Influential Albums – Day 3

Neil Young – Decade

So, another compilation. Twice in this 10 day span I’ve done that, but again, this is how I was introduced to a very important musical figure in my life. My friend, Craig Pickel (yep) introduced me to Neil on many rides in her (yep) little Honda CRX. Decade on the tape deck, wings or chips and salsa from Jaggers in our bellies, and Life as the conversation topic.

Neil changed the way I played guitar. By the time I started listening to him, I guess I’d been playing for 3 years or so. So many of the people I listened to had lots of effects and weird chords and were technically much more advanced than I was. When I got Neil Young Complete Music Volume 2 I saw chords that I knew and could play with no problem. There were a bunch of songs I hadn’t heard yet in that book so I bought the Decade songbook and just went to town. Both acoustic and electric, Neil pretty much kept things pretty simple. Even the finger picking he did on “Sugar Mountain” and “The Needle and the Damage Done” were straight ahead enough that I could figure it out. I never learned to read music, but I remember sitting down and figuring out the guitar part of “Ohio” from CSNY. I had a little music reading knowledge and took what I had and wrote down the notes to learn it.

I played A LOT of Neil Young on guitar. I was up in Athens finishing school and like a lot of guys up there, I had thoughts, dreams, fantasies about playing guitar in Athens and then…the world. Well, everybody’s got to start somewhere and I tried to play out at a few places, pizza places, open mics, coffee houses. I’d play some Neil, some R.E.M., a Beatles song or two then inevitably somebody would call out, “Play ‘Margaritaville’.” I’d say I didn’t know it. “Well play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ then.” I’d say I didn’t know that one either. “What do you know, then?” I know a lot of Neil Young. So, I didn’t play too many of those places. Also, I did know those songs, but that’s not what I was into, so I didn’t play them.

As time went on I delved into Neil’s catalog and starting getting more of his releases. Neil Young & the Blue Notes, This Note’s For You was one of the first records I bought when I started buying albums again. I thought it was pretty cool, I dug the horns (still do!) I had kept up with his struggles with Geffen Records and knew that he had gotten back on Reprise Records.

One of my favorite cassettes that I have of his is Comes a Time. It’s funny because I don’t think there are any of those songs on Decade. I’ll end this with one of my favorite lines from one of Neil’s Buffalo Springfield songs, “Mr Soul”, “She said you’re strange, but don’t change and I let her.”

What it could have been

The Allman Brothers Band – Beginnings

As much as I loved Neil Young, I would have totally been Duane Allman. Holy cow! I’ve put this down before, but if The Allman Brothers Band never made another album after their first one, they still would be regarded as pivotal musicmakers. The interplay between Duane and Dickey, the drumming of Butch and Jaimoe, the thumping bass of Barry, and Greg on the Hammond, well, there you go. This album, cassette, CD spent a lot of time on my different players during my hippie wanna be period, as did some other jam bands, but The Allmans are the ones that have kept their flavor the longest for me.


Nostalgia is Funny

In social studies right now my students are working through the 50s and 60s. Three of the things invented during the 50s and 60s were Barbie dolls,  calculators, and cassette players. For a homework assignment, I had my students talk to their parents about these things. I included G.I. Joe for the dads. I told them they could write down their answers if they wanted, but did not have to. Two of them are pure gold and two are just kind of amusing.Barbie-Wallpapers-Cartoons-Disney-e1405610118291




Claire B’s mom, Laura, said, “My biggest memories of the Barbie doll are that I played with them in my pool. I had the inflatable pool and slide. We had the Barbies in their bathing suits and we would swim with them all day. I had maybe 5 dolls. I played with them with my friends in the neighborhood, I think.”

“Cassette tapes were how we listened to music. You would put your cassette in your boom box and turn on Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 Countdown. As soon as your favorite songs came on you would press the Record button really fast so you could replay the song later.” Claire also said, “My parents used cassette tapes to record our voices in conversations we had to send in the mail to our grandparents! And our grandparents would do the same thing and send them back to us.” Laura emailed me later to tell me more, “I got my first boom box for Christmas when I was 10. I spent hours on that thing recording songs from the radio and replaying them. I still have a somewhat large cassette collection bc I can’t bring myself to get rid of them!! Mix tapes – remember those? I had a few boyfriends who were big into music and would make the best mix tapes for me. Totally still have a few – ha ha ha!!!”

“I don’t have too many memories about my calculators. But I do have a funny story. Once in college, I took my remote control to my exam instead of my calculator.”

Katrina R’s mom, Judith, said, “I played with Barbies when I was younger. I played with them with my friends about once a week or so. I had the Barbie Dreamhouse. My brother had G.I. Joes.”

“My mom had an 8-track player in 2nd-3rd grade. Then she got a Steed [sic] Miller band for Christmas in 4th-5th grade. she then got a Sony Walkman in 6th-7th grade. My mom used her tapes almost daily from 2nd grade to college plus. She would sometimes make tapes for her friends as gifts.”

“My mom used calculators throughout school. In high school she used a graphing calculator about once a week. She got a calculator watch in late elementary school (she had to earn it).

Some of the other responses, “Record off radio on cassette tapes. Bring in car to listen to music. Had to buy tapes in a store if you wanted to listen to music.” “My dad had 600 cassette tapes. He used it twice a day.” “My dad had 1 calculator. He used it twice a week.” Fascinating recollection right there!

Two parents sent in some of their old cassette tapes to the classroom and I was SO EXCITED! Luckily, I have a boom box with dual cassette deck to play them on!  I played Duran Duran’s Rio cassette for the students that morning. I told my students about making mixed tapes for friends myself and my girlfriend (now wife – GQ was the recipient of many, many mixed tapes from me).  It’s not exactly the one in the picture, but it’s close.

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I had a great time reliving some of these memories. As stated in a previous post, G.I. Joe was my favorite toy

Anytime I can be a part of students and parents sharing like this is always fun. What about you?  What were your experiences with Barbies, cassettes, and calculators?



30-Day Writing Challenge, Day 7 – Your favorite symbol and why


What’s my favorite symbol? That’s easy, it’s the heart. Right, I know, it’s not the shape of a heart. It’s the shape of Love. And that is the most important thing to me.

Truth be told, on the source page the 30-Day Writing Challenge came from Day 7 was, “Do you have any tattoos, and if so, what are they?” Well, I didn’t think that was appropriate for my 5th graders, so I changed it to the symbol thing. I can tell you that it has caused some confusion.

Student – “What’s MY favorite symbol?”
Me – “Yes.”
Student – “MY favorite symbol?”
Me – “Yes.”

Different Student – “Can it be more than one?”
Me – The prompt says, “Your favorite symbol, and why”
D. Student – “Yeah, but I have several favorites. So, can it be more than one?”
Me – “Are you going to tell me about them?”
D. Student – “I have more than one.”
Me – “Just do it.”

Again, truth be told, if it was the original post my response would have been, I have two tattoos. One of a moon face and one of a family crest that GQ and I designed and the tattoo artist drew. It’s a 4 symbol shield:


This is the original drawing of the tattoo artist. Here’s the story of the symbols:
The heart symbolizes me. The crown represents GQ. The star represents our 14-year old, Ramona. The skull and crossbones is our 11-year old, Coco.

I feel that needs a little more explaining, but honestly, nothing I can say is going to really fit, so I’m not going to go to try.


They are interchangeable, though. Sometimes I’m the star. Sometimes Coco’s the snuggly, squeezy heart. Sometimes Ramona’s the skull and crossbones (especially now that she’s a teenager. Sheesh) GQ, well, she can be whatever she wants.

Anyway, back to the Symbol, because that’s what this post is supposed to be about.

Love. It’s why I do what I do. It’s why we are here. There are several telephone poles around my neighborhood that are decorated with a cut-out, wooden heart painted red. Similar to the one at the top of the post. In all, there are probably 8 different posts with the hearts on there. Every time I drive past them they make me smile. Clearly, there’s another person out there that feels the same way I do.

In the words of John Lennon, all you need is love. To paraphrase the words of crazy Norman Bates as his mother’s voice, “Is ‘Love’ going to pay the bills?”

What’s your favorite symbol?

30-Day Writing Challenge, Day 3 – Your Favorite Toy or Stuffed Animal

Your favorite toy or stuffed animal; why is it your favorite? When did you get it?

G.I. Joe – A Great American Hero

Look at that guy up there. He’s ready for action. He’s ready for duty. He’s G.I. Joe and he was my favorite toy growing up. I had a lot of action figures growing up. When I say, “a lot”, I mean, seriously,  A LOT.  Lots of G.I. Joes (you have to type the whole thing, you can’t just shorten it to “Joe”), lots of superheroes, characters from Planet of the Apes, S.W.A.T., and Star Trek, Action Jackson, He-Man, and one I had forgotten about until a week or so ago, Big Jim.

The Aquabats – Playdough (I know the title is “Playdough”, but it’s all about action figures. It makes perfect music to go along with this post.

I spent most of my time playing with these action figures. Inside, outside, everywhere. I started getting them for Christmas when I was probably 5. I thought 3 at first, but I went and looked at old photo albums and 5 seems to be more actual.

I would take them to any of my relatives’ houses when we visited. I had some friends that I would take them to, but mostly they stayed at home if I was at a friend’s. Besides, everyone knows that someone else’s toys are always better.

Why is G.I. Joe my favorite? To be honest it’s because he is the one that I have left. Years ago my dad brought over no less than 5 plastic totes full of my childhood toys. They were getting ready to  move, so, “Here you go, Son. Here’s your childhood.” It was amazing to see them all. When my dad went off to college his mother, Grandmother Benefield from yesterday’s entry, threw out all of his toys with the exception of a dual prop passenger plane and a toy typewriter. I think my dad didn’t want that to happen to my brother and me, so he saved it. All of it. So much stuff.

Anyway, I couldn’t keep all of it. At the time, I didn’t want to keep all of it. But how do I get rid of it without just taking it to Goodwill? How will I know if the Human Torch will end up in the right hands? The Glitter Queen came up with a great idea (as she often does). Invite some students that you know are into comics, sci-fi, etc and have a private garage sale. I did. It was FANTASTIC. I had all the toys laid out and I could go around with the kids (who are juniors in college now) and let them know what accessories go with what action figure. At the end of the day, the stuff that had sold the least was G.I. Joe. I had a big bag of figures left, a big bag of uniforms and accessories. I guess the kids just weren’t into him. <SIGH>

So, I searched through all the accessories and the uniforms and found a set of matching combat boots (harder than it sounds), a rifle, shoulder-holstered pistol, a canteen, and a utility belt. This G.I. Joe didn’t suffer from hair loss or having a mask drawn over his eyes as others in my collection had. He was just about perfect. He IS just about perfect. His joints are a little loose now, because as I mentioned above, I played with my toys. They weren’t there to just look out from a box at me. Now that he’s served his time he has been retired to a shelf above my head right now as I type these words. I get him down every now and again for memories’ sake. He’s been involved in our Elf on the Shelf shenanigans in the past, and probably will be in the future, too.

I spent countless hours playing with those action figures. Countless happy, unstructured, imaginative hours. They were awesome!

What’s your favorite toy or stuffed animal?

30-Day Writing Challenge, Day 2 – My Earliest Memory

I have read about people having very early memories, particularly exceptionally intelligent people. I don’t know how old I was in my earliest memory, but I don’t think it falls into that “very early” category. So many early memories come from photo albums. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories dozens of times, so they have become ingrained in my head to seem like memories. I guess they could be seen as shared memories because it would have been my parents or grandparents sharing these pictures and stories with me.

The Kinks – Picture Book

What I do recall as my earliest memory is being down in Hogansville, GA on my grandparents’ farm, out in a corn field with my grandfather and my brother, Phillip. boom

source –

That was the sound of my grandfather’s shotgun. It was so amazingly loud! It’s almost as if that BOOM kickstarted my mind into gear, ‘Hey, you know, you might want to start remembering some of this stuff.’

We were out in the corn field with Granddaddy Benefield while he was shooting crows that were getting his corn. He hated those crows. Well, I’m not sure if it was him or if Grandmother Benefield told him to get out there and do it. “Yes, ma’am.”

Phillip and I spent a lot of time down on the farm. He loved it because he was an outdoors kind of kid. I liked it because I got to be with my grandparents, watch TV with Grandmother Benefield, her “stories”, eat delicious food – she always had the little boxes of sweetened Kellogg’s cereal and heavily buttered white bread toast for breakfast, and drink tall bottles of Coca-Cola out of their Frigidaire.

I have lots more memories of my times on the farm, but that shotgun blast in the corn field is my first.

How about you? What’s your earliest memory?