Straight talk from Tom Hanks on COVID-19 – there is a part we can all play

Last night, Tom Hanks was interviewed by Lester Holt on NBC News (the three plus minute interview can be linked to below). Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson caught COVID-19 while traveling and self-quarintined in Australia. Hanks tends to be worth listening to, as he speaks in a straightforward, reflective and unthreatening manner.

When Holt asked him about the concerns and uncertainties of many, Hanks noted how to address such by doing what is asked of us. Hanks said what we have been asked to do to help each other and our community is the least we can do. It is disappointing that it is even an issue as there is a part we all can play. Wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands. Something so simple that requires so little effort.

Hanks noted earlier that he and Rita are doing fine after quarantine and are participating in blood work studies now that they are back home. He said they both have fewer antibodies, so they remain at risk of getting a recurrence. He said their symptoms were a little different, with both feeling at first they were a little “punky.” They have been open about their illness, treatment and recovery so that people are aware.

Please watch the interview from the link below. It is refreshing to hear straight talk from someone who we feel we know from his career and how he has conducted himself. I kept thinking these are the simple messages more people in leadership positions should be saying.

https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/full-interview-tom-hanks-on-coronavirus-pandemic-87167557813

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand – great first lyrics

Great songs do not have to open with intriguing first lyrics. Some great songs do not have lyrics at all – Booker T and the MGs (“Green Onions”), Eric Johnson (“Cliffs of Dover”)and The Ventures (“Walk don’t run”) all had instrumental hits. But, a catchy first lyric can grab your attention.

Warren Zevon did so with these lyrics, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking on the streets of Soho in the rain.” This song is obviously “Werewolves of London.” What I learned yesterday is Zevon was talked into switching the first two stanzas for this purpose by Phil Everly one of the famous Everly Brothers.

Procol Harum (a great name) sang these lyrics to begin a “Whiter shade of pale,” a great song title. “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.” You just have to listen as “the crowd called out for more.”

Known for interesting lyrics, Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, “She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet, let them eat cake she says just like Marie Antoinette.” “Killer Queen” is packed with lyrics like this, as are many Queen songs.

Jimmy Webb wrote these lyrics sang so well by Glenn Campbell in “Wichita Lineman.” “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.” It is the daily life of man who does his job as he greatly worries about his wife who is in need of a break.

The Kinks introduced us to the enigmatic “Lola” with these lyrics. “I met her in a club down in old Soho. Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola. C-O-L-A Cola…” Soho is an interesting place, as it found its way into two songs herein, so it serves as a great backdrop to Lola and this young man’s encounter

Yet, the words need not be complex. Paul McCartney grabbed our attention with a simple plaintive lyric “Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away.” The lyric makes you want to know what happened “Yesterday.”

Not to be outdone, John Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” His lyric was so provocative, you had to listen to his point to “Imagine” a kinder world.

I treasure great lyrics, so I admire great song writers who coin them. Yet, the song need not start out that way. Motown coined many great lyrics, but the Motown sound started with “rhythm upfront.” That was the hook.

But, it was later when Marvin Gaye penned these heartfelt, and still needed words under the Motown label. “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” This powerful song “What’s going on?” is a needed anthem.

Songs like Gaye’s are the reason lyrics move me. Let’s celebrate the music, but hear the words. I know I left out many favorites of mine. What are some of your favorites I missed?

Trace your steps and be careful event attendees

Tonight will be the grand reopening of the presidential pep rallies. First stop Tulsa. My strong advice to attendees is please don’t go, for your sake and that of your families, friends, co-workers and fellow citizens. Because this president chose to misinform about the pandemic risk dating back to January which continues to this day, his cult-like followers are more at risk, since they believe what this person says.

Ironically, on the night of the last pep rally on February 28, 2020, the president referred to COVID-19 as a “Democrat hoax.” That night, the first known American COVID-19 death was occurring. Now, we have over 119,000 deaths, 27% of the global deaths with only 5% of the population. And, it appears to be getting worse again with business reopenings and too many folks acting rashly.

The Tulsa gathering will be indoors, which is big no-no, with so many in close proximity. And, due to the misinformation, which includes a false bravado of not wearing a mask, it is likely more than average will not wear a mask or follow social distancing. Please note, I have been equally concerned about the Black Lives Matter rallies, but at least they are outdoors. Pandemics do not care how altruistic a protest or gathering is. It is an equal opportunity offender and killer.

In this case, we have a person who craves applause. He invited you to this gathering. This group won’t ask him tough questions. They will just cheer his tag lines that are offered without much basis or sand over the edges of the truth. And, they will be exposed or expose others. It should be noted, the president’s campaign will require attendees to sign a statement saying they will hold the campaign harmless, should they get sick. That speaks volumes.

So, if people feel they must attend this and future events, please check your ego and protect yourself and others. Wear a mask, practice social distancing if you can, take some hand sanitizer and a change of clothes, and wash your hands. When you get back to your car, use that sanitizer and change your shirt or clothes. And, record this date and who you came in contact with, if you can. You may want to self-quarantine as well. If you feel poorly with any of the COVID-19 symptoms, go get checked.

I say the same thing to those protesting. Please be careful. Altruism is not a defense. And, what the folks in Tulsa should realize, but sadly do not, the last person to listen to about the pandemic is the one you are going to see.

Bad apples will spoil the bunch

The Catholic Church had a centuries old problem it failed to address that police departments and unions should heed. After complaints became more public, the Catholic Church was forced to more drastically deal with pedophile priests. Failing to address these bad apples painted the whole church and its entire priesthood in a bad light. Now, the significant majority of priests were not pedophiles, but the bad apples tainted the whole bunch.

While the majority of police officers are good people doing a hard job, it would be incorrect to say there are no bad apples among their ranks. Even the best of the police will make errors of judgement when fear enters the equation (note this observation comes from a police chief). But, there are a number of police officers who have unhealthy racist bents or are prone to undue force. They are bad apples.

As with the priests, the failure of police department and union leadership to police their own paints all police in an unfair bad light. Holding police officers accountable is critical in regaining trust. Those good cops who make errors in judgement due to fear must be helped to be better through acknowledgement, training, and more training. And, punishment may be necessary.

Yet, the bad apples must be dealt with. Too many racists and violent prone police officers have been identified through numerous complaints, yet they go on largely unscathed. Some have even risen in the union ranks due to an unhealthy zeal to protect rogue cops, including themselves.

While this last point may alarm some, NPR reported the head of one Police Federation has had thirty official complaints and has created an old boy’s network. This same union leader made insensitive racial remarks about George Floyd and spoke of exonerating the four officers, not mentioning the kneeling on Floyd’s neck. It should be noted fourteen officers in this federation have broken ranks from this position and have condemned the officers for wrongdoing toward Floyd.

The bad apples must be acknowledged and dealt with. The failure to do so, emulates the embarassing and criminal oversights perpetuated by the Catholic Church. And, that is not good. On the flip side, I am proud of the police officers of all colors who have joined the civil protests.

Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

“Don’t Let be Misunderstood” is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus for the singer and pianist Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964. The song has been covered by many artists, most notably by The Animals, whose blues rock version of the song became a transatlantic hit in 1965. (Per Wikipedia). Cat Stevens does a meaningful interpretation as well, as he tempers the sound so the words seep through.

The song has an important message, but first here are the lyrics.

“People, do you understand me now,
If sometimes I feel a little mad
Don’t you know no one alive can
Always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem a little sad
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

You know sometimes, I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Sometimes seems that all I have is worry
And then you’re bound to see my other side
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems and I get more
Than my share
But that’s one thing I never mean to do
I don’t mean it
People, don’t you know I’m only human
Don’t you know I have faults like any one
But sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little thing; some foolish thing
That I have done,
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood
I’m just someone whose intentions are good
Don’t let me be misunderstood,
Don’t let me be misunderstood”

My wife suggested I include this song in a post. She feels people are being misunderstood as others are not taking the time to listen. If we listen to each other, the context of a comment will finds its way in. Once you listen, you then have earned the right to be heard in return. A key part of the song is to start out with assuming the intentions are good. That may be giving too much credit, but if we listen first, we can ask better questions.

I have often written about Daryl Davis, an African-American man who has convinced more than 200 white men to leave the Ku Klux Klan. He said he did it by listening. Then, he would ask a few questions and listen some more. He observed that people, even with strong opinions he disagreed with, just want to be heard. By listening, he would ask probing, thoughtful questions that made the person think.

I truly admire this man, his courage and his approach. If we emulate him, we can have better conversations.

A plea from a fifteen year old girl

In my newspaper today was the following letter to the editor. I felt it had pertinence and poignancy, so I repeat it here in its entirety:

“As a 15-year-old upper middle class white girl, I am undeniably privileged. I’ve been given the opportunity to choose the side of history I wish to stand on. In the midst of this crisis, the two sides stand firm, yet logic and empathy seemed to have chosen my side for me. I cannot choose a side of ignorance, no matter how blissful. I must refuse the side that cannot understand the suffering of those unlike themselves. I will not ordain a cause that is more concerned about inanimate objects and a disrupted status quo than about unjust loss of life. I implore everyone to make the same decision. Think about what is replaceable, and what can never be returned.”

These words are more profound than the US president could ever possibly say, but they are precisely the kinds of words we need to hear from someone who occupies the White House. For someone who craves notoriety, this president will not be remembered for being on the right side of history, in my view.

The Last Movie Star

Burt Reynolds starred in a movie late in his life called “The Last Movie Star” which is surprisingly poignant. Reynolds plays Vic Edwards, an aging movie star, who accepts a lifetime achievement award from a movie lover’s group in Nashville. But, he comes to the conclusion the first night, the group waa over-advertised and beneath his dignity. So, you won’t start out liking this man.

But, stay with it. Not trying to give away too much plot, he asks Lil, the sister of the group’s leader who serves as his driver, to detour from driving him to the airport and go to Knoxville, where we find out he is from. Suffice it to say, we learn a lot about him on this journey.

The movie uses actual footage of Reynolds earlier movies. He talks with his younger screen self as a means of sharing what is going on in his aging confusion and reflections on past decisions.

The movie was directed by Adam Rifkin and stars a largely young cast – Ariel Winter as Lil, Clark Duke as Doug, and Ellar Coltrane ss Shane. Chevy Chase plays his friend Sonny and Kathleen Nolan plays Claudia, his first wife.

If you have seen this movie, let me know what you think. If you have not seen it, avoid the temptation to give up on him. Also let me know what you think, once you have. The movie was rated as OK by the rating agencies, but 93% of Google users liked it.

Note, the movie was made in 2017 and released in early, 2018. Reynolds died in September, 2018.

Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of now 34 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call
Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes
A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you and you were made for me
And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine
For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”
“Sundown”
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
“Carefree Highway”
“Cotton Jenny”
“Old Dan’s Records”
“Summer Side of Life”
“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear
Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes
Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

Let’s honor the deceased war heroes, but do our best to keep them safe

On this Memorial Day holiday, we should rightfully and respectfully honor and remember our loved ones, friends, acquaintances and even strangers who fought in the many battles and wars. It is day of reflection of their sacrifices, whether they died in the conflicts or after they returned home. Too many, struggled with what they called “shell shock” after World War I (The Great War) and now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A good friend just buried her twenty-seven year-old former Marine son, who was killed in a motorcycle crash. So, after worrying for several years while in Afghanistan, she has to grieve him for a bad accident. Loved ones bear a lot of angst worrying about their fighting children, fathers, mothers and loved ones. To die so young is a tragedy.

Yet, our leaders must go beyond the call to avoid sending our people into harm’s way. As said in the movie “Troy,” about the Trojan War, “War is old men talking and young men fighting.” Both men and women leaders must understand what war or conflict means. They must know that it is far more than winning battles. It is rebuilding countries and maintaining the peace through better relations. As an example, the following is a voice that was not heeded about these challenges.

In 2002, Jim Webb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post cautioning the US about going into Iraq. Who is Jim Webb? He is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy and US Senator from Virginia. He has a law degree from Georgetown and has been a member of both political parties serving under multiple Presidents.

Two paragraphs from his pre-invasion op-ed piece are telling:

“The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world….

Other than the flippant criticisms of our ‘failure’ to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”

It should be noted we have been in Iraq for over seventeen years, even longer in Afghanistan. Maybe, the chest beaters should listen to those who have fought and have experience rather than people who understand less what fighting and occupying a country mean. This was a crossroad moment in our history and we have not been the same since. Many thousands of American and allied troops died, even more Iraqi and Afghani troops and civilians died, our reputation has suffered and our debt is much higher. Plus, he was right on the money about American influence being impacted around the globe. Lying to allies and others about weapons of mass destruction has that kind of effect, not to mention misunderstanding the landscape.

I use this example as the words come from someone who knows, not someone who has a false bravado. One of the reasons so many Americans died in the Civil War, besides fighting on both sides, is some of the Union’s generals were chaotic and incompetent. People died unnecessarily because the union generals kept them in harm’s way. Per the Pentagon Papers, our leaders carried on a war in Vietnam long after they knew they could not win, so many Americans and huge amounts of Vietnamese died unnecessarily.

We must honor these men and women who risk their lives by getting this first part right. The best battle is one that is not fought, if it need not be. These people are brave people and deserve our respect and admiration, but leaders who pick or continue a fight that need not be fought or is sorely underestimated, is doing America and our allies a disservice. Both Democrats and Republican leaders have failed in this regard. It is too important to not fail, regardless of what party one serves.