And now, I can visit only in thought and memory…

We can’t know everyone, and most of you will not have known Rick. He was the one dressed only in a tin-foil diaper, appearing at the stroke of midnight as the Baby New Year at a party in his senior year at high school. He was the fellow who would do something like that and think only – What larks!

That served as my introduction to the real Rick Smith, who at the time was a part-time DJ at KTMC in McAlester, where I was working afternoons. Many years later, when I returned to the station as manager, I hired Rick to work morning drive. By then, we were good friends and had a long history as such.

As an ice-breaker at the first staff meeting, I offered a fifty-dollar bill to the person with the most “unusual” item carried with them in their purse or billfold. There were some surprising things produced, but the staff agreed that carrying a folded picture of tennis star Chris Evert was unusual – to the point of being somewhat bizarre. Rick got the fifty.

He was never shy about his enduring crush, although I never did know the basis for it. Rick – over the years – kept company with some of the most beautiful women, and I teased him that his search for the perfect woman in his life should start with his tossing out of the folded Chrissie Evert.

When Rick and I called each other “brother,” it was not slang, but a term born of fraternal affection, as of adopted siblings. Often, Rick was “me brogie” – my corruption of Brother and Droogie, from Alex’s description of his henchmen in A Clockwork Orange. As a fun-loving droogie, there was none better than Ricky T.

With younger brother Robbie, we made the small town night life circuit, which mostly consisted of young men sitting or standing and looking at sports on wall-mounted televisions. We were cavalier in our regular weekly forays, but it was Rick who was in his element. He had DJ’d at a local spot – Crazy Uncle Alberts – and perhaps it was that experience that worked to his advantage.

Once, I arrived at the radio station at sign-on time, only to find him in the parking lot with a young woman sitting behind the wheel of a car I did not recognize.

Forgot my keys, said Rick. He grinned and scrambled out, and we hurriedly got the lights and the transmitter fired up.

He took a fill-in position at K95FM in Tulsa when I was news director there, and Paul Langston put him on a weekend shift at the oldies station to get him more hours. Steady work never did come to pass. I don’t remember how the opportunity arose, but Rick came into his own when he joined a station group in Grand Junction, Colorado. The town was small enough for comfort but cosmopolitan enough to draw vacationing A-Listers.

His quick wit always at the ready, Rick immediately became a recognized character about town, hailed and hand-shaken as we entered a popular restaurant when I visited one summer. Once settled in, he pointed at the door and described how he had once pulled open that very handle and barreled in, nearly knocking down a woman who was exiting at that same moment.

It was Chris Evert.

In the company of Elton John.

Because we were brothers, Rick admitted to me that he had once rehearsed a series of lines that he intended to use in the event that he should ever meet Ms Evert (I almost typed “ran into her” – but that would have been too literal). He confessed that he was completely overwhelmed and rendered speechless when the event actually occurred and that he only managed to mutter something apologetic and largely unintelligible.

But he HAD met her, he maintained with pride.

It might have been a long-lived career in Colorado for him, but his health took a sudden and serious turn that kept him off the air long enough that his position was filled. When he called me, he had just taken a fall and injured his wrist along with his pride.

By then, I had left broadcasting after a twenty-year career, and was working as an apprentice cook, with the idea of opening a restaurant. I convinced the owners to hire Rick as a line cook and that between the two of us, we would produce the work of three employees. They fell for it. And we made good on the promise.

Even with one arm in a sling, Rick became efficient at the grill, and – to both of our surprise – he enjoyed it. When his mother’s health began to fail, Rick moved out of my guestroom and back to McAlester to help in her care. There he continued to spend time cooking in addition to some microphone work at some of his old haunts.

My plan was to take a sojourn down that way, to reconnect and reminisce, someday soon. Alas, I have delayed too long.

But I tell you, brother, all it was – was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brother I am not young, not no longer, oh no. And my brother has passed from this life.

Where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning young earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog, all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate.

Sleep well, me brogie.

Brushing up on Retirement.

I remember some light-hearted fun-poking when it was discovered that former president George W. Bush had taken up painting in his retirement. It may be that the teasing was a little premature.

His latest book (he has had more than one on the best-seller’s lists) – his latest is called Portraits of Courage, a collection of military veterans paintings done by the former president. I didn’t really study his early works – a couple of self-portraits were among the earliest – but I know from experience that it is much easier to put down criticism than it is to pick up a brush.

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When the book arrived in the shop today, I was immediately impressed with the cover. Boxing in the title are a series of portraits that – taken at face value (nyuk, nyuk, pun intended) – are fairly striking. Stylized faces in soft colors.

Most artists of any note have their own technique, and if the result is supposed to look exactly like the subject, then a cell-phone photo ought to suffice.

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Of course, President Bush has had a few years to work on his technique: two terms and a swearing-in ceremony’s worth of time.

I’d say he’s made the most of it.

It may be favorite-son status, or former US president notoriety, but a collection of the original portraits is currently on display in Dallas, and the book is currently on display at the top of a number of national best-seller lists.

He writes in the book that he isn’t sure how his efforts will be received, due to his status as a “novice” – but he adds that “each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.” His efforts in those regards are apparent. His may be a quick ascent to the book lists and art galleries, but then again – maybe he paid enough dues in a different arena to legitimately bump up his place in line.

At lunchtime today I spotted someone looking over John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” – published in 1961. I can easily imagine someone giving President Bush’s “Portraits in Courage” the same consideration in another half-century.

Providing that these things called “books” are still around then.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 S. Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Before lip-synch was even invented…

Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it was Leon, even if someone had pointed at the screen and said, “Hey! There’s Leon Russell!”

Nope. Wouldn’t have believed it. Behind the piano, all right, but no beard, no white hair. In fact, he’s got a cruiser-hair-do straight out of an S.E. Hinton novel.

Then, partway through the song – in between the lines of the verse – he stretches out a word the way only he could do it, and it is unmistakable. Can’t forget a voice that was already one-of-a-kind, even back in 1964.

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Some of you may remember the show: Shindig! (That’s not my exclamation point… it’s the way the show was titled.) It was pretty early rock and roll, and unlike New Year’s TV music broadcasts these days, there was no lip-synching. Real guitar licks. Real vocals.

There was a house band that played each week. The Shin-diggers – who were later known as the Shindogs. Some musicians who later became big names, including Tulsa’s Leon Russell on piano. There was Glen Campbell, Billy Preston, Delaney Bramlett (half of Delaney & Bonnie, and the guy who taught George Harrison to play slide guitar), and other notables who were later known as the Wrecking Crew (Phil Spector’s studio band).

Shindig! was put together as a replacement show for Hootenanny, another musical variety show that featured folk and bluegrass music. (Even as I’m typing these show-titles they sound old-fashioned and antiquated. Did we really use words like that?)

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“Come on!” we yelled. “Let’s have ourselves a hootenanny!”

“Oh, you’re darn-tootin!” rang out the shouted reply. “We’ll have a regular shindig!”

Looking at these pirated episodes, I have to shake my head at the dancing (as familiar as some of the moves look…) and the hair styles, but the music isn’t embarrassing. The show was taped before a live audience and the musicians did themselves justice. Sure, they’re oldies. But they’re easier to dance to than a history book.

The show had a two year run – not quite 100 shows – that for a time aired twice a week in prime time.

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And there were plenty of stars: the Beatles taped a performance in England for the show (Oct 7, 1964), Roy Orbison, Mannfred Mann, the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner, Tulsa’s Roy Clark, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys – all performed in the early shows over the first few months, and there were plenty of others.

It’s almost a miracle that I’m able to view the episodes. Back in the early 1960’s, videotape was a new thing, and quite expensive. Since it was re-usable, it mostly was – and many programs were simply lost in the overwrite recording. Some years ago, a record label released some compilation tapes (VCR), picking and choosing songs to include according to a theme.

But in this case, some fan put a film camera in front of his TV screen (I’m guessing, in the way the old Kinescope recordings were done) and created an archive. Some shows are obviously copied from a studio master, as the inclusion of a running-time stamp would indicate.

One thing I’ve noticed about these shows I recall from back then: Everybody sure looks young.

Well, some of us no longer have our youth – but we’ve got technology, by gosh! I’m cranking up the computer and jumping up (slowly) to do the Mashed Potato!

(Chef Dustin makes his mash by hand every day for lunchtime, so Come Visit!)

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow, OK!