WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Onerous

I have a cold. Not a lethal cold or one that will make me wonder why we got flu shots. No, it’s a regular winter cold with the usual drippy nose, hoarse voice, and sore throat. I was supposed to go to the cardiologist today, but when one is getting his or her heart checked, it’s best to not have anything else wrong with you or your readings come out strange.

Garry’s got “it” too. So does my son. The dogs, however, are fine.

Red-capped woodpecker, warbler, and a nuthatch

The doctor — the actual doctor himself — called to tell me to get some sleep, stay hydrated (whatever happened to “drink plenty of liquids”) and later, call for a new appointment. When I felt better. Which was not today.

I had just gotten back into bed (after the dogs barked me out of it). I had fed them two or three small treats, turned on the coffee, and tucked myself back under the covers.

The phone rang. It was the doctor’s office. I said I was trying to sleep, but between the barking dogs and the phone ringing, it was starting to seem pointless.

She said to call back when I felt better and I drifted off to sleep.

Bonnie barks me awake every morning. With or without assistance from the other two.

Duke doesn’t usually bark. He flings himself at the door and tries to knock it down. Once, he knocked the knob and latch out of alignment and was on the bed in a blink.

I don’t need to give him the incentive to do it again. It’s not a strong door. I don’t think it would survive another pounding. Duke’s no giant, but he’s got vim and vigor going for him. His enthusiasm knows no bounds. None. What he lacks in weight, he makes up for in pure energy.

In between interruptions, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” kept rolling through my head. like one of those earworms you usually get from commercials or Disney cartoons. It started and wouldn’t stop. It still hasn’t stopped.

I gave in and got up. By now, my back was hurting enough to get me out of bed regardless. Excessive bed rest makes everything more painful. If I was ever forced to stay in bed for a prolonged period, it would probably kill me.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it …


Songwriters: Billy Joel

We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


The world is an onerous place. The business of surviving it gets worse almost by the minute. I didn’t think it could get worse. I thought we had bottomed out. Apparently, there is no bottom. Maybe there never was and we all lived in a happy fantasy, each in our own personal parallel reality.

It’s a sunny day and the birds are out. I think I’ll take some pictures.

NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP – Rich Paschall

Gotta Make You Understand, Rich Paschall

Never gonna give you up 
Never gonna let you down 
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

We’re no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
You wouldn’t get this from any other guy

The 80s dance sensation was the first single released from Rick Astley’s 1987 début album. It rose to number 1 in 25 countries and was, by all measures available, a worldwide hit. It was played so often for so long that people started to get sick of it. This sometimes happens with a mega-hit.

Never gonna give you up

The pounding beat was actually mesmerizing.  The lyric was catchy, as they say. The dancing in Astley’s video was just fun.

The dance video premiered when MTV was still big into playing music videos and this one caught almost everyone’s attention.  With his good looks and deep voice, Astley became a star.  He was categorized not just as a pop singer, but also labeled “blue-eyed soul.”  Many singers with this label were not actually “soul” singers, but have been dubbed so due to their vocal quality.

One of the top cover songs of 2018 is said to be that of Never Gonna Give You Up by Bronze Avery (Gabriel Brown).  The pop singer has slowed down the song and removed the driving beat. The vocal is now a sensuous and soulful take on the original.  It certainly will never achieve the overwhelming success of Astley’s hit, but it can stand on its own merits.

In case you wonder if Astley still has fans, his official music video was posted on his channel in 2009 and now has over a half billion views there.  The lyrics are still well-known, as the ever-young Astley proves when these festival fans sing along at a more recent appearance.

Source: “The Best Cover Songs of 2018,” covermesongs.com, December 17, 2018

YOU ARE MY HEART – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumn, 1987. Boston, Massachusetts

Time for a little memory and a bit of nostalgia.

I was recently back from Israel. I’d been gone almost a decade. Much had changed. My friends had half-grown children who I’d never met. They had married, divorced, changed jobs, moved to different cities. The tribe had dispersed.

72-Marilyn & Garry in studio July 11

Garry was in Boston, working for Channel 7, as he had been when I’d left, but we were different. We each had survived wrenching relationships and awful professional periods. Though we’d known each other since college, we weren’t the kids we’d been. Life had beaten us up.

We were in love, not for the first time, but for the last time.

We looked at each other differently. Rod Stewart was on the radio. As I drove around — in the first new car I’d ever owned without a co-signing husband — this was the song.

I sang along. That was how I felt.  This time was our time.

WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong

The lyrics of Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler” are applicable in many places today, from sports to politics and beyond.

In the classic western, “Shane”, the hero has sharp words with greedy land baron, Ryker, about violence and the days of the gunfighter being finished. Ryker implies it’s “over” for gunslingers like Shane.  Shane retorts “Yes, it is. The difference is — I know it.

The closing scene of another classic western,  “The Magnificent Seven,” has the same message. After the heroic gunfighters have driven a horde of bandits away from a poor village, they are thanked by an elder who tells them the farmers are the only victors because they survive to continue normal lives. Will the gunmen be able to ride or walk away from the profession that has given them fame and money?

The Magnificent Seven

As the two surviving gunfighters reluctantly leave the calm of the village, Chris (Yul Brynner) wryly observes. “The old man was right. Only the farmers have won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

It’s the observation that their way of life is essentially over. They need to find a new way to live if it is possible.  The day of the feared, idolized gunfighter is passing into history before their eyes. It’s a bittersweet ending for our heroes.

As I write, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving the Los Angeles Chargers a nasty whipping in a playoff game that many felt would show cracks in the vaunted Patriots’ success, would show signs that Brady, the esteemed “GOAT” (Greatest of all time) would show age catching up with him.  So far, Brady and the Patriots are winning,  running the table with impressive success.

If victory is sustained, will Tom Brady continue to play until he’s in his mid-40s — or retire while he’s still at the top of his game and is recognized as the greatest quarterback in professional football history? It appears to be a no-brainer for Brady while many of his greatest admirers feel Tom Terrific should walk away he’s still physically intact.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When to walk away is a problem faced by many successful people who never want the music, money, or applause to stop.

In politics, it goes beyond the lives of the public official and his family. It impacts countless families represented by the Pol. Power is the elixir that our elected officials are reluctant to yield.

John McCormack with President Ford

I remember afternoons with the legendary John McCormack,  the one time widely respected Speaker of the House. I lunched with McCormack who usually sat alone at one of Boston’s iconic restaurants. “Old Man Mac” as he was affectionately called by friends, would observe people at other tables. Usually younger politicians, their aides, and lobbyists trying to curry favor.

“Mac” would chuckle to himself, wiggling his fingers at the other tables. He’d speak to me in a somewhat hoarse voice. “Son, those fellas don’t get it. It’s not a game. They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’re ignorant and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

I’d listen closely as this venerable man schooled me in living history. He said the younger officials were making deals for reelection while ignoring promises made in their previous campaign. He laughed sadly, “You’ll never get the job done unless you listen to the people. It takes years.”

He paused, shook his head and continued, “Just when you get to know what you’re doing, it’s time to walk away.”   I stared at John McCormack. “You must walk away because you’re too old. Your mind argues with your body. But it’s obvious when you shave with toothpaste.”

I repressed a smile but he was laughing. “It’s not funny, really. You’re young, but it’ll happen to you. Trust me.”

I remember sharing the McCormack stories with Tip O’Neill, another widely respected Speaker of the House who shared lunches and stories with me.

Garry with Tip O’Neill

All Politics Are Local was O’Neill’s mantra. He was a man of his word. He nodded in agreement about John McCormack’s advice about knowing when to walk away. Tip O’Neill was keen about helping young politicians who could “carry the ball” when he walked away. He shared stories about colleagues who snored their way through crucial hearings. I’m sure Tip had advice for then young and rising Congressmen like Ed Markey — who we profiled in a shameless rip off of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

These days, we look at video snippets of veteran pols who walk in lock step with the President.  These are seasoned officials who’ve made countless promises to do the right thing for their constituents. The recent mid-term elections were loud mandates for some of these pols that it’s time to walk away from the table.

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler



It appears some of our leaders prefer to hold their cards. Maybe they should listen to “The Gambler” again.

2020 is coming … and hell’s coming with it.

LET THERE BE MUSIC! – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Music

“And let there be music throughout the land,” he said and there arose a mighty host of singers. There were singers, trumpeters, flautists, piano players, and drummers.

Everywhere, they made music.

Mechanics Hall
At the PopsMy mountain dulcimer
Keyboard
The Berkshire Chorus (at the Pops)

INSTRUMENTAL AND PERFORMANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instrumental

I started learning the piano when I was four. I was so tiny, I couldn’t reach the pedals. They had to add blocks — like on an old-fashioned bicycle — so I could use them.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I played pretty well. Not as well as I was supposed to play, but well enough to play complicated music, which, as it turns out, could be heard all over the neighborhood. It was amusing listening to all the neighbors humming whatever I was practicing.

The house I lived in was on top of a hill and the sound of the grand piano wafted with the breeze.

By the time I was 16 and starting college (I skipped 7th grade), I decided to be a music major. Not because I was a brilliant pianist. I wasn’t. But I really liked my piano teacher. Coming as I did from a dysfunctional family, she was the nicest adult person I knew and I adored her.

The problem was not that I didn’t play well. I played almost well enough to be a professional. In the music business, the difference between playing “almost well enough” and “well enough” is a gap the size of an ocean. It sounds like a minor thing, but in music, it isn’t small. It’s huge.

I remained a music major despite all hints to the contrary that said: “You aren’t going to make it.”

Piano lessons

These hints included having very small hands, which meant a lot of “large” music was impossible for me. It included a number of teachers pointing out to me that doing well on exams wasn’t going to “do it” for me as a musician. I was okay, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be a music teacher and I wasn’t a composer.

I didn’t see myself as a conductor either — and piano was the wrong instrument for me. Unfortunately, it was the only one I knew — other than a little bit of messing with a guitar or a ukulele. And even worse, I had a case of stage fright so severe I couldn’t play for my teacher, much less an audience. I should add that I never overcame it.

I was one credit away from finishing my music major when I realized there was no future for me in professional music. I switched to speech & drama (a combined major) which was the degree I eventually got.

It was even less useful than music. By the time I completed college, I realized what I really wanted to do, but I would need an extra year of school to make up for some of the basic courses I’d missed — like “economics,” and “political science,” et al. Somehow, without realizing it, I had actually finished my major as well as the required number of credits for graduation.

No matter how hard I begged — and my professors begged with me — they would not let me stay an extra year and complete a second B.A. These days, it would be no problem, but back then, schools were a lot more rigid than they are these days.

I didn’t have the basics for an M.A. in anything in which I was interested, so I said “screw it” and went off into the world where I did what I always wanted to do anyway: write.

Until a few years ago, though, I could still play. The only thing that stopped me was pain from arthritis in my hands. Unlike arthritis in the rest of my body, “hand” arthritis is the result of years of playing the piano. Almost every serious pianist retires by the time they hit their 60s because their hands no longer work. It’s the price you pay for pounding on the keyboard from age four.

My piano teacher had trouble playing for more than a few minutes and her older sister, who played brilliantly, could barely perform at all.

Everything comes with a price tag. The funny thing is I knew this, even when I was quite young. But “60” was a million years in my future … and now it’s a pretty long way in my past.

I finally sold my piano. I couldn’t play anymore and it killed me to see it waiting there and not be able to use it. I still have a ukulele, though. Just in case.

KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY … KNOW WHEN TO RUN – Marilyn Armstrong

At the risk of adding a little touch of politics — Trump could take this advice and be well ahead of the current game!

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler Lyrics

On a warm summer’s evenin’ on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with the gambler; we were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a starin’ out the window at the darkness
‘Til boredom overtook us, and he began to speak.

He said, “Son, I’ve made my life out of readin’ people’s faces,
And knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey I’ll give you some advice. ”

So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Now Ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep. ”

So when he’d finished speakin’, he turned back towards the window,
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness the gambler, he broke even.
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
Chrousx3


Songwriters: DON SCHLITZ
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC