Not Fade Away

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BUDDY HOLLY PERFORMING AT THE SURF BALLROOM – CLEAR LAKE, IOWA (Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup in the background).

On the evening of Monday, February 2, 1959, one of the most celebrated concerts in rock ‘n roll history concluded at exactly 11:07 CST at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa as twenty-two-year-old Buddy Holly belted out an impassioned rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” to an ecstatic audience of 1,200 teens who had paid $1.25 a ticket for the privilege of attending the three-hour-long extravaganza.

After hearing the Lubbock, Texas native’s cover in person while on tour with him in during the spring of 1958, “Mr. Excitement,” Jackie Wilson, had declared that Buddy’s version of Chuck Berry’s 1956 recording was even better than Berry’s iconic original. Holly had subsequently recorded the number in New Mexico, but it was waiting for the proper mixing and overdubs to be added once he returned from the winter tour.

“Buddy played with such a distinct intensity, particularly when he ended the show with ‘Brown-eyed Handsome Man,” recalled Holly’s bass player of his band that evening, fellow Texan Waylon Jennings. “You could hear his distinct Tex-Mex influence on his Fender Stratocaster, which bridged each verse of the tune. He was on fire – and the Clear Lake audience reacted accordingly. Buddy had a big grin on his face when he finished.”

Joining him on the stage for an encore of the number were his Winter Dance Party Tour mates – seventeen-year-old sensation Ritchie Valens, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion and the Belmonts, and newcomer Frankie Sardo. “Thank you, Clear Lake!” Holly bellowed as he and his rock ‘n roll entourage left the stage to a final standing ovation.

Within minutes, Buddy was backstage meeting with Surf Ballroom Manager Carroll Anderson, who was in charge of securing a plane flight for the rock star and two other passengers from nearby Mason City Municipal Airport to Fargo, North Dakota, 360 miles to the northwest. According to the nineteen-day itinerary mapped out by the General Artists Corporation, Holly and his traveling Winter Dance Party Tour would next be playing in Moorhead, Minnesota – across the Red River from Fargo – the following night. Anderson had already called Jerry Dwyer, who owned a local flying service. “We need a plane after the concert tonight if you can provide one,” Anderson requested. Dwyer replied that he had secured both a transport and a pilot, a local flyer, Roger Peterson, who was willing to fly in subzero temperatures and snow flurries after the concert.

11 days previously, the Winter Dance Party Tour had opened up in Milwaukee on Friday evening, Jan. 23, 1959. It had then zigzagged from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Wisconsin to Minnesota to Iowa to Minnesota to Wisconsin and back to Iowa once again. It was evident that the group’s booking agent, the General Artists Corporation, paid little heed to either common sense or geography when the tour was organized in December 1958. As rock historian Bill Griggs recalled: “GAC just didn’t care. It was like they threw darts at a map. The tour from hell – that’s what they named it at the time – and that’s what it turned out to be.”

From day one of the odyssey, the entire musical troupe had ventured together in a series of rentals. The reconditioned school buses used throughout the tour had proved to be utterly inadequate; four of them had already broken down as an extended cold spell hung over the region like a shroud. As was the norm in the early days of rock ‘n roll, the artists themselves had been responsible for loading and unloading equipment, often in lingering frigid temperatures. Additionally, the rickety buses they used were not equipped for the waist-deep snow and icy weather that awaited them at virtually every stop. “It was so bone-chilling on each of the vehicles we used that we had to wear all our clothes, coats and everything. … I couldn’t believe how cold it was,” Waylon Jennings admitted in a Rolling Stone interview on the tragedy.

When the ensemble reached Clear Lake from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Richardson and Valens were already coming down with flu-like symptoms and Holly’s drummer for the tour, Carl Bunch, had to be hospitalized for frostbitten feet. On the last full day of his life, Holly had apprised Dion DiMucci that he had just decided to hire a plane to fly to the next point of entry so that he could sleep in a warm bed rather than ride on another all-night bus ride with insufficient heating. “My husband told me in a phone call from his Clear Lake dressing room that he also couldn’t wait to wear clean clothes for the following evening’s show in Minnesota. Buddy was determined to visit a laundromat in Fargo after he slept in a warm bed,” recalled Maria Elena Holly.

By the time Buddy ambled into Carroll Anderson’s car to drive the five miles to the Clear Lake Municipal Airport, he was, despite his youth, one of the most revered rock ‘n roll stars in the world. In a public career that lasted less than a thousand days, Buddy Holly had already chiseled out a breathtaking artistic legacy. First and foremost, he had been the first rock and roll star to compose, perform, and produce his own music. He had also introduced the concept of a three-guitar band, something unheard of previously in a genre that was still in its infancy. Holly’s use of double-tracking created an enriched sound in the studio, which revolutionized the way contemporary musicians recorded from then on. Buddy’s original folk ballad, “Well, All Right,” was the first rock and roll song to have an acoustic guitar play the lead on a major single.

In addition, his controversial recording session with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and über musical-director Dick Jacobs produced four string-laced ballads, including two top-ten hits in “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “True Love Ways.” That session also proved to be another first as Buddy became the first rock and roller to ever record his music in stereo. Finally, Holly’s transformative infusion of country and western, Mexican, and rock influences between 1956-59 had created what would become known as the Tex-Mex Sound.

Just as notably, Buddy Holly proved to be a cultural trailblazer who had already cast a considerable light beyond the musical realm. In the summer of ‘57, he and his backup band, the Crickets, had become the first all-white rock group to play at Harlem’s fabled Apollo Theatre. The Father of Soul,” Sam Cooke, who had toured extensively with Holly that summer, was so impressed by his friend’s autonomy that Cooke ended up copying Holly’s business profile and became his own writer, producer, arranger, and record company executive with SAR Records until Sam’s own untimely death in December 1964.

A year later, when Buddy cut an original R&B tune entitled, “Reminiscing” and recorded it with revered rock-and-soul saxophonist, King Curtis, Holly broke another barrier. As Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh pointed out, it turned out to be the first time that a Southern white rocker had recorded and subsequently released a song featuring a prominent African-American artist in a culture that was still largely segregated.

Because of the expanding popularity of his music, Buddy Holly ultimately made seven national TV appearances during his shortened career, including three live performances on the popular Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. His 1958 live appearances in both England and Australia broke new ground for the nascent musical form. Consequently, when he perished in the snows of Iowa 60 winters ago at the age of 22 and had already achieved brilliance, Buddy Holly was just getting started.

Finally, it was the Lubbock, Texas native ’s sustained musical influence that kept his memory alive, most notably with the most significant band in rock history, the Beatles. The Fab Four partially patterned their group after his backup group, the Crickets (“We were a three-guitar band, just like the Crickets. We even named ourselves after them. After all, we’re both insects who could sing,” John Lennon coyly remarked in his first American interview in New York in 1964). They also embraced the notion of forming their own sound as Holly had done. The Fab Four recorded their first song, Buddy’s “That’ll Be the Day,” in a small Liverpudlian studio on July 12, 1958. In the fall of 1964, at the peak of Beatlemania, the band ultimately enjoyed a top-five single with Holly’s 1957 hit record, “Words of Love.”

The week before his own tragic death, John Lennon told writer Jonathan Cott, “Buddy Holly was the first one that we were really aware of in England who could play and sing at the same time – not just strum, but actually play some great licks. We couldn’t get enough of him.” In The Beatles Anthology documentary series, Paul McCartney remarked: “All these years later, I still love Buddy’s vocal style…and his writing. One of the main things about the Beatles is that we started out writing our own material. People these days take it for granted that you do, but nobody used to then. John and I started to compose because of Buddy Holly. It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician’! At least 40 songs from the Lennon-McCartney catalog are Buddy Holly-influenced.”

In 1982, when Buddy Holly’s musical catalog finally became available, Paul McCartney immediately bought the rights. For the past 37 years, he has stewarded the Holly goldmine with a mixture of both vigilance and veneration. “If Buddy couldn’t protect his music, I have made sure that I do,” Sir Paul said recently.

Waylon Jennings, who played bass for Holly during his last tour, recalled, “Buddy was the first person to have faith in my music. He encouraged me in my music and my writing. If anything I’ve ever done is remembered, part of it is because of him.” Dion DiMucci, who played with Holly throughout the ill-fated Winter Party Tour, called Holly…“ the best musician I ever had the pleasure of performing with – and I ended up playing with nearly all of the greats.”

In a New York Times interview, Mick Jagger recollected, “We all learned from Buddy Holly how to compose great songs. He was a beautiful writer.” Eric Clapton agreed: “Of all the music heroes of that era, Buddy was the most accessible.” Keith Richards called him…“ a revelation. You hear more of Buddy Holly in British rock songs than any other American artist.” Given his longstanding influence on the rockers who framed the British Invasion, it was not at all surprising that one of its leading bands, the Hollies, ultimately themselves after him.

On January 31, 1959, just four days before he died, Minnesotan Robert Zimmerman, soon-to-be-known as Bob Dylan, saw him play at the Duluth National Guard Armory during his senior year in high school. In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 2016, Dylan reminisced:

“If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related – like he was my older brother. I even thought I resembled him.”

“Buddy played the music that I loved – the music I grew up on – country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs – songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.”

“He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than twenty-two. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction. Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something to me. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.”

The last half-hour of Buddy Holly’s life, of course, is now the stuff of legend. When he arrived at the Mason City Airport at 12:35 AM on February 3, 1959, Holly quickly met up with Carroll Anderson and paid him $36 for the one-way ticket to Fargo, North Dakota, where the Winter Dance Party Tour would entertain the next night. Anderson then introduced Buddy to Roger Peterson, 24, who was just two years older than Holly at the time. “We should arrive in Fargo sometime around 2:00 AM,” the Clear Lake pilot said confidently to his star passenger. Peterson then gave Holly a quick tour of the 1947 V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, which would take them to North Dakota.

Earlier that evening, when Buddy had been informed that there would be extra seats on the single-engine plane, he eventually offered one of the seats to the Big Bopper, who was sick and needed rest. Holly then asked his old Texas friend, guitarist Tommy Allsup, to accompany him. Ritchie Valens, who was also feeling poorly, asked the Texan guitarist for his seat on the plane. The two agreed to toss a coin to decide who would go. Bob Hale, a disc jockey with Mason City’s KRIB-AM, was working the concert that night and flipped a half-dollar in the ballroom’s side-stage room shortly before the musicians departed for the airport.

Valens won the coin toss for the last seat on the flight.

When the trio of musicians and their pilot finally boarded the aircraft, the weather in Northern Iowa was overcast and freezing with occasional snow showers; temperatures were in the teens, and winds were gusting between 20 and 30 MPH from the southeast.

Jerry Dwyer witnessed the take-off at 12:55 AM from a platform outside the airport’s control tower. He was able to see the plane’s tail light for most of the flight, which started with an initial left turn onto a northwesterly heading and a climb to approximately 800 feet. Dwyer explained later to the FAA that he then observed the tail light gradually descending until it disappeared out of view.

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The passengers were in the air for approximately four minutes before they crashed in a remote cornfield belonging to local farmer Albert Juhl. All four died instantly upon contact. The next morning, their frozen corpses were discovered after the plane failed to arrive safely in Minnesota. By noontime, it was the leading news story on virtually every radio and TV station across the nation. Eleven years later, singer-songwriter Don Maclean would immortalize the tragedy in his anthem, “American Pie,” calling Holly’s death, “The day the music died.”

Because I roomed with my oldest brother each summer at our grandfather’s cottage on Cape Cod, I began digging Buddy Holly’s music a year before he died. Through our shared record player, we habitually played such Holly 45 classics as “Early in the Morning,” “Peggy Sue,” “Rave On,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Everyday,” and “Maybe Baby.” We also listened to his entire catalog of hits on WMEX Radio, Boston, which fervently played Holly’s music for years after his passing. When the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, the Clash, Chris Isaak, and Amy Winehouse all recorded Holly cover songs over the next five decades, Buddy’s music was periodically reenergized. In 1977, I befriended rock historian Bill Griggs and subsequently joined his Buddy Holly Memorial Society. Over the next 40 years, there would be two significant biographies, an acclaimed BBC/PBS documentary film, a longstanding Broadway show, and an Academy-nominated bio-picture all covering the short life and luminous career of the rock ‘n roll pioneer.

When the plane carrying him lifted off from the frigid runway at Mason City Airport on February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly was blissfully unaware of the danger that lay ahead, oblivious to everything but his reoccurring musical dreams. A minute later, as the Beechcraft 35 Bonanza flew over Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom, Holly must have thought that he was approaching an incandescent musical career that would stretch on for years, even as a seedbed of adrenaline still surged through his body from the triumphant concert that had concluded an hour before in the picturesque Iowan town below.

Three minutes later, Holly was gone, cold-dead, forever in the past tense. Omnia enim et voluptas vana gloria.  

Some 21,900 days later, though, his music lives on. In the end, “Not Fade Away” isn’t just the title of one of Buddy Holly’s more venerated hits.

It is his legacy.


“Not Fade Away,” 1957. Recorded in May, 1957, with his band, the Crickets, at producer Norman Petty’s legendary recording studio situated in Clovis, New Mexico, 100 miles northwest of Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, this, along with its A-side, “Oh, Boy,” were the logical follow-ups to the group’s first number-one single, “That’ll Be the Day.” As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pointed out when Holly was inducted in 1986, “Not Fade Away” was one of the first pop songs at the time to feature the “Bo Diddley” sound, a series of beats (da, da, da, da-da-da) popularized by Diddley, who used it on his first single in 1955. The signature beat originated in West Africa and was adopted by Diddley as his signature rhythm backup. Holly incorporated it with aplomb here and added some Tex-Mex chord progressions to create a new kind of sound. To add to the luster, Crickets drummer Jerry Allison played a cardboard box for percussion on this. (He’d heard Buddy Knox’ drummer do the same on his top-ten single, “Party Doll,” which had earlier been recorded at Petty’s Clovis studio). In 1964, the Rolling Stones had their first top ten hit with it. For years, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered “Not Fade Away” as a natural encore selection. In so many ways, the original Holly number is an inspired hybrid of African-American, country-western, and Tex-Mex music.

“Everyday,” 1957. The flip side to “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday” features the celesta, a keyboard with a glockenspiel-like tone that Norman Petty kept in his New Mexico studio. On this recording, Vi Petty, the wife of the Crickets’ producer, did the honors. The unique percussion sound is actually drummer Jerry Allison keeping time by slapping his knees in unison for two minutes. For legal reasons, Holly changed his songwriting credit to Charles Hardin, his real first and middle names. This is Exhibit A in the Holly Catalog of Unexpected Musical Pleasures. Not surprisingly, the first four songs Holly recorded were flat-out rockers, but then Buddy threw this childlike ballad into the mix. Buddy said at the time, “I loved recording something that was just a little different.” At least two aspiring teenage rockers from Liverpool, England at the time took notice.

“Maybe Baby,” 1957. Recorded in September 1957 at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma while the Crickets were on tour, Buddy composed the song on a General Artists Corporation tour bus, played it for Sam Cooke, who strongly urged him to record it as soon as possible. The reverberating downbeat of Buddy’s Fender Stratocaster is a revelation here as is the undercurrent of Joe B. Mauldin’s stand-up bass and Jerry Allison’s snare drum. As with nearly every Holly composition, the licks aren’t too hard to play, but they sound damn good anyway. Ultimately “Maybe Baby” is a quintessential Holly recording wrapped around an infectious melody and a tom-tom percussion change similar to what Dave Clark did years later with the DC Five. Like so many of his ballads, this is not only the template for rock ‘n roll songs in the sixties, but it’s a quintessential garage-band-tune as well.

“Reminiscing,” 1958. The big news here, of course, is that the late, great King Curtis plays the tenor sax in an inspired take that was so influential that it spurred a young Clarence Clemons of E Street Band fame to pick up the instrument. Curtis, who played on hundreds of songs – everything from the Coasters “Yakety Yak” to the Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” to John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier” – befriended Holly while on tour with him in 1957. A year later, Buddy, who composed “Reminiscing” with Curtis in mind, invited him to record it with him at Norman Perry’s famed Clovis, New Mexico recording studio. The master of the 3-chord song, nevertheless, Holly let Curtis improvise here is a session that is profoundly historical – “Reminiscing” is the first time that a prominent white rock and roller recorded a number featuring a prominent African-American artist. While this was not a hit in the United States, it was in England. The Beatles ended up bringing it to Hamburg, where they played it regularly to German audiences in both 1960 and ‘61.

“Rave On,” 1958. Sonny West, a childhood friend of Buddy’s and fellow professional musician, composed this single and gave it to Holly’s producer, Norman Petty, who scheduled the Southwest rockabilly group, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs to record it. (Gilmer and the Fireballs later had a hit with “Sugar Shack” with Norman Petty five years later). Buddy Holly knew how good the tune was and exclaimed, “No way, Norman, I’ve got to have this song!” His intuition paid off. In August 1958, “Rave On” was the number one single in both the US and Canada. In 2015, when Tom Petty played Buddy’s version on his Sirius radio show, he exclaimed, “Holly’s version of ‘Rave On’ is the epitome of rock and roll.” Everyone from the Rolling Stones to Prince has played it in concerts ever since. Bruce Springsteen has often remarked that “Rave On” is one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time, and that he still psyches up for live performances by singing it backstage.

“Early in the Morning,” 1958. Buddy Holly not only wrote impeccable singles but he also left a treasure-trove of excellent covers as well. While “Early in the Morning” was a Bobby Darin composition, Buddy’s 1958 version outsold Darin’s and became a much-played single in the last summer of Holly’s life. The gospel-tinged call response throughout the number reminds us how “church music,” as Holly called it, resounded through Buddy’s music. In rock history, of course, this tune has a DNA that is hard to beat. While the Rolling Stones have always credited Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone” as the impetus to their name, Mick Jagger once said, “When Buddy Holly sang, ‘You know a rolling stone/don’t gather no moss,’ in ‘Early in the Morning,’ that kind of secured it for us.” Bob Dylan said the same thing after he composed, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Considering that Rolling Stone magazine ultimately based its name on the same Plymouth Rock, there are very few singles in rock history that have such a prodigious musical heritage.  

“Well, All Right,” 1958. Recorded 61 years ago this spring, this acoustical foray into folk rock by one of the Founding Fathers of rock and rock is another example why Holly’s genius as both a composer and recording artist prevails all these years later. A single so influential that Bob Dylan said that he tried to model his first four albums on its “haunting simplicity,” the original Crickets back him up here, minus rhythm guitarist Nicky Sullivan. The flipside to “Heartbeat,” this single, like much of Holly’s work was more popular in the UK, where a young John Lennon tried to hash out the chords with the help of his mate, Paul McCartney. By 1959, the Quarrymen included “Well, All Right” in concerts at Pete Best mother’s venue, the Casbah Club. John sang the vocals while George Harrison ended up playing the acoustical lead. In 1979, when I interviewed the late Steve Goodman backstage at Passim’s, a prominent club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the singer-songwriter-guitarist extraordinaire told me that he often played “Well, All Right” to remind him that “less is more – and that simplicity beats complexity most of the time.”

Brown Eyed Handsome Man, 1958. This classic Chuck Berry cover was the last number Buddy Holly ever performed at his legendary Clear Lake, Iowa concert at the Surf Ballroom on February 2, 1959. Less than two hours later, he would be dead in a plane crash. Regardless of that tragic reality, Buddy’s recording here is a pièce de résistance. Finally released in 1963, Holly’s version of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” would go to number 3 on the British Top of the Pops survey that summer. You forget that Buddy Holly was both an exceptional and innovative guitarist – and then you’re instantly reminded when you here when you listen to his version of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” Chuck Berry famously claimed that Buddy Holly’s version of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” remained his favorite cover of any of his songs. Tom Petty swore by Holly’s version and often played it on his much-beloved Sirius show, “Buried Treasures.”

“True Love Ways,” 1958. What a gem this first-generation recording is! It was rediscovered by Maria Elena Holly, Buddy’s widow nearly forty years after Buddy’s death. As you will hear, in the first ten seconds of the master, Holly can be heard preparing to sing. The audio starts with an unnamed female executive from Coral Records exclaiming, “Yeah, we’re rolling.” Pianist Ernie Hayes and tenor saxophone player Abraham Richman play some notes, and Buddy mutters, “Okay,” and clears his throat. Producer Dick Jacobs then yells, “Quiet, boys!” to everyone else in the room, and at the end of the talk-back, the producer says, “Pitch, Ernie,” to signal the piano player to give Holly his starting note, a B-flat. Buddy then flawlessly sings one of the most beautiful love songs recorded in the last 60 years. Recorded in stereo at the famed Pythian Temple in New York City at 135 West 70th Street on October 21, 1958, it was posthumously released as a single 14 months later. While the original sales in the US were somewhat disappointing, Holly’s stringed song hit number one on the UK charts, where he remained an icon. “True Love Ways” remains the ultimate teaser; the kind of ballad that Holly wrote in the last few months of his life that seemed to herald a different musical direction for the artist who loved to dabble. I can’t even imagine how many hits were unwritten because Buddy Holly died much too early.

“Love is Strange,” 1959. Originally recorded on Holly’s brand-new Ampex tape recorder in his Greenwich Village apartment 60 years ago on January 19, 1959, Buddy’s longtime producer, Norman Petty, later added the orchestration supporting his acoustic guitar after he died. Of course, “Love is Strange” was a crossover hit by American rhythm and blues duet Mickey & Sylvia, which was initially released in late November 1956 on the Groove record label. The tune was based on a guitar riff by the legendary Bo Diddley, which Holly duplicated here. Sadly, it was the last song that Buddy ever recorded, which is why Norman Petty reverently included the eerie organ background, performed by his musician wife, Vi. Holly’s mother, Ella, later said that it sounded as if her son was singing to her from heaven. If you haven’t ever heard this incredible version, you will notice that Buddy plays the song at 2/4 time, a radical departure from the original rockabilly tune that Diddley had originally written it in a few years previously. When Paul McCartney hosted a Sirius show on Holly’s memory a few years ago, he played “Love is Strange,” and remarked, “It’s almost as if Buddy knew something was going to happen.”

“Words of Love,” The Beatles, Live on the BBC, 1963. Even at the height of Beatlemania, the Fab Four play Holly reverently on this live studio recording, mirroring his chords and harmonizing Holly’s double-track recording almost to a T. The song was covered a year later by the band on their LP, Beatles for Sale. John Lennon and Paul McCartney harmonized on their version, while Ringo Starr played a packing case on this song as well as drums, to achieve a similar sound to Holly’s “Everyday.” Of course, the band had initially been named themselves the Beetles after the Crickets, but John Lennon’s artistic sense of wordplay altered it to – the Beatles. Here’s a live version of the Holly tune on the Beeb. As you will hear, they perform it with reverence.

“Rock Around With Ollie Vee,” From the Movie, The Buddy Holly Story, 1978. Yes, it’s Gary Busey playing Buddy Holly, but after all, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance – and deservedly so! What I always loved about this version was that Busey and his band successfully captured the energy and excitement of a star and his mates who dared to crossover from safe country & western to the much more daring and provocative realm of “bebop” as white people in Lubbock called rhythm and blues/rock back then. Talk about leaving your comfort zone! People forget that whites imitating blacks in the South back then was unheard of on so many levels. Like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly found the various African-American sounds both evocative and enduring.

“Peggy Sue Got Married, Buddy Holly, 1959, and The Hollies, 1993. Graham Nash reunited with his old bandmates 24 years after he left the group in order to make this recording possible, a featured number of a project paying homage to Buddy Holly’s music. While Holly wrote and recorded the novelty song in his apartment in Greenwich Village a week prior to leaving on the Winter Party Dance Tour, the Hollies ended up dubbing their backup vocals and the supporting instrumentation, imagining, in Nash’s words, “what Buddy might have come up with in the final production had he lived.” By the way, the real Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham died on October 2, 2018, in Lubbock at the age of 78. Not long before she died, Peggy Sue, who dated and married Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison in 1958, commented: “How wonderful that ‘Peggy Sue’ is still in the heart of every young man and in the spirit of every girl’s daydreams. Buddy Holly, my dear friend, the kid with black-rimmed glasses began this fairy tale romance with me when he recorded the song with my name. That fairy tale remains eternally young.”

“A Tribute to Buddy Holly,” Mike Berry and the Outlaws, 1961. When 22-year-old Buddy Holly perished in the crash of a private plane outside of Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959, more than 40 tribute songs to him were recorded over the years, including Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Two years after Holly died, Mike Berry, a renowned skiffle player from Northampton, England, wrote and recorded this poignant tribute, which remains the best tribute to Holly’s memory. According to Berry, the bridge refrain he sings… “was channeled right from Buddy. It almost sounds corny, but it came to me in a dream.” (Kudos to drummer Carl Betz for mirroring Jerry Allison by duplicating the “Peggy Sue” tat-at-tat-tat percussion). I agree with the late George Harrison who once told Beatles’ author Hunter Davies that… “‘A Tribute to Buddy Holly’ captures the essence of his music, his death, and his legacy better than anything I’ve ever heard.” Of course, Buddy Holly lives on in his music as this single poignantly implies.


More Relevant Than Ever – Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning

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I recognized immediately that Mr. Gerry Murphy’s legendary Humanities class at Wellesley (MA) High School would be different from any other course that I had ever taken as a student when we began breaking down Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in September 1972.

In his elongated classroom on the top floor of the old Wellesley (MA) High School building, Mr. Murphy began the class by handing us all copies of a relatively narrow volume with an intriguing title. We all nodded affirmatively. Several seniors from the previous year had already enlightened us that this text would change our lives. As one former student of Gerry’s Humanities class told me at the time: “Books can be dangerous. The best ones, like Man’s Search for Meaning, should be labeled – ‘This could change your life!”

After the well-worn copies had been distributed, Mr. Murphy then explained to us that Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Jew, studied neurology and psychiatry with a focus on depression and suicide years before being arrested and deported by the Nazis in 1942. Dr. Frankl defied odds by lasting three years in a handful of concentration camps including Auschwitz. He ultimately lost his parents, his only sibling, and his beloved wife, who was pregnant at the time.

As doctors were in short supply in the camps, Viktor Frankl, after working as a slave laborer for some time, was able to work as a physician in Auschwitz and Buchenwald until his liberation in 1945. For the next year, the author wrote nonstop until he felt that he had crafted the psychological narrative he wanted to publish. In the fall of 1946. Frankl published Man’s Search for Meaning. It remains an enduring bestseller and has never been out-of-print.

As his work before the war had focused on depression and the prevention of suicide, Viktor Frankl turned his focus to his own survival story and the people with whom he interacted in the camps before he was liberated. Why did some survive and others perish? What gave people the will to live? And, then the kicker of all questions – what gives life meaning? This all formed the basis of his lifelong work in a new psychological form of analysis, which he called logotherapy.

Over the next five weeks in our Humanities class, Mr. Murphy provided a heady mix of antidotes, humor, insight, and grace in order to bring Frankl’s prose alive to the class. Through the framework of both perspective and dialogue, we concluded that Viktor Frankl believed that life was not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud held, or a pursuit of power, as Alfred Adler taught, but an enduring quest for the significance of one’s life.

One particular morning, our illuminating teacher outlined what Dr. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person) and in courage (during arduous times). Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. As Mr. Murphy saw it, forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you. And then he touched upon on even more significant truth: love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Ultimately, the salvation of humankind is through the prism of unmitigated love.

“Does anyone have anything to add?” Gerry Murphy asked us.

I hurriedly raised my hand and sang out, “All You Need Is Love!”

“Exactly, Mr. Lennon!” Mr. Murphy responded, without blinking an eyelash.

Now, forty-seven years later, and after a lifetime spent on the other side of the desk as a English and history teacher, I believe that the message of Man’s Search for Meaning is one of those narratives that are relevant no matter when you read it, how old you are, or what your circumstances are in life. Ultimately, it is a volume that smacks you right between the eyes. It is also the most influential book I have ever read in my life.

As a result of its message, I became a lifelong humanist, someone who at least cares about people on both a concrete and an abstract level. I chose to teach because of the intrinsic value in nurturing and opening doors to discovery but also as a vehicle to openly participate in the give-and-take of human dialogue that forms each day for both teachers and students alike.

This kind of active empathy was also addressed by in Stephen Crane’s allegorical short story, “The Open Boat,” a tale that I have had ninth graders read and chew over since 1994. The story’s narrator, a New York correspondent, who is hanging on for dear life in a lifeboat at sea after their freighter has sunk, recalls when he was a boy reading Caroline E. Norton’s classic tale, “Bingen on the Rhine,” which describes a young soldier in the French Foreign Legion who is dying of war injuries in far-off Algiers. Crane writes:

“In his childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never regarded the fact as necessary. Myriads of his school-fellows had informed him of the soldier’s plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making him perfectly indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less to him than breaking of a pencil’s point.

Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a picture of a few throws in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality—stern, mournful, and fine. He was now sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.”

For nearly five decades, I too have cared for the soldier who lay dying in Algiers. As Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass: “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels/I myself become the wounded person.”

After reading Man’s Search for Meaning the first time, I began to consciously ask myself, “Will this be meaningful to me?” If the answer was “no,” I would normally shuck it. Frankl’s message emphasized living as meaningful a life as possible.

As I learned over time, life was not so much about product but process. It’s all about the enduring journey; not the end result. As I have learned over time, some enthralling paths can’t be found without at first getting lost. After all, every human being is a work in progress. Frankl recognized that and said, “Humanity has only scratched the surface of its vast potential.”

In director John Carpenter’s 1984 film, Starman, featuring the great Jeff Bridges in the lead role, a curious alien comes to earth for three days and learns a lot about human beings in a brief time. When he chats with a NASA scientist on his last day before escaping back to outer space, he is asked why he has come to earth, after admitting that he had visited earth previously. The Starman responds: “You are a strange species. Not like any other. And you’d be surprised how many there are. Intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find most beautiful about you? You are at your best when things are at their worst.”

Viktor Frankl himself emphatically makes this point in the opening chapter of Man’s Search for Meaning: “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Given the profoundly helter-skelter times we live in these days, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is not a 280-character tweet, but a 180-page sermon to the power of the human spirit. As the founder of logotherapy reminds us in the last passage of his masterwork: “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz. However, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

For Mr. Gerry Murphy, 1935-2019, teacher-human extraordinaire. Like so many people privileged to know him, Murph camped out in one’s soul and never left. I was thrilled that he read this piece – and loved it – a few weeks before he passed on April 2, 2019.


O Tannenbaum

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“And while you’re not going to sing, Shaunie, you’re going to be at the center of things!”

When my intrepid Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Marshall, cheerfully informed me that I would be “the Christmas Tree” in a child production based on the old German yuletide ballad, “O Tannenbaum,” my eyes lit up like a Broadway light bank. “You mean, Mrs. Marshall that I’m going to be the star?” I unknowingly punned.

“In a general way,” she replied with a smile.

As we began to rehearse for our kindergarten Christmas play, we children in Mrs. Marshall’s class at the Tenacre Country Day School in Wellesley, Massachusetts soon learned that the crux of the story involved a somewhat droopy Christmas tree in a forest, which was unloved and ignored by the people of the surrounding village. After all, there were far more impressive and sturdier trees than this somewhat pathetic evergreen, which was both undersized and undervalued. “Its branches hung down to its base as if the tree was both ashamed and weak. Many thought that it would be cut down, but the children of the town always convinced the adults to let the tree live.”

As the narrator in the play explained, one of the traditions of the people in the town had been to congregate around the most imposing pine tree on Christmas day, where carols were sung, and gifts were presented. For years, the desolate evergreen stood in the dark as everyone danced and sang around the mightier trees.

However, on the day before Christmas, when a sudden nor’easter hit the village and its peripheral forest, the villagers were shocked to discover that the one surviving tree in the windstorm was the previously secluded evergreen that had once been the laughing stock of the entire community.

As Christmas Day dawned, the children of the village began to slowly gather round and pay homage to the formerly destitute tree. Eventually, the adults too began to gather around the evergreen, which was now decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments. The 20-minute performance was supposed to conclude with a vigorous singing of “O Tannenbaum.”

My father, forever a big-picture guy, reminded me that I would be the principal player in a drama without any lines. “That is something to cherish,” Dad remarked. Mummie was instructed to dress me entirely in dark green pants and a corresponding shirt. Mrs. Fitzmaurice, our art teacher, made special brown shoes to represent to the base of a tree, and we kids all made a gold star that would be planted on top of my head. Mrs. Fitzy also inserted real pine needles from an overarching evergreen that stood resolutely outside on my school’s playground. When my older brother, Chris, saw me decked out in the outfit, he cried out, “In the valley of the Jolly Ho! Ho! Ho! Green Giant!”

After a series of rehearsals, it was time for the big show, which Mrs. Marshall put on for our parents and friends a half-hour before dismissal for Christmas vacation. Because of the name of the play, the plotline, and how I was the entire focus of the show, I was visibly nervous as the play began. Miss Scoboria, our well-intentioned Headmistress, did not help things when she peeked backstage, saw me in my entirely emerald outfit, and exclaimed, “Well, look who’s the star of the show!”

Thankfully, one of my peers, a little girl whose nickname was – I swear to God – Buttercup Boles, bellowed, “Oh, Miss Scoboria, Shaunie isn’t the star of the show. Here it is!” She then held up…well, the star in the show – the object we had made in art class that would be placed on my head to conclude the performance.

Everything went entirely too smoothly until it came time for me, the previously ignored Christmas tree, to “shine in the light.” Until that time, I had looked appropriately despondent and had kept my arms to my side. Mrs. Marshall smiled broadly at me as the play unfolded, and I knew I was somehow nailing it.

However, when it came time to come alive and sprout my arm-branches out, that’s when things began to go asunder. As the townspeople slowly gathered around me, my arms, now stuck out like a crossed railroad crossing, began to increasingly twinge. Within a minute, my limbs, still held like sticks at a ninety-degree angle, commenced to sag with unrelenting pain. The agony in both of my arms increasingly throbbed as I continued to hold both of them out. A minute later my eyes began to roll, and I felt like passing out.

What was I to do?

I suddenly came up with an inspired solution. Just as the chorus paused between verses of “O Tannenbaum,” I yelled out off-script, “Here comes the wind!”

Everyone in the audience – and on stage – suddenly looked at me with unyielding alarm. A lifelong mimic, I slowly began to make a series of howling noises like a Nantucket gale, my fierce, ghostly sounds reverberating across the room like a swirling overhead fan. I then swayed my arms and body like a majestic seagull, flapping the pain away. After ten seconds of purposeful bluster, I noticed that the audience was now reduced to sustained laughter, with my wheezing mother leading the charge.

My classmates, of course, were horrified, while my teacher, Mrs. Marshall, who had been holding a towel after she had cleaned up some spilled water, buried her head in the cloth and silently laughed herself to tears. While I knew I had precariously gone off script, I was determined to continue blowing and thrashing until the agony in my limbs ceased. Finally, I ceased making gale-like sounds and corresponding arm movements. I then stood as still as a statue.

In the crowded classroom, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. This remarkable metamorphosis so transfixed my peers that they almost forgot to then shout out in unison, “Merry Christmas, Everyone!” when they had completed encircling me. Needless to say, I received a near-standing ovation when I took my bow very majestically a minute later.

The only fallout from my experience as a Christmas tree in my Kindergarten play occurs each holiday season when I inevitably hear the familiar musical refrain, “How lovely are your branches!” on the Sirius Holiday Music Channel.

When I do, my arms immediately begin to twitch.


That Certain Grace

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On January 20, 1969, Lyndon Johnson left the steps of the Capitol Building after attending the swearing-in ceremony of his successor, Richard Nixon, profoundly dejected and forlorn. “At least I won’t hear kids chanting, ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ – HOW MANY KIDS HAVE YOU KILLED TODAY’ anymore,” he quipped to his longtime aide, Bill Moyers, as they motored to the airport.

When the former President arrived at Andrews Air Force Base to fly back to the LBJ Ranch outside of Austin, he was momentarily uplifted when a few hundred Democratic supporters unexpectedly greeted him in front of Air Force I, many of them veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. There was one solitary Republican in the crowd amidst a sea of Democrats who had come to pay respects to former President Johnson as well:  then-Congressman George H. W. Bush of Texas.

Good luck and thank you, Mr. President!” George H. W. Bush shouted out to LBJ as they shook hands. Lyndon Johnson never forgot it.

When asked later why he was there to wish the nation’s 36th president well in retirement, Congressman Bush answered, “President Johnson is from Texas, he was our Commander and Chief for more than five years, and I felt it was the right thing to do even though I disagreed with him politically.”

It is that kind of decency that we are saying goodbye to this week.


“Who The Hell Are You?”

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30 years ago this week, my longtime friend, Peter Green, and I were driving to our Harvard graduate school classes when we heard on the radio that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was about to vote at his local elementary school in nearby Brookline. “Hey, when can we ever see a man running for president vote in that election? Let’s go check it out!” I exclaimed.

My buddy, Peter, was all for it. A few weeks previously, another teacher friend, Dave Wall, was driving me to a class when we heard that former President Jimmy Carter was being interviewed by a news reporter from WBZ Channel 4 at the station’s Soldiers Field Road near Harvard. Dave and I veered toward the studio’s front entrance, waited outside, and then greeted ex-President Carter when he exited the building. Dave and I ended up conversing with the nation’s 39th chief executive for more than five minutes until his Secret Service detail reminded Mr. Carter that he had another appointment!

Peter Green and I were now in a similar situation. With the same kind of impulsivity that had enabled me to converse with an ex-President, the two of us were now reconnoitering away from Harvard Square to the Longwood section of Brookline. Ten traffic-filled minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of the Amos A. Lawrence Elementary School where a phalanx of satellite trucks was already there covering the event.

We immediately leaped out of our car and sprinted to the nearby voting area. On our way to the school, we skirted past a reporter who was on the air; I heard her say breathlessly, “Governor Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, are already inside the school voting. They should be out momentarily!”

A minute or so later, the Klieg lights fired up, a gaggle of supporters began to converge, and a string of reporters instantly surrounded the candidate along with the Secret Service. Governor Dukakis and Mrs. Dukakis then strolled out of the school amidst a flurry of people surrounding them.

At that instant, Peter and I were about 20 yards away from the couple. However, instead of heading for his awaiting Secret Service limousine, Governor Dukakis made a beeline to the voters who were grouped outside the school’s perimeter. “Kell!” Peter barked to me, “They are heading our way!”

Our impulsiveness in “witnessing” the historical event had now turned into something approaching the surreal. Seconds later, the governor approached us, vigorously shook our hands, and introduced himself to us.

“Mike Dukakis from Brookline,” the Governor said to me.

“Shaun Kelly from Wellesley,” I replied. “I have already voted for you today, Sir!”

The governor and his wife smiled, thanked us, and then got into their limo and sped away with Secret Service agents riding the ramp of the car and sirens echoing from the three police cars accompanying it. Sam Donaldson, a prominent ABC reporter at the time, sallied up to us and grumbled, “Who the hell are you?”

“I am a graduate student at Harvard,” I replied. He scratched his head and disappeared.

Peter and I were so astounded by the entire experience that we blew off our classes and ended up drinking way too-many-beers at the Cask ‘N Flagon, which overlooks Fenway Park.

Thus, if anyone ever asks me, “Have you ever conversed with a presidential candidate just after he or she voted in his or her district on election day?” I can answer in the affirmative. After all, life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans.


Don’t Ask

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Dom and Emily DiMaggio

On the evening before Game 2 of the 1967 World Series, I answered the phone in a huff. A diehard Red Sox fan, my stomach was already churning in anticipation of a most improbable World Series appearance by the 100-1 shot Impossible Dream Red Sox.

As fate would have it, on the line was none other than Mr. Dominic DiMaggio, an old friend and former neighbor of ours in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The younger brother of the immortal Joe DiMaggio, Dom had been an all-star center fielder for the Red Sox in his own right – and a very successful businessman in Boston thereafter.

After hearing Mr. DiMaggio’s observations of Game 1 (a Bob Gibson complete game 2-1 Cardinals victory), I handed the phone to Dad, who listened for a minute, smiled broadly, and then exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned, Dom, YES, of course! We’d be honored!”

When my father got off the phone, he turned to me and explained that Dom and his wife, Emily, had been bombarded by neighbors and friends for Red Sox tickets to the 1967 World Series. When the couple compared notes, they realized that the only Wellesley people who hadn’t called them were Larry and Laurie Kelly, my parents.

Ultimately, that is why the Dimaggios generously offered them two tickets for Game 2 of the ‘67 World Series. Thus, Dad and Mum proudly went to Fenway, sat with Dom and Emily DiMaggio, and saw Yaz hit two home runs and Jim Lonborg pitch what nearly was a perfect game (he gave up a two-out, 8th inning double to Julian Javier)!

Later on, Dad said to me: “The lesson to learn here, Shaunie, is…don’t ask!”

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Emotional Intelligence Should Be the Deciding Factor When You Vote

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Ten days after President John F. Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, made his first public appearance at a local elementary school in Washington, DC. A horde of national and local reporters attended the event, although the press kept a respectful distance from President Kennedy’s grieving younger brother.

When the Attorney General entered on a crowded first-grade classroom, a five-year-old boy suddenly raced up to Bob Kennedy and shouted, “Your brother’s been shot! Your brother’s been shot!” At that instant, every adult in the room flinched and then looked downward, too anguished to even see the response of the Attorney General. The little boy, knowing that he had somehow just said something terribly wrong, burst into tears and began sobbing despondently.

Bobby Kennedy reached down, grabbed the five-year-old by the shoulders, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered to him. “That’s all right, son. I’ve got another brother.”

The Attorney General then asked the first grader to take him to his seat and show him what he had been working on earlier that morning. For the next five minutes, Mr. Kennedy sat next to the little boy, who proudly showed him his arithmetic work as Bobby looked on intently, his arm around the young man’s shoulder.

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50 years after his tragic assassination, everyone from Ben Sasse and Joe Scarborough to Kamala Harris and Rachel Maddow have paid homage to RFK for virtually the same reason: Robert F. Kennedy was the epitome of a politician who possessed an abundance of emotional intelligence. It is why Americans have a lingering fondness for leaders across the political spectrum who had it – Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and George H. W. Bush. More than any political factor over time, emotional intelligence has served as the great dividing line between good and bad leaders. There are a plethora of candidates who are steeped in emotional intelligence running for office these days. As a voter, it is up to you to vote for them.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman popularized the notion of emotional intelligence in a bestselling book 24 years ago. It is, according to the author himself, “being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people – positively and negatively – and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.

When you vote this fall, ask yourself if the candidates you are voting for are true to themselves. Know who they are. Follow the Golden Rule. Take criticism as an opportunity for reflection. Think before they speak. Listen as well as they pontificate. Have the courage to admit that they can be wrong. Possess innate decency.

Admit their past mistakes and don’t resort to covering things up, especially if they have hurt others in the past. Are empathetic to the degree that they take the time to walk in the shoes of others. Say “we” and “us” much more readily than “I” or “me.” Have the audacity to change. Possess the courage to stay the course even if is unpopular. Have the fearlessness to forgive, and, just as importantly, have the courage to ask for forgiveness.

Possess enough humility to say “I’m sorry” when they are wrong. Have the capacity to keep their commitments. Help others without the expectation that it will be helpful to themselves. Remember the needs of the most vulnerable—children, the the disabled, the sick, immigrant of all ages, and the elderly.

Finally, we need elected officials who embrace the time-honored Cherokee principle, to give dignity to others is above all things.

If every American voted for those candidates with the highest emotional intelligence, then our great Republic would enter a more enlightened period of history in which our leaders will make decisions that would benefit the next generation as much, or even more, than their own. It is no accident that the President with the highest emotional intelligence, Abraham Lincoln, also proved to be our greatest.

As usual, it is up to you, the voter. After all, the power in this great country of others is derived, thankfully, from We the People.


Puck, Not Hamlet

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When someone from the Boston area who grew up with me in days of yore brought up “those voices who became the soundtrack for our lives” back then, I immediately brought up the name, Johnny Most, The Boston Celtics’ iconic “voice,” who held forth “high above courtside” in the old Boston Garden from 1953-90. In retrospect, his unyielding, theatrical narrative – an ongoing saga in which the good guys were forever attired in green and white – was “must-listen” radio. His gravelly voice – thanks to smoking a silo full of Camels over the years – was easily the most imitated voice in New England for three generations of fans.

A well-seasoned storyteller who was well-read and loquacious, Most was able to describe in excruciating detail the heroic plight of a “warranted championship team” that even malevolent referees and hooligan thugs couldn’t conquer. As one Boston sportswriter once commented, Johnny didn’t broadcast a basketball game. He thought he was narrating The Passion Play.” When he died, sports broadcasting homerism in extremis died with him.

 Unlike the sedan-like quality of such lyrical baseball announcers as Vin Scully, Red Barber, and Ned Martin, Johnny Most’s voice sounded like a car crash at a demolition derby. He would sit, emperor-like, in his haughty perch just below the rickety third balcony at the old Boston Garden, inhaling non-filter after non-filter, creating a minefield of smoke that shrouded him in a perpetually dimming stupor. For more than two hours, Johnny then would inexorably describe the proceedings taking place on the historic, parquet floor below, whining over the inequalities of life even as his team won a gaudy 16 championships in 30 years.          

Amidst Buick-sized rats, plastic beer cups, and drunken louts, his grating voice and discriminating commentary became a welcomed adhesive for legions of Celtic fans in what might have been the most flourishing Off-Broadway production in history. There were very few critics; nearly every Bostonian seemed to warm to his antics like a warm southerly breeze. An uncompromising original, Johnny Most made even the most irrelevant game in November seem important.

It is also certain that Johnny’s hyperbolic story lines knew no bounds if he was into it that night. His habit for glorious embellishment would invariably be replicated the very next day in countless schoolyards across the Route 128 area: “Tall Paul Silas snags the rebound, and gets absolutely cuffed in the stomach by Kareem! Oh my goodness! But, of course, Jake O’Donnell isn’t calling anything because there’s no blood on the court! Do you believe that?”

Even the immortals wore black hats in Johnny’s unambiguous world: “Oscar Robertson gets the rebound…… and puts his left elbow right in the face of Satch Sanders! Right in the face! And Manny Sobel has the audacity to call a foul on Satch! Well, ladies and gentlemen, those of us who have been blessed to see ‘The Lord’ in the flesh know that Oscar Robertson would never, ever commit a foul!”

One night, I actually heard him bawl: “Gene Shue just gave his Bullets’ players an armful of tire irons so that they may attack anything out there in green and white….knowing that Mendy Rudolph will call it ‘justifiable homicide!’”

Some of the more unique Mostian broadcasts occurred away from Boston when opposing fans learned to unmercifully bait such a polarizing figure with aplomb. Inevitably, after being peppered by coffee cups and cigarette butts throughout much of the game, Johnny would growl, “I just got hit by a bagel! They’re throwing things at me, ladies and gentlemen, because the miserable fans here at the Civic Center are frustrated that their shabby, less-than-mediocre team always loses to the Celtics!”

It’s not to say that John didn’t have a sense of humor. His recurrent cackle sounded like a Ford Falcon attempting to start on an arctic January morning. When Detroit’s Dave Bing was traded to the C’s in the mid-seventies, Johnny couldn’t wait to sing out: “The ball goes out to Dave Bing. He backs up to the right of the key as Big Red clears the way. It’s Bing from the corner – Bing……..bang!”

In the end, though, Johnny Most’s calls were both original and extraordinary. His signature phrases became compulsory axioms for an entire region of basketball fans:

        “This is Johnny Most high above courtside.”

        “Cousy fiddles and diddles – now he daddles.”

        “Outside to Sudden Sam Jones – SWISH!”

        “Russ blocks Wilt and then gets the rebound all in one fell swoop! What a play by Bill Russell!”

        “Jarring John tricky-dribbles with the ball…”

        “DJ dishes it off to Larry for the three-pointer. It’s Bird-time!”

        And, of course, his nightly sign off, “This is Johnny Most – bye for now.”

In every way, Johnny Most was our Puck to Vin Scully’s Hamlet.


A Reason to Believe

He walked alone with a single spotlight following him to a stool that was placed downstage nearly at the lip of the platform. The audience around me erupted with glee, a vocal lava that spewed forth a series of BRUCE!!!!!!!!!!! The refrains echoed off the old arena walls, which Larry Bird once called an oversized gym.

Despite the mayhem, he sat down quietly in front of a boom mike and an electric guitar placed beside in its own stand like a gun in its holster. At first glance, he seemed like a scruffy waif who could use a little food. Of course, there is nothing in a caterpillar that remotely suggests that it will turn into a butterfly. Nevertheless, the young man who just wandered onto an expansive stage holding a newspaper had somehow captured the attention of 15,000 people instantaneously.

As the cries continued to resound throughout the bulging and shabby edifice, the spry performer in the spotlight took out that day’s edition of The Boston Globe, September 25, 1978, and began to methodically read it. The audience became transfixed and began to hush themselves to a semblance of quietude. In the meantime, the urchin on stage seemed absorbed fingering through a copy of the daily newspaper as thousands looked on with reverent silence.

Suddenly, as if struck by an electrical surge, Bruce Springsteen shot upright, hurled The Globe skyward, lunged for his guitar, grabbed it in one fell swoop, and then screeched into the mike, “Have you heard the news? Everybody’s rockin’ tonight!”

Thirteen months after the death of the first King of Rock ‘n Roll, we who were in Boston Garden at that moment recognized that standing before us was Elvis Presley’s successor. For the rest of the evening, those of us in the ancient arena hardly sat. In the end, we danced, sweated, jumped, and swayed along with a performer and his band who seemed immortal at that moment.

In retrospect, this was just another evening in an extraordinary year that would prove to be Bruce Springsteen’s version of Picasso’s Blue Period. After a three-year gap between albums brought on by contractual obligations and legal battling with former manager, Mike Appel, the Boss had finally released a follow-up to his groundbreaking disc, Born to Run. On June 2, 1978, Darkness on the Edge of Town was released to universal acclaim. Unlike the adolescent exuberance of Born to Run, “Darkness” was primarily an adult album, a disc whose ballads described a never-land where expectations and dreams were often swallowed up by life’s obligations.

Because he could not legally release the album until that date, the contractual restrictions triggered a wellspring of creativity within Bruce Bruce Springsteen. Over an 11-month period, the performer-songwriter recorded a staggering 70 songs, enough to fill five albums (much of The River was composed at this time as well; the rest of these tunes were eventually released years later on Tracks, a 64-song retrospective).

In addition, the Boss had churned out a gaggle of original tunes like pieces of candy to both soloists and bands who then gratefully recorded them that year. These included Patti Smith’s searing cover of “Because the Night,” the Pointer Sisters’ evocative treatment of “Fire,” Greg Kihn’s infectious recording of “Rendezvous,” Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ rollicking version of “This Little Girl,” and five indelible tracks, which Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes included in their most successful album, Heart of Stone.

Springsteen even gave Dave Edmunds, the revered new-wave producer and performer, a memorable single to record, “From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come.” (When I first heard Edmunds’ Freddy Cannon-like version in August 1978, a dirge about a young beauty who becomes a waitress and attracts the attention of a well-connected young man, which included the line – She took his order – then she took his heart…” I turned to my girlfriend at the time and exclaimed, “Bruce Springsteen had to have written that!”)

What made all of these songs so intoxicating is that they presented people who resided in a shades-of-gray world, and yet when an explosion of colors suddenly hit them out of nowhere, it gave them a star of hope. It reminded me of the hordes of Beatles fans who fervently sang along with John Lennon throughout live performances of “I’m a Loser.” In the final analysis, the umpteen singles that Springsteen ground out like coffee turned out to be about all of us. “The great challenge of adulthood,” Bruce would write decades later in his 2016 autobiography, “is holding onto your idealism after you lose your innocence.”

Beginning on May 23, 1978, at the Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo and ending on December 31 that year at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed to 114 audiences from intimate settings to arena-sized venues. Throughout the seven-month tour across both the US and Canada, he performed with his just-as-famous backup group, who were at the height of their individual musical powers. That, of course, meant Clarence, “The Big Man” Clemons on tenor sax; Roy Bittan on piano; Danny Federici on the organ and accordion; Garry W. Tallent on the bass; “Miami Steve” Van Zandt on both rhythm and lead guitar, and “Mighty Max” Weinberg on the drums.

At the time, Bruce Springsteen was just 28-years old. Buff, ambitious, and unswerving, he was a bandleader who prided himself and his group into normally producing four-hour concerts. Given that reality, you would attend such performances with expectations that were off the charts and still be transformed afterward into an oasis of personal emancipation that was both moving and unexpected.

As Los Angeles Times critic, Robert Hilburn wrote decades later: “I realized the faith I was beginning to put in Springsteen the December day in 1978 that I drove 400 miles to Tucson, Arizona, to see him in concert – for personal reasons, not as a professional assignment. The show was part of a short Western swing near the end of the ‘Darkness Tour’ that skipped Los Angeles…. [a] swell of emotion came to me during Bruce’s concert in Tucson … seeing Springsteen push himself so hard on stage and listening to the eloquence of his songs made me forget about doubts and think about my own dreams again.”

As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band crisscrossed North America throughout the summer of ’78, the word got out that he and his bandmates were putting on a show that was so good that even if you had to sell your soul to see it, you made sure that you did so. Consequently, I took “The T” to the Garden the day that tickets went out on sale, and secured two of them in a loge section 100 feet away from the stage.

In the meantime, Bruce Springsteen, perpetually attentive to his fans, agreed to have a few of his 1978 concerts broadcast live on local FM radio stations in the Northeast. Through a stereo loudspeaker at home, one could easily feel the indefatigable energy of both the band and its audience. As biographer Dave Marsh wrote, “The screaming intensity of those ’78 shows are part of rock and roll legend in the same way as Dylan’s 1966 shows with the Band, the Rolling Stones tours of 1969 and ’72, and the Who’s Tommy tour of 1969 – benchmarks of an era.”

Consequently, on September 19, 1978, the Boss performed a particularly enlivening homecoming concert live from Passaic, New Jersey to listeners on such radio stations as WBCN in Boston, WNEW-FM New York, WIOQ-FM Philadelphia, and WIYY-FM Baltimore. This fabled broadcast, expertly mixed by producer Jimmy Iovine, was listened to by hundreds of thousands of fans across the I-95 corridor. Within a year, a pristine bootleg of the radio broadcast, Piece de Resistance, would be sold in record stores in both the US and Canada.

Six evenings later, after the Boston Garden crowd stood up for Springsteen’s reverent version of “Everybody’s Rockin’ Tonight,” Springsteen and his band broke into “Badlands,” the ballad that opened Darkness at the Edge of Town. Racing into it at a breakneck speed, as if daring his band members to keep up, we all knew that we were all in for some kind of special experience that night. As he belted out the first stanza of the song, Bruce reminded us all of the crucibles of adulthood, admitting: “I’m in a crossfire/that I don’t understand.” Like thousands of other young men in the Boston Garden audience, I was then an angst-ridden young man who wanted to change and take control of my life. As I wrote in a review of the album earlier that summer, “Right out of the gate, ‘Badlands’ hits the listener smack between the eyes.”

The Boss then went to familiar territory, an audience-participatory version of his 1973 classic, “Spirit in the Night,” which featured the familiar call-response echo from the Garden crowd, who repeatedly shouted, “ALL NIGHT!” to his refrain. By the last stanza, even the ushers were screeching, “All night!”

Springsteen then purposely toned it down and dutifully sang a deferential version of “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The title song of his then-new album, Bruce was somehow able to cut to the core of contemporary American ennui, which often stemmed from systemic financial and societal alienation in a nation where one’s hopes and dreams were often defied by reality. This was followed by another poignant ballad about loss and absolution, “Independence Day,” a staggering number about letting go even as one took on the mantle of supposed freedom. As Springsteen remarked in his 2018 Broadway show, “Our children are never really yours; they’re on loan until they’re all on their own..”

The Boss then revved it up and introduced his first single from “Darkness,” “The Promised Land,” a version that both kicked butt and took names. A veritable rock ‘n roll encyclopedia, Bruce dedicated his harmonica solo that began the piece to the great Delbert McClinton, whose work on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby,” back in 1962 inspired John Lennon to imitate it on the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do.” For many, including me, the pulsating saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons, which formed the bridge of the ballad, turned out to be the proverbial icing on the cake.

In a concert of astonishing moments, one of them occurred near the beginning of the song when Bruce motioned to the audience to sing the chorus of the song acapella. Given the fact that the album had only been out for three months, this was a ballsy thing to do, but the Garden crowd was up to the challenge. Ultimately, they nailed it perfectly.

The dogs on Main Street howl

‘Cause they understand

If I could take one moment into my hands

Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man

And I believe in a promised land!”

For his next musical foray, Bruce Springsteen decided to remind his Boston audience that we were not only his captives – but his lovers for the evening. Accordingly, he and the E Street Band broke into one of my favorite songs on Darkness on the Edge, “Prove it All Night.” The number was launched with a flamboyant riff from pianist Roy Bittan, and then Springsteen took over for a stellar guitar solo that lasted three minutes of unadulterated brilliance. He and the band then broke into the recognizable opening refrain, and the song literally took off from there. Not only did he then prove it musically, but his gymnastics throughout the number turned out to be utterly jaw-dropping.

“Goddamn!” shouted one fan in front of me when Bruce sprint across the stage jumped five feet up onto one of the large speakers, began serenading us from there, jumped down, took 10 steps at a full run, and then slid across the stage on his knees while still playing the lead guitar. I remember thinking at the time that Bruce Springsteen was a musical centerfielder, and, like Willie Mays, he could get to every ball hit his way.

After such an explosion of sustained effervescence, it was predictable that Bruce would subdue it once again, but to do so with the signature song of “Darkness” bordered on the sublime. Roy Bittan initiated, “Racing in the Streets,” with an emotive piano introduction, which was not only a stroke of genius but actually set us up for the radiance to follow. As we were constantly reminded that evening, Springsteen was an old-fashioned balladeer who sang about the plight of “every-man,” individuals whose compromises and decisions led them to settle for the best they could make of their lives. Bruce wasn’t singing about the mapped-out lives of the well-connected, but about the vast majority of us who simply make up the lives we had on the fly. When he got to the crescendo of the number, a young woman below me began to weep as The Boss crooned:

But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes

And she cries herself to sleep at night

When I come home the house is dark

She sighs, “Baby, did you make it alright? “

She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house

But all her pretty dreams are torn,

She stares off alone into the night

With the eyes of one who hates for just being born

For all the shutdown strangers and hot rod angels,

Rumbling through this Promised Land

Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea

And wash these sins off our hands.”

As Bruce Springsteen sang the haunting ballad, the E Street Band purposely backed in reverence as he completed it on his own. When she reflected back on the highlights at the concert, my girlfriend recalled that winter, “Now that was a moment.

After the obligatory “Thunder Road,” “Kitty’s Back,” and “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” which the audience lapped up, clapped along with, and sang it all back to a jubilant Springsteen, he closed the first half of the show with a transcendental version of “Jungleland,” featuring the incomparable saxophone work of “The Big Man,” Clarence Clemons (which runs from 3:42 – 6:05 below). Amidst a flurry of helter-skelter chord changes and infectious guitar riffs, Springsteen’s poetry dripped forth images that bored into one’s soul, from “barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge/drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain,” to “outside the street’s on fire/in a real death waltz/between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy.” At the end of the anthem, when the entire group sprinted off the stage like schoolboys to cool off, you thought they would live forever. Sadly, Danny Federici would die of melanoma in 2008. The seemingly eternal Clarence Clemons would succumb to a stroke three years later.

After a 20 minute break in the action, Bruce and his bandmates came back onstage for the second set, which began with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” a sprite holiday tune that he had just begun to include in his sets that fall. The Boss deftly used the brilliant arrangement that Phil Spector first incorporated on his 1963 Christmas album with the Crystals, turned up the energy a bit, and let the mirth of the song take over. As “The Big Man” began to “ho ho ho” during the song’s bridge, fake snow began to fall from the rafters, covering the Boston Garden stage!


From his bag of tricks, Springsteen then rolled out five disparate tunes, which he had both written and recorded earlier that year, including “Candy’s Room,” “Adam Raised a Cain,” “Streets of Fire,” and “Something in the Night.” Except for the newly-composed ballad, “Point Blank,” which he would include on The River album in 1980, the hyperkinetic participation of the crowd was so intense that Bruce had us sing the chorus lines to every song.

The next number of the set, “Fire,” a hit song for the Pointer Sisters that fall, instantly turned 8,000 women in the Garden that evening into weepy, sweat-soaked sirens all intent on slaying the Odysseus-like figure singing to them. That was followed by Bruce’s smoking version of “Because the Night,” which put Patti Smith’s cover into the proverbial dust in the process. After a Santana-like guitar solo to begin the ballad, Springsteen’s distinctive baritone took over:

“Take me now baby here as I am

Hold me close, try and understand

I work all day out in the hot sun

I break my back till the evening comes

Come on now try and understand

I work all day pushing for the man

Daylights gone, take me under your cover

They can’t hurt us now

Can’t hurt us now, can’t hurt us now

Because the night belongs to lovers

Because the night belongs to lust

Because the night belongs to lovers

Because the night belongs to us!”

Of all of the songs that Bruce performed that evening at the Garden, “Because the Night” proved to be the one that most lingered in my memory, mainly because his band matched his passion and his prowess.

The E Street Band then went back to the well for two beloved numbers that had been staples in the group’s repertoire for almost four years to that point. “Incident on 57th Street,” one of the great story-songs from Bruce’s highly underappreciated second album, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, focused on Johnny and Jane, two Hispanic-Americans, who found themselves wrapped in the charms and clutches of the New York City gangland. A Scorsese-like plot then unfolded all the way to an unexpected conclusion.

Springsteen then followed this with a non-fictional account of how his own band formed in his hallowed song from Born to Run, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” When Bruce hit the autobiographical third verse and cried out, “When the change was made uptown, and the Big Man joined the band/From the coastline to the city, all the little pretties raised their hands!” the Garden crowd literally erupted with spasms of delight. An overhead spotlight shone on an ivory-suited Clemons throughout this stanza, which inspired him to project an extra bit of sound from his tenor sax. This caused the audience’s screams to reverberate to the rafters high above the stage.

 Bruce then followed his signature song with two iconic masterworks, “Rosalita,” followed by “Born to Run.” While his version of “Born to Run” was to die for, it was the group’s performance throughout “Rosalita,” that put another exclamation mark on the evening. When the young bard finally punched out the climax of the number at the 4:20 mark, the audience was there, bellowing out the lyrics in unison.

Now, I know your mama, she don’t like me, ’cause I play in a rock and roll band

And I know your daddy, he don’t dig me, but he never did understand

Your papa lowered the boom, he locked you in your room, I’m comin’ to lend a hand

I’m comin’ to liberate you, confiscate you, I want to be your man

Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny

But now you’re sad, your mama’s mad

And your papa says he knows that I don’t have any money

Well, tell him this is his last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance

Because a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance!

Even as Bruce played on, a string of girls climbed onto the Garden stage and kissed him, one of them avec vigueur. Steve Morse of The Boston Globe later wrote that he had never seen such joy onstage. None of us had!  

Exhausted and yet clearly exhilarated, The Boss ended the second set with Eddie Floyd’s 1967 soul anthem, “Raise Your Hand,” a standard later made famous by Janis Joplin. For this one, Springsteen played the role of a lounge singer and worked the audience with an old-fashioned standing mike as his main prop. That he ended up singing on top of the stage’s tallest speaker system, some 15 feet off the ground, made it even more remarkable! While Bruce was dancing, crooning, and carousing, it was the translucent sax work of “The Big Man,” who drove the musical bus on this number to the last note. 

After five minutes of an entire Boston audience screaming, “BRRRRUUUUUUUCCCEEE,” Springsteen and the E Street Band came on for a mindblowing rendition of Gary “U. S.” Bond’s 1961 top ten hit, “Quarter to Three.” Forever a zealous fan of early rock ‘n roll, Bruce was determined to conclude the evening playing from the Book of Genesis. When the last note was struck and the audience enveloped him in a wall of sound that was somewhere between a scream and a cry, The Boss shouted out, “Thank you, Boston! As always – keep rocking!

20 minutes later, I poured into an impossibly crowded subway car and headed back to the Woodland T-stop feeling as if I had just pitched a nine-inning shutout. Dripping with sweat – we all were – people commenced high-fiving one another as we boarded the train. As if on cue, many of the passengers, all of whom had just attended the concert, spontaneously broke into their own version of “Prove It All Night” as we rolled on into the Boston night on the teeming Green Line trolley.

Many times in life, we invest way too much passion in the stuff of dreams that we sometimes fail to love what is right in front of us. In the end, life is not about searching for the things that can be found, but it is about letting the unexpected happen and finding things you never searched for previously. As he had done throughout the legendary “Darkness Tour” during the last seven months of 1978, Bruce Springsteen ended up giving all of us who had attended his concert that evening a reason to believe.

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You Can’t Win ‘Em All

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As 25 Daysailer boats veered toward the final turn of my first – and what would be my last race at Stage Harbor Yacht Club in Chatham, Massachusetts. – I felt the spray of salt water splash on both my face and forearms as I instructed my hearty crew of two to literally “stay the course.

For some still inexplicable reason, I had been appointed as skipper on a modest Daysailer on the last race of the summer season for the “12 and unders.” Not only did I not deserve the honor; it was actually dangerous to put me anywhere near a boat except as a handler of the jib as part of a well-seasoned crew. But my brother, Mark, just two years older at the time, was a forbearing and discerning sailor, so “the powers that be” surmised that I had the same DNA. In retrospect, however, if my brother was Jimmy Carter, then I was his younger brother, Billy.

While Mark took to the sport like butter on toast, I was baffled by the anachronistic lexicon, the sketchy edicts, and upper-crust mores that defined sailing. As a foreshadow of what was to come, Mark, a future headmaster, was a confident patrician, while I was a down-and-out plebeian. Half the time, I literally didn’t know what to do, so I just winged it to whoever was in my boat, using my enduring wit as a deflective measure. “Okay, guys, ready about – ‘hardly’.” Everyone would then guffaw and shake their heads at the jokester guiding the boat.

After our sailing lessons, my dutiful sibling would come home discussing the significance of studying the sea pattern to windward as a way to tack correctly. I would then comment that the Stage Harbor Yacht Club had purchased two dozen “Daysailers,” from the boat’s renowned designer, George O’Day, “at a good price” according to the Program Director, David Hovey. 

“It must have been a good sale!” I remarked to my mother.

“Oh, Shaunie!” she laughed, probably wondering how she could “spawn” two such distinctly different boys 19 months apart.

As usual, Mummie had the best of intentions when she signed her two youngest children up for sailing lessons. Of course, she had learned to be a proficient sailor at the same club three decades previously, and as someone whose ancestors had lived and died in Chatham at the elbow of Cape Cod, our mother yearned for us to at least had a semblance of ability in such an enhancing life skill. “Boys, it’s in your blood,” she would say as she drove us down Route 28 from our cottage in Eastham.

Situated on the northeast shore of Nantucket Sound, Stage Harbor, a semi-colon-shaped body of water, was flanked by hilly terrain dotted with stunning summer houses with red-rose covered white picket fences, which gave it an otherworldly feel.

One month and some 40 hours of lessons later (including a wealth of experience sailing in the intimate Chatham harbor), my brother and I traipsed down to the dock for the big race of the season on the last day of the summer season. When Mark was assigned to lead a boat of three, I was not at all surprised. After all, he was competent if not really good at everything he did, and this was his tangible reward for a job well done.

However, when I observed that I too had been assigned as skipper to two twin boys a year younger than me, I thought that it must have been a misprint. I almost flew up to the Stage Harbor Manager, the affable Dave Hovey, to inform them that they were making a giant miscalculation. In the end, however, I kept my mouth shut, thinking… maybe they know something I don’t?

When the horn sounded to begin the race, at least 20 or more Daysailers crossed the starting line, and we were all off. My modest crew consisted of two identical twins named Harry and Pete, were two years younger and just as inexperienced as I was. Despite my ebullience, they seemed edgy as we skidded out into the deep-blue waters of Stage Harbor. The water was placid that morning, and there was a hint of wind blowing from the southwest. All three of us squinted our eyes as we headed north toward the first main buoy where we would turnabout.

In Secretariat-like fashion, our little wooden sailboat unfathomably sprinted out in front and led all other boats as we approached the buoy, which would signal that a port tact was in the offering. “Hey, guys, we’re in the lead!” I bellowed. The boys in the boat didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry; you could smell their fear as clearly as the shifting Nantucket Sound tide. For me, it was a “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair” kind of moment, and for a brief interlude, I felt as if we were on top of the world.

As my crew and I approached the initial buoy, I reminded my charges that we would see turnabout soon. At the time, the twins seemed up to the challenge. Timing is everything in life, however, and as we approach the red-and-white-painted marker, the wind, which has pushed us to the lead, stopped as suddenly as a cab at a school crossing. It was as if all of the air in our balloon was instantaneously released.

Out of sheer momentum, we passed the marker and began to drift towards the north along with the current, which seemed invigorated that it was taking three passengers with it. I looked back and observed every other boat successfully tact to port and continue on the racecourse.

“If only we had a motor attached to this craft!” I shouted to my crewmates. They didn’t seem amused and began to panic as our Daysailor continued to dawdle far away from the rest of the boats. I looked ahead and saw that we were methodically heading towards far-flung Morris Island.

“Ah, guys, we might off to push off from there!” I exclaimed to Harry and Pete.

Instead of agreeing with me, they both burst into a harbor of tears (pun intended) and began crying out for their mother.

Oh, boy. Or perhaps I should say, oh, boys.

Later on, my mother explained to me that we had hit “the irons,” and that that was “not a good thing.” I learned that a sailing craft is said to be “in irons” if it is stopped with its sails unable to generate power in the no-go zone. If the craft tacks too slowly, or otherwise loses forward motion while heading into the wind, the craft will coast to a stop. In my case, I simply looked for a “coast” – meaning Morris Island – to stop the boat.

Unfortunately, I let my humor and my prevailing sense of optimism get the best of me at that moment. “There we are, guys! An island to land on! Get ready to ditch this boat for safe land!”

You would have thought that I had asked them to give up candy. Their subsequent cries could be heard all the way to Nantucket.

A few minutes later, after moving the Daysailer to dry land, I convinced the twins to start walking the secluded beach of Morris Island in search of help. I knew that we would have to be there a while until high tide began to come back and help us cast off the little peninsula. Both kids continued to bellow; Harry continually called out for his mother as if he were about to walk down death row to be electrocuted by Old Sparky. Eventually, we did run into one old sprite Chathamite who said, with typical salty New England humor, “Well, gentlemen, this is not a bad place to spend the winter.”

I chortled immediately, but my comrades were now bereft thinking that they had ultimately landed in an unrelenting gulag.

In the meantime, the boats back in Stage Harbor had all come into port safe and sound, and my brother, Mark, and his craft – of course – had finished among the top handful of boats. After the last Daysailer had arrived, Mummie began looking for me, thinking, of course, that I had somehow scurried by her and toward our car, which would then take us to the local beach.

On the dock, a plainly distraught woman, you got it, Harry and Peter’s mother, was frantically looking out in the ocean for any sign of a boat with three boys in it. She accosted David Hovey, who recounted the boats and bellowed, “They’re all here!” What he didn’t know was that an extra Daysailor had been added to the usual fleet that day for the race. There was still one more boat out there – and it was safely ensconced on Morris Island.

Over the next hour, both mothers searched everywhere for their lost ones, but my mother typically was much cooler and casual about the entire affair. “Oh, Shaunie will show up somewhere, and it there will be a funny story attached to it,” she exclaimed to her longtime friend, Betty Kennedy, who too had begun to look for me.

To make a long story short, Mummie whose confident demeanor intimidated most everyone she came across, convinced Dave Hovey to “give the harbor another glance” with his high-powered range binoculars.

By this time, Harry and Pete’s mother wanted to the Coast Guard, but Mr. Hovey, another practical Cape Codder, would have none of it. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he declared, “I see three specks, they must be boys, walking in single file on the beach of Morris Island! And there is a boat out there – stuck in the irons.”

Within a half-hour, Dave Hovey had motored to us, attached the Daysailer to the stern of his Boston Whaler, and had shot us home, a streaking arrow of white zooming across the blue waters of Stage Harbor.

As we alighted from the boat, Harry and Pete sprinted towards their mother on the dock and enveloped her as if they had been at war in the South Pacific for three years. The trio heaved spasms of tears that flooded the dock like a prodigious nor’easter.

In contrast, I took my sweet Jesus time and profusely shook Mr. Hovey’s hand as I embarked from the Daysailor, which seemed to sigh in relief as it was tied to the mooring. I then observed Mummie standing adroitly in the modest parking lot adjacent to the dock. With her hands resting assuredly on her hips, she was clear-eyed, chuckling to herself, and obviously amused that her baby had gotten himself into another kerfuffle entirely of his own making.

I skated past the overwrought rendezvous of Harry, Pete, and Mama on the dock, and climbed up the ladder to the parking lot with a cheery, bemused expression on my face.

As I neared my mother, I gleefully bellowed, “Well, Mum, you can’t win ‘em all!”

Her wheezed cackle could be heard all the way to Orleans.

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