Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rick and John McCain

My husband had a soft spot in his heart for John McCain. There was a reason.
Somewhere around here I still have the order of the day, a ship’s daily newsletter, from October 28, 1967. Rick saved it from when he was on the USS King - DLG 10.
He was not supposed to save it. He was not supposed to smoke dope with the quartermasters in the signalmen’s little cabin when they were all on watch, either. I’m just saying. It was Vietnam. A lot of things happened that weren’t supposed to happen.
This particular order notes that the day before they picked up a distress signal from a plane going down but did not see the plane or pilot out in the Tonkin Gulf.
The King was stationed on North SARS – SARS being “Search and Rescue.” They picked up pilots who came flaming out over the Vietnamese jungles and ditched in the Tonkin Gulf. The ship cruised up and down the northern coast of Vietnam, fending off occasional forays by Viet Cong who came out in boats of all sizes to shoot at them with rifles, and leaving a trail of ship’s garbage in the water.
Rick realized later that the distress signal they picked up was from John McCain’s airplane. Now, the plane went down in a lake in Hanoi, so there was never any question of the King being able to rescue McCain, but Rick still took it to heart that they had not been able to help him. After he learned McCain’s story, he wished for the rest of his life that they’d been able to pick McCain up and bring him safely back to an American hospital.
In listening to the accolades following McCain’s death this week, I was interested to hear it said that his POW experience was the making of him. He was a bit of a screw-off in the Naval Academy, but in Vietnam he was tempered by beatings, torture, and the camaraderie among the prisoners. He became the extraordinary person he was forever after.
Rick always respected McCain, and so did I when I learned his story. After someone dies you see them in clearer perspective, but that clear perspective is consistent with what we both thought about John McCain.
If there is a heaven, and I believe there is because I will be pissed if Rick isn’t there to meet me when I die, I hope Rick was part of the crowd welcoming John McCain.
Fair winds and a following sea! Rest in peace, you two.

Never Too Late

Early in my performing life as a singer and songwriter I observed that in music, it was never too late to be nobody. All you had to do was stop promoting yourself and stop getting bookings for a few weeks and presto! You were forgotten.
In the 1970s I did a lot of solo work, mostly playing around the Puget Sound area but also down the I-5 corridor in Oregon and in coastal California. Did a lot of open mikes in Tacoma and Seattle and knew many of the folk musicians who were working at the time.
I guess I thought I was somebody, because one night at Al and Tony’s I introduced myself to a woman playing there, expecting her to know me. She did not.
I got mad and walked out. That was because I was young and dumb and insecure. Being a singer/songwriter was my identity then, my self-worth. Not being recognized hurt.
The experience taught me a much-needed lesson. I never again assumed that anyone knew who I was, and never displayed that kind of foolish arrogance. I am ashamed to remember my behavior.
There is some longevity in music in your home town, though. When Women, Women & Song was together in the 1980s, we had a loyal fan base on the island, and lots of people bought our cassette tapes. People our age remember us well, even now, thirty years later. Occasionally, some person who is now in their forties will come up to me and tell me how their mom used to play the trio’s music in the car all the time, and they often say that they liked it, which is good to hear, especially considering they were captive audiences.
One of the downsides of cassette tapes was that they were so easy to duplicate. If someone liked our music, they’d copy our tape and give it to their friends. We sold about 2000 copies of our first album, “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” but have no idea how many copies were made and passed around. When we played on the mainland people would come up to us and tell us that their therapist, for example, had given them a copy of our tape. We could only sigh and hope that the music did them good.
We sold about 1000 copies of our second album, “The Key of R,” and I suppose that had correspondingly fewer bootleg copies. When I took a theology class at Diocesan House in Seattle there was a student in one of my classes who had a bootleg copy of that album and loved it. I was flattered and discouraged at the same time.
One year at the Folklife Festival I looked out at the audience and was astonished to see dozens of women singing along with the songs. They knew the words better than we did. Had they bought our tapes at a previous concert on the mainland? Maybe.
What could we say? “Glad you like our music. Wish you’d paid for the album.”
Wish my parents hadn’t been so right when they told me I’d never make a living as a singer.
The last fifteen or twenty years I haven’t pursued the singing. Stuff happened. I have been busy. Singing in the church choir was about it.
But now – for the first time since my twenties, I am a single independent person. The goals I had for my life are all behind me now. When I made that vow “until death do us part,” I did not realize that after Rick died, I’d be living on for years. I never thought about that, so I had no goals or plans.
So now what?
These days I sing and play with a group, Listen in the Kitchen. With all due modesty, we are five fierce, funny, brilliant, wonderful women who sing and play instruments and laugh a lot. We’ll be appearing at the October First Friday at the Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union. Come and hear us. So far, we have only done occasional local gigs, and have no plans to tour or pursue more work.
Now I’m thinking of doing a little solo singer songwriter work again. This has been a long time coming. Yikes. Will anyone care? Will anyone listen?
But then I think, whether anyone likes my work or not is none of my business. I’m here to sing my songs, that’s my business, so what the heck and wahoo. I’ll start out and see how it goes.
One obstacle: I will have to overcome my reluctance to leave the house.
It’s always something.
May you all sing your songs, whatever form they take. Blessings.

Sweet Old Bob and the Siren Song of Technology

When I came to the island in 1973, among the hippies I got to know was a tall slender guy named Bob. He had long black hair and a beard. He made his living selling dope pipes that he made from brass lamp parts and wooden beads.
By 1974 Bob decided to give up the hippie craftsman life and move to Seattle to pursue more interesting things. He’d always been interested in computers.
Flash forward: I was visiting my mother in California in June 2000 and picked up a copy of Time Magazine and began reading an article about ecstasy, the rave drug. Near the end I saw a picture of “Bob Wallace, retired Microsoft millionaire,” who funded the testing of drugs at raves to make sure the drugs were safe.
Yes, it was our Bob. After moving to Seattle he had become Microsoft employee number 9. You can miss a lot when you lose touch with a person for twenty-six years.
Bob was an integral part of the computer revolution that changed our world. He left Microsoft after a few years and started a company called Quicksoft, which he later sold, and then he and his wife, Megan, moved to northern California, and funded research into mind altering drugs. Testing drugs at raves was a service Bob funded.
On September 20, 2002, at age 53, he died in his sleep. He had pneumonia. He changed the world but was not great at taking care of himself.
Bill Larson,* who lived on Vashon in the 1970s and ‘80s, knew Bob Wallace when they both lived here. Bill told me this story recently:
One day Bob told Bill about an idea he had for a portable computer. It would consist of the computer, a monitor, and a keyboard, which would all fold into a suitcase so it could be carried, and it would weigh under eighty pounds! Voila! Portable computer!
This was back in the mid-70s when computers still filled rooms.
The idea was a little ahead of its time, but not much. In 1981, the first portable computer, the Osborne 1, debuted. It weighed about 24 pounds and had a five-inch screen, two floppy disk drives, and 64K memory. It cost $1795, looked like a suitcase when closed, and was a success for a few years. Portable computers that looked more like the laptops we know soon followed.
At first, I thought the personal computer was a solution without a problem. I got a Panasonic word processor that was advertised as, “too smart to be a typewriter, too easy to be a computer.” I loved that thing. Used it for years.
But then - I heard about the internet. I got a Mac Performa and listened to the SKREE and static of dial-up with tense anticipation and delight. Now I could (slowly) be in contact with friends and family across the country and around the world. Thrills!
That was a little over twenty years ago. Now I have a computer I can hold in my hand, called a cell phone, or mobile. I can use it to go online, play games, and even make phone calls.
That first flush of “Gee whiz, computers are so keen!” has been replaced by “Yikes, my bank account has been hacked!” “Holy gazoly, our elections have been rigged!” And other not so great uses of computers and the internet.
Did the visionary geniuses who pioneered computer technology foresee their work being put to these uses? Here’s someone who thought about developing technology:
“When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”
 -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
It is a shame that human beings do not grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as fast as we create new technology. Technological innovations amaze, but we’re still chasing the same old delusions of power and money.
Perhaps there are some visionary geniuses now who will be able to help save humanity from the unforeseen consequences of technological advancements that were too sweet to pass by.
Perhaps the necessities imposed by climate change, or some other challenge that the whole world faces, will force us to drop the false dichotomy of our disagreements.
Meanwhile? Let us be kind, to ourselves, and one another, and keep breathing.
*Bill Larson makes custom guitar slides in colors out of borosilicate glass. If you are jonesing to play slide blues guitar and want a slide in your size and color, you can look him up at The Rocky Butte Guitar Slide Company.