Kind of Town

I live in Houston, America’s fourth largest city.  Only New York, L.A., and Chicago are bigger, and if I had to choose among those three for a next-choice favorite city to live in, I think I’d choose Chicago every time.  Unless you asked me during the winter.  Let’s face it – the Midwest isn’t a beautiful place in February.  Fortunately, Chicago has more than its fair share of great museums – largely vestiges of two “World’s Fairs” held there (1893 & 1933) – so it’s possible to do lots of sightseeing indoors.

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My sister, my mom and I were recently in Chicago to see my nephew in the opening of a play.  It was cold, but I did have one day of nice weather.  I wandered down to Millenium Park, home of the big chrome “Bean” (a.k.a. the Cloud Gate statue).  I met David, the security guard (that’s him under the yellow hood).  I asked if his job was to keep people from stealing the 110-ton steel sculpture; he said it was mostly to keep people from hurting themselves.  I had trouble getting his picture because he kept darting away to scold people for climbing on nearby railings.

I also stumbled across a new (temporary) downtown icon – a 30-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe.  Cheesy, but a fun photo-op.  The blown-up-skirt Chicago statue is racy for a public sidewalk, but the boringly conservative alternative (i.e., Dallas’s version) isn’t worth the plaster.

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The blue, high-tech-looking scene is the Museum of Science and Industry — that’s my sister, Jana, controlling the big orange thing.  The dinosaurs are in the Field Museum.  I didn’t get any pictures of the Art Institute that could possibly do it justice.  My mother (Joyce) made me ensure that the snowy street scene photo was dark and gloomy enough to portray her bravery in facing the Midwest cold.  Of course my sister, Jana, gets the photo credit for the group shot of me, Tyler and my mom.

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Chester and the Unbearable Burden

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My nephew Tyler’s first semi-professional big-city play opened this weekend in Chicago, so my sister, my  mom and I made the trip to clap, laugh and hug.  The play was a spoof of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.  Despite my never having seen any of those movies, he actually did make me laugh out loud – and his mother, his grandmother and I objectively selected him as the shining star of the show.

Chester and the Unbearable Burden was written, produced and directed by two of Tyler’s college friends.  Tyler’s character – the villain, Dark Lord Molvak – was an endearingly obnoxious, gregariously murderous evil wizard.  That’s him in the black robes with the big “M” on the front.  The black costume against a black backdrop in a dimly-lit theater was a cruel joke to play on a photographer/uncle.  Even so, I got to contribute some workable pics for their press kit.  A few have already made it to an online Chicago theater review of the play (3 out of 4 stars — not bad!),  and to the Harry Potter “Mugglenet” website review (which was very positive!).

If you know anyone in Chicago, tell them to go see “Chester” this month at the Athenaeum Theater.  Buy tickets here.

 

Stars, Stripes, Barns and Guitars

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Over Christmas, I set a record (for this millenium, anyway) for my longest stretch staying in Vian: 9 days.  Among the amusements during my stay was a visit with Heath Wright (of Ricochet – previously discussed here and here).  I’ve known Heath since . . . well, since he could not play the guitar.  I often tell people (with a half-straight face) that Heath, Greg Cook and I “used to be in a little band together before they formed Ricochet.”  Granted, it was the Vian High School marching band, but my story is technically true.

I had volunteered to take some pictures that he could use for whatever it is cowboy rockstars use pictures for.  I told Heath I’d need to get started before sunrise to get the best lighting.  This took two attempts — on Wednesday I arrived dutifully at 6:55 a.m. and was greeted only by a locked door and a dark house with a deep-sleeping Heath allegedly inside.  I’m a good sport, so we tried again Thursday and things went much better.

I even brought along a voice-activated lightstand (“VALS”), who you may know better as “Joyce,” my mother.  She was a huge help juggling the flashes.  I’d borrowed my Mom’s 10’x15′ American flag (doesn’t every mother have one of these?) to use as a backdrop; we strapped it to the side of Heath’s barn, set up the lights and started snapping pictures.  I had to get the camera way down low for some of the more interesting angles, which left me wallowing in a fair amount of cow sh…manure.

For a free, novice, amateur middle-aged aspiring photographer, I thought these pictures turned out pretty well.  Heath’s a pretty decent model — maybe this was not, as they say, his first rodeo. Thanks to Heath and my Mom for their patience.

We took some pictures sans-flag, too.  Note the big W on the gate.  Heath’s house/land is a.k.a. the Rockin’ W Ranch.  This festive name has nothing to do with Heath’s chosen profession — it was his dad (Bill)’s cattle brand even before Heath got his first electric guitar.  I even got a few family pictues with Heath’s 9-yr-old son, Dustin, who is thinner, has more hair, and is better looking than his dad.

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Tenacious D (G?)

My neice, Grace Parker, whose Fort GIbson Junior High basketball team never lost a game, recently made her debut with the high school varsity and JV teams.   They won both games, but her uncle’s indoor no-flash sports photography wasn’t very productive (Obviously, I need more-expensive lenses).  Here are a handful of shots, though.  Grace is the one with the blue headband.

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