GIFTS, DREAMS, AND MAKING IT HAPPEN – Marilyn Armstrong

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three-dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatism. It’s reality.

I don’t know when being a pragmatist became synonymous with defeatism. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you know the difference between a dream and an expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

Piano lessons

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you, Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. What a waste!

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real.

Don’t buy the lie.

THE INTIMATE TOUR – Rich Paschall

MAX, A Review, by Rich Paschall

If you are in or near a big city like we are, you may have a number of outdoor stadiums where concerts are performed. We have concerts at Wrigley Field (Cubs) and Soldier Field (Bears). We have concerts in parks including the largest of the music Festivals, Lollapalooza (Grant Park). Outdoor music is a big thing here in the summer and you can catch  every type of music from classical to Hip-Hop, jazz to blues, rock and roll to modern pop.

In concert at the United Center

We also have indoor stadiums with concerts throughout the year. We have the Chicago Stadium (Bulls), UIC Pavillion (University of Illinois at Chicago), Allstate Arena (AHL hockey) and others. You will not lack for big name performers in large venues.

There are also many smaller venues, clubs and bars, that feature musical acts. They may range from places where 100 is a crowd, up to locations of several hundred. Earlier  in the year we caught David Archuleta in his Postcards in the Sky Tour at the City Winery. It is a spot that can have up to 300 for seating at small cocktail tables. The feeling is rather intimate compared to the large venues.

City Winery, performance venue.

This spot would have been too large for Max Schneider’s The Intimate AF Tour. With Sirius XM as a sponsor MAX set out to play 15 big cities and very small venues. Aside from the intimate venue stops, MAX picked up a few other notable gigs along the way.

If you are unfamiliar with MAX, we mentioned him before in our young artists edition of “Christmas Yet To Come.”  At age 27, he may seem like an “overnight success” to some. He has a song on the radio charts and has been nominated as 2019 Best New Pop artist for the iHeartRadio Music Awards. He has also made some television and radio appearances promoting his latest single. It is all falling into place for the energetic performer.

Like many “breakout” performers, he has been at it for a while. He started performing at 3. He got an agent at age 14. He was an understudy on Broadway. He got a few TV acting jobs.One was in 25 episodes of the Nickolodeon show “How to Rock.” He won a part in the 2015 Brian Wilson biopic as the young Van Dyke Parks, an early writing partner of WIlson.

He did a lot of cover videos on You Tube. It is the way a lot of young performers have broken through in the business. His channel now has over 1.6 million subscribers. One of his earliest from 7 years ago is with a group of musicians who are playing their iphone apps instead of instruments.

Fast forward to 2019 and the hard work at acting, dancing and singing are paying off in a big way. By the time MAX hit Chicago on his tour of small bars and clubs, he had a performance lined up one afternoon at Lollapalooza. The 4 day event draws about 400,ooo people. Most show up early for the all day music festival over eight stages and across 115 acres on Chicago’s lakefront.  It’s Woodstock for the 21st Century. Some years we even accomodate with rain and mud.  Fun fact: MAX is from Woodstock, New York.

The day after playing for tens of thousands in Grant Park, MAX played a small bar on the north side of Chicago. Schubas, once a Schlitz brewery, has a small room in the back of the bar that they claim will hold a MAXimum of 165. That’s without any table and chairs, just fans ready to rock.

Schlitz
Schubas

A young rapper opened the show with a brief set. We will spare you the review. MAX followed and kicked things into high gear and left it there through most of the set. The small crowd was pressed up against the stage while a few of us older folks took to the bench that ran along one side wall. From there I could stand on the bench from time to time to get a few pictures over the top of the crowd.

MAX, The Intimate AF Tour

If you have been to concerts lately, you will notice a lot of back lighting, usually in shades of blue. It makes it hard to get good pictures or video. Do you think they do that on purpose? This show saw a lot of light using yellow theater lighting gels. Yellow seems to be the theme for MAX at present.

MAX

Following a few successful days in the Windy City, MAX was off to a musical performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Along with some other TV and radio spots lately MAX’s overnight success seems complete. Will he be the headliner instead of the opener some day soon? That of course is hard to say as show business is fickle. One thing we know, having seen MAX here before, he has paid his dues and is bringing the talent.

THE HUNTING SONG, TOM LEHRER – Marilyn Armstrong

The first time I heard this song, I must have been maybe nine or ten? The older brother of a friend of mine owned the record. He brought it over and played it for me. I loved it.

I borrowed the record and memorized it. Including the tritone that is extremely hard to sing. Somehow, I feel it needs a broader audience today.

I’m pretty sure you’ll understand why.

ASTRALLY SWINGING ON A STAR – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Monday: ASTRAL

I started reading the news this morning and it was so depressing, I decided to skip it and go straight to music. Swinging on a start sounds like a good choice, don’t you think? This is the Frank Sinatra version. It was the best reproduction I could find.

It’s a cheerful song. Nothing to do with the news and that’s just fine with me. Less is definitely more!

BUT NOT REALLY FUNNY – Marilyn Armstrong

The last couple of years have been hilarious if you prefer very dark humor. It was a big year for late-night comics but it was depressing for regular people. Like us.

We laughed because comics are funny and it was easier emotionally to get our news from comic writers on late-night TV, but we weren’t really laughing.

Wrapped around the humor was the realization we weren’t going to get out of this mess for years to come. Two years if we do it right. Much more if we get it wrong.Remember way back in 2016 when Clinton said, “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” She was lying. I knew it. You knew it. I suppose it was the best she could do. She still thought she had to be polite.

We have learned otherwise in the years since. His children are as awful as he is, though they have a better education and at least seem able to read and probably aren’t demented.

Yet somehow, they are still stupid. I didn’t know you could get that much education and remain stupid. Perhaps it’s closer to ignorance — and unwillingness to learn.

In 2016, I could still remember the high points of the previous year. I don’t believe there were any high points in 2017 or 2018, except that Roy Moore wasn’t elected to the Senate and Democrats took over the House of Representatives. Otherwise, it’s been a down and dirty year with more on the way. I’m trying to feel better about it but the disorganization and confusion of the Democrats are not buoying my spirits.

This year may turn out to be hilarious at some point in the future when the world has gone around the sun a few more times, maybe it will be very funny. If I live long enough, it might be ROTFL for me and mine.

But not yet. I think my sense of humor needs an attitude adjustment.

This is my current theme song. I’m counting on something more upbeat for the future.


Lyrics: WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE


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.

Songwriter: Billy Joel
We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

VINEYARD MEMORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

The song is full of memories of Martha’s Vineyard where we spent so many happy weeks in summers past. Lobster traps. Wrestling with Carly for possession of a clearance sale silk blouse in a favorite shop in Oak Bluffs.

fishing Hyannisport

And, the parties we attended while President Clinton and family were down on the Vineyard. At one of them, Carly sang Summertime and Bill played the song on the saxophone.

I was younger

I miss the Vineyard because it was a special place, but now that we live in the country now, it’s less pressing to be “away.” We are always at least a little bit away, I think.

So these days, our anticipation is waiting for the hot spell to break so we can go back to enjoying the world outside.

WITH GOD ON MY SIDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #32

For this week’s provocative question, I am going to do something I haven’t before done in my provocative question prompt. I’m going to post something a fellow blogger wrote. In this case, the blogger is Judy Dykstra-Brown, and in one of her recent posts she wrote:



WORDS

Oh my name it ain’t nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side
Oh, the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh, the country was young
With God on its side
The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side
The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side
The Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now, too
Have God on their side
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
But now we got weapons
Of chemical dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side
Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

I thought I’d let Bob Dylan answer this one for me. Written in the early 1960s, it hasn’t gotten old. If anything, it’s more relevant now than it was then.

War never gets old and it seems we never tire of it. We never run out of reasons to fight. In every war throughout human history, God is on every side. Everyone claims him and is sure that all the horrors they perpetrate are “in God’s name.”

Since God has never made any comment on this, my best guess — should there be a god:

The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war