What Are Your 8 Greatest Songs?

To keep the ball rolling with this website, I ask the musical question.

Your responses will remain as comments on my website for awhile. Therefore, consider carefully, because your musical acumen is subject to other viewer’s comments.

To get you started, here are, according to UK’s “Far Out” magazine, Pink Floyd musician and rabble-rouser Roger Waters’ eight choices, in order of importance:

  1. “Helpless,” Neil Young
  2. “Endless Flight,” Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jaques Morelenbaum & Everton Norton
  3. “Bird on the Wire,” Leonard Cohen
  4. “My Funny Valentine,” Chet Baker
  5. “Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles
  6. “E Lucevan Le Stelle” (from “Tosca”), Giacomo Puccini
  7. “God Bless the Child,” Billie Holiday
  8. 4th Movement of “Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor,” Gustav Mahler

Think he’s eclectic? I do.

His list inspired me to mention one of my signature influences from a songwriter you may not know. In 1966, my late brother, Jon, gifted me the record album, “John D. Loudermilk Sings a Bizarre Collection of the Most Unusual Songs.” In our bedroom, he then hung up a poster of a magnified Indian-head nickel and a large headline exclaiming, “The only Indian that America ever gave a damn about.” (The story of how our blood ran red soon will be told in my forthcoming book.)

The 33-1/3 record featured “Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian,” later popularized in 1971 by the British pop group, Paul Revere & The Raiders. A reputed prankster, Loudermilk proclaimed his Cherokee heritage, but that claim turned out to be false. Later, he wrote the song, “Tobacco Road.” Check out Loudermilk’s interesting bio on Wikipedia.

In the meantime, scratch your head and ponder the challenge. Maybe you can do better than me. Maybe you can out-do Roger Waters.

Just click on “add a comment,” and wave your freak flag to visitors to this website and me. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to writing my book!

Fondly Going Back in Time

Last night, my draft of Chapter 3 turned into Chapters 3 and 4.

That’s because details about my father’s life, including his suicide, fit into the narrative of Chapter 3.

Virgil’s Story was written by my mother, Thelma Johnston Loika, before she passed away and gifted it to all three of her sons. I am inserting it into the book as part of my legacy.

Virgil’s Story has been on my website for many years, but few visitors have any idea it’s available online. The link to that part of my website will introduce you to his incredible history.

Sometime before the book’s publication, this extensive look at his past will disappear here and migrate onto the printed page.

Black Lives Matter

This is more than a perfunctory post to honor the fast-moving political climate nearby. The time has come to acknowledge a comment to my website by a dear friend:

Too bad Portland’s gone the way of Detroit, Newark, Trenton, etc. etc. Wonder why?

My answer: Perhaps there’s sincerity to the demonstrations that were taking place in downtown Portland, Oregon, eh? And why lump the progressive city of Portland with big-city ghettos? Is that a convenient way of saying people of color embrace lawlessness?

Prior to 2020, I knew nothing about a massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma targeting African Americans. As horrendous details came to light, my soul shuddered and I wondered why I never was taught about such an outrage in my high school history class.

There’s more to learn.

Last night on HBO, John Oliver took the lid off another massacre. This one was perpetuated by a Southern circle of 19th Century Democrats who subscribed to racist fear, Jim Crow behavior and white supremacy. On Nov. 10, 1898, they led a mob of 400 insurrectionists to burn down Wilmington, North Carolina’s local newspaper, murder 60 people and overthrow the local government elected only two days prior. It was the first, and only, successful coup d’état in the good ol’ USA.

In subsequent years, American history books spun a story that depicted black victims as the cause of the massacre and the perpetrators as heroic. What really happened, huh? Citizens of color were systematically butchered, brutalized, and their contributions to the American Dream sent backward. What better way to reinforce a prejudice saying people of color were intellectually inferior?

Those black lives mattered, because leadership from whatever sector it originates serves to advance this country’s progress, enriching ALL our lives. If it’s left to free thinkers like John Oliver to uncover the skeletons in our closets, we cannot tout our freedom worldwide when it’s more an illusion.

This is my way of saying I finished writing the first three chapters of my book. Tomorrow I plan to start a chapter about my life as a person of color. If you look at my images now, you might find it hard to believe.

Just as you might find it hard to believe what happened in Wilmington.

This photograph of myself at age 26 was taken in Los Angeles in 1969,

Back in the Saddle again

I needed some time off to reflect on fast-moving events. And I thank everyone for honoring my period of reflection – and accomplishment.

An event occurred in June that reflects political correctness run amuck, something endemic to the West Coast. If the behavior of some well-meaning proponents of social change cannot recognize we share a common priority – a change in leadership – we could be doomed to four more years of madness.

The spirit inherent in writing a book of merit brings out my Quaker experience of reflection. In the long run, my support of the Aphasia Network shall be constant. Any complaint I have pales in importance to what appears in a book. These are the same sort of compromises our new activist generation needs to learn, or else the winds of change will fail to recognize ideals still thought dear.

I want to recognize Professor John White of Pacific University and speech therapist Jordan Horner for their kind assist in helping me determine the importance of my book’s contents. Also, former University of Oregon professor Melissa Hart oversaw my first three chapters and overall organization. I’m writing the book – finally!

How long can I keep my pedal to the metal? We’ll see.

One more thing: I miss Alice more now than ever.

The photo above reveals my left eye is half-closed, due to a burst blood vessel. Awww!

Going on Hiatus

Above: On the wall behind me is an artist’s impression of a pianist tickling the ivories next to a photo of my father performing in a big band during the 1940s. I once played Mozart for Louis Armstrong.

Once upon a time, I rushed to create new posts each week on this website to increase the number of visitors it receives.  The idea was to create anticipation for the book everyone is waiting for.

Well, last week some stupid shit hit the fan, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time and effort wiping it off my psyche. This spurred the realization that each consequential distraction interrupts the focused madness necessary to writing a complete book.

(You can anticipate what’s coming next, right?

Well, congratulations.) This website is going on hiatus for a little while.

Don’t be sad. If you want a further taste of who I am, peruse this website. A tribute to Danawa Buchanan can be found, a cross-country journey with a CHECK ENGINE light may humor you, and how my immigrant father emigrated here cum laude after arriving 101 years ago should comfort subsequent immigrants.

I’ll see you on the flip side!

The Boss is Back (again)

AT&T has managed to incorporate an amazing library into its HBOMax service, but the technological metamorphosis in how we watch television currently is overshadowing the life-changing creative accomplishment of one particular singer: Bruce Springsteen (Alice’s other heartthrob).

With little fanfare, HBO (Home Box Office) acquired Springsteen’s life achievement film, “Western Stars” from Warner Bros. Then to obscure (unintentionally, I assume) a prospective masterpiece, AT&T incorporated a vast amount of copyright-protected works to its on-demand subscription library a few weeks thereafter.

Once you locate the movie that Springsteen co-directed with Thom Zinny, “Western Stars” must be seen and heard to be believed. He invited 30 orchestra members to perform his insightful songs inside a spacious New Jersey hay-barn that holds up to 100 people. The acoustics in the barn are top of the line, and my Bose system delivers perfectly. You will notice the “Boss” doesn’t perspire at any time; he is completely attuned to the blend of sound inside the barn.

Bruce Springsteen appears intent in expressing the lyrics of his musical creation.

In the film, Springsteen himself explains, “‘Western Stars’ is a 13-song meditation on the struggle between individual freedom and communal life.

“There are two sides of the American character: One is transient, restless, solitary, but the other is collective and communal in search of family, deep roots and a home for the heart to reside. These two sides rub up against one another –  always and forever – in everyday American life.”

Springsteen gleans insight from his own past behavior, and expresses it in deeply personal songs. None of his words appear inflated; if anything, his inner emotional state appears muted. Although one critic panned it, “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is nothing like the place the Coasters sang about.

If you are over-saturated with the defugalties this country is putting up with, you could do a lot worse than watch “Western Stars,” co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny. You may not jump up and down, but you might shed a tear for an America that is rapidly being lost.

“Western Stars” is available through subscription to HBO/Max or Hulu. It can also be viewed through Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft, iTunes, Fandango and Amazon, or purchased at Bruce Springsteen’s website.

COMMEMORATING ALICE

The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.

A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.

Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.

Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.

On the beach, Alice became a child again, engaging in ridiculous chit-chat with two students.

Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.

Alice on the beach with student Meredith.

Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.

I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.

I took Alice to see James Taylor’s spectacular show at the Moda Center.

Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.

Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?

Dearest Alice,

As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999.  So much has changed since you became part of my life.

All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.”  My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations.  I feel out of kilter.

So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit.  In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second.  Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.

Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend?  Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?

I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending.  Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out.  Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.

I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take.  I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?

I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me.  Little of it makes sense.  Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship.  Everything else seems up for grabs.

All my love,

Mason

This photo of Alice with student Megan Bravo says it all.

Arsonist!

Like many people around the world, I was heartbroken to see last year’s news coverage of massive blazes that destroyed 20 per cent of Australia’s natural forests.  Thirty-three people were burned to death attempting to flee the mega fires, while 400 more Aussies were determined to have perished from the smoke.

It’s already recorded that Australia suffered the hottest, driest summer of record prior to the catastrophic fires that destroyed so much forest land, but do you think it’s all climate change to blame for how bushfires turn catastrophic?

That’s a live burning stick. The black kite picks it up on the unburnt side and flies off with it to a nearby area. Hundreds of birds are attracted to the opportunity presented therein.

Meet Australia’s arsonist: the black kite, known to aborigine people as the karrkkanj. In order to cause grasshoppers and small reptiles to reveal themselves, these colorfully beaked birds actually pick up a burning stick, carry it to a nearby unburned area and drop it in the bush to create a new blaze. No wonder fires can grow to unmanageable extremes.

I learned this by watching a video chronicling this grotesque occurrence in a three-part 2017 PBS series entitled, “Magical Land of Oz.” Obviously, there are far more depictions of the Down Under continent’s extraordinary wildlife throughout each episode, but I was astonished at this particular quirk of nature.

If you’re looking to while away some hours during this era of self-quarantining, you could do a lot worse than to order this DVD from Public Broadcasting. And know you’re supporting public television. Here’s a link to that PBS series.

In the meantime, if you know an Aussie, tell him his country is for the birds!

Memory Loss During a Pandemic

At uncertain times like these, some of the smallest chores can turn out to be huge.

Take, for instance, while arranging dinner dishes to go into the dishwasher. Earlier this week, I discovered the top cover to the butter dish was missing. With an increasing record of futility, I began to look all over the apartment. No matter how much I fretted and frantically fumed, that cover was nowhere. I systematically covered every nook and cranny in the kitchen, dining room and living room.

Now I’m invested in honoring the original purpose of this chore. Why give up now? I hurriedly climbed the stairs, wondering if I might have carried it around in one of the bedrooms or the master bath.

No dice.

Storming around with increasing frustration for a full 30 minutes, I decided it might make sense to stop being stubborn. I reached up in the kitchen cabinet holding another butter dish and cover, and pulled them out to use as a substitute until doomsday.

Looking at the original butter dish, I see there’s only a dab of butter left. Regimentally, I scoop it carefully onto the substitute butter dish. Efficient, eh?

What is this? Am I losing my mind?

With the original butter dish in hand, I finally put it into the dishwasher next to –  you guessed it – the cover!

Spend half an hour this way, and one can logically wonder if newfound freedom during a pandemic is a good thing.

TV tips to quarantine by

For those who are HBO subscribers, be sure to catch this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  (I once worked as a proofreader for The Miami Herald and later became a TV-radio writer for the Miami News.)

Oliver’s 25-minute complaint about bumbling coronavirus strategy is humorous enough, but wait until he moves on to the Sunshine State, entitled “Even during a pandemic, Florida just can’t help but be Florida.”

Oliver relays news accounts of Florida lawyers showing up for a virtual hearing wearing – nothing?!!! Our wacky host shows video of a manatee and alligator not practicing “social distancing,” and finally we learn about WWE – an outrageous wrestling simulation – being declared “an essential business.”

A miniaturized Martin Sheen perched precariously on a sink next to a confused wet cat.

After a hilarious jab at my former home comes the “snapper to the capper,” a tribute devoted to the feline lover, called “Cat TV.” Those ubiquitous pets of ours are highlighted in a segment creatively hosted by TV and movie star Martin Sheen.  Just to recognize their quirky behavior takes us away from this challenging time in American history.

So enjoy that part of the show.  And this friendly TV viewing tip is meant to let you know I’m furiously working on the book.  This time in personal history is an opportunity to capture memories that mean something.

I’ll stay in touch.