Thursday, July 20, 2017

GRANDSON OF OLD RED

Many many years ago, I recorded in words the legacy and the legend of Old Red.  I have since lost that writing before I began this blog, but the memory of this fantastic animal has never left my mind.  Old Red was a racer, a runner who went from the old tree in our front yard, leap to the rooftop of the house, run over the crest of the house down to the telephone wire and then race to the telephone pole and retrace the route back to the old tree in the front yard.  He was a well known for more than his speed though.  He was the caregiver of the squirrel community on Marsh Avenue.  He helped out the whole of the squirrel community and was a leader of the group. Old Red, and the tree he use to race from in my front yard have both been gone for quite a while now.

Last summer, as I was watching the various families of squirrels go about their business, I noticed a new squirrel sprinting around from tree to tree.  He was small compared to the other squirrels that went about their daily chores on the street but one thing caught my eye.  He was mostly gray like most squirrels in western Missouri, but his tail was what caught my eye.  It was red.  The whole of the tail was red and not just any shade of red but a red that I recalled from many years ago.  It was the same hue of red as Old Red's whole body had been.

I thought of that color of red and remembered Old Red as I watched this little guy scamper about all over the place.  He was a little reckless in crossing the street, seldom checking for cars that might be heading in his direction.  After a few days of watching him I decided to go and ask the question that was burning in my mind.

It was a nice quiet Saturday morning when he recklessly crossed the street to land in my front yard.  I stood up and started to walk towards him.  It didn't take him long to notice me and he stood proudly up erect on his hind legs, and while putting his front paws together gave me the deadliest stare he could muster.  He shook his tail a bit hoping to warn me off.

"Hey" I said cheerfully with a wave of my hand

"What?!?"  His voice was loud, stern, high pitched and squeaky.  "What do you want?  I am not bothering you, you know.  I got a right to be here or didn't you read the VERY VERY small print in the contract when you bought this so called house?"

"What small print?" I asked with a smile trying not to laugh at him directly.

"The small print that says that ANY wild life NOT being kept as a pet, such as dogs and so forth, have the right to roam anywhere on this land that they want to.  THAT small print!"

With this he dropped his front paws down and placed them on his hips, tilted his head and resumed his menacing stare at me with his tail still shaking.

"Nah, I don't bother with small print.  Can't see small print well enough to read it", I smiled at him at he let out a deep irritated sigh. "So, what's your name?", I asked.

He looked at me with a questioning expression trying to figure out if he wanted to waste time with me.  Finally he decided that being friends with the land owner could come in handy in the future. His voice dropped in pitched and became less of a squeak as he realized I meant no harm.

"Well, my name is Redtail" he said as he raised his arm and pointed with his thumb over his shoulder toward his backside. "That's my name anyway but they don't call me Redtail.  They call me Red runt"

His head drop a bit and his shoulders slumped a bit with this revelation.  He lifted his head slowly and looked past me into space as he thought about the nick name he had been laden with.

He sighed a bit and looking at me revealed something else.

"Of course I suppose it could be a little worse.  They called my dad 'Reddy Mix' because he had small splotches of red all over his body.  Almost looked like a rash.  Dad taught me how to deal with having a not so good nick name.  I deal with it."

"Your dad was Reddy Mix?" I asked with recognition.  "Wow, you had a great dad.  I use to watch him scamper around here all the time."  I watched for a reaction for Redtail and only got a shrug of the shoulders.

"Yeah, dad was okay.  He didn't do much, not like grandpa anyway.  Grandpa was a great squirrel, he was one of the great squirrel racers in history!" he exclaimed as his chest puffed up just a little.  "I never knew grandpa though.  He died in some sort of accident.  They never told me what happened."

"Your grandpa.  I knew him.  He was indeed a great one and a great racer.  I saw him race lots of times."  I said respectfully thinking back to that last day that his grandpa had raced.

"You knew my grandpa?"  Redtail's eyes widened and his posture straightened up in excitement.  "You knew Old Red?  You saw him race?  Please, oh please tell me a little about Old Red.  Please?"

I looked at young Redtail, looked at his eyes and the excitement in them and decided it was time he learned a little about Old Red.

I began slowly and thoughtfully.

"Your grandpa.  Well, they told you right, He spent most of his time racing other squirrels.  He was fast.  Very fast.  Probably the fastest squirrel on the block at the time."

I took a seat on my porch and lit a cigarette taking my time before continuing.  Redtail's eyes never left my face as I began to continue.

"Old Red, I like to think, was a friend of mine.  As close of a friend as a squirrel and human can be anyway.  I use to sit right here on a lot of Saturdays watching the races which your grandfather never missed as far as I can remember.  You see the old track use to be right here in my front yard.  There use to be a big tree out there in the yard and they would race towards the roof of the house, leap onto the house, run over to the back of the house and run on the line that goes out to that pole in the back.  Once they touched the pole they raced back across the line, over the house then leap back to the tree grabbing at limb to pull them selves up and race back to the main trunk.  Your grand dad was one of the best at that.  My tree was where Old Red ran his last race.  I was out here that day.  I saw that last race of his and he was faster than he had ever been.  You see, earlier in the day a younger squirrel, a newcomer to the races had broke your grandpa's record for running the course.  Your grandpa's last race was an attempt to get that record back and he almost did just that."

I stopped and paused, thinking back in my mind to that day.  Eventually I woke out of my daydream to find Redtail still staring at me, waiting for more information.

"Yes sir, he almost got that record back, but he...." and I found myself grow quiet as I the vision of what had occurred that day filled my head.

"But?" asked Redtail wanting to know why his grandfather had not broken the record.

I started out slowly and quietly, almost reverently,  "Well, Old Red made a mistake.  He took a risk to try to shave off a little more time for the record.  He was on the last leg of the course, coming down the roof heading for the tree.  He left the roof just a little bit early in his leap for the limbs on the tree.  I knew as soon as he left the roof that it was too soon to jump.  I think he knew it as well.  He stretched out as far as he could and grabbed and caught one of the smallest limbs out there.  He grabbed it with both hands and held on with everything he could.  The, uh... well the limb bent down with his weight.  Once it bent as far as it could, it snapped upwards, taking your grandpa with it.  He held on tight and I honestly felt that he had done it.  I knew the limb would snap back down again but I figured once that had happened, he would be off to the trunk of the tree.  But..." and here I choked up a bit but pushed on with the story, "the limb snapped back down hard.  Your grandpa couldn't hold on and he lost his grip.  He was thrown to the ground.  I sat here and looked at him.  He wasn't moving.  Soon the squirrel community came down to him to check him over.  The fall took your grandpa's life Redtail.   It... umm... it... well it broke his neck kid.  He didn't feel a thing.

I stopped and looked at Redtail.  He was slouched down a little and was wiping his eyes of the tears that had begun to flow.  He slowly looked back up at me and I read in his eyes that he wanted me to go on.

"You know, Redtail, Your grandpa was a very strong squirrel.  That limb had a hell of a snap to it to be able to throw your grandpa loose and to the ground.  The community took your grandpa away to his nest where they laid him down so other squirrels could come and pay respects.  Three days.  Three days he laid in that nest and the line of squirrels continued to come to see him and tell him goodbye.  Then after the three days they took him over to the brush by the lake and laid him down with all of the squirrels that had gone before him.  He was a very respected squirrel Redtail.  You should be proud that he was your grandpa."

Redtail and myself sat there quietly thinking about the story I had just told.  Eventually Redtail climb up on my knee and stared out into the yard where the tree had once stood.

I started talking quietly again to the small squirrel.  "That tree came down during a winter storm several years ago.  It was a sad day not only for me but for the squirrel community as well.  Thousands of races had been run on that tree.  Your grandpa ran well over a hundred races and held the record most of the time that he was racing.  When the tree came down, the record did not have his name attached to it though.  That is why they race at the new track over there," I said pointing next door to the big tree in that front yard.  "It is kind of a more dangerous track to run than the old track use to be."

Redtail looked at the new track and nodded his head.  Eventually his head returned to where the old tree had once stood.

"Can you read? I asked Redtail seriously.

"Of course not, not human writing anyway.  I'm just a little squirrel, remember?"

"Come walk with me.  I got something to show you." I said as I stood up and began walking into the yard where the tree use to be.  I looked down to be sure Redtail was following me into the grass.  We walked down to the water meter that lay in the yard next to where the old tree use to be.  When we got there Redtail looked at the big metal disk with human letters on it.

"What does it say? Is it about grandpa?" he asked inquisitively.

"Well let's see,"  I said and I squatted down to clear some grass off of the top of the old water meter.

I began to "read" the water meter for Redtail making up the words as I went along.

"Here once stood a great tree that was used as the main race path for generations of squirrels.  Many great squirrels ran this tree but there was one that stood above the rest.  It was on this site where the famous racer Old Red ran his first and last race.  He was the greatest of all the racers who ever ran here.  He will forever be remembered for his kindness, thoughtfulness, strength and courage.  May the name of Old Red never be forgotten."

I felt a small tug on the leg of my jeans and looked down to see Redtail hold onto me as he stared at the meter.  He then got down on all fours and walked onto the metal plate and ran his claws over the letters embossed upon it.

I decided to leave Redtail alone with his thoughts and walked back to the porch and sat, watching him contemplate what he had just learned.  After awhile I watched Redtail turn around and look at me before starting to slowly head back to me and the porch.

He arrived at the porch and climbed back up on my knee, laying his head down with his eyes staring out into the yard.

"Thank you" Redtail said.  "Thank you so very much"

We sat on the porch together until the sun set and it began to get dark around us.  He climbed off of my knee and looked at me with a new awareness of where he had come from.

"I'll see you around." he said as he turned and headed off into the night air to his nest.

I have seen him a lot since that day and when I do see him, he shakes his tail at me, smiles and gives me a little wave.  No doubt he will pass the tale of Old Red to his offspring and grandchildren and the name of Old Red will never be forgotten, at least not in the squirrel community.

Monday, May 29, 2017

GREGG ALLMAN AND HIS LEGACY

I have written several entries when artists have passed away over the years.  Every one of them have been important to me in different ways.  Shaping my philosophy, making me think, while at the same time providing my life with beautiful music that sticks in my mind.  There have been a lot of them but some stand a head over the majority of them.  John Lennon, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen,  Warren Zevon and Ray Charles along with John Coltrane and Johnny Cash.

Gregg Allman with his brother Duane took the old rock/blues sound to a whole different level and different direction.  You can tell if it is an Allman Brothers song or a Gregg Allman song with in the first few notes, the sound was that distinctive.  Duane died after the release of the classic album "Live At The Fillmore East" and Gregg had a huge decision to make.  He decided to keep the band, and its music going.  As more of the country discovered Gregg Allman and the boys there came from the country the definition of a new music genre which they called southern rock.  Southern rock took the basics of rock, blues, jazz and country and melded them into a brand new sound.  More southern rock bands would crop up to follow the Allman Brothers but none ever matched them.

Gregg Allman was an innovator.  He was one of the few acts around that were better live than they were in the studio.  They seemed to step it up a notch when playing for a crowd that were totally drawn into their music.  Gregg Allman played the organ for the most part but it was his arrangement of songs and the voice he put to those arrangements that made him so great. As an example of this was a song written by Jackson Browne called "These Days".  It was a good song by Browne, a rock ballad that seemed to be Browne's best work.  Gregg Allman arranged the song into a heavy sad blues number that with his distinct voice made it a favorite on the play lists at concerts.

There are many good blues singers but the number of great blues singers and blues voices are few and far between.  Gregg Allman was a great blues singer.  He put his very soul into every song he sang and the songs he sang of were of life.  His life.  All of our lives.  He had a way of connecting to those who came to hear him.  I saw Gregg Allman perform but once, and let me tell you, his performance would grab your heart, your soul and you would be mesmerized until the number was finished.  Sometimes you would swear you forgot how to breathe while he was singing his songs.

Gregg Allman passed away this week at the age of 69.  A lot of the greats seem to be dying rather young.  It has been suggested to me that, well, they had lived a life, a hard life filled with drugs and alcohol, abusing their bodies at a young age and sometimes those things catch u to you.  This was certainly the case for Gregg Allman.

Gregg Allman is gone and so the Allman Brothers Band is gone and without the Allman Brothers, there can be no more southern rock.  Gregg Allman so defined the genre that it died with him.  There are plenty of southern rock bands that followed Gregg and Duane, but they are living in the past, not creating anything new.  Gregg Allman was still putting out new music.  Some of it was his and some were long forgotten blues numbers that he touched with his special magic of soul and blues.

Gregg Allman is gone.  His last album he released was last year.  It was a live recording of a performance in Macon, Georgia which was the base for the band for all these years.  With the history of the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman as a solo artist, it seems somehow fitting that his last album would be a live album.

That is the way it should be and the way he should be remembered.  A singer of the people, for the people live, not shacked up in a studio.  It was at those times when he was at his best.

Gregg Allman will always be included at the top of my list as one of the pure greats.