Standing for Freedom

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Mission of U.S. Army Bands:

Provide music throughout the spectrum of military operations to instill in our Soldiers the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote our national interests at home and abroad.

It’s Saturday and the 1st Cavalry Division Band is working hard.  As I prepare my scores in advance of a graduation ceremony for which we’re about to get on the road, I can’t help but look forward to tomorrow afternoon’s mission.

That mission?

A concert celebrating Armed Forces Day that will also pay tribute to our Fallen in advance of Memorial Day.  This type of public performance is the “bread and butter” of what our Bands can bring to the American people.  A reminder of the service, dedication, and sacrifices of Service Members, Veterans, families, and those who have given the “last full measure of devotion” to our Nation.

Even after 15 years, 8 months as an Army Band Officer, I still get excited to bring what we bring so well to an audience.  Our NCOs and Soldiers have worked hard, the music is ready, and the word has been put out to Central Texas.

Here’s the program:

Summon The Heroes
Star Spangled Banner
Eagle Squadron March
Suite from “Glory”
Hope
Brave
Duty, Honor, Country
Face of Honor
“Dear Emma” –  A Soldier’s Letter (set to “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations)
I Drive Your Truck
Standing For Freedom
Armed Forces on Parade
The Stars and Stripes Forever

And here’s the Flyer:

Standing for Freedom Flyer Final

 

 

 

OEF Journal: Kandahar 3 January 2013

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This entry is the first in my “OEF Journal.”

From September 2012-April 2013, I served as the U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) Bands Liaison Officer at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. During this tour, I was given the opportunity to work with American military bands and coordinate some international engagements in the region.  I kept a loosely compiled journal in theater and will provide entries as I get to them. Since my note-taking was sporadic, the dates of the entries will not be chronological.

3 January 2013

Kandahar

This event occurred after completion of my 36th day in Afghanistan, the “Total Force” tour, and long visits with the 1ID Band in Bagram and 3ID Band in Kandahar. The end of an awesome month.

Typical terminal nightmare.

I showed up 1 hour and 45 minutes early for my ‘show time’ only to find that they had bumped it forward by an hour before I even got there.  I was pissed. Knowing that the flight was not full, I angrily pressed the issue on it and finally an Air Force Staff Sergeant interrupted my conversation with the Airman and asked if I could go “wait in the tent.”

Still fuming, I sat down across from a burly, slightly scruffy gentleman in civilian attire wearing a knit hat. After a long pause with me trying to send email on my phone, he initiated conversation:

“It’s gonna be a long night”

He had an accent I couldn’t place.

He continued: “I’m trying to get to (TK) but my flights not ‘til the morning… ”

I asked “where are you coming from?”

“South Africa.”

“I’m coming off of R&R and I’m training locals (couldn’t understand the follow-on as to specifics, but he had been in some crazy locations).”

I told him my tale of apparently missing my flight…and that I thought the SSG sent me out to cool my jets.

We shared a laugh.

I asked how much longer he had and this was where it really got interesting:

“I leave on March 31- that’s when my contract expires, but I started in Iraq in 2007 training different groups including the Aussies, then came to Afghanistan in 2009 and I’ve been here ever since… I just make sure to take my R&R each time it comes around. ”

I’ll admit that I was somewhat in awe of him. “Wow, that’s a really long time to be in Theater.”

“I really enjoy what I do.”

I was intrigued with the conversation and had forgotten all about my terminal mess responding that “I know people who gripe about 4 months” (Didn’t tell him that I was entering my 4th month… and I had done my share of griping)

He smiled and added: “It’s been a neat time here…. And it’s all in the attitude”

Eventually, he got up to go get a snack and soda and kindly offered to get one for me… I politely refused, but did appreciate the gesture.

Shortly after he returned, a familiar civilian from the terminal came into the tent and asked for “anybody going to Kuwait.” He took my ID along with two others and told us to go to the terminal. I had made it!

I reached over to shake the South African gentlemen’s hand, wished him safety and best of luck and I took off for the security checkpoint…

A few things:

-I loved his comment about attitude… As Beth correctly says, I need to be more in that mindset.  Something to grow on.

-Always get someone’s name if possible. My angst from the flight situation prevented me from being properly polite to a kind person who saw I was having a tough time.  I should have asked his name – not for any other reason than to be polite.

-Finally, it was amazing to think about the fascinating people one meets when traveling through a theater of operations.

Upon clearing security, we sat in the terminal and then headed out to board the plane. There was one additional comment I heard while in line to board the C17 from a Soldier looking up at the plane.

“This is one of the coolest things about being in the military…”

I silently agreed as I looked up at the nose of the massive plane from right next to it. I was certainly in a better mood than when I arrived at the terminal and I owed part of it to that friendly South African contractor.

 

J.M. Shaw 8/30/34 – 4/30/13

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It was one year ago today.

I walked into the room that my dad was staying in at the nursing home in Bremen and there were three members of the staff standing over him. All three of them were older ladies dressed in the standard white attire worn by members of a medical staff.  One was holding the bell end of her stethoscope on his chest and appeared to be listening intently while the other two watched.  I remember thinking that these women looked liked angels.  The expressions on their faces were gentle and compassionate.  My dad wasn’t breathing, but the moment was too sudden for me to have come to a full realization of the situation.  The oldest of the three ladies came over to me and asked me to step outside where she told me that he had just passed away.  I don’t think I had a reaction in that brief segment where chronological time stopped.  She hugged me.  I went back into the room and the other two nurses said something to me in a sympathetic tone.  They left me alone with him.

He was gone.

There are moments that are critical points in one’s life. Sometimes we call them crossroads, turning points, or watershed moments.  In my life, the loss of my father is certainly one of them.

He had passed away in the span of a brief period that night during which I left the nursing home for a bite to eat. The previous evening had been another late night in a series of long days and nights.  I spent the previous two nights sleeping in a chair next to his bed.  During the night before, he woke up around 2 AM and I talked to him.  He was responsive and I told him everything I felt I should tell my dad when he was terminally ill and nearing the end.  He stared at a tiny stuffed blue dog that my daughters had sent to him a few days before.  I’ve often wondered what he was thinking while he stared at it for about an hour that night as he listened to me talk.  As far as I could tell, that was his last period of being visibly cognizant.

It was a tough three weeks that arrived at the climax of the story a lot quicker than I had expected. Notification that my father was terminally ill came the day after I returned from deployment.  He had fallen down at the house and broken his leg.  My mom called me from the hospital and put the doctor on the phone.  He talked about how the cancer that had been in my dad’s bladder had spread throughout his body to include the brain.  I was fresh off of 15-16 hour work days and maneuvering throughout a war zone, so I wasn’t interested in beating around the bush.  I went straight to the point and questioned “how much time does he have?”  The answer was hard to hear:  “two to three months, but because it’s in the brain, it could happen a lot quicker.”  And it did.  I was glad my wife was sitting next to me during that call.

I won’t go into all of the crises and drama that either preceded or followed his death. In the end, none of that crap makes any difference.  What matters is that my dad was a fundamentally good man.  He wasn’t perfect (and his son has certainly matched that ‘standard’), but in spite of all of his flaws and things I wished had been more to my (and his) satisfaction, he lived a life that deserves to be remembered in a positive light.  For most of my life until his death, he was my go-to lifeline in matters of career, family, and many other schemes that I would concoct.  He listened well and usually provided sound feedback.  This was even true near the end:  I called him at random moments during my deployment.  I think he had great appreciation for what I was trying to do and respected my professional endeavors.  I remember a particularly good conversation that he and I had one night when I was in Kandahar.  Of course, for him, it was all about me coming home safe.

Returning to the night of April 30, 2013, I can confirm that it really was a “watershed moment” and things did fundamentally change in ways that are hard to describe. I might even call it transformational.  There’s a part of me that wishes I had been there at the exact moment that he passed away (if that could even be identified), but I think he left in a quiet and subtle manner that matched his personality.  Many of he and my mom’s friends came to the funeral.  Our extended family was there as well – it meant a lot to me.  I received many warm notes and calls from old buddies.  Three of my close friends actually drove great distances to be there on that day.  Those things mean a lot and they helped to make it through the gauntlet of laying one’s father to rest.  Everyone should be so fortunate to have that level of support in such circumstances.

I was able to dig up the eulogy that I threw together the morning before his funeral. Definitely not my best writing, but it is what was on my mind the day we laid him to rest.  Imagine it with some grand pauses occurring in places so that I can regain my composure and you’ll have the general idea….

Good Afternoon. My name is Derrick, I’m Max and Lilly’s only son.  On behalf of my mom and our family, I want to thank you all for coming out today to pay your respects and to honor my father.  I also want to thank J. Collins and his staff for the outstanding work they have done for us during this difficult time, Thanks to Pastor Tyler Brown for his remarks – they were spot on – perfect for the occasion.  One more group of people I’d like to thank are the nurses and other caregivers at Higgins hospital in Bremen and at Haralson Nursing and Rehabilitation who took care of my dad over the last couple of weeks.  They really are angels who were so kind and giving to both my dad and my mom.

I am a fortunate man to bear the title of Max Shaw’s son.

If you met my dad for 5 minutes, you know that he was a man of few words… and if I talk for too long today, I know that he’d be thinking, okay, that’s enough, so in that spirit, I’ll keep it short. Please know that my short narrative won’t do him full justice.  He might have been quiet and often subtle, but he was an intelligent man, complex, and caring.

My dad had a sense of humor that was as subtle as he was. Just a little anecdote for you:

Over the weekend, after he was moved to the nursing home and took a sudden turn for the worst, Ms. Phyllis came to visit and was chatting with mom. My wife Beth and I were sitting next to my dad’s bed.  We learned how well-trained my dad was in his 45-year marriage –he was not particularly coherent at that moment, but every time my mom said something, he responded with an “uh-huh.”  He gave the correct answer from a husband – “uh huh”. She’d ask a question from anyone of us and he’d give the same answer:  “uh huh.”  He was either very much out of it and giving the response that had apparently become somewhat automatic over the years, or he was enjoying the laugh that Beth and I were getting out of his answers.

Max Shaw was born the only son of Ed and Myric Shaw of Newnan, GA in 1934. They moved to a little place called Bowdon Junction and his dad would later be drafted to go to Europe in WWII.  His dad did not come back the same man as when he left – ravaged by what we today know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  My Grandmother and a young Max had to travel back and forth to the hospital for a long time before my granddad could come home.

Max later graduated from Mt. Zion High school and enlisted – wasn’t drafted, into the Army in 1953. We used the picture of him in uniform today because he recalled this as a very positive time in his life.  After his service, he came back to Bowdon Junction, and then Graduated from what was then West GA College with a degree in English.

His first big professional job in Atlanta was as an accountant at the old Sinclair Oil Company. He met a young woman named Lillian Guevara  – they were married in 1967.  Sinclair became BP and during that time, it left the southern part of the US.  After a couple of job moves, and the recession of the late 70s, he ended up at Lockheed in Marietta where he worked for over 20 years and retired.  Here in his later years, he was a side-by-side partner with my mom:  helping her with her antique store here in Villa Rica and in the last few years they worked to take care of each other.   And he clearly learned the correct response to my mom’s questions – “uh-huh.”

That outline of Max Shaw’s life does not do real justice to his biography, but it paints a quick picture for you.

Two quick notes I’d like to share from a personal perspective as his son before I close:

My dad was a good man and a southern gentleman. And he was a good dad.  I have a solid recognition of his presence at every phase of my life up to this point.  He taught me how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball.  When I was growing up: He shared a love of music (he could play the trumpet, piano, and sing).  As I said, He loved his time in service (I’m now closing in on my 14th year of service and his fond recollections of time in the Army certainly influenced my own decision to serve).  He loved our country.  And he loved history.   He had a massive Native American arrowhead collection and brought me around to some fields as a little boy to go looking for them.

When I was little, he and I would take some father-son road trips to places like Chickamauga, Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville, and even down into South GA past Warm Springs and down into Florida at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He liked to stop at every battlefield, monument, and historical site.  And he passed that love of knowledge and history down – I have the urge to exit the highway every time I go past a sign that says  “X” National Battlefield or historical site.

After the battle with cancer that he’s gone through, I’m glad to know that he’s resting. I believe there is a heaven and that he’s in it.  His heaven has some cats walking around his feet purring and meowing for his attention, it has his parents, friends and family – probably some airborne buddies that have preceded him, and there’s an endless open field that he can explore.

My dad would be happy to know that you all came out today. From the bottom of our hearts, Thank you all again for coming – we sincerely appreciate it.  Our best to you all.  Thank you.

It’s been a year and we continue to carry on. I sometimes still have the urge to call and ask for his advice, but then I have to return to reality.  Fortunately, I do have some great memories that live on.

Dad, you are missed.

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J.M. Shaw Obituary

1983

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We are defined by the music of our youth.

The first time I heard “Tom Sawyer” by Rush (my undisputed favorite band), I was standing in the back parking lot of my Alma Mater, Sequoyah High School, in Doraville, Georgia.  That progressive rock masterpiece was blasting from a Trans Am whizzing through the lot faster than its driver should have gone, but I heard just enough to hook me into that “Canadian Power Trio” for the rest of my life. It was 1983.

I have considered providing some “Rush posts” for some time, but it continues to be difficult for me to find the right words to explain what that band and its members mean to me… so I’m going to make you wait for that one a bit longer.

This post is about the musical items that cause me to experience waves of nostalgia.  About six months ago, a colleague of mine posted a recording of Magic Power by another brilliant Canadian band with the awesome name Triumph.  The song brought on a wave of sentimentality that is honestly hard to describe, but forms a cornerstone of my long-term memory, and by extension, my soul.  Like Rush and Triumph, the bands of the late 70s and early 80s provide a soundtrack that is unique to my childhood.  When these songs that comprise this playlist appear on a Facebook feed,  pop up on ‘suggested YouTube material’ or come on during one of my  now rare radio listening moments, I cannot turn it off.  It transports me to late nights roaming Chamblee neighborhoods with old friends, driving up I-85 at midnight on a Friday for an excursion up to Lawrenceville, or hanging out with a bunch of marching band pals on the hill next to a friend’s yard from which one could see the Atlanta skyline.

I had longer hair back then (and the hairline was closer to the front of my head…) and my crappy fast food diet hadn’t caught up to me.  I hadn’t yet been beaten up by the turmoil of life.  I was in high school and I was fortunate to still be generally innocent.  It’s a childhood that I continue to hope I can give my kids.

Back then, music had the “magic power” that Triumph hails in that wonderful song…

And thankfully, it still has it.  The music of my youth – just like the music of your youth –  is truly timeless and takes us back to those places on which the innocent kid inside all of us continues to cling.

They aren’t just memories.  They do, in fact, form the foundations of our souls.

Thanksgiving 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I posted a version of this last year, but I’m reposting here with a few updates:

Things for which I am thankful:

-My wife.

-My kids.

-My mom, in-laws and extended family.

-All of the things my dad gave to me, may he be resting in peace.

-My friends.

-The relatively good health of those in my family.

-I am home with my family versus being on the other side of the world.

-Those men and women who are serving far away from their families on the other side of the world, many in harm’s way, while I sit here in comfort.

-The great people with whom I get to work.

-The teachers and mentors that I have had.

-That I’ve been blessed to live in this period of human history.

-My Country, its Founding Fathers and Mothers, its people, and the Ideals that make it great.

-The Constitution of the United States of America.

-Those who have given the Last Full Measure of Devotion for their country.

-The men and women who have taken the Oath and served this Nation before me; and who stand up now to try and make us secure.. and make a difference in the world.  It’s an honor to share their profession of arms.

-Non-Commissioned Officers.

-The Soldier-Musicians who have done such a great job when I’ve had the privilege to wave a stick in front of them.

-Businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs, inventors, builders, workers and those who create and motivate others to generate free-market enterprise that drives the Free World.

-Priests, Ministers, Chaplains, and those who attend to spiritual needs.

-Doctors, nurses, and those who work to heal the sick and injured.

-Police, Firemen, and Emergency Service workers who run into burning buildings while the rest of us are running out.

-Diplomats and those who work for peace and security.

-Those who fight for freedom and the principles of men like John Locke.

-The men and women who are working tirelessly to take humanity to the stars.

You may not share the belief system that I have – and this is okay – I am thankful to the God/Creator/Supreme Being in whom I believe… and I am thankful that you and I are free to believe in different things.

-The existence of music, art, literature, culture, and the things that define our humanity and our individualism.

-The people who create.

-The Beauty in the world – whether natural or created by people like this:

BASD

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BASD

“Basic Active Service Date”

This is the date that a Service Member took the oath of enlistment and came onto active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States.

My BASD was 14 years ago today: September 21, 1999.

For this post, I’m not going to go into the either the specifics or profundity of that oath. My good friend, colleague, and brother-in-arms, Major Domingos Robinson has done this in a very eloquent fashion in this post in his blog.

All I want to share with you here is how happy I am that I made the decision to serve my country on this day back in ’99. Since that time, I have had the honor to use my musical chops to be a part of many amazing musical missions, I’ve been able to do my job downrange, led some of the finest and most talented Soldiers in the Army, be a part of honors to our fallen, and help to convey the musical ‘soul’ of the greatest fighting force in history.

Every year, I am aware of this date when it rolls around. Last year, I was headed to Fort Benning to begin my week of pre-deployment training, but this year is something completely different.

In about 90 minutes, Army will take on Wake Forest at historic Michie Stadium and one of the greatest campus traditions in all of college football. Right in the mix, supporting cadets and the over 200-year-old tradition of the United States Military Academy, is the West Point Band…

…and I’m fortunate to be with them as we honor our nation, those who serve, and help to build leaders for the future.

14 years. Thank you for allowing me to serve.

#GoArmy beat Wake Forest!

(and, Go Dawgs!!!)

The Empire State of the South

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In the end, it is music that brings me back to so much:  memories, philosophy, passions, family, friendships, religious thoughts, and more.

In this case, it’s been a series of magnificent country and southern rock songs that have all served to remind this career Soldier of his home state and the region of the Deep South in which he grew up.

It all started with Zac Brown’s Chicken Fried:  a song that TRADOC Rock performed during my time at Fort Monroe as commander of that great band.  Projecting forward in time, the AFCENT Band, with whom I and several Army Soldier-Musicians toured Afghanistan this past December, performed this almost every night and brought it back into my musical psyche.  The song has so many things that hit home beginning with the first verse:

Well, I was raised up
Beneath the shade of a Georgia pine
And that’s home you know
Sweet tea, pecan pie and homemade wine
Where the peaches grow

I can’t explain to you exactly what the feelings are when I hear it, but it makes a contact with the long-term memory portion of my brain.  I spent my childhood growing up in the Chamblee-Doraville suburbs of Atlanta.  The whole front yard was shaded with tall pine trees.  The lyrics of Zac’s song remind me of the smell of the trees while my dad was cutting the grass and I was playing with the neighbor kids.  Each summer was spent with my grandparents at a little ‘place in the road’ in Carroll County, Georgia called Bowdon Junction.  They also had a multitude of these Georgia Pines on their 3 or so acres of land as well as train tracks that ran along the eastern part of the property.  When I stayed with them during those hot summers, the rumble and shaking ground of the train at 2 A.M. would help to lull me to sleep.

Zac Brown describes their house:

And my house, it’s not much to talk about
But it’s filled with love
That’s grown in southern ground

A singer by the name of Shooter Jennings, Waylan’s son, brings to mind the sensation of what it means to live near a railroad junction and to hear that distant train horn when he sings the following in a song entitled Gone to Carolina:

Every time I think I smell that sweet southern rain
It takes me to a station on the long black train
I wanna hear the wind blow and feel the earth move below me
Despite of all the good times, I gotta rest my soul

And yes, there was sweetness in the rain.

Perhaps my nostalgia for the State of Georgia, as with my home country, is heightened by my time on the other side of the world.  If this is true, then so be it, but I’d like to think that I am really just in a musically-induced period of reflection.  Most of the memories to which I’m referring here are from younger days and decidedly different times.  They were far from perfect in so many categories, but things didn’t turn out so bad in the end.  They make me wish for my wife- whom I met in Georgia- and my kids to enjoy the nostalgia of those things along with me.

Zac Brown helps me to say it:

Well, I’ve seen the sunrise
See the love in my woman’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know a mother’s love

And then Zac provides lyrics that move me every single time I hear them:

I thank God for my life
And for the stars and stripes
May freedom forever fly
Let it ring

Salute the ones who died
The ones that give their lives
So we don’t have to sacrifice
All the things we love

My wife’s family lost a son of Georgia in the sands of Iraq back in 2007.  He was my Brother-in-Law though he personally had dropped the ‘in-law’ part of the description.  He is sorely missed.  The song connects the pain of loss to the sacrifice of service to someone else who I’m sure understood what Georgia Pines smell like, the sound of a distant train, and – here’s another one:  the look and feel of Georgia Red Clay.

Jason Aldean brings this up in a song describing *his* Kinda Party:

Oh baby, you can find me.
In the back of a jacked up tailgate.
Sittin’ ’round watchin’ all these pretty things.
Get down in that Georgia clay.

Why does the dirt of a place matter?

It’s really just another item that defines The Place.  When we live somewhere, we often take for granted the things that make it unique.  I can’t begin to tell you how many pairs of shoes I went through that ended up stained with the faint orange tint of Georgia red clay.

And, do you know where Highway 41 is?

In a song that is, at least for me, a defining part of the repertoire of the old 96 ROCK in Atlanta, the Allman Brothers put in my head a view of Kennesaw Mountain, north Georgia, and even The Big Chicken in Marietta:

Well my father was a gambler down in Georgia
And he wound up on the wrong end of gun
And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
Rollin’ down Highway 41

I’m happy to report that my father, though a Georgian from Newnan, is neither a gambler nor someone who was shot… and I was actually born in a comfortable hospital in Decatur…

My point is not necessarily to claim a connection with the exact context of the lyrics, but rather enjoy the personal memories that the words help to recall.

I am an American.  In the end, with the entire multitude of issues we face, I believe in this country’s ideals, its Constitution, and its people.  Within that great subset of Americanism, I am blessed to know that Georgia is where I was born.  I was taught in its public schools, went to its great flagship university, and I taught in Atlanta suburbs for four years prior to my entry into the military.  I grew up in a time when the Braves couldn’t even fathom a playoff game.  My parents met and fell in love in Georgia and I met my wife in one of its old railroad towns.  I would certainly still get a kick out of climbing Stone Mountain, love the idea of rafting on the Chattahoochee River, and would crave any chance to get to walk on the River Walk in Savannah after spending too long in Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub.  I love Routes 41 and 27 and I’d go for a drive up into the mountains any chance I could get.  And every time I am on 285, I think of crazy, late night antics with Andy and Ed in DeKalb and Gwinnett… especially in a little town called Doraville:

Friends of mine
Say I oughta move to New York
New York’s fine
But it ain’t Doraville     

(Compliments of the Atlanta Rhythm Section… FYI:   they talk about Red Clay too…)

… and my list goes on.  I’m sure you have memories about your home state as well.

My perceptions of history were initially shaped by my education in the key events in the state:  from MLK and civil rights to the Civil War Battlefields of Chickamauga, Revolutionary War sites in Augusta, the Indian Mounds of Etowah, to America’s first Gold Rush.  The tale continues in the modern era signaled by the Olympic Torch and the great story found in the rise of a place called Terminus into the shining gem of the Deep South that is contemporary Atlanta.

I’ve now lived in enough places to know that nothing in this world is going to be perfect.  One only needs to log onto AJC Online to know that Georgia is not.  However, the red blood in my veins still retains traces of red clay, pine sap, and Chattahoochee River water.  Just like that mud on my childhood sneakers, those things cannot be washed out.  Neither can the fondness I hold for the state in which I was born.

Time to go get a Coke…

No Day But Today

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Something got me thinking about RENT… and then it led to a stance on my musical soapbox….

Jonathan Larson, the creator of that hit Broadway musical, was a shining light among the composers of his generation.  His work was characterized by an ability to capture cutting social discussion of his day in a production that encompassed the spirit of rock music and the heart of Broadway.  I find particular appreciation for Larson’s creative spirit and the complete package that is RENT.

My personal reflection on Larson’s work once again brings a music-based mantra to the fore.  There is no doubt in my mind that music is the most powerful form of expression.  If you disagree, I would ask that you to read the stories highlighting the impact of rock music on the Iron Curtain.  One of them is found in an Andras Simonyi speech to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presented here in the Public Diplomacy Reader compiled by Professor Mike Waller of the Institute of World Politics.  Music helped to bring down Eastern Bloc totalitarianism because, to put it simply, oppressed people will ultimately rebel when they have a taste of pure freedom, or in this case:  the sound of pure freedom.

To repeat an earlier refrain:  Music is the universal language.

I will take it a step further.  Freedom is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”  The performance of music is the ability to convey emotion and ideas with the additional lack of the constraint of conversation.  Music speaks to, and emanates from, the human spirit which is defined in Natural Law as being “inherently free” regardless of laws and dicta imposed by people.

Music in a free society is the ultimate form of expression absent of coercion or choice of action.  Therefore, it is the Universal expression of a universal concept.  I suppose one might argue that there are constraints rendered by the notes on the page or certain concepts of tonality, but jazz artists will tell us otherwise.

Yes.  I suppose I am biased.  I mean, what else am I going to say given my background and profession, right?

However, I would once again refer you to the evidence.  Beyond the rock music/Cold War example above, I refer you to such examples as: the 1960’s in the U.S (focusing on the demonstrations of artistic and political expression), underground music movements that are found today in every totalitarian and authoritarian regime in the world, and the ubiquitous love of American Jazz that is itself often found in secluded rooms of secluded buildings in some of the most anti-personal-expression cultures in the world.  People are drawn to music as a way to express their desire for freedom, their hopes, fears, pains, and happiness.

This is not to say that visual art, dance, literature, and other forms of expression are not important.  In fact, a quick Google search will yield how very important all of them have been in the classical liberalization of societies throughout the world.  It’s just that my favorite of these is music.

…And if you combine music with visual art, video, lighting, literature, and dance; you will create products of expression that can move people across their senses.  (Disney has shown us that we can have your seats move and vibrate during a performance to hit the sense of ‘touch’, and if you have a dinner theater-styled performance, you can even hit ‘taste’)

So I believe we might have taken a little journey down Tangent Lane or Digression Boulevard, but you can blame it on the late Jonathan Larson.  His Puccini-inspired masterwork, though perhaps already ‘dated’ to a 2013 audience with lines such as: “When you’re living in America at the end of the millennium…  You’re what you own,” will certainly resonate with the music and entertainment scholars of the future.  He created a profound work that reminds us how many minutes are in a year, why that count is important… and he told us an amazing story of love and hope where his heroes proclaim to live in No Day But Today.

Thank you, Jonathan.

Thanksgiving 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things for which I am thankful:

-My wife.
-My kids.
-My parents, in-laws and extended family.
-My friends.
-The fact that I have a good roommate over here– and Happy Birthday to Richard Smith – trust me: 35 ain’t old…
-The teachers and mentors that I have had.
-That I’ve been blessed to live in this period of human history.
-My Country, its Founding Fathers and Mothers, its people, and the Ideals that make it great.
-Those who have given the Last Full Measure of Devotion.
-The men and women who have taken the Oath and served this Nation before me; and who stand up now to try and make us secure.. and make a difference in the world.  It’s an honor to share their profession of arms.
-Non-Commissioned Officers.
-The Soldier-Musicians who have done such a great job when I’ve had the priviledge to wave a stick in front of them.
-Businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs, inventors, builders, workers and those who create and motivate others to generate free-market enterprise that drives the Free World.
-Priests, Ministers, Chaplains, and those who attend to spiritual needs.
-Doctors, nurses, and those who work to heal the sick and injured.
-Police, Firemen, and Emergency Service workers who run into burning buldings while the rest of us are running out.
-Diplomats and those who work for peace and security.
-The men and women who are working tirelessly to take humanity to the stars.

You may not share the belief system that I have – and this is okay – I am thankful to the God/Creator/Supreme Being in whom I believe… and I am thankful that you and I are free to believe in different things.

-The existence of music, art, literature, culture, and the things that define our humanity and our individualism.
-The people who create.
-The Beauty in the world – whether natural or created by people like this:

Veteran’s Day, 2012

My friend Brad Barnes shared this picture on Facebook earlier in the week along with very kind words offered in my direction.

It reminded me of my Grandfather, Hubert Edwin Shaw, who passed away at the age of 90 back on 10 June, 2001.  The man saw things in 1940’s Europe that I would classify as nightmarish.  While this is Veteran’s Day vice Memorial Day, I bring him up because, like so many other things that change one’s perspective when they are far from home, I’ve been thinking a lot about lonely old men and women sitting in Veteran’s Homes back in the U.S.

My own introspection has yielded a belief that I need to do more for people like them.  Funny thing is, reflecting back to my Granddad, it’s actually not hard to take the time to visit those people and help give them a little positivity in their lives.

Before Granddad couldn’t get out of bed any more, when I was stationed at Ft. McPherson, I would drive up to the Vets Nursing home up in Decatur and take him out for KFC.  That was all he wanted:  a lunchtime escape to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  So I’d sign him out, ungracefully help him into my car, and we’d drive up to the KFC at the intersection of Buford Highway and Clairmont Road (next to the old Book Nook for all my DeKalb County friends).  We go into the restaurant and he’d then make conversation with the people at the counter:  telling them that I was his grandson taking him out to eat and how much he loved their chicken and cole slaw… and biscuits.

They were great lunches.

After lunch, we’d work our way back into the car and down to the V.A.  I would feel a mixture of emotions as I took him back.  Happy that I had given him a little taste of freedom (literally and figuratively if I may be so bold as to call KFC one of the ‘tastes of freedom’ – Eric Cartman feels that way, so I can too), but sad that I had to return him to his solitude back in the nursing home.  This isn’t to say that the staff didn’t try their best there – just a recognition that he was lonely:  away from family, periodic stops from the staff and doctors, and other nice visits from Vets organizations.

So what can we do?

Drop in on these people. Give them just one day a month.  Learn about who they are, what they did, who their families are, what they like (maybe you can bring them some KFC…), and give them the feeling that they matter.  Don’t patronize them, just come in and say ‘hi’ and see what matters.  They have stories to tell.  Some may be tied to military service while others may be how they met their spouse in high school back in 1950.

I’m no expert in the process of how you make your connection to the V.A. to do this stuff since I had a family member and had to just sign in so that I could visit him.  VA has a site here:  http://www.volunteer.va.gov/, but I’m sure you can keep it simple if you want.

It matters.

Lieutenant General (Retired) David Valcourt, the Deputy Commanding General while I was at the TRADOC Band at Ft. Monroe, used to end almost every speech with his own version of this quote:

“Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but shameful is the nation that has and forgets them.”

This quote, adapted from one on a Confederate memorial at the Battle of Davis Bridge in Tennessee, provides a sort of philosophical position on why all this stuff is important.  However, the purpose of my advocacy on this page is to bring up the more grassroots, individual level of personal interaction needed by these men and women.

Veteran’s Day is on the calendar to help us remember those who have served their country.  Once I’m back from here and reconnected to CONUS life, I intent to pick up some aspect of where I left this when my Grandfather passed away.  I hope that members of future generations will do the same for me and my colleagues when all we want is some company… and KFC…

And a big thanks to all those who have worn the uniform, regardless of the branch of Service, throughout the history of our Nation.  My brothers and sisters in arms are doing their best not to let you down.