I was a music major for my first two years of college. I finished the major except for 1 credit of choir. I didn’t take that credit because by then, I knew I wasn’t a good enough pianist to play professionally. I didn’t seem to have any talent for writing music or orchestration and my voice was okay, but nothing special. Some of this was self-realization. Certainly my recognition that I wasn’t good enough on the piano to make it a profession and I didn’t want to be a piano teacher. Also, by then, schools were already cutting back on programs like music and art, so unless I went all the way to Ph.D. and hoped I could get a job at a college or university, I was going to wind up playing in a bar. And I couldn’t even sing well, so even that wasn’t a great prospect.

Around the second year of my musical studies, Dr. Herbert Deutsch, who I liked very much (he was the co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer, by the way) sat me down for an ex-parti chat.

He said: “You get good grades. Mostly As, a few Bs, but you master your assignments and obviously have no problem with them. You are doing fine. But you have a problem.” And he looked at me. “You aren’t INTO it. You heart isn’t there. You aren’t involved in music. You should get into it, or get out of it. Music is not for the half-hearted.”

He was right. He was absolutely right. Knowing, as I already did, that piano was not going to be my instrument, why wasn’t I working at finding another instrument and working on it? Why wasn’t I taking voice lessons? I was far more engrossed in my psychology, sociology, and religion courses than with music. I was much more interested in those subjects, too. That should have been a clue, but until Dr. Deutsch sat me down for a chat, I didn’t think about it. I was getting good grades and having fun. I loved music. I went to lots of free concerts because music majors got free tickets to many concerts — and I lived in New York, so there was really good music and I got to hear it. I spent a lot of time in the rehearsal halls at Carnegie Hall. If you didn’t know, Carnegie has the main stage, but it also has smaller halls. Young performers frequently use these halls, so I got to see a lot of later-to-be-famous musicians before they were.

I didn’t take the credit of choir and did not graduate with a degree in music. In fact, it turned out that nothing I studied in college got me a job. I planned to be a writer and I started in advertising and book publishing, then moved into technical writing and there I stayed. My official degree was in Drama and Speech. I’m not a bad public speaker, but I never had any interest in speech. What I really wanted was to GET speech therapy. I had a couple of serious lisps which were fixed during two years of heavy duty speech therapy which was part of the degree. I never took a writing course. I took my required history courses for which I never had to open a book because I was miles ahead in history which was my hobby even back then. None of that mattered to me because I was going to be a writer.

I would have stayed in school for years more if they had let me. I wanted to take another B.A. so I could take a meaningful masters degree and Drama/Speech was not what I needed. They made me graduate anyway. I had completed my major, I had all the credits and I was a graduate, like it or not. I never understood that. I think today they would do it differently, but it was 1967 and a lot of things have changed since then, especially at colleges.

But that little pep talk from Herb Deutsch was the best advice I ever got. Because of it, I remembered that I had always intended to be a writer. I went back to writing and never wobbled off that path again. Music was fun, but writing was my way. Thank you Herb. You helped get me back to where I belonged.


The lyrics seem to have more than normal meaning right now. Just think about these lines: “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.”

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers

On a warm summer’s evening
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
The boredom overtook us
And he began to speak
He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the 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
You gotta learn to play it right
You’ve 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
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep”
And when he’d finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
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’ve 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
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em (when to hold ’em)
Know when to fold ’em (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
You’ve 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

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Don Schlitz
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

So in case you have some kind of guitar, ukulele, or banjo — or something else (like a piano or mandolin or some such) you can play or strum, here are the chords. Transpose your heart out.

The Gambler

Key: D major, artist: Kenny Rogers, writer: Don Schlitz

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

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

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

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

[D] Ev’ry gambler knows that the [G] secret to surv[D]ivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to [A] keep. ‘Cause [D] ev’ry hand’s a winner and [G] ev’ry hand’s a [D] loser, and the [G] best that you can [D] hope for is to [A] die in your [D] sleep.”

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

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



It’s kind of musical around here. I have my guitar, ukulele, two penny whistles, a small xylophone and a tiny electric piano. I had a very different idea of what to do with today’s pictures, but the lights were out for hours.

A square musical treat!

If the wind had calmed down, we’d have had a little more time to write. Sadly, we also got a very small amount of rain … just another dribble.


Share Your World 10-5-2020

How can it be the tenth month of the year? What happened? Oh, right. Everything happened. This was the year that was in every sense of the world.

Whatever became of “National Brotherhood Week?” It was a week and then it went away. I guess we just didn’t have sufficient support for it. Today it would be a national joke. Maybe it always was.


When was the last time you tried something new?  How did that go for you?

I am in the midst of learning Mexican food. Not “real” Mexican food because I live in Massachusetts and “real Mexican” would require at least a cookbook and we are weak on that. A quality Mexican (not Tex-Mex) restaurant — remember restaurants? — would be helpful too. It gives one a taste to work from. An oral idea, so to speak.

I used to cook a lot of Chinese, but I think I wore out the whole Chinese thing so now, it’s Mexican. At least the ingredients are easier to find. The joy of Burritos and Fajitas. Today, it’s fajitas. I should probably check and make sure I have all the ingredients. When what you make for dinner — and you don’t even like cooking — is your the most creative part of your day, something is missing in your life.

But the pizza last night was GREAT.

What’s the most sensible thing you’ve ever heard someone say?

Pray to Allah but tie your camel.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

Today I feel like about 742. I felt like a few hundred years younger yesterday, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Fun  CREEPY Halloween Question: Have you ever seen a ‘fresh’ corpse (aka dead body)?

Yes, but not voluntarily. Some homeless person froze to death in my parking lot when I lived in Lynn. It was not a joyful moment.



A John Prine Memory, by Rich Paschall

John Prine (Photo Credit: Ron Baker)

When John Prine was growing up in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb along the west side of Chicago, he helped a friend with a newspaper route. “…and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples home where we’d have to go room-to-room.”  That experience stayed with him and inspired him to write the song “Hello In There.”  It appeared on his debut album in 1971.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

John performed around Chicago at a number of clubs in the late 1960s. He was one of many singer-songwriters here in that era. His debut album was well received and he was nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist in 1972. “I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing ‘Hello in There’,” John stated in the liner notes to ‘Great Days”, an anthology album put out in 1993.

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”

John Prine died on April 7th. He had been stricken with COVID-19. He was 73. He won two Grammy Awards in his career and was also presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. His song, “Hello In There” has been covered by numerous artists.

One of the artists to frequently sing John’s song was Joan Baez. If you have plenty of Kleenex handy, you may wish to see her tribute to John recorded from her kitchen when he was hospitalized. She had covered the song on her 1975 album, “Diamonds and Rust.”

“I like songs that are clean and don’t have much fat on them — every line is direct, and all people can relate to it. That’s what I try to do.” – John Prine

See Also: “The Music Of John Prine,” by Marilyn Armstrong, SERENDIPITY, April 8, 2020.
SOURCES: “Joan Baez Dedicates ‘Hello in There’ to John Prine,” by Angie Martoccio, March 30, 2020.
John Prine Was The Master Of Lyrical Economy,” by Morgan Enos, Grammys, April 8, 2020.
John Prine (album),” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
John Prine,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,


A Photo a Week Challenge: Action in Series

In summertime, when all the leaves and trees are green. Remember when summer was fun? And it was okay to just hang with friends and enjoy the pool? When will it happen again?

The man who wrote this song was a play announcer at Fenway Park. It was the only song he ever wrote and he was very proud of it.

Summertime Ready

Summertime SET

Summertime - GO

Anyone want to do it again?
Anyone want to do it again?

In memory of a summer so recently vanished.


Owen has clocked us. Whereas I used to have one grandmother clock in the dining room that I got from my first husband as a second anniversary gift — received while I was in the hospital during my long, long recovery from spinal surgery — which no longer ran, I now have four chiming clocks (one grandfather and three windup wall clocks) and one international clock which shows the time pretty much everywhere in the world.

The grandfather clock was doing very well, but recently stopped running. It probably needs a cleaning and that requires someone who knows how to do it. There aren’t that many people who know how to service big chiming clocks. Three of the four wall clocks chime, as long as Owen remembers to wind them. The world clock doesn’t chime and we have a plastic imitation clock that Garry got as an award at some point during his working life that doesn’t chime and also doesn’t keep time, but his name is engraved on it so it has a place on a shelf.

Downstairs, Owen has at least 10, maybe 12 chiming clocks ranging from grandmother-size to big grandfather-size. And a few chiming wall clocks. When his clocks start to ring, it sounds like a cathedral. I rather like the sound, though not everyone enjoys the noise. It’s more or less music to my ears.

Today, ALL the 8-day windup clocks stopped running at the same time. Owen is still wandering around the house winding and resetting them. There is no point to this story. It’s just that I found it funny that all the clocks stopped running at the same time.


Fandango’s Dog Days of August #17

I wrote this just the other day, so here it is again.

There was a time in my life when I was “all music all the time.” I completed a music major in college (piano) with a minor in “what am I really going to be when I grow up?” I knew I wasn’t a good enough pianist to perform professionally, added to which I have such bad stage fright I was petrified playing for my piano teacher. Mind you I can talk on a stage — even with a camera running — but not perform. Especially not playing the piano. My teacher had to pretend to make tea so I would perform for her.

If my minimal talent was barely sufficient, my stage fright was paralytic, but my teacher was warmly encouraging. She felt I had talent. I don’t think she entirely understood my hands are really small. I am really small, though I often forget that I’m super extra short. I remember when I realize I can’t get things from the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets. And those tiny hands — I can barely reach an octave.

I had a terrible time with ‘big handed’ music — which is most piano music written by men with big hands. I think she kept expecting me to grow. I started taking lessons when I was 4, so I suppose she never got used to my having already grown up.

If she didn’t turn me into a professional musician, she did teach me to understand and love music. And I can always tell if someone is off-key. Including me. Oddly enough, I don’t want music playing all the time. If music is playing, I want to hear it fully — not as background noise. My favorite is classical music, but I can only listen to that at home. If I listen to it in the car, I find myself driving off the road. So in the car, it’s any other type of music from bluegrass, country, or 1960s rock. Eclectic, but old fashioned.

When I hear piano music that I once played, I see the notes in my head. I do miss music and I think when we finally get financed and life starts to move forward and I’m not worrying all the time, at least somewhere in the back of my head, I might learn to play something. A three-string cigar box guitar sounds about right to me.


For all of the 21st century so far, I have been looking for music with social relevance.  Yes, there have been a few songs, but not much in these two decades.  And who are the young writers contributing songs with meaning this century?  Neil Young, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Chicago?  

Those guys are still at it, but in this era of social unrest, you might expect more young voices to be heard.  Getting a good deal of notice in recent years is the heavy metal group, Disturbed, and their rendition of The Sound of Silence.  If you are thinking the title is familiar, it is.  They covered the Simon and Garfunkel hit to great effect. 


Enter The Young, When Songs Had Meaning

There was a time I will describe as being from late Beatles up to pre-disco when many songs had a deeper meaning, that is to say, a “social commentary”.  The air was filled with thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics.  Some will argue that these songs helped to sway a nation toward greater equality and away from a war of questionable merits.  For a while, many songwriters abandoned “Ooh baby, baby,” to write about war, race, poverty, inhumanity, and life in the ghetto rather than life on “easy street”.  This was an era in songwriting where the words were as important as the notes being played.

Here they come, yeah
Some are walking, some are riding
Here they come, yeah
And some are flying, some just gliding
Released after years of being kept in hiding
They’re climbing up the ladder rung by rung

Bob Dylan had been speaking to us for years, but suddenly so was McCartney and Lennon, then John Lennon on his own.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Carol King, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Reed, Marvin Gaye can all be added to a list that goes on and on.  There were some with just a few hits but a big social impact.

Enter the young, yeah
Yeah, they’ve learned how to think
Enter the young, yeah
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

My absolute favorite among the thoughtful lyrics were those done by a group called The Association.  They are probably best known for their hit songs “Cherish,” “Windy” and “Along Comes Mary.”  These songs are filled with clever rhymes and some unique wordplays.  “Cherish” taught me I could rhyme that word with “perish,” and I used it for a wedding lyric years later.

Yeah, here they come
Some with questions, some decisions
Here they come
And some with facts and some with visions

Of a place to multiply without the use of divisions
To win a prize that no one’s ever won

They also commented on society in songs like “The Time It Is Today,” “Enter the Young,” and the biting and rather haunting sounds of “Requiem For The Masses.”  This was filled with the symbolism of those that died for the red, white and blue as well as dealing with the issues of race (“Black and white were the questions that so bothered him, he never asked, he was taught not to ask, but was on his lips as they buried him.)  Yes, the same group that gave us “Never My Love” could come around again and whack you with a social message…hard.

Here they come, yeah
Some are laughing, some are crying
Here they come
And some are doing, some are trying
Some are selling, some are buying
Some are living, some are dying
But demanding recognition one by one

They did get recognition, along with many other such groups, if only for a moment in musical history.  Where are the meaningful song lyrics of today?  I wonder.

Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

I wore out this album as I found every song to be worthy of constant replay.  I was a teenager, I thought it was great.  All these years later, I still do.  I chose the video above as I could find no good performance video of this song. This one rendered the best sound.

Waiting on the World

It can be a frustrating experience waiting on the world to change. Will the younger composers of songs sing out on the current situation? Or will they see that as hopeless? Will they just wait their turn with the Sound of Silence? Must we continue to rely on the older generation for our social commentary in song? “We keep on waiting.”

And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want
That’s why we’re waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon 1964 Universal Music Publishing Group
Enter The Young by Terry Kirkman 1966 Beachwood Music Corp.
Waiting on The World To Change by John Mayer 2006 Reach Music Publishing

See also: “Disturbed,” SERENDIPITY, November 23, 2018.
Take Some Time To Revive It,” A view of America from Chicago, the band. SERENDIPITY. July 30, 2020.


Liebster Award Nomination

I don’t usually do these because they WERE intended for new bloggers to help boost their readership. I’ve been blogging daily — unless I was in the hospital — for eight years with nearly 15,000 followers and just under 11,000 posts. No one could call me a new blogger. But the intent is kindly. and I won’t name anyone. But if you like the questions, please feel free to jump in with your own answers. And if you are a new or newish blogger, grab this nomination and run with it! I did when I was starting out.

And the 11 questions for the nominees are:

1. What’s your reading preference? A physical book or on Kindle?

Actually, it’s audiobooks. I have trouble focusing on print on any page. If my only choice is to read it, I will choose a Kindle where I can at least make the type bigger. Also, Kindles are lighter than books and I don’t need a light because they are backlit.

2. If books could talk what would they say about your reading choices?

That they are magical, or maybe excessively long. Too historical. Or too spacey. I am extremely fond of history, mystery, and wizardry. I get more than enough reality during our news breaks. These days, there is way too much reality lurking around me. I want to get through whatever this thing is that we are going through and then somehow manage to live for a few years that are a little bit more fun. Magical years.

3. Cat or Dog lover? Or some other creature?

Cats, dogs, birds, horses and anything else that lives and breathes, minus insects of which i am sincerely NOT fond. I don’t mind lizards and non-poisonous snakes, but I freak out at spiders. I can’t help it. It’s irrational.

4. What’s your favorite comfort food? Is there a story behind it?

Sushi and Tempura. I love Japanese food. Fortunately, Garry loves it too. Unfortunately, there were two really good Japanese restaurants in the area. One has already closed down since the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know about the other one. I hope it will still be around when this mess is over. I think it’s possible that other than fast food joints, this town no long has any functional restaurants. We didn’t have much to begin with and now, we have nothing.

The story behind it is that when i came back from 9-1/2 years in Israel, my son and ex-husband said they were taking me out for sushi. i said I didn’t know if i would like it. Raw fish? But they took me out for sushi and it has been my favorite food ever since. Good thing Garry was already a fan.

5. What’s your preference for travel… planes, trains, boats, or automobile?

I love boats, but going out on one isn’t really travel. It’s a fun day sail with friends. i loathe airports and airplanes. There was a time, when I was much younger, that flying was a luxury. Now, it’s a nightmare unless you have enough money for first class and even then, I always get sick when I fly. It’s all that recycled air. All you need is one sneezer or cougher to get their germs into the recycling machinery and voila. Now, with COVID? I’d have to be nuts to fly.

But we do drive. Not very far because I’m afraid of restaurants and public toilets. I’m beginning to sound like my mother.

6. Married or single or in a relationship or non-applicable?

Married, married, and married again. I was married at 18 the first time. Divorced at 30. Remarried at 32. Divorced at 41. Remarried at 43 and still married till the end of time at 73. Thirty years. And we COULD have done it thirty years ago but the husband was so deeply involved in his work, he didn’t have time to be a  husband. Then one day, he realized that something was missing. Me. He says he was too immature to marry me and save me that miserable middle marriage. Hrrrumph.

7. What was your favorite activity as a child?


8. If you had to pick one , would it be a blog entry or a poem for your epitaph, which one would it be?

I really don’t care. Dead is dead. I don’t even care if I have an epitaph, but I hope they have a nice party for me and everyone laughs a lot.

9. Favorite song? Why?

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel

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, Charlse 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

This isn’t my favorite song, but it is the one to which I most relate now, in this time and place. My real favorite “song” is Beethoven’s Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony. I can hum along with all of it.

10. Favorite author? Why?

It’s a list. I can’t pick one. But it’s not a huge list. Well, it could be a huge list, but i’ve got myself roped in.

  • Anne Golon (Angelique)
  • Jim Butcher (The Harry Dresden Series)
  • Gretchen Archer (Davis Way Capers)
  • James Lee Burke (Robicheaux and everything else)
  • Jodie Taylor (The Chronicles of St Mary’s and more)
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin (all her histories are phenomenal)

I think there are a lot more, but this will just have to do it for the moment. I really could go on forever.

11. What makes you smile, no matter how many times you see it? Why?

Bizarro. His comics are the best. I’ve been laughing at them since I was young and living in Boston. I absolutely love his work.


Owen wanted to give me a present. it isn’t my birthday. it’s not my anniversary. It isn’t any special day. He just wanted to get me a really great gift, better than any other he had ever give me. So months ago, he asked me to buy a wooden cigar box. Puzzled by the request, I did it anyway. It turned out that all real cigar boxes are cardboard, at least any that I could find. So I bought a box of the same size that was made of spruce and Owen said: “Good box!” He took it away.

My tattoo is a Phoenix

Four months (more?) later. he brought me a Cigar Box Guitar. On the front, it has a gorgeous Phoenix and on the back, an oak leaf varnished into the wood. It has designs all up the neck. Machines to tune its three strings and it’s set for the key of E because that is the key the I can generally sing in, assuming my voice feels like singing which it does whenever I’m not having an allergy attack. In other words, in the winter.

You can still see the hinges on the box and there is an actual yardstick is part of the neck which reprises the old version of these guitars.

It’s gorgeous. Completely and uniquely handmade for me. And yes, the designer and builder does take orders. Mine is the first non-electric one he has made. Usually, they are electric and have a pick-up, but I’m such a folky, Owen assumed I would want an acoustic instrument.

Until this gorgeous piece of musical art arrived, I had never seen or even heard of a Cigar Box Guitar which players refer to as a CBG. They come with anywhere from three to five strings. They are bigger or smaller, have various length necks and many don’t have frets or tuning machines. Some are almost guitars and have six strings, but most have three or four string. The majority seem to have three.

This is a genuine American folk instrument, made by poor people who couldn’t afford to buy a guitar, but found a way to make one from spare parts. I ordered a case that’s a little bit big, but is as close as I could get. It doesn’t need a case, but I don’t want the Duke to decide it’s a chew toy. That would be heartbreaking.

Mike Brown — the designer — takes orders and if you get in touch with me, I will give you his contact information. He suffers from serious diabetes and has infections in both feet, so he wasn’t able to come over to present it himself. But he would love to get business since he is too disabled to work.

I took some  pictures. It is truly a work of art. When I get the book I ordered I hope I can play it though i can sort of already play it. It isn’t difficult. I want to see what tunings are used for what kind of songs. Also, I ordered a brass slide. You can actually tune Cigar Box Guitars any way you want. There’s no set style, so be prepared to retune to match whatever song you want to play.

Owen, you’ve done it. This really IS the best present you could possibly have given me!


Everyone is curious, so I went and found music. The first one is a Muddy Waters blues number (not Muddy singing, unfortunately) and if you let it run, there’s another one right behind it that’s really great too. All the rest are various players on various cigar box guitars, all handmade. There are no “factories” to make them. All are made by hand. Some are, like mine, are really fancy.

Vintage Cigar Box Guitars

Most are simpler and most of them have an electric pickup. I could add a pickup, but it would ruin my Phoenix. Maybe I could put one on the back. I might need some help with that.

And here’s a lot of the “how to” in case you want to know how it’s done.

Learning to Play – Muddy Waters by Justin Johnson

In The Pines (Leadbelly, Kurt Cobain Nirvana) on cigar box guitar

A Three-String Shovel Guitar – Justin Johnson

The Versatility of the “3 String Cigar Box Guitar”

Puckett Cigar Box Guitar

Steve Harvey – Intense Blues