GARDEN SONG

in 1978, I boarded a plane from Bismarck North Dakota that was headed for Los Angeles, California. I was to begin my new job as Director of Publishing for the fledgling record company, Sparrow Records, which is now Capitol Christian Music Group. Pam would drive out to California with Sarah a month later.

Billy Ray Hearn was Sparrow’s founder, and he would school me in the realities of the record business. This all was a huge learning curve for me. Within that two year stint at Sparrow, I learned that I had a tremendous affection for songs and songwriters, but did not have the processing abilities to deal with the intricacies of a record company. It was then that I knew for sure that I was a hopeless creative.

Coming to grips with who I was in the creative world, moving from North Dakota to the wilds of California and trying to reassure Pam that everything was going to be OK in this topsy-turvy environment was unsettling to say the least. My greatest aim was to make sure that what I was doing what was pleasing to God and that my wife would be at peace in this transition. She is my rock on this earth.

It was at this time I became aware of a song entitled, “Garden Song”. This David Mallett song was recorded by Noel Paul Stookey, who was of course, the Paul, from “Peter Paul and Mary”. Paul had recorded the album, “Real To Reel” for Sparrow and visited our offices from time to time. I so enjoyed him because of his brilliance not only as an artist and asongwriter, but as a thinker and caretaker for the contemporary social issues of the day.

“Garden Somg” helped me make sense of everything spinning around me. It was a message of simple active faith. By evangelical sensibilities, this was no gospel song to be sure, but it was talking to me. The message was to take quiet steps, and be patient with life in all of its careening uncertainty. But most of all, to give myself the grace to enjoy watching God do what only He can do.

That song brought great solace back then. It brings me great peace in these present times as well.

GARDEN SONG

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumbling down

Pulling weeds and picking stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
Cause the time is close at hand
Painful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature’s chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music from the land

Plant your rows straight and long
Temper them with prayer and song
Mother Earth will make you strong
If you give her love and care
Old crow watching hungrily
From his perch in yonder tree
In my garden I’m as free
As that feathered thief up there

Songwriter: David Mallett
Garden Song lyrics © Reservoir Media Management

HEADS UP

I’d just come back from picking up some fruit at the grocery store this morning. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, old people can go at 7:00 before it opens at 8:00 for everyone else. So as I’m walking into the store, this employee is standing there, offering a 6-pak of toilet paper. Immediately,’m wondering if maybe he’s sensing I’m going to need this much sooner than I think…or something like that. So to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I looked around and discreetly checked my pants as a precautionary measure (Boy was I glad Pam made me wear that protective mask and those plastic gloves… you can never be too careful) Thankfully, it was nada…and was I ever relieved (No pun intended).

When I got home, I came into the living room and sat down with Pam. She said, “Hi honey” and looked up at me. All of a sudden she bursts out laughing uncontrollably , and with tears in her eyes says, “Oh boy, Oh my Greg, Oh Oh Oh No” and can’t stop laughing. I don’t know what’s going on, so I ask her..”What’s so funny?” She tries to speak, but starts up again, and can’t get any words out of her mouth. Every time she looks it all begins again.

While her hysterics continue, I start looking at my shirt my shoes and my pants to see if I’ve done something wrong, or spilled something. I wear black most the time because I get tired of her telling me my shirt didn’t match my pants or I was wearing the wrong socks.

Okay..In her defense, I’ve never been in the running as a fashionista, but I can’t help that because I’m color blind…and very regular blind as well. (Is that right? Regular blind?..probably not)

Anyhoo, Pam finally said, “I see you found the cap you were looking for this morning. I had been looking for my Norway cap but I couldn’t find it, so I just grabbed another one. I figured she was probably laughing at the color of my cap. Now I’m getting a little steamed “You are so picky, and you shouldn’t laugh at me just because you don’t think my cap is all color coordinated!”

“Oh honey, I’m not laughing at the color of your cap…and I’m not laughing because you’re wearing a cap…I’m laughing because you’re wearing TWO caps. WHAT?!!!!!!!!

Well, there’s a simple explanation…sorta. Okay, I was wearing my Norway cap, and somehow forgot it was on my head (an understandable oversight) …So I just put another cap on and left for the grocery store. It could happen to the best of us. Maybe.

Well at least the good news is I got my ultra soft 6-pak, and I don’t think I’m old….That’s for old people.

KENNY ROGERS (1938-2020)

It was1968, and I was in my sophomore year at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. I played in a folk group led by Jaime Fernandez, a Chilean artist and student. We played almost every weekend, usually flying out in a Cherokee Piper Cub, to college campuses around the country, playing and fronting for the likes of SergioMendez, Dionne Warwick, The Association and others.

In early Spring, we were invited to perform at a showcase event in Minneapolis for college and corporate talent buyers, featuring artists represented by Beacom and Associates, headed by Harry Beacom.

Performing at the closing of this event was “Kenny Rogers and The First Edition”, who had just released, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” on Reprise Records. He had just left “The New ChristY Minstrels” after performing with them for 6+ years.

I was thunderstruck at hearing his voice that night. It was effortless and warm. He knew how to create theater, however subtle. This was great artistry up close and personal, that for me, was unforgettable.

Later in the 1980’s, at Jack Clement’s recording facility, Sound Emporium in Nashville, I was working on a Larnelle Harris record, and Kenny had been in the studio the previous week. On that Sunday night, I came in to make sure the drums had been set up so they could settle in for the session the next day. Billy Sherrill, one of the great recording engineers in country music worked on that project for Kenny, but it was another wonderful engineer, Gary Laney, who was working at the studio that night whom I asked how the sessions had gone. He told me they completed most of the project that week, with just a few overdubs and mix to do the next week. I couldn’t believe how quickly his albums were recorded and his vocals completed. This is in the day when singers sang without tuners, and the vocal was what it was.

His voice was smooth, comfortable, and I felt like he was inviting me into his story, and his heart.

The words, iconic and legendary are being used way too often these days…yet for Kenny Rogers…they are well worn…richly deserved.

In early Spring, we were invited to a showcase event in Minneapolis for college and corporate talent buyers, featuring artists represented by Beacom and Associates, headed by Harry Beacom.

Performing at the closing of this event was “Kenny Rogers and The First Edition”, who had just released, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” on Reprise Records. He had just left “The New ChristY Minstrels” after performing with them for 6+ years.

I was thunderstruck at hearing his voice that night. It was effortless and warm. He knew how to create theater, however subtle. This was great artistry up close and personal, that for me, was unforgettable.

Later in the 1980’s, at Jack Clement’s studio, Sound Emporium in Nashville, I was working on a Larnelle Harris record, and Kenny had been in the studio the previous week. On that Sunday night, I came in to make sure the drums had been set up so they could settle in for the session the next day. I spoke to Gary Laney who was working there at the time, and asked him how the sessions had gone. He told me they completed the entire project that week. I couldn’t believe how quickly his albums were recorded and his vocals completed. This is in the day when singers sang without tuners, and the vocal was what it was.

His voice was smooth, comfortable, and I felt like he was inviting me into his story, and his heart. i think When you saw that smile and heard him sing…In a curious way, you’d just met him.

The words, iconic and legendary are being used way too often these days…yet for Kenny Rogers…they are well worn…richly deserved.

THE TASTY BONE

I’m swimming in thought after listening to some of the swirling conspiratorial notions about the genesis of COVID-19. I’m writing this because people I love are suffering economic upheaval amid disquieting health concerns, and I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.

It is no mystery that we live in a world of the political. We tend to believe what we want to believe, and it’s very hard to change our minds…much like wresting a meaty bone from a hungry dog.

We are what we devour, shaped and emboldened by the philosophical leanings of the people with whom we cluster, the media we watch and what we read. Still, no matter how brilliantly information is imparted, the underlying question of accuracy and source voracity is always at play. We live in a digital realm of “smoke and mirrors” where rhetoric has become an art form, and I think the term, “informed decision” has become a bit illusory.

Partisans of all flavors enjoy the lawyer-like presentation and maneuvering skills of their own ideological messengers. But meanwhile… there are some just trying to sort through and discern the flood of information rushing at them, while trying to put food on the table for their families.

As much as we may intend to keep an open mind, it’s not always easy, but we must keep trying no matter the difficulty….even when it would be easier to throw everyone and every issue into big categorical baskets to which we agree or dismiss…and return to the Pavlovian comfort of gnawing on that tasty bone.

In all of this I need wisdom and counsel..and not from pundits, for these are spiritual matters… every inch of my life is a spiritual matter.  So I go to my source, my compass and guide.

The scripture says I should think on these things….whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, anything of excellence or worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

That’s some pretty good stuff to chew on.

A SLOUCHING OF WORDS

I heard a good one the other day. I overheard a man visiting with his friend who said, “Yes, he’s pretty honest.” I’m thinking, “What’s pretty honest?”..Kinda honest, 75% honest …for the most part, honest?

Is it just me, but does it seem like words don’t have the same integrity they once did. Words like courage, honest, legendary, iconic, etc. are tossed about like a well worn whiffle ball.

There are all kinds of ways we offer up word descriptions. For the industry in which I was a part, it seems that the only qualification to be iconic or legendary is to still be alive by the time you’re in your 60’s…then it’s pretty much automatic. At 71, I feel a lot more older than legendary. I realize these are words of discretion, but in present times…praise has become less discrete.

Another word used a lot is courage. When I think of this word, I think of Gandhi, Martin Luther, William Tyndale,
Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, religious martyrs and the scores of individuals who protected the Jews in World War II. The resolve and courage of the British people during World War II was inspirational.

I love the Thomas Babington Macaulay quote from “Lays Of Ancient Rome” in a scene from “Darkest Hour“ that has Sir Winston Churchill reciting these lines as he considers his Britain’s fate and

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods”

As carefully as I care for the positive words I use, I’m given pause to consider the disparaging words I use as well.

Bishop Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, a humanitarian and an advocate for Native Americans, spoke these challenging words:

“For the last 30 years, I have looked for the face of Christ in the people with whom I have disagreed.”

I have to catch myself on that some..uh..many times..

SAND THROUGH OUR FINGERS

Many of you don’t know these people.

Bob Johnson, Greta Weisser, Ed Lunn, Drew Thigpen, Brent Holladay, Jan Williams, Darrell Davies,Teresa Herlston, Renee French, Jimmy Manley-Miller, just to name some of the very recent losses close to Pam and me within a years time.

These were dear people in our lives. My closer than a brother brother-in-law, friends from church, life long childhood friend, our Minister of Music when we first arrived in Nashville, our children’s piano teacher, Pam‘s dear friend and hairdresser of decades, friends from the years as young adults, ones with whom we vacationed in those years we never considered the possibility of dying. And then there was the son of my former bible study buddy, music compadre, his loving wife and their daughter.

Along with these we’ve lost, our city has been struck hard by tornadoes, and almost simultaneously, we now face this COVID-19. pandemic.

There are so many biblical verses that bring us hope, inspiration and the means to cope through catastrophe and painful seasons and events. Even in the darkness of all of our losses and all that we face, there is a beauty and strength that emanates from those scriptures.

Things we didn’t see before suddenly come clear to us. The unlovely become lovely, precious even. The forgotten are remembered in the life of tragedy.
People through death, and difficulty become more meaningfully beautiful in a way we cannot adequately translate.

It’s all so obscure but warmly apparent. The mystery of beauty is that it cannot be explained or defined. The more I try to give it definition, the more it exponentially loses its depth and meaning. It’s like sand through the fingers. There is no syllabus or manual to explain the beauty of how God does His work in us, teaches and transforms us. He is the author of the unexplainable. So beauty is it’s own enigma.

Shakespeare writes about it so eloquently, this word, beauty.

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,”

This is beauty only God creates.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Okay, who changed the over under on the toilet paper roll?!!!!

We have just spent 5 enlightening days with our 3 Tennessee granddaughters. It has left me in wonderment begging the question, “where have I been all my life?”

After getting our girls ready for school (all in different schools), ready to catch their respective buses (all at different times… in the pouring rain), also preparing for “Crazy Hair Day” for our 2nd grader, making sure there was a clean uniform for LaCrosse pictures for our high school sophomore, packing lunches and then returning to the school later in the morning because one of them forgot to actually take their lunch amidst backpacks and LaCrosse sticks, Pam and I look at each other and say, “What just happened here?

And one other thing…ASMR…Have you seen these YouTube videos? Well, there’s Honey Bee, a beautiful girl who whispers into a microphone, eats stuff and says . ..”Hello… Hello… Hello… Hello… Hello….How are you guys doing today.

There’s also a very quirky Korean guy who makes funny faces and eats chicken wings in their entirety. I ask my girls what they like about ASMR, and they tell me it helps them relax and laugh.

One day I got filled in on acrylic nails and their various shapes., like Natural, Almond, Flair, Stiletto(good as a letter opener), Ballerina, French (usually white, but you can use other colors) and of course, my personal favorite…Coffin..
WHAT?! How do I know these things?…I watched two hours of “How To” videos on nails, hair and makeup, that’s how! I’m checking out Columbia State to see if there’s an extension course I could enroll in to catch me up on all that I’ve missed. With my head’s wavy wasteland, I need to stay informed on these pressing issues of style…NOT!!!

We took a beautiful hour long walk around our neighborhood. I smiled, as I remembered similar walks taken with Sarah and Ben when they were young. All of my granddaughters, including our youngest in Minnesota, are a dream come true for Pam and me. ❤️

WHAT?

For my entire life I have used my ears to make a living. I was a producer of music.

Yesterday, I was watching TV…(well…as best as someone with ADHD can watch TV). I came back into the middle of a commercial, after taking a short mental rabbit trail and couldn’t believe my ears. “Like a frickin’ motor…Ford.”
I told Pam I couldn’t believe what they’re saying in commercials these days and repeated the phrase. Pam just rolled her eyes and said, “Greg, that was, a brick and mortar store!”

I am not producing recordings anymore.

BACK TO THE MUSIC

I haven’t written much about my dad except for a chapter in my book, “Runaway Horse”. I was thinking about him as I lay in bed last night, so I thought I’d give memory a poke today, and peek once more into who we was. This post is more for me than for anyone else.

Some people have had little or no real connection to their fathers, because of dysfunction, alcoholism, abuse or they were too young to remember them because of divorce or death. I get that, but my father did not fit in any of those categories.

My dad was a pure and simple farm boy who had no more than an eighth-grade education, because when his father died, he had to help his mother manage the family farm. He served in the Army during World War 2, eventually formed a construction business with his brother and later became Superintendent of Construction for the state of North Dakota.

My mother was literally his personal English teacher. He spoke so poorly when they first met, that she would privately correct his grammar to help him.

Dad had a beautiful tenor voice, and grew up singing along with his brothers and sister, as his mother played a pump organ on snowy-cold winter nights, at their farm in Baldwin, North Dakota. He had a winning way with people, and was president of the city park board and the singing group in which he sang, “The Plainsmen”. He overcame his lack of education and at his funeral, the church was overflowing, with the governor of the state in attendance.

The other side of him was that he was distant from me, although my sister had a different take on her relationship with him. Let’s just say he was not a “lovey-huggie”kind of person. Typical of the men of his day, he was more stoic and didn’t show a lot of affection. I can never remember a hug or “I love you“. Don’t get me wrong, he loved me deeply and I knew it. He just didn’t know how to show me. When a hug and telling someone you love them is your love language, like it is for me, it’s a little harder to take when you’re younger.

He died early at the age of 56. We never had a serious conversation, and for a long time I didn’t think about him that much. But later, even now, there’s so much I wish I could tell him. That’s why the David Gates song about his dad, “Everything I Own” holds a particular poignancy for me .

Somehow, my life always comes back to the music.

THE RESIDUE

I’m going back to my hometown, Bismarck, North Dakota to hear the premiere of a piece I put together for the dedication of the G Ron Gilbreath Auditorium. This holds special meaning for me because it will be housed in Bismarck High School.

The work was composed together with my friends Daniel Bondaczuk and Amber Maxwell, and is a tribute to my dear friend, mentor and band director during the years I conducted the orchestra program at Bismarck High. His name is Gordon Knaak, and he and his family are held warmly in my heart.

In July, I go back once again to Bismarck to remember the life of a girl, who apart from my wife Pam, was my closest friend in high school. Her name is Greta Weisser and we played cello together growing up and never lost touch through the years.

This season of remembering fostered a poetic chord in me. I thought i would share it with my friends. It’s what i feel.

THE RESIDUE

Silver strands

wrinkled hands

a patch of thinning mane

in the mirror

a vision peers

at tracks

the years have framed

Warm moments spawn

fond reminisce

captured through the years

They temper well

the youthful scars

and adolescent fears

The world was what it was for me

I never thought to ask

or question in those carefree days

I thought would always last

But now the residue of grief

and emptiness I feel

aches for all whose damaged hearts

no human spackle heals

Blossom falls

on colored leaf

Ages payment comes

Once vibrant days

of living finds

a body soon undone.

Dreams and leaves then wind away

Lo soon they disappear

For now is not

what thought would be

in these ensuing years

Life has stamped it’s cruel mark

on all my childhood friends

But in the day

we had it made

We all were different then

It all was different then