Friday, December 03, 2010


Along with a bicycle hill-climbing story story in the cool 5th-Anniversary issue of Adventures NW (congrats to Paul and Alaine!), I'll be on the Joe Show, KBAI AM-930, this coming Monday at noon. Not sure what I'll be talking about but no doubt it'll be outdoor- and likely bike-related.

Also, last Monday at the Chuckanut Radio Hour, a live performance taped at the Leopold, I read a sorta Christmas-themed essay I'd written. The show was taped (taped? are things really taped these days? I doubt it.) for TV and will be broadcast at 4 p.m. Dec. 18 on KVOS Channel 12. Truthfully, I'm not super happy with it. I like the piece I wrote but I was distracted as heck early on b/c I couldn't get the microphone at the right height. So if you watch it, it looks like I'm fighting with the microphone for the first minute, trying to decide whether or not to wear my glasses, whether I should hold my essay in my hand or leave it on the lecturn, etc. Kind of a mess. Oh well. 
Above photo is from a previous Chuckanut Radio Hour reading when I had no struggle with mic height.
Just for the heck of it, here is a piece I wrote and read on the Chuckanut Radio Hour last January. It's called "Cannonball", and can be seen on YouTube here. (No mic height struggles here either.)


Last summer, when my 10-year-old son took swimming lessons at the Bellingham Country Club, they’d come to a point in the lesson when each kid got a turn jumping off the diving board. And this one kid—every time it was his turn—he’d walk to the end of the diving board and yell “Cannonball!” as loud as he could, so that every head in the place would involuntarily jerk toward the diving board.

And we’d all watch as this skinny, kinda gangly 10-year-old, would just sort of fall off the end of the board. On the way down, he’d make a half-hearted attempt to grab his knees, but he’d always let go. And when he’d hit the water, he produced an underwhelming “bloop!” of a splash, like when you drop a pebble into a pail of water. “Bloop!”

Next day, same thing. “Cannonball!” shouted to the heavens, an awkward semi-stumble off the end of the diving board, a splash that wouldn’t soak an ant. Day after day this went on, and each time I hoped this would be the day the he’d get it right.


Then one day, it dawns on me: he is getting it right. Every single day. Just with his attitude: the way he approached the diving board—always an eager bounce in his step—and how he’d giggle while doggie-paddling back to the ladder after his attempt. Not at all dejected or with the slightest notion that he’d failed.

That’s the way to live your life. Yell “Cannonball!” to the world, give whatever you’re trying your best shot, and if it doesn’t work out, no biggie. Just enjoy the experience and remember: there’s always tomorrow.

Now, I envied this Cannonball Kid because I’m not like that at all. If I don’t know ahead of time that I’ll be successful at something, I won’t even try it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been that way.

But then, I remembered “Purple Haze” …

Back when I was in high school, I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. And at the beginning of my senior year, I decided that in three months, at our Senior Talent Show, I would play “Purple Haze” on guitar in front of the whole school. There was just one problem: I didn’t know the first thing about playing guitar.

So I hired our town’s hotshot guitar player, a kid named Billy Tucker, to teach me “Purple Haze,” just that one song. Billy was a terrific teacher and like lots of guitarists I’ve met, he enjoyed copious amounts of cannabis and other mind-altering substances. This worked to my great advantage because Billy would lose all track of time and my 45-minute guitar lessons sometimes lasted two-, three-, even four hours. Which was key, because I needed all the help I could get.

Jimi Hendrix, you see, is not exactly intro guitar material. And trying to learn “Purple Haze” before you’d even learned how to play “Polly Wolly Doodle”, or any beginner guitar song, was like trying to learn how to ride a bicycle by racing against Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. But I stuck with it and come Talent Show night, Purple Haze was in my brain. Some of it, anyway.

For the show, I wanted to somehow look the part, so I borrowed this rainbow-colored hippie dashiki shirt with billowy sleeves, a pair of suede Indian moccasin boots that laced up to my knees and had fringe around the top, and tied a bandana around my head. In my mind, I looked just like Jimi at Woodstock. But in reality, I probably looked more like some Village People version of Davey Crockett.

Some classmates who had a rock band agreed to back me up and one of them would sing the song. As for the actual performance … I won’t bore you with the details other than to say that it went about as well as could be expected for someone who wasn’t really musically inclined to begin with, and who’d only had about 10 guitar lessons, and then tries to play “Purple Haze” in front of the whole school. Among the more challenging moments was the guitar solo in the middle, during which my fingers wouldn’t cooperate with what I wanted them to do, and stinker note after stinker note shot from my guitar like sparks from a bottle rocket on the 4th of July.

In short, I played “Purple Haze” about as well as the Cannonball Kid did a cannonball.

But at the end, I rallied. “Purple Haze” ends with the same screaming high note repeated over and over again. It sounds cool and it’s so simple to play that even I couldn’t screw it up. So when we came to that point in the song, I raised the guitar to my face, and just like Jimi Hendrix, I played guitar with my teeth.

The place went nuts. And all my previous sins—the cavalcade of klunker notes, the cacophony of sonic crap that I’d produced—were forgiven. It felt amazing—like I’d died and ascended to Rock Star Heaven. And there was Jimi, and he smiled and gave me the peace sign.

So it’s January, the start of a new year—a whole new decade, in fact—and of course, New Year’s Resolution time. And so I’ll leave you with mine: to shout “Cannonball!” to the world more often—to take more risks, try new things, to just enjoy the ride and not obsess over success or failure.

And to always remember: that whenever things start going really badly, I can always just grab a guitar and play it with my teeth.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:23 PM

    got it? flaunt it. jus sayin
    may or may not be from your adoring sister