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Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

On October 15, 2016, this world said goodbye to one James K. Caughley, Jr. of Memphis, TN but his departure didn’t make headlines.  From his brief obituary, we learned that Caughley was a retired employee of the Coors Brewing Company.  He adored animals, especially Main Coon cats. He loved NASCAR and visiting the Smokey Mountains.  His memorial services were held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, TN.  His life appeared, by all measures, mundane.  But looks can be deceiving and first impressions wrong.  As William Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  So let it be with James.  The clues lie in what was not in the obituary.  You see, James K. Caughley, Jr. is better known as Hamburger James – and his story is far more interesting than one might suspect.

Elvis Presley’s inner circle, known as The Memphis Mafia, was more than merely the group of friends with which The King of Rock and Roll hung out.   It was the most exclusive of clubs and the most coveted of fraternities.  To be a part of Elvis’ family of friends was to have entitlements that the rest of the world would never enjoy.  It was to have a reputation, a title, hell, a role in history.  This was Elvis, after all, and membership had its privileges.  Stores, restaurants, theaters, and even amusements parks that were closed would open back up for you after hours if you were in the court of the King.  Elvis was known to give personal gifts such as money, cars, and even houses to members of The Memphis Mafia.  He even brought some of his closest confidants to the White House when he asked President Nixon to make him a federal officer so that he could arrest people and fight socialism and communism (true story).  The President indeed issued Elvis a DEA badge that day.  And while the badge was honorary, Elvis was known to investigate and “arrest” people that he suspected of being unpatriotic.

Elvis and Nixon
Elvis and Nixon at the White House – taken on the day that Elvis received his honorary DEA badge.

Everyone in the Memphis Mafia had a specific role.  Even their logo – TCB (Taking Care of Business) in a flash – alluded to supreme dedication to their responsibilities.  Charlie Hodge inspected the stages on which Elvis would perform and handed him scarves and drinks during the shows.  Joe Esposito served as both the Secretary and Treasurer.  Red and Sonny West were his bodyguards. Lamar Fike, Jerry Schilling, Marty Lacker, Billy Smith – each had a job.  James Caughley wanted desperately to be a member of the Memphis Mafia and he would do any job he had to in order to serve the King.

When Elvis made up his mind about something, he went in all the way.  When he decided to get involved with the growing sport of racquetball in the 1970s, he didn’t just rent out the local YMCA to play a few matches.  He built a regulation racquetball court at Graceland and it became a staple activity for him and his friends.  When he explored his equestrian passion, he didn’t just go out horseback riding for relaxation.  He purchased many horses, bought land in Walls, MS, and started the Circle G Ranch.  Impulsive?  Perhaps.  But he always went in all the way.  It was the same with food.  When Elvis got the bug that he was in the mood for a cheeseburger, he wanted it immediately… even if it was 3:00 in the morning and all the restaurants were closed (this was long before the days of 24/7 fast food chains being the norm, remember).  It was with a cheeseburger that Elvis’ stepbrother, Ricky Stanley, was initiated into the Memphis Mafia on a cold night in December, 1970, in downtown Washington, D.C.

Ricky was 17 years old and Elvis called him in the middle of the night with the impulsive instruction to go find him a cheeseburger.  Ricky didn’t know where he’d come by one at that time of night and Elvis offered no advice.  So Ricky wandered out into the streets of D.C. at around 3:00 in the morning in search of an illusive cheeseburger.  He proved his worth by returning to the hotel, a bag of burgers in hand.  “I don’t want them. I was just checking you out, to see if you could do it,” Elvis replied.  From this night forward, Ricky was a full fledged member of the Memphis Mafia and was assigned specific roles.  Ricky recalls, “Eventually I took care of him when we were traveling. I did everything. I made sure all the meals were taken care of. I took care of his wardrobe and jewelry, taped up the windows so the sun couldn’t get in, set up the room and carried the kit that contained all his medication. When he would come offstage, it was my responsibility to get a towel around his neck, a glass of water in his hand, a coat on his back. Then to get him in a car and make sure those vents weren’t blowing on him. Usually in the car it was mostly just him and me in the backseat, with someone driving us.”

As you can imagine, when dealing with an impulsive character like Elvis who enjoyed routine and order, Ricky’s job became busy.  He could have used an assistant.  Enter James Caughley.  James was a guy who hung around in the early 1970s trying to “get in” with the Elvis entourage.  Sometimes, the group would let him into the Memphian Theater during the Memphis Mafia’s all night movie watching marathons.  If the boys got hungry while watching the flicks, Elvis would shout out, “Hamburgers,  James!”  And so the nickname was born.  Hamburger James was happy to find and deliver burgers whenever Elvis wanted.  Eventually, Elvis felt sorry for James who always seemed like a misfit and the King offered him an official role in the Memphis Mafia.  Basically, he was a gopher running odd errands.  Mainly, he found burgers for Elvis and the crew.

Hamburger James Caughley ID
Actual ID card for James Caughley.

In 1973, during a stay in Las Vegas, NV, Elvis noticed that there were some items missing from his “kit.”  Elvis’ kit went everywhere with him and its safe keeping was the responsibility of Ricky Stanley.  The kit was known to contain lots of prescription drugs, about $10,000 stored in a wallet, some jewelry, Elvis’ license, and several Polaroid pictures of Pricilla (assumed by most to be naked photographs).  Elvis noticed that some of the Polaroid pictures and an undisclosed amount of money had been taken from the kit and he immediately went into a rage.  Ricky was in Elvis’ suite at the time and the two of them went around the hotel looking for all of the rest of the Memphis Mafia members to put them on alert that a thief was lurking around them.  But they found something – or rather, someone – else that was missing along with the artifacts from the kit.  Hamburger James was nowhere to be found.

While searching for Hamburger James, someone in the Memphis Mafia suggested that they check the airport.  So Elvis ordered some of them to get the car and take him to the airport immediately.  Red and Sonny West and Ricky Stanley were among those who made the legendary trip.  Someone discovered that a plane was leaving for Memphis in just a few minutes so they raced at high speeds to get to the terminal before the plane would take off.  When they arrived at the airport, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia got out of their car and raced through the airport with guns, jumping up and down and looking everywhere for Hamburger James.  Someone spotted the terminal where a plane was about to taxi to the runway for its flight to Memphis.  Elvis runs to the counter and demands, “Stop that plane!  Stop that plane!”  The attendant explains that she can not stop the plane so Elvis flashed his badge. “I’m a federal officer!  I tell you I want that plane stopped right now!”  That’s when she realized that this was Elvis Presley and, lo and behold, the plane was stopped.

The accounts of the narrative of this event differ only slightly but it appears that Elvis and the boys ran outside and boarded the wrong plane first before they finally found Hamburger James cowering in fear, in possession of not only money and the photos but also two rings.  Imagine being in the airport or on the plane and Elvis rushes in, flashing a badge, saying he is a federal agent, and his men have their guns in clear view!  After they found James he was physically dragged back to the car, Red and Sonny West taking turns punching him along the way.  Elvis read James his Miranda Rights.  But in proving that he was more an entertainer than a federal agent, he couldn’t remember all the words.  Elvis looked at Hamburger James who was cowering and sobbing in tears, afraid for his life, and said, “James, you have the right to remain silent.  You have the right to an attorney…” And then Elvis couldn’t recall the rest of it so he said, “and you have the right to all the rest of that shit.  Get the fuck in the car!”

They took Hamburger James back to the hotel and brought him to Elvis’ suite where he was tossed on a couch.  Elvis picked up a table as if to crash it down upon James, delivering a death blow.  He reconsidered to the relief of Ricky (though Red and Sonny probably would have enjoyed the drama).  Elvis stared at him for a moment then slapped him twice, very hard, across the face.  James broke down crying and sobbing hysterically.  He said he was sorry for stealing.  After a moment of watching James cry, Elvis began crying.  One thing that no one ever questioned was Elvis’ compassion.  Perhaps in that moment Elvis only saw the misfit that he once wanted to help but ultimately used as nothing more than a gopher.  Elvis took pity and he got down on his knees in front of James and said he was sorry, too.  Then Elvis asked, “Why didn’t you let me know if you needed money? Why didn’t you let me know if you wanted to go back to Memphis? I would have given you money. You didn’t have to steal from me.”  They both cried for a long time.  James later flew back to Memphis and relinquished his position in the Memphis Mafia.

When I first learned of this event, I decided to get in touch with Hamburger James myself to hear his side of the story. Armed with nothing but a name and the internet, I began my search for Hamburger James.  I located his residence and phone number easily and decided to place a phone call to his residence to set up an interview.  Interestingly, when I discovered his address, I was literally only about 2 miles from his home.  I did a drive by and thought about knocking on the front door.  But I didn’t want to appear like Jake or Elwood of The Blues Brothers knocking on the front door of the boarding house in their classic movie.  Nor did I want to experience anything like the infamous story of the music journalist who knocked on the front door of Syd Barrett’s residence a few years after his departure from Pink Floyd.  I decided a phone call would be more appropriate.  His wife answered the phone.

“Hi, this is Louis Magnifico with The Traveling Twosome.  We run a website where we review things that are somewhat off the beaten path.  Over the years, people have heard from the likes of Red and Sonny West, among others.  But some of the other members of the Memphis Mafia haven’t had their stories publicized as much.  Would James be willing to share some stories and experiences from his time on the road with Elvis in an interview?”

To my dismay, I learned from her that James didn’t want to comment on his time with the King.  It was, she said, a chapter of his life that has been put behind him.

James K. Caughley, Jr. will be remembered as an employee of Coors Brewing Company, an animal lover, a NASCAR fan, and a frequent visitor to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  But to Elvis fans, he will always be known as Hamburger James.

 

 

On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

Much in the same way that some people talk before they think, some technological advancements are assimilated into our culture before we weigh the consequence of acceptance.  The problem with “going too far” is that it is a destination from which one can never return.  A rather obvious example of this which no one would argue is that of sexual intercourse.  There’s no question that sex is not just a boundary but the boundary which changes everything about a relationship.  To put it in baseball terms, once you’ve rounded the bases and slid into home plate, you’ll never feel the same about holding at first.  In baseball – and hopefully in your love life, as well – this is a good thing… a great thing, even! But you’d better be ready for the change of mindset associated with going too far because you can never return to the innocence from whence you came.  You can never un-see, neither with you eyes, your mind, nor your heart.

While I sit at my MacBook, connected to millions of others on the internet, writing and preparing to publish – from my very home, mind you – an essay that will instamatically be available for readers to enjoy around the world, I think that as a culture we’ve gone too far.  I’ve been thinking this for quite some time now but I feel it more today than ever.  And I want to go back.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate and enjoy many convenient aspects of our modern life.  I do, truly!  For example, I devour music constantly.  I don’t just casually listen to songs that I like, but instead I soak music into the core of my being from morning to night.  I never tire of listening to music or feeling the rush of emotions that good music brings to me.  I subscribe to the Apple Music service and on my phone, my iPod, my television, my computers, while at home, at work, in the car, or even walking down the street, I have virtually every song imaginable ready to stream into my ears at the simple push of a button – all for less money per month than the price of a single fast food meal.  I like that! It sure beats carrying around a bag of 20 cassette tapes everywhere I go and being limited to that selection, worrying that they may melt when I leave them in my hot car.  Likewise, there are many other aspects of our modern life that I appreciate and enjoy.  But the truth is, I’d give it all up to go back to the innocence of yesteryear.

What was the boundary for me?  Where did society cross the line into the realm of “going too far?”  What could possibly be so bad that I’d be willing to give up modern luxuries that I enjoy in order to rid the world of this evil?  I knew it wasn’t simply technology as a whole.  While I often long for the caveman days of my youth, technological advancements in toto haven’t been all bad in my estimation.   No, there’s something specific that bothers me.  Something that, for a time, I couldn’t put my finger on.  When I saw the culprit, however, I recognized him immediately.  It was the Eye that gave him away.

Sitting out by the pool a few days ago, I heard John Cougar’s classic “Jack and Diane” streaming from our patio speakers.  I’ve heard the song countless time in my life but not like I heard it that day.  Listening to John Cougar (that was his name when that album was released, if you recall) sing about hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze while his girlfriend sat in his lap literally gave me chills.  I turned and looked at my wife, Char, sitting next to me.  She was wearing a sexy bikini and her long blonde hair was blowing in the wind.  It was a Polaroid moment if there ever was one.  I wanted to grab her and jump through an imaginary portal, taking us back to 1983.  “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can…” continued John Cougar.  I looked around and the Eye was nowhere to be seen.  One thing that made the moment so special was that the culprit responsible for taking the world too far was missing in action.  The Eye couldn’t see me.  It was 2017 but it could have just as well been 1983.  Oh, 1983.  I wanted to go back.  Back to a time before the culprit, before the Eye.

The culprit of which I speak is, generally speaking, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best.  But this culprit is just the visible mask hiding a more nefarious enemy.  The Eye.  Because of the culprit and the Eye, we’ve taken the wonder out of life.  We’ve become an ADD society with no attention span whatsoever – and we pride ourselves with that fact!  We demand instant gratification.  We multitask all day long, often without even knowing it.  We have too much and dream too little.  Imagination has been replaced by someone else’s implanted virtual reality.  We no longer have meaningful communication or relationships.  And to make matters worse, we’ve made ourselves dependent upon web connected devices (that are vices) so that turning away from them even for a short time, which is almost certainly the first and most necessary step in trying to stop the downward spiral into the dark and murky realm of having gone too far, is almost an impossibility for most.  We have made ourselves addicted.  We are the crackheads.

Zoned Out Kids Playing Video GamesI’m 43 years old at the time of this writing.  In the summer of 1983, I turned 9 years old.  In those days, my favorite possessions were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  Armed with those three things, I was the richest kid in town.  Compare this to the “necessary possessions” of 9 year olds today.  Today, kids younger than that have their own smart phones with 24/7 internet access in the palm of their hand.  They have social media accounts that they access with their phones and other devices.  They have home game consoles (also connected to the internet) with scores of games, iPads with scores of apps, and internet-connected handheld game systems with even more cases of games.  They spend countless hours browsing an endless flow of mindless videos and streaming live footage of themselves to their friends at all hours of the day.  And yet with all of this, kids today constantly say that they are bored!  I’ve seen kids snicker and heard them sigh when the suggestion is made to spend time with traditional activities not affiliated with web connectivity.  I’ve seen them have complete nervous breakdowns at the possibility of having these devices and access terminated or restricted.  It’s the typical reaction of a crackhead.

You don’t believe we are crackheads?  That’s ok.  Denial is common among addicts.  Ask anyone who’s gone through a 12 Step Program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  You can’t get help until you freely admit your addiction.  What I want you to understand is that this is not an addiction you sought of your own choosing.  The Pusherman chose you.  He wanted his Eye upon you.

The EyeYou may already be keen to my literary reference.  You see, whether anyone realizes it or not, we are already living in George Orwell’s vision of 1984.  Big Brother is here and watching us right now.  His symbolic Eye is all around us.  Consider this.  Had someone told us in 1983 that they were going to place a camera and microphone in our room, we would never have entertained such nonsense.   Had they told us that the cameras would constantly be sending recordings of everything we said and did to a massive computer network that would learn all about us, we would consider them criminals and be willing to defend our homes from them.   If they further said that they intended to sell their knowledge database about the most intimate aspects of our lives to businesses and governments both foreign and domestic who would use this data for their own selfish purposes at our expense, we would have picked up guns and gone to war.  In those days, our privacy was worth paying for.  Worth dying for.  Big Brother learned quickly that he could not force us to accept this intrusion into our lives and this invasion of our privacy.  Our freedom was too important to us.  So Big Brother immediately went to work figuring out a way to trick us into asking him to please take away our privacy and freedoms.  He couldn’t force his watchful Eye into our homes and on our streets while revealing his true face to us so he disguised himself as social media networks, as a game system, as a phone, as a television, and even as a  personal assistant… and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.  Big Brother got his Eye into our lives because he tricked us into buying it.  And perhaps even to Big Brother’s surprise,  we’ve become dependent upon it.  Addicted to it.  We are the crackheads and Big Brother is the Pusherman.

The Pusherman doesn’t care about getting you on crack, for the drug is just incidental.  The Pusherman cares only about control, power, and money.  Nothing else matters to the Pusherman.  He uses crack as the device that becomes your vice and makes you addicted so that he has complete control, power, and money.  No whole, able-bodied, sane man would walk up to a stranger and say, “Please, my lord, I want to be enslaved by you.”  But if the stranger is dangling the temptation of device, someone might think he can get the device (the crack) without losing his control and he may even conclude it is worth the cost.  Make no mistake, the device will always enslave us.  When we give up our sovereignty, our freedoms, and our beliefs for anything else, then that thing we exchanged them for has become our master.  We are the crackheads.  We are the slaves.  But this crack – our web connected world, our devices such as our smartphones and our games – was never the issue.  Remember, the drug is just incidental.  Big Brother didn’t want us connected on the web anymore than the Pusherman wanted us on crack.  What he really wants is to have his Eye upon us.  He wants to control us.  It’s not about the crack, it’s about control, power, and money.  Our devices are just the crack – the device he used which became our vice.  And now his Eye is watching and we can’t turn away.

His Eye is on our phone, on our computer, on our television, logging every keystroke we type, listening to every word we speak, studying where we go, when we go there, who we are with, what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we buy, what we believe.  He learns our patterns, knows us by our touch, our eyes, our facial construction, and even our expressions.  This database containing the encyclopedia of our lives is made available to government agencies both foreign and domestic as well as to marketers worldwide so that they can shape us, mold us, use us, determine how we vote, control how we spend our money, tell us what should outrage us, what movements we should support, and even influence our core beliefs.  Big Brother goes by many names but they all point to the same entity.  We call them Facebook, Google, Cortana, social media, Windows… and when he needs more information, his tools come out with new “features.”  And we can’t resist, for we are the crackheads.  Unless, of course, we freely admit our addiction.  For that’s the first step in recovery.

I will, perhaps, write another essay for those who deny this is happening to prove what data is being collected, how it is collected, and how it is used.  For brevity’s sake, I will assume, however, that the vast majority of you already realize that it is indeed being done.  You just don’t see it as nefarious.  You don’t call it by the name Big Brother.  You only see the crack.  Or, worse, you think the crack is worth it.  You believe that the control and freedom we gave up in exchange for the luxuries of our modern life was worth it.  I would argue that if this is the case, then what you need is a super ball.

Do you reach for your phone soon after waking up – not to call someone but to check Facebook?  Do you check your social media feeds while you’re at other functions (a gathering of friends, out to eat, at a party, during dinner at home, while watching television, while talking on the phone, at the movies, while talking in person to someone, etc.)?  Do you check your social media pages while you’re at work?  Do you “check-in” on social media whenever you go places?  Do most things you do make it to a status update?  Have you not read a book that you’ve been wanting to read but you’ve spent hours reading Facebook News Feeds?  Did you not want to read this article because it was longer than the average Facebook status or, God forbid, a Tweet?  Do you always post about things you’re going to do one day or would like to do but never seem to actually do them?  When your phone receives a text or other notification, do you feel compelled to check it right then?  Do you text more than you talk?  When just a little time has passed with no connected interaction, do you find yourself checking your phone for social media updates just to see “what’s going on?”  Do you ever feel if you don’t check your social media platforms then you might be missing out on something?

Dinner with a PhoneThink for a moment about the rudeness and complete lack of ettiquette we demonstrate in the way we multitask our communication via social media.  These days, we think nothing of texting others or checking Facebook while attending get-togethers at friend’s homes. This would be like (in yesteryear’s terms) going to a friend’s house and while he is speaking with you, you keep yourself busy using his telephone to call ten or fifteen friends and carry on conversations with them – mostly about insignificant subjects or things that can wait!  And imagine doing that while having dinner with them at their table – that’s what you’re doing when you get on social media!  Feeling guilty?  That’s because you’re a crackhead!

We weren’t made to live like this.  I mean biologically and physiologically we were not designed/created/evolved (you can fill in the blank with your own choice verb) to live like this.  I’ve recently read study after study from neurologists, psychiatrists, and scientists who argue that our brains are not meant to handle the technological complexities of our modern multitasking world.  As MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, a worldwide expert in the study of divided attention, says, our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”  In his book, The Organized Mind, Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Levitin wrote:  “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance. Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour. By contrast, staying on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum, and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.”

In 1983, we had a house phone. We didn’t have an answering machine.  We didn’t even have call waiting yet.  No caller ID.  The phones were connected to the walls or were stationed on desks.  There were five of us in that house and we shared a single phone line.  It rang busy if people tried to call while someone else was using the phone.  If we weren’t home then people simply couldn’t reach us.  There was no expectation that we would answer whenever someone called.  Today, this model has been turned upside down.  People indeed expect to be able to reach us at their convenience rather than ours.  We can be talking to someone and our phone notifies us of an incoming text.  We look at the message and text back while still communicating with person we were talking to in the first place.  We have conversations with people while scrolling through Facebook at the same time.  This is exactly the kind of multitasking that is costing us physically, mentally, and relationally.  One of the things I enjoy about performing live in my rock band is the singularity of task.  I cannot do anything other than provide music to my audience.  I’m narrowly focused on that one specific deliverable.  While I’m on stage, there can be no interruption.  I exist for that period of time for the sole purpose of perform music.  I always knew playing in a band was good for my spirit.  Now I understand it’s good for my brain, as well.

This point of this essay isn’t to delve into the world of neuroscience.  There are countless scientific journals, published studies, and books from authors who are far more qualified than I to discuss that concern.  Therefore, I don’t feel compelled to explain the biological evidence that our modern multitasking world is destroying us.  Rather, the point of this essay is to invoke an intense rage within you.  Rage first directed toward me for pointing our society’s failure (perhaps, to make it personal, your failure) at being able to really live life to the fullest measure, then directed toward yourself for electing to embrace Big Brother’s Eye in the first place, and finally – hopefully – directed toward Big Brother as you and I join forces and collectively put an end to this mindless existence and start truly living once again.  Stop simply existing.  Start living.  So I’ll cease the scientific jargon and appeal to you on mere reason and, dare I say, emotion.  What you need is a super ball.

I remember a few years ago being flabbergasted when I noticed a common behavior from friends who lived in some of the most beautiful regions of our nation.  They were regularly posting meme after meme of beautiful nature photos found on the internet along with status updates that claimed they were yearning to be in a place like that.  These people never ventured away from their screens to take a walk outside for themselves!  Had they done so, they would have seen that these pictures were in their own back yard!  On the rare occasions when people do venture into the great outdoors, I still see them spending an abundance of time on social media rather than leaving it alone and just enjoying the experience of nature!  There’s something disturbing about standing in the midst of a beautiful setting and gazing at a screen rather than the world around you.  It’s like standing in front of the Taj Mahal and not looking up at the structure itself but instead, staring at an artist’s rendering of it in a travel magazine.  If that image doesn’t stop you in your tracks, then maybe this one will.  I’ll speak to men here.  You’re married to a woman you find to be the sexiest woman on the planet. She’s slowly disrobing in front of you, provocatively moving around you, waiting on you to touch her and she’s waiting to touch you.  But you won’t look up from a wallet size picture of her while she’s right there in front of you, undressing!

I’ve written before how, as a musician, I notice people these days watch us on stage through the tiny LCD screens on their phones rather than enjoying the lights and sights for themselves.  They are so busy capturing an image or video clip to share on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or whatever people use that they miss the show as it should be seen!  And in case you haven’t noticed, these phone captures never look or sound like it did live.  I’m not against taking a few pics when you’re at a concert.  Nor am I opposed to even capturing a short video clip.  But I see people filming all night long at shows rather than enjoying the experience!  Why go to a concert just to watch the event on a 4 inch screen?

Why do we do these things?  The answer is simple – we’re focused more on our devices and on social media than we are on time, place, and fellowship.  You may not believe we are, but our actions speak otherwise.  We do it because we’re addicted.  We do it because we are the crackheads.  As I’ve already stated, we’re binging on social media while hanging out with friends or dates rather than enjoying each other’s company.  I see it everywhere I look – everyone is checking and using their phone constantly.  While at dinner, while hanging out with friends, at school, at work, while walking.  We even endanger ourselves and others by using our phones (for texting, social media, or internet) while on the road driving!  Rather than living “in the moment,” we are living virtually and vicariously.  And we are habitually concerned with impressing others (status update – look at me… check in – see where I am) rather than simply being.  And we’re doing this because we’ve become too addicted to the device and the connectivity.  We are the crackheads.  What we need is a super ball.

How many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  Would you pick up the phone and call those same 500 supposed friends a few times a day and ask them “what’s on your mind right now?”  No?  Then why do you seek that information from Facebook?  Is it perhaps because Facebook psychologically tricks you by using their social network strategy into thinking that  you have many wonderful “friends” and you need to “keep up with them?”  Don’t even begin to get me started on the misuse of the words “like” and “friend” in the Facebook generation!  Or perhaps you scroll the News Feed so that you can re-post a meme that has already been posted for the millionth time.  Maybe, it’s just that you feel compelled to offer your political, religious, or social views to everyone who says anything at all about news and current events.  Could you imagine the stress of having to defend your beliefs to everyone you talked to every time you engaged them in conversation?  We’d never want to talk to most of these “friends” again!  So why do we do that on Facebook?  Or what if it’s even stranger than that… what if we’re scrolling the News Feed each day because we’re nothing more than busybodies and gossips? Again, I ask, how many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  When you get to the end of your life will you look back and say, “Gee, I sure wish I had a little more time to look at people’s status updates.”  I think not!  I rather believe you’ll be saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had gone to see the geysers at Yellowstone.”

Remember my favorite possessions as a nine year old in 1983?  I mentioned that they were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  I contrasted these to the possessions of a typical 9 year old today.  Well, it’s time to admit it.  Most adults are no different from 9 year olds today.  We even share the same “toys.”  We share the same crack, if you will.  If we could get through life not that many years ago and believe we were the richest kids in town with nothing more than music, a bike, and a ball – and a few friends to confide in –  do we really need much else today?  Even as adults?  Our society starts kids on crack at the youngest age possible.  Children today will grow up never knowing a time when Big Brother’s Eye wasn’t watching them around the clock.  They are growing up not even understanding what’s so bad about the Eye anyway.  It’s all they know!  To them, the Eye is simply a necessary component of the device that provides them their high.  We give iPads and Android tablets to our preschool age children. Big Brother begins building his database on them right away.  Rather than buying them a Hot Wheels car (which, by the way, cost about 60 cents in 1983), a comic book (do the Marvel covers with “Still on 35 Cents” printed at the top bring back any memories?), or a Star Wars action figure ($2.49 when The Empire Strikes Back came out), we buy them X Box One games that run $60 – and they have to keep going back to get the next “latest and greatest” game that all their friends are playing.  These games only last until they are “beaten” then the kids move on to the next game.  By contrast, we played with the same Hot Wheels and Star Wars action figures for years!  And the toys we had encouraged imagination.  These days, it seems we are just spoon feeding virtual reality to an impressionable mind.  We send our children to elementary school with smartphones.  Quite literally, the world is available to them at their fingertips.  They are allowed to text their friends during school time, download and play multiplayer online games during class, and get on social media when they should be listening to lectures.  And to reinforce the addiction, teachers are requesting to communicate directly to our kids on their own smartphones day and night via services like Remind.  Do you remember what our “reminder” was to do our homework?  It was the zero we received if we failed to know what it was and turn it in!  We’ve gone too far and become too dependent upon these distractions from life.  For that’s what they are:  distractions that keep us in a state of simply existing and keep us from a state of truly living.

Yes, Big Brother won the war without firing a single shot.  He didn’t have to fight his way into our lives.  There were no guns and no one had to be blown to smithereens.  He tricked us into asking for the his takeover.  And to add insult to injury, he even convinced us to pay our hard earned money for him to cast his Eye upon us.  And now, even as I type these words, his Eye is watching.  His Eye is watching me.  He knows what I’m saying.  He is gathering data about the Resistance.  He knows where to strike whenever the Resistance begins to grow into a movement.  The Resistance is demonized, made to look foolish in the media, criticized in schools and universities, even criminalized in some cases!  Whatever it takes.  By any means necessary.

Yes, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best is the problem.  This intentional evolution of society, orchestrated by Big Brother so his Eye could watch us and one day control us, has led to a complete breakdown in our ability to communicate, to work, to play, to relate, to socialize, and to grow deeper in relationship with one another.  And that is key.  Big Brother doesn’t want us growing deeper in relationship with one another – he wants us always coming to him to solve our problems.   So that he has the ultimate control.

Mr RobotoThe players in this game are few.  The enemy and Pusherman is Big Brother.  The crack is the overly connected social media side of the internet and our culture’s misuse of the so called “internet of things.”  And we are the crackheads.

I may not sound like it right now but I’m a hopeless romantic and an eternal optimist.  All is not lost.  What we need is a super ball.  Maybe a bike.  Definitely some music (“I’ve come to help you with your problems so we can be free.’).  Hopefully a few friends in which to confide (“The problem’s plain to see – Too much technology – Machines to save our lives – Machines dehumanize”).  Rediscover the simple pleasures in life that we enjoyed before social media.

We don’t all need to abandon technology altogether.  I certainly have no plans to do so.  I’ve already mentioned that I enjoy many of the technological advances of my lifetime.  I even use social media, mainly to advertise my band.  But it’s like alcohol.  Technology can be good – very good when used correctly.  But no one wants to be around a drunk alcoholic.  Remember that we are crackheads.  The worse your addiction, the more that drastic stance of abstinence might be the right plan for you – take a sabbatical from all things connected for a period of time.  If that scares you, then you’re addicted.  For many of you, the addiction hasn’t turned into the full blown intervention stage yet.  May I suggest, then, before things get worse, stop multitasking and stop prioritizing social media and connectivity over everything else in your life. When you are in the company of friends, may they command your attention.  Leave phones like umbrellas at the door.  When you go out with friends or on a date, talk.  Other people will have to wait.  Learn to simply be.  Don’t feel that you must constantly check up on the world via social media.  We’re not that important.  Instead, learn to enjoy just simply being.  A man who finds contentment in simplicity will never want for anything.  Treat Facebook like a place to which you must navigate.  Go there once or twice a day at most and conduct whatever business needs to be conducted there.  Don’t give in to Big Brother’s intentions to ensnare you on social media, keeping you trapped in a prison without walls.  The meme you’re about to share has already been seen and shared by millions before you.  Be original.  Inspire your own creativity by allowing your brain to function freely without multitasking and then share the best of yourself so the world can be encouraged and enlightened.  Start your day with a cup of coffee and light reading – a morning devotional, a book of book of bizarre facts (I like the Bathroom Reader series).  By all means, do not start with Facebook (nothing sets the tempo of the day like a group of political zealots passing around offensive memes attacking the those on the other side of the ideological fence…  or an argument over the latest social justice issue of the week that has people rioting in the streets).  Every couple days, pick some you really like (not in the Facebook definition of the word but rather someone you really like) and surprise that lucky individual-of-the-day by calling them on the phone just to say hi and ask how they are doing – the way we used to talk to people on the phone.  Limit your tweets and status updates.  Use the internet whenever you need to use it – but don’t sit around just “surfing the web” that often.  Stop existing.  Start living.

In 2015, musician and songwriter Steven Wilson released his masterpiece, Hand Cannot Erase., an album many consider to be one of the greatest of all time.  The album is inspired by and partly based upon the story of Joyce Carol Vincent. Joyce lived in a big city in an apartment complex.  She was young, popular, had many friends and close family.  She died… and no one noticed for three years.  No one.  It sounds impossible, but it really happened.  The sad truth is that the more connected we’ve become in cyberspace, the less connected we’ve become in our day to day lives.

I say no one noticed Joyce as she remained dead in her apartment for three years.  That’s not entirely true.  There was one who noticed.  His Eye was watching her the entire time.

Joyce Carol Vincent

 

 

A Conversation

A Conversation

My line of work is entertainment.  I am blessed with the job of making people happy.  Whether I’m on stage playing bass guitar in my band, writing songs, publishing books, or producing films, I make money by making people smile.  I’m a natural extrovert and I love what I do.  And even more, I love being able to do it all with my bride and best friend, Char.

But the fact that my life’s output falls in the spectrum of entertainment does not mean that I do not have very sincere and passionate beliefs about things outside the bounds of my chosen field of work.  Those who know me personally know that I follow the news and current events, I study history, I have firm views on faith, and I am a constant reader of non-fiction.  But this is not why you come to me.  You come to me for entertainment.  I fancy myself as The Wizard in the famous song from Black Sabbath:  “everyone’s happy when The Wizard walks by.”  And so it is that I wear a mask.  The mask fits me, I feel comfortable in the mask, and the mask is very much a reflection of a very real part of me.  But only a part.  There are other parts of me that I do not allow you to see.

I sometimes get annoyed when I see celebrity entertainers share their political views  – as if their political views matter more than those of other people with jobs that aren’t in the public eye!  Rubbish!  For example, I absolutely love the 1970s/1980s rock band, The Police.  Sting, the amazing bassist and lead vocalist for The Police, is very outspoken about his politics.  But just because I admire him as a musician and songwriter does not mean that I have to necessarily agree with him on matters of religion or politics.  I go to him for music, not for political thought.  But for whatever reason the world seems to think that if a celebrity you enjoy speaks out on a social or political issue then his conclusions must be true.  After all, he sure makes good music – he must know something about foreign military affairs, right? How insane!  Let me ask you this:  do you choose your presidential candidate based on what your plumber tells you while he’s unclogging your drain?  Then why do entertainers think we should listen to them when they speak?  Entertainment is an occupation – an occupation no more important than that of plumbers.

Elvis Presley was extraordinarily political.  He was a staunch Republican and ultra conservative in his ideology.  He believed strongly in personal freedom for all and viewed the liberal movement as a revolution that would ultimately remove those freedoms that he came to enjoy in his life. But he intentionally chose NOT to disclose this fact about himself to his fans… because he knew his limitations.  He was an entertainer, not a politician.  And he didn’t want to turn off his fans with his views on politics.  That’s not why they came to him.  They came to him for music.  I admire this about Elvis and I’ve tried to mirror this in my life and career.

Occasionally, however, we all make mistakes – just like the one I’m about to make.  You see, the big issue right now in the world of current events is the escalating tension around race relations.  Not a day goes by that I don’t hear our news media speak of the next civil war being fought over this issue.  It seems that over the past few years, things have gone down the toilet here in the U.S.A. in terms of race relations.  We need a plumber.

A few close friends of ours – black friends – came to us recently to speak about the issue.  I honestly found their views to be shocking.  I’ve spent the past year reading several news stories on the subject.  The Black Lives Matter movement.  White Privilege.  Protests over Confederate statues.  Arguments regarding White Nationalists.  Reparations for slavery.  Then, I read an article online that was really just a copy of a woman’s Facebook post.  I found the article to be completely offensive on every level.  That was when this thought became clear to me:  the media, being used by powerful world figures bent on the destruction of our country, is creating the movement.  It is akin to brainwashing.  If we continue to follow this path, I fear there is only one logical conclusion:  hate.  They will get the civil war they are trying to create… if we let them.  I wrote the following piece to reflect my feelings on this issue and pose the only conclusion I see us reaching as we fall deeper and deeper down the drain.  I ask you now to step outside the narrative being thrust upon you by world powers and the media and instead, to see each other as one.  Because, after all, isn’t that the very definition of unity?

Here is the article I read that offended me:  http://www.dailyo.in/variety/black-lives-matter-alton-sterling-dallas-police-shooting-donald-trump/story/1/11936.html

And here is the piece I wrote reflecting on the current race narrative in our nation:

 

 

A Conversation

Hello, my friend. I still call you that even though you systematically hate me.

I hate you? No I don’t.

You do, you just don’t realize that you do. You and everyone else like you.

No, I’m pretty well in touch with my feelings. Trust me, I do not hate you. You said it yourself. We are friends.

Sure, we are friends. But you hate me. Maybe you don’t hate me personally but you hate me systematically. And the fact that you don’t realize it shows that you need help.

I need help?

Yes, you need help. You need help to understand that you don’t mean to hate me but you do.  You and everyone like you. It’s not something you can help, really. You see, this hatred you have toward me is systematic and symptomatic. You need help to understand that.

Where is my friend that I’ve known for so long? What has happened to you?

See? You hate me. You oppress me. You just trivialized my feelings and invalidated what I had to say.

Yes, and I will continue to invalidate invalid remarks. That’s what you do when something is not true.

But truth is an individual calculation. You may not see the truth I live with daily. That does not mean it is not true for me.

OK, while I disagree with that statement, let me play your game. You are wrong. I do not hate you.

You do.

And now you just invalidated what I had to say! See? It works both ways, then. Does that mean you hate me, too?

I cannot hate you the way you hate me.

Only according to you.

No, it’s the truth.

But you said it yourself. Truth is an individual calculation. I don’t believe that, but I will play your game. You hate me, too.

Let me phrase it another way. Let’s not use the word hate. Can we start over?

Please!

Hello, my friend! I still call you that even though I envy you.

You envy me?

I envy you for the many privileges that you have that I can never enjoy. You don’t know what you have systematically put me through. Things that you will never have to go through. Things that have made your life easier. And for that, I envy you.

Do you have any idea who you’re talking to and what I’ve been through in my life? Haven’t I shared with you enough?  How can you trivialize what I have gone through and invalidate the pain it has caused me?

Please don’t compare singular experiences that have come and gone into and out of your life to the very fabric of what it means to be me. You will never understand.

Experiences? You say that like they were learning opportunities! How dare you! You have no idea how many years I have suffered, unable to progress through life, because of those “experiences.” You should thank God you never had those “experiences” in your life!

Even with your experiences, I envy you.  And now, if you love me, you must recognize the reasons why I say that I envy the privileged life you live.

And if I don’t?

Then you don’t sympathize nor do you empathize with what I have gone through.

No, I don’t.

Why?

Because I hate you.

See? I told you so.

The Bucket List

The Bucket List

When it comes to movies I’m always behind the rest of the civilized world.  I’m “still catching up” with movies that came out in the 1990s. TV shows are no different for me.  By the way, did you hear?  Bobby’s not dead! It was all a dream!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.  If you’re around my age or older, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  A little younger than me and you likely haven’t a clue.

It’s the exact opposite with music.  I know about music for years – sometimes decades – before my peers.  I got into Steven Wilson, my favorite songwriter, in the early 1990s.  It wasn’t until 2015 – 2016 with the release of his masterpiece, Hand. Cannot. Erase., that I began hearing others in America talk about him.  A few circles of people would mention this “new” artist who wrote mind blowing albums.  “Oh, you mean Steven Wilson?” I’d reply.  “I’ve been listening to him and his bands for almost 25 years now.”

But movies?  I really do love movies but still think of Terminator 2 as a new movie. I suppose I’ll never be current with movies and television.  I mention this because today I feel compelled to write about The Bucket List, a new movie for me but one which came out back in 2007: a very important year in my life.

My wife, Char, watched it a few nights ago and told me I should see it.  She was, as usual, right.  She was asleep next to me while I watched it so she didn’t see me crying for about an hour after the movie ended.  But I think she knew that’s exactly how I would process this film.

You see, as I’ve written before, I’m all about avoiding regret.  My life’s motto is from a Beatles song.  “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.”

Those who know me personally know the hell the I lived in for so many years before I finally started to truly live my life with intent and purpose and with the aim of leaving no regrets on the table when I reach the end of my days.  Toward the end of those years I spent in my own personal hell, I wrote a song entitled “Are We There Yet?” referring to the end of my life.  To me, it seemed that was the only way out of my pain.  But in proving His existence to me yet again, God showed me that He had another plan.  That plan included meeting – and marrying – Char, who had been living in her own hell up until that point.

In 2007, the same year that The Bucket List was released, I took that other path laid before me and never looked back.  Life changed completely.  I no longer ask, “Are We There Yet?” but rather, “What next?”  In many ways, my life since 2007 (and Char’s life, for that matter) has been one big bucket list.  But I think it took seeing this movie to make me understand that fact the way I do now.

Char and I actively determine to live each day to the fullest, to not just dream of things but do them.  And that’s not just cliche for us.  In the relatively few years we’ve been married (almost nine years at the time of this writing), we’ve constantly been doing things we might have only talked about before.  We’ve done things that seem improbable or even impossible until you simply determine to find a way, to make it happen, to just do whatever it takes to fulfill every dream, desire, and fantasy.  Otherwise, we’d be leaving regrets on the table – and we can’t have that.  In the years since we’ve been together, Char and I have been checking off our Bucket List without even knowing it.  From sharing dinner with Elvis Presley’s original bandmates (too bad Elvis wasn’t still around to be there) to jumping in the ring and having a mixed wrestling match against each other at the Clear Channel Metroplex in Little Rock, we’ve been turning dreams into reality.

I realized from our earliest days as a couple that opportunity is all around us, every day.  The question is what we do with that opportunity.  As a new couple, Char mentioned to me that she always wanted to ride a hot air balloon.  At a festival we were attending that same month, there were tethered hot air balloon rides being offered.  Tethered, yes, but it was a start.  And furthermore, the opportunity was there.  I could ask the balloonist for his card and set up a future ride into the high skies.  Opportunity.  It’s all around us, all the time.  The problem is, most people don’t see it.  Most are too consumed by distractions that get in the way of truly living and realizing our dreams – and that will only help to leave those regrets on the table.  Many are too scared to step out of their comfort zone and “make it happen,” whatever “it” might be.  Like asking the balloonist for his card.  The opportunity was indeed there.  And sadly, a great number of people worry too much about what others think of their dreams to make them come true in light of opportunity.  In revealing our deepest secrets to each other and getting to know each other intimately and completely, I told Char at the start of our marriage that I grew up with this huge crush on the character of Wonder Woman.  Keep in mind, this was years before the Wonder Woman craze hit the nation with the new Wonder Woman and Justice League movies.  Char suddenly buys a Wonder Woman costume – but she doesn’t stop there… she practically becomes known to all around her as Wonder Woman.  She plays the character in her public life and – what’s the most G rated way of saying this? – in her private life.  Did she care how others might judge this behavior?  No.  That would be distraction. She was too busy helping me live out my fantasy, my bucket list.  She saw opportunity.  And our marriage is sizzling hot!

The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, showcases the lives of two men (a multi-millionaire and a middle class guy) who both come down with terminal cancer and are given just months to live.  They make a Bucket List of things they always wanted to do in life and spend their final days doing those very things.  They die with no regrets, a stark contrast to how they had lived up until their diagnoses.  Cancer certainly helps you think of your own mortality.  But if you don’t have cancer, your opportunity is even greater – because odds are, you’ll have more than a few months to check off your list.

The sober truth is, we all have “months to live.”  Whether it’s 6 months or 600 months, our days are numbered.  The good news is that opportunity exists every day.  What will you do with your opportunity?

Understand, I’m not advocating skipping out on social and personal responsibilities such as going to work or paying your bills.  My social, political, and even religious bent prevents me from thinking that way.  I do not advocate living “above your means” or on credit, either.  But I think most people miss out on real living because of the many distractions around us.  I hear people who go out to eat every meal say they can’t afford a vacation.  I tell people all the time, we’re all millionaires.  Make $75,000 a year and work for 14 years and you’re a millionaire.  It’s not how much money you made, it’s what you did with the money you made.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a millionaire.  How did you spend it?  Where did the money go?  To the many convenient distractions around us everyday… or to checking off your bucket list and living life with no regret?

I could go on… but I don’t want to take up any more of your time.  You have a bucket list to write.  And to live.  As do I.