Thursday, April 21, 2016

Free... Remembering Prince

Photo by me.  Welcome to America Tour
March 30, 2011 - North Charleston Coliseum

The first Prince song I ever heard was ‘Free’.  I was living in Washington State in the early eighties and was at my friend Kay’s house.  I met Kay in junior high and liked her immediately.  She wasn’t popular but she definitely stood out in a crowd because she was beautiful and an incredibly unique person.  She dressed like no one else in school and I always envied her sense of style.

Kay and her parents lived on Chico Way in Silverdale and I used to spend the night there often.  From what I remember she had a really big bedroom and had this massive pillow that I was pretty jealous of.  It was orange and at least 5 feet long.  It reminded me of a massive Cheeto and I loved sleeping with it!

I don’t remember if Kay had Prince posters or anything like that but I do remember that she was the one who introduced me to his music.  To put it lightly she was obsessed with Prince’s music.  During that those days I was probably into Madonna and not much of a music intellectual but one night Kay told me she wanted me to listen to something.  

 The room was dimly lit and she Kay Prince’s record (yes, vinyl) on the turntable and instead of playing the entire album from the start she chose to play track 8 for me.  


Don't sleep until the sunrise, listen to the falling rain
Don't worry about tomorrow, don't worry about your pain
Don't cry unless you're happy, don't smile unless you're blue
Never let that lonely monster take control of you

Be glad that you are free
Free to change your mind
Free to go most anywhere, anytime
Be glad that you are free
There's many a man who's not
Be glad for what you had baby, what you've got
Be glad for what you've got

I know my heart is beating, my drummer tells me so
If you take your life for granted, your beating heart will go
So don't sleep until you're guilty, because sinners all are we
There's others doing far worse than us, so be glad that you are free

Soldiers are a marching, they're writing brand new laws
Will we all fight together for the most important because?
Will we all fight for the right to be free?
Free (Be glad that you are free)
Free to change my mind

Free to go most anywhere, anytime
Be glad that you are free
There's many a man who’s not.

I remember Kay and I laying on her bed in her room with the Cheeto pillow listening to the sound of the scratchy vinyl (how I miss that!) on the turntable.  The only sound in the room was Prince’s voice.  A voice like none I had ever heard before. 

This was the first moment I REALLY paid attention to the lyrics of a song.  Being a young teenager I thought I identified greatly with the sappy songs of Chicago (among others) which described what I thought was love but during this moment I realized how absolutely mediocre all those songs actually were.  This song, Free, that we were listening to had meaning, was intense and I truly believed that moment changed my life’s musical journey.  I now realized that I wasn’t a radio top 40 girl after all.

After listening to ‘Free’ I knew there was extraordinary music out in the world to discover and I made it my mission to find it.  Music has, and always will, change me and I have Prince – and Kay – to thank for that.

R.I.P. Prince.  You were a musical genius and you will be missed.

My photos of Prince from the 'Welcome to America' tour - March 30, 2011 - N. Charleston Coliseum

Saturday, March 05, 2016

R.I.P. to the Prince of Words

When my family moved to South Carolina December 22, 1985 I was convinced we had moved to Hell.  Having come from the Seattle area I thought Charleston was a backward thinking, redneck filled wasteland that was stuck in the past and I couldn’t wait to get out.  I was 16 years, 11 months and 2 days old.

Since high school I had been going from place to place to escape South Carolina and find a place to call home.  Being a former Navy brat I never had a “home” but I knew it wasn’t in South Carolina.  Life in the land of Strom Thurmond felt so oppressed that I felt like I was suffocating on the stagnant air and I wanted more out of life so in 1988 I left and moved back to Washington State… then I moved to Columbia, SC and then to Staten Island, NY.  I had no responsibilities nor care in the world and at the time I liked it that way.

Being 21 and living in NYC was a crazy time in my life full of partying and being free but I was also restless and in turn was very reckless with some life choices.  I was young, immature and selfish and in a place that I couldn’t easily escape from.  The only place to run to was back to South Carolina and that’s the last place I wanted to be.

I wasn’t working so I was usually broke during that time.  When I couldn’t afford to go into the city my days were filled with wandering around Fort Wadsworth and all the old tunnels and batteries, taking walks under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge where there was the most amazing view of the Manhattan skyline and picking up sea glass on the filthy Staten Island beach which was at the mouth of the New York harbor.  Directly across from me was Brooklyn and on the far end was Coney Island. 

One morning I was back at the house sitting on the couch wondering what to do with my day.  There was a stack of books next to me and I picked up the one on top which happened to be “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.  I started leafing through it and was immediately absorbed by the pages.  I stayed up late reading it and only put it down to go to the restroom… probably not even then.  Every word I read touched a nerve deep inside of my body and made me feel something I had never felt before.  I was homesick.  I was homesick for South Carolina and left New York a few days later.

By the end of that month I had read all of Pat Conroy’s books that had been published at the time.  I made my sister read them too.  When he was in Charleston doing a book signing I was one of the people who waited for 4 hours to get him to sign my books.  He is the only person I have ever met that pronounced my maiden name correctly on the first try.  I joked to friends that I wanted to have his baby.

After I read ‘The Water is Wide’ I drove solo to Beaufort and hopped on a boat to Daufuskie Island.  I wanted to see where Pat Conroy lived and taught school early in his career.  At the time the island was incredibly rural and there was only one vehicle on the island, a big pink school bus that was used for tours.  There was maybe 20 people on the boat and everyone besides myself was over 50.  When the bus driver started the tour he asked if anyone had read the book and I was the only person who raised my hand.  Really?!  The tour guide asked if I remember the couple that lived on the island that ran the “store” and delivered the mail… yes, of course I did.  Well, he was their son.  Hello Bob Burns.  From that moment on I felt like it was just myself and Bob on the bus.  

When my sister finally read ‘The Water is Wide’ I brought her to Daufuskie.  I was surprised to see how developed the island was becoming and it made me a bit sad that it wasn’t as pristine as it was the first time I went.  Instead of the bus tour we opted to rent a golf cart to tour the island – that wasn’t even an option the first time I visited!  We drove around the island at a snail’s pace since our big asses were weighing that poor golf cart down.  I showed her all of the spots significant to the book and then we headed back to catch the boat to the mainland.  Since the golf cart was so slow we were almost late and would have had to stay the night on the island.  I think we would have made it sooner by walking back!

Over the years I went to every one of Pat Conroy’s book signings, I tried to find his house on Lady’s Island (before he was married!), I wrote him letters on stationary I made… and when I say made I REALLY mean that I made the paper… from pulp.  Yes, it’s true… from pulp.

Spoleto did a Pat Conroy lecture series that I attended each year.  I loved to hear the stories he told about his personal life.  Not only was he an incredible writer but he was an amazing public speaker as well.  I went to so many of his appearances that he started to recognize me.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing though.  My friends joked that I was the Pat Conroy stalker and there was some truth to that I suppose.

When the book ‘Beach Music’ came out the Jewish Community Center in Charleston had a ceremony to honor Pat for his beautiful and touching stories in the book which came from several members of the center.  During his speech Pat told of how he met with many people who gave him the inspiration and permission to use their life experiences in the book, most memorable being the “lady of coins.”  I was late for work because of that ceremony and had to convince my supervisor how important it was for me to be there.  She didn’t understand my fandom but excused my tardiness nonetheless.

The last time I met Pat it was at another lecture but I can’t remember where it was, only that it was in Charleston.  He had just married his wife Cassandra King and she was with him when I went backstage to say hello.  I have a friend who has been hounding me to write a book about my Great Nana and I wanted some advice on how to get started.  My sister was with me and I introduced her then I asked him what the best advice he could give to a person who wanted to write a book that would be fiction but based on a true story.  He took a moment, looked me in the eye and said “Just do it.”  Not exactly the advice I was looking for but he definitely had a point.

Over the years my love for South Carolina has grown and although I move away from time to time it is undoubtedly home for me.  I was living in Ohio February of 2009 when my mother passed away.  I came back to South Carolina, among other reasons, to settle her estate.  The following month I learned that Pat was going to be inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.  The ceremony was to be held in Myrtle Beach at the convention center.  Of course I had to go.  Unfortunately, he was continuously surrounded by well-wishers so I wasn’t able to speak with him that time.  I was happy that even though I was going through a very difficult time in life I was still able to go to the ceremony.  It was nice to be able to focus on something positive for a moment.

Last year a group of people from the Charleston History Before 1945 Facebook group decided to take a daytrip to Daufuskie Island.  I was so excited to be able to go back to a place that I really loved visiting.  When we arrived by boat I was astounded at what was there…  a store, a restaurant, small huts to stay overnight in, a marina and a lot of mansions and condos.  Wow.  Daufuskie definitely was not the same magical place I first visited years before.  I am so glad I was able to see it when it was practically pristine.  This was definitely not the Daufuskie from ‘The Water is Wide’!

Any friend that knows me well knows of my love for Pat Conroy and his books.  Last night I was sitting on my bed when I got a text message from my friend Devin telling me about Pat’s passing.  I was shocked.  It had only been announced last month that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I sat and cried like a dummy by myself, well me and my dog Murray.  

There are really no real words that I can write telling of what a profound effect Pat Conroy’s work has had on me.  He gave me a home when I had no clue what a home was.  He made me love a place I was so busy despising that I never took the time to discover the real beauty of.  Once I discovered the Lowcountry and it became such a part of me whenever I was away Pat Conroy was my connection to it once again.  His words were like the beacon I needed to always find my way home to the sea air, the sweetgrass basket ladies, the cobblestone streets of Charleston and the familiar smell of pluff mud.

I am away now, in another state, but because I have the words of Pat Conroy I will never be lost again.  He gave me that and I will forever be grateful to him for helping me find my way home all those years ago. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dagny Johnson State Park

The other day we decided to go to Key Largo because I wanted to take some photos of random things that I see on our drives.  We were going to stop at Pennykamp Park to walk Murray but then I saw a sign for the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. I had never heard of the place so we decided to check it out and ended up taking a 3 mile walk through the nature trails. Sadly, the only wildlife we saw were a few spiders and a few male Cardinals. During our walk I kept thinking of the South Florida python hunt that was currently happening.  39 had been found so far and I wondered if we were going to stumble upon one during our walk.  However, no python discoveries for us that day.

During our walk we came across a massive, abandoned and decaying structure full of very amateur graffiti. I love stuff like this! We had no clue what this place was and we heard a lady on a bike say it used to be the place of a "drug lord" - well, that's interesting!  I had to know more!  We explored for a bit and it started getting late in the day so we stopped at Starbucks for coffee and headed home.

Later that night I did some research and found a totally different story than that of a drug lord. The place is called Port Bougainville and it was once a development meant to have a 2800-unit complex in the style of a Mediterranean fishing village, complete with a helicopter landing pad, a boat yard, service station, shopping mall, and jetport. When environmentalists caught wind of the project and the danger the coral reef (one of the world's largest) and nature area was in they started a movement to stop the project and after a long battle were victorious.


The park is named after Anna Dagny Johnson, a key environmentalist whose efforts helped preserve the natural habitat for endangered and threatened plant and animal species as well as the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem.

   (Taken with my Nikon Coolpix AW130)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

We Could Be Heroes...

My first half of high school was spent at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Washington.

Yes, I went to two different high schools.  CKHS and Goose Creek High School were worlds apart in SO many ways.  CKHS was so incredibly progressive in music, what we wore, our interest in politics and making a difference in the world.  I remember CK had a member of the Communist party of China come to speak to students who cared to take time out of the classroom and it was packed and the exchange between students and the guest was amazing.  The lip sync’s at CKHS were huge and consisted of bands like The Ramones, The Plasmatics, Black Flag, The B-52’s and many others that people in Goose Creek (for the most part) had never heard of.  When I moved to Goose Creek in 1986 everyone was listening to Sly Fox.  That would have never happened at CK.  We had this one lip sync where our principal thought some of the performances were X-rated so he shut it down.  We were the kind of students who decided to have a sit-in the next morning on the school steps in protest of the lip sync being canceled and it worked.  We were heard.  I don’t recall GCHS ever having a lip sync.  GCHS had the Miss L’Esprit pageant and students hung out at a teen dance club that was in the same building as the over 21 group… the two areas were separated with a huge glass (?) partition… you could look at the other side of the club but forget about going over there if you were underage.  It also allowed the older people to gawk at the younger kids on the other side of the glass.  Yes, fun times.  The students of CK took the ferry to Seattle and went to a club called Skoochie’s and sometimes to Hollywood Underground.  There was absolutely no Sly Fox playing there… more like The Cure and Depeche Mode, of course way before they became mainstream.

When I moved to Goose Creek the football team had shaved “Mohawk’s” on their heads for some strange reason.  At CK if you had a Mohawk you were just… well, cool.  I didn’t fit in at GCHS so this is why I hung out with the college-aged student’s downtown.  I had a handful of friends that were fellow students at GCHS and oddly enough the friends that I have now that I went to high school with are friendships that were formed after our first reunion.  I didn’t socialize a lot when I went to GC.  I hated South Carolina (can you believe that?) and especially Goose Creek (and I kind of still loathe Goose Creek to be honest).  I begged my parents to let me move back to Seattle or anywhere away from the South!  They weren’t having any of that so I was pretty miserable for a few years until I could jump on the first plane to Seattle after high school which is just what I did.

In 9th grade at CKHS I took drama class as one of my electives.  We had so much fun in that class.  We’d sit in the school auditorium and I’d pierce people’s ears… boys, girls, didn’t matter.  If you brought me an earring I’d pierce your ear.  Forget all that sterile needle crap!  I’d just shove the earring in FAST and voila!  Done.  The thing I remember most about drama class was the actual classroom which we didn’t spend much time in.  The classroom was backstage (sort of) from the auditorium and away from other classes.  It was in this classroom that I first discovered David Bowie.  On the back wall of the classroom was a big poster of Bowie kissing a skull.  What?!?!  I stared at that poster so much because it awoke something in my 15 (or maybe 16) year old body.  Who was this guy… and is that a guy?!I had never seen anything quite like David Bowie in my life.  It was then that I was introduced to the beautiful creatures of the androgynous world, or even that this world existed.  Today when I think about that poster I am so thankful that I grew up in the time that I did and especially that I spent a few years at Central Kitsap High School.  I know that these days if a teacher had that poster up in a classroom someone’s mom would get her panties in a wad and come running up to the school to complain about it.  So, thank you Mr. Les Smith of Central Kitsap High School for unabashedly putting that poster up in your public high school classroom.  You rule.

So, yes… today was a sad day.  I was taking shower when Tabitha came in and told me the news about Bowie.  My immediate thought was that my friend Shannon was going to be devastated.  I’ve never met a bigger Bowie fan than her.  We are so fortunate to have lived in a world where David Bowie existed.  The world lost an icon today, a person who had incredible influence on several generations and in so many ways.  We will never be the same.  We need to take a time out and think about Bowie and the life that he led.  He lived his own way and gave absolutely no fucks about what people said about him and I think I like to think that I kept that in mind while also giving no fucks.  He was one of the few that paved the way.   I feel sad for the kids of today.  Who do they have?  Justin Bieber?  Kanye West?  I don’t even want to imagine this new generation coming of age and going into adulthood.  Yikes!  Will they say the same things I am saying about Bowie but instead about the Jonas Brothers?

If so, Dear Universe, please help us all.

I so wish I could find the photo from the poster.