Friday, January 30, 2009

Mary, Queen of Victory, pray for us!

This is me in the 5th grade (1975).
Nice hair!

We just finished up Catholic Schools Week! And a saintly week it was. I kicked it off at St. Ann's in Prairie Village, then St. George had a snow day, so we rescheduled. We rocked the gym at Holy Cross in Overland Park, and finished with a rousing version of "This Little Light of Mine" at St. Regis in Kansas City.

This week brings me back to my roots, as I am a product of Catholic education. 17 years! It's true. Kindergarten through eighth grades at St. Peter's, Rockhurst High School, and Marquette University. (I suffered through one semester at University of Missouri - Columbia and, well, let's just say that going to school with 25,000 other kids wasn't for me. And I did my master's at University of New Mexico, so I have a little "public" in me.)

With the Catholic Education I got the guitar masses, uniforms, getting out of school to serve funerals, and nuns. We were taught by the Sister's of Mercy at St. Peter's -- which always cracks me up. Mercy, right? Like, they're supposed to live it and dispense it as Christ did. I swear my scalp is permanently tattooed (I can see it now that I'm balding) from where Sr. Jean used to tap the ball-point of her pen into my head. (Sr. Jean was an awesome English teacher and generally very cool, but that pen hurt.)

When I started kindergarten in the late 60's, the nuns all wore habits -- a couple of them in the full Blues-Brothers-Penguin garb, most in veils. By the time we graduated in the late 70's most of them had kicked the habit and transformed into groovy progressive nuns. Sr. Damien and St. Johanna were our principals, and both very cool. Sr. Colette was a sweet, old rebel-rouser -- always pulling a wagon full of food for the poor and rallying for some cause. Sr. Cecilia-Marie taught my sisters and subbed in my class a couple of times, which was enough to scare me. There was another nun who was about seven feet tall, but nobody seemed to know her real name. We just called her Sr. Jolly Green Giant. (We were so polite.)

If you forgot to bring your lunch to school (as I did often), you had to climb the stairs of humiliation up to the convent on the top floor of the school building, knock on the door, confess your forgetfulness to the aged sister-at-arms, and sit in penitential silence while she fixed you a PB&J. The deafening hum of the fluorescent lights and that sickening ever-present smell of gravy made the wait maddening. With a slight bow and a quick "Thank you, Sister." I'd split down the stairs, two at a time, back to the chaotic safety and comforting sour-milk-smell of the cafeteria.

There are a lot of glorious mysteries about elementary school that still linger. One mystery was the unusual ritual before the start of each basketball game -- our team would huddle together, put a hand in a pile in the middle, get a pep-talk from the coach, and then finish with a rousing and manly "Mary, Queen of Victory, pray for us!" What was up with that? And who started that tradition? As if Mary was taking sides between St. Elizabeth and St. Peter. Or, as if Mary had ever even played basketball.

People write whole books about their Catholic School experiences, as could I. Show me one public school kid who can match our tales.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our Inaugural Ball

Calhoun, Missouri. Population: 491. Home of the annual Colt Show (I misread the sign on the way in and thought it said "99th Annual
Cult Show," and was on the lookout for witches.) Salute!!

So let's go ahead and round up that population to 500. Last night about 100 people turned out for the show in the school gym. That means one-fifth of the Calhoun citizenry was rockin' in the bleachers! A pretty respectable showing for a Tuesday night, especially when most of the nation was still recovering from their giddy Obama-palooza "hangover." (Jeni and I were still reeling!)

I must say that not one of the Calhounians appeared to have been sipping the Obama Kool-Aid or to be significantly moved by the inauguration of our 44th president. Maybe they were just more excited that Mr. Stinky Feet was in town. Or, maybe it was the free pre-show spaghetti dinner that lured them in and intoxicated them.

Whatever it was, we had a ball. And the crowd was into it. Even the middle-schoolers were gracious enough to: (a) not heckle me, and (b) actually willingly participate and have fun. Goes to show you how a good tight-knit community can raise some great kids.

Thank you, Calhoun!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King: In the name of Love

Like many of the great social, political, and spiritual luminaries throughout history, Martin Luther King, Jr., showed us the way. And he shouted the secret from the mountain top. We just haven't been listening too well.

Here is some of his wisdom...

"A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan."

I pray that now we are moving out of the age of soft-mindedness.

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

I pray that one day we get that a healthy and educated citizenry is our best defense, offense, and specialty team.

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

I pray, too, that we are beyond the era of sincere ignorance. Look where that sincerity has led us.

But, then Dr. King also warns us of a dangerous trap...this one is so hard for me...

"Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness."

Sometimes it feels so good to "stick it to the man," but in the end I know it never pays to get resentful and point fingers.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that...I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

And finally, like all good teachers, he throws it all back in our laps...

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

What have we done lately??

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Carol Brady: Queen of mod mamas.

So, Jeni had an idea to introduce Lyda to some wholesome retro TV shows.

It started with some YouTube clips from the Brady Bunch. The "Silver Platters" episode. The Peter's-voice-change episode. Mostly clips of the kids singing. Innocent enough. Then, it turns out that Jeni has the Brady Bunch album from when she was a kid. Instantly our living room was transformed into a theater where Lyda and Willa still dance around and lip-synch to hits like
Sunshine Day and Time to Change. Auditory assault, but very cute.

The next week Lyda announces to us and to her daycare buddies that her "new" favorite singing group is the Brady Bunch. She was met with blank stares from her friends. Poor kid. I had that parental wave of dread when you first realize that your child could possibly -- just possibly -- be...well... a smidge nerdy. But hey, I'll gladly take the nerdy Brady clan over Hannah Montana any day.

Thankfully (or so I thought), we hit a mini jackpot. The library has a couple of seasons worth of The Brady Bunch on DVD. Of course Lyda is hooked. She so wants to be Cindy, and thinks Bobby is the funniest kid ever. She even dreams about being one of the Bradys.

Now this cute passing fancy has turned into obsession. I knew we were on a slippery slope when Lyda asked, "When do I get to meet the Brady Bunch?" This is not an unreasonable request coming from a girl who has met all her favorite sports mascots and many of her musical heroes and hung out backstage with the Hiccups;).

We tried to explain to Lyda as gently as possible that Cindy is now pushing 50 and probably looks a little different. That didn't seem to compute in her four-year-old brain, or maybe she just didn't care. She pressed on, "OK, but when can I meet them?"

Then her eyes grew wide and she blurted, "I know!! Maybe you can get them to play at Jiggle Jam!"

By now Lyda understands that the Brady Bunch is just a TV family from the past -- actors playing roles and now those actors are older than her dad. Or dead, as in Robert Reed's case (who passed in 1992). He's even included in bedtime prayers when she talks about the angels in heaven who are looking after her -- Aunt Stephanie, Grandpa Bill, and Mike Brady.

But here's something that Jeni's "Brady Bunch venture" didn't portend. Out of nowhere Lyda says to Jeni, "Mom, let's go shopping for some clothes and you can buy some skirts." Fair enough. So they go shopping and Jeni tries on a skirt and Lyda says to her, "It looks great! Can you wear that when you pick me up from school?"

By this point in the journey, Jeni is starting to get a complex. Is she not living up to the standard of the other moms? But what can we expect from a kid whose parents work from home in their pajamas (or sweat pants and faded t-shirts)?

So, last night comes the kicker. As I'm helping Lyda into bed she said, "Dad, when I grow up to be a mom, I'm going to wear skirts and dresses and lots of cool jewelry and high heel shoes."

"Around the house?" I ask.

"Well, mostly when I go out, but, yes, around the house. I'm going to have lots of clothes and lots of shoes just like..." you guessed it... "Carol Brady."

Poor Jeni. One-upped by the queen of mod. How can women compete with a mom like her? As if the bar isn't set high enough already.

So do you think we should introduce Lyda to fellow super-moms Jane Jetson, Marion Cunningham, Shirley Partridge, and June Cleaver? Or, should we just contain the damage and stop at Carol Brady?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

'08 was great -- '09 is lookin' fine!

OK, so you may have lost some money or your job or your home or your faith in humanity in the economic freak-out this year, but even with all that, 2008 was a pretty remarkable year for some historically obvious reasons. I will focus on the not-so-obvious.

My eternal gratitude goes to all the people who booked me for a show and hosted us and made us dinner and gave us a place to rest. Many thanks to my lovely bride Jeni for her patience and awesome ability to book the shows. And I couldn't do any of this without the support of my big brother Dan -- everyone needs someone to look out for their best interests as he does mine.

Here is an incomplete list of some of my favorite moments and favorite discoveries from last year. First the numbers...

222 -- Number of shows in 2008

17,707 -- Number of miles on tour in 2008

48,600 -- Estimated number of audience members in 2008

Favorite career news: I have officially wangled out of my contract with Warner Brothers and am an independent artist again. Free at last, free at last!

Favorite news from a friend: My friend Annie gave birth at age 43 to her first child, Timmy. (This one just squeaked in under the wire, as he was born yesterday -- 12/31/08.)

Favorite new town we visited on tour: Tallahassee, FL. Aside from not recognizing an otherwise non-descript office building as the state capital, we were impressed with Tally! And the local paper ran a nice spread plugging the shows.

Favorite hotel: The Tulsa Doubletree. We slept on an inflatable bed in a meeting suite the size of our house! Great for hide & seek. An overbooked hotel worked in our favor.

Favorite gig: We played to about 3,000 people at Jiggle Jam -- the best family music festival in the country! Be there -- Memorial Day weekend in KC!

Favorite professional moment: Playing on stage at Jiggle Jam with my musical mentors John McCutcheon, Tom Chapin, and Trout Fishing in America.

Favorite interaction with an animal: At the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, we met a penguin up close, and it pecked at Lyda's shoe stings.

Favorite parent moment: (three-way tie) Watching Willa and Lyda hug and kiss; hearing Lyda read a book; and witnessing the sheer ecstasy on Lyda's face when she saw her favorite characters parading down main street at Disney World. (See entry on Disney World for Lyda's Disney recommendations.)

Favorite pic: Lyda in the cockpit of a 737-300 on our trip to Seattle. "May I see the plane's steering wheel?" she asked the friendly pilot. Ask and you shall receive.

Favorite free activity in Kansas City: The Lakeside Nature Center in Swope Park. Eagles, snakes, fish, and a snapping turtle the size of a snow tire.

Favorite new kids music: Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could (self-titled album, nominated for a Grammy); Trout Fishing in America (Big Round World, nominated for a Grammy); Funky Mama's Moo Juice; oh yeah, and my new CD Upside Down (nearly nominated for a Grammy).

Favorite new adult music: Huh? There is new adult music. If it didn't come out before 2004 (the year Lyda was born), chances are I haven't heard it.

Favorite new venue that we played: The C.L. Hoover Opera House in Junction City, KS. They call it the "Jewel on the Prairie," and it is spectacular. Beautiful renovations and great sound. For you army folks getting transferred to Ft. Riley, fear not, Junction City is a cool little town with fun things to do.

Favorite library venue: (tie) The new Truman Forum at the Kansas City Plaza library is gorgeous (although the sounds issues need to be ironed out) and was host to 400 or so for my 10th anniversary concert. Thank you, April (who should get some sort of librarian award!). And every library should be so blessed as to have a space like Connor's Cove Children's Theater at Tulsa's Hardesty Regional Library. It's got a playful nautical theme and is perfectly appointed to be kid-friendly.

Favorite Lyda line: Looking sad and dejected one day, she said, "It's been such a long time since I've been to The White House. I think we need to go back."

Favorite Willa word: "Hoo-Hoo," which means peanut butter and jelly. Acquired from my peanut butter song.

Favorite chain restaurant on the road: Macaroni Grill. "The people are really nice here and the food is very good," says finicky food critic Lyda. You get to pick your own vegetarian pasta creation. And in some cities their house Chianti is discounted on Tuesdays. Wahoo! Everyone is happy.

Favorite new toy: Dowsing rods. Yes, the kind that people use in old frontier movies to find water and gold. Very cool, and they really work.

Forecast for 2009:
  • Tours planned for southern and northern Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, southern Indiana, Twin Cities, and points in between. Let us know if you want us to come to your town. Contact us.
  • The KC Jiggle Jam is set for Memorial Day weekend May 23-24. Check out the developments as they happen at Jiggle Jam. Dan Zanes & Friends will be here!
  • Great prosperity for all!
  • More reading!