Monday, May 28, 2012

"Grateful" Memorial Day

Of course we are happy today. For most of us, we've got a day off of work and it's made even better by the fact that the day off is a Monday -- typically the most difficult day of the week. But on Memorial Day, I've never been comfortable when people say "Happy Memorial Day!" A Memorial Day greeting should express gratitude and be a touch more somber. It should pay respect to our veterans who both served our country and, especially, to those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

Every year for me, Memorial Day is the one holiday that packs the most meaning into a day off. Many years we'll go to a service at Wood National Cemetery. This year we missed it, but within moments of posting this update, we will visit the cemetery and pay my respects to my father -- who is buried there -- and other veterans.

If you are resident of Southeastern Wisconsin and have never visited Wood National, I can't implore you enough to visit. Not only is it historical and grand, it will give you perspective on just how significant the sacrifice made by our veterans was and is.

I can't visit without getting a lump in my throat.

Maybe "Grateful Memorial Day!" would be more appropriate.

P.S. -- When you visit Wood, find my Dad's memorial stone and thank him from bringing me into your life. (Or blame him. Your choice!)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's Shakin', Alabama?

I'm late to the party, but my latest obsession is the music of the band Alabama Shakes. Fronted by the powerhouse voice of Brittany Howard and backed by a sometimes-bluesy/sometimes-rockin' foursome, they really can rock the house ... namely, mine.

It's one of those things that takes a few listens to grow on ya. The first tune that caught my ear was the catchy Hang Loose with its groovy guitar riff. But this is the genius: hook you with a catchy tune; and, the more you listen to album's other tracks, the more the band grows on you. (I think Hold On serves this purpose also.) Next thing you know, you're a fan.

But here's the part I that really turns me on: when you see an artist really get into their art. You feel it. You feel it that they're feeling it. They feel it that you're feeling it. It takes off. It's magical. That's soul.

That's what happens when I watch Alabama Shakes. And I haven't even seen them live. The last time they came through town a few months ago, I was unfamiliar with them. I won't miss them the next time they come to town. I'll be there and I'll be there early. I want to hear Ms. Howard's voice on full-blast.

Lastly, this is Rock-and-Roll spirit at its core. There's a chance you won't like it as much as me, but you can't deny this: despite the appearance of the group, this is true music. It's not about some lanky-legged, blonde starlet who can sing well, but feel nothing. I'd take a heartfelt, emotional performance over an autotuned dance-track vocal track any day. I'm looking at you Carrie Underwood and Nicki Minaj.

Enjoy these couple of tracks I dug up on YouTube. The first is the catchy Hang Loose and the second is the rockin' Heavy Chevy recorded at the Bing theater in Portland, Oregon -- the same theater where we saw Jackie Greene last year. Stay tuned on Heavy Chevy -- the end is totally raucous!

Friday, May 11, 2012

To My Mom, Thank You ...

At this stage of my life, it is possible to look back, understand and identify the influences that shaped me into being who I am. Those influences include environment, associates, happenstance, teachers, relatives, and, most importantly, parents.

In my case -- mostly -- parent.


Between the ages of zero and 18, I had my father around about half of my life. Sometime around 11 or 12 it was splitsville for Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Dad had his own way of doing things, and his own set of odd and irresponsible dreams to chase. He took off and left my two sisters and me to be cared for exclusively by our mother. Where he was at any given time, I rarely knew. He was in Colorado for a while. Then Michigan, I remember. Who knows where else.

Quite unforgivable actually, but I did ... in time, but that's a story for another post.

It was saddening to see Mom and Dad not together. I remember it well -- particularly the day they told me, "Mike, we're going our separate ways." I was crushed. I am sure that any child that's ever had their parents split knows this feeling.

But here's the crazy thing -- not even a year had passed and I had come to realize that their divorce was for the better. Way better, probably. Seven days a week of an uneventful life was preferable to five days of okay and two days of Hell -- Friday and Saturday. Dad's days to let loose. Yep, I saw some things in those two days that I wish I could unsee, but I can't. In some respects, I think it caused me to grow up a little faster than I otherwise would have, but that wasn't altogether bad.

And through it all, I had a rock...


For all of the crazy, flighty whims of my father, mom was solid as a statue. She ingrained her values and ethics deeply into my being.

I would hold the door open for my elders. I would say "please," "thank you," and "excuse me." I would not litter. I would not lie. I would not steal. I would go to college and get an education. I would lead an honorable and honest life.

I could elaborate, but the important thing is, of all of the above woulds or would nots, I did not ever think of them as either/or choices. These were givens. Musts. Unequivocal truths. I couldn't choose to do otherwise even if I tried, because these truths were so deeply impressed upon me.

I was no angel, that's for certain. Whenever I was a little too troublesome, I got 100% of her ire targeted directly at me and let me tell you ... that did more to ingrain her values into me than anything else!

When I was a youngster, I might get a spanking or a slap on the face every now and then, but in truth, those momentarily surprising (and painful!) punishments left my memory just as soon as the sting wore off. You kind of remember, "Oh yeah, don't sass back to Mom again or you're going to get another one of those lickin's!" but when I got older, I'd receive a punishment 50 times worse than the hardest cheek slap...

The silent treatment.

Well, it wasn't totally silent. It usually started out like this, "Michael, I am so disappointed in you." Followed by a stern glare and a slow, disapproving head shake.

By day three I'd be begging for mercy. I won't do it again. I promise!

Mercy would be granted, life would resume to normal and from that point I knew -- never do that thing again, whatever it was that made her so upset. What a severe punishment, to know that I let down the person that loved me most!

I am proud of my mother to have raised me the way that she did, and I am ever grateful for her strong values. It is wonderful to see those values passed on to my sisters and see how they, too, instill them into their children. I still think of them as sisters, but truthfully, they're mothers now too, and I am equally proud of them.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there, but especially and  particularly, the ones in my life.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hold You In My "Ohrms"

Ray LaMontagne's song Hold You In My Arms, by nearly any measure, is a great song. I've got Ray's first two full-length releases, but it wasn't until friends asked me to consider learning this song to play at their wedding that it struck me how wonderful and soulful it really is.

Performing a LaMontagne song is not an easy task. There are few professional vocalists who sound anything like him and if you've ever heard me croak out a tune, you'd readily agree -- I'm no professional vocalist! The best I can try to do is sing the melody so that it is recognizable and, hopefully, in tune.

Every once in a while I am able to pull it off, and Hold You In My Arms seems to fit within my limited vocal range. With some practice, I should be able to pull off a reasonable facsimile of this song, but my biggest question is:

Do I sing the title line as Ray sings it ("ohrms"), or as I pronounce it with my thick-as-a-slice-of-Nuekse's-bacon Wisconsin accent ("arrrms")?