Rich Wilhelm

Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

The Moments

In Cliff Hillis, fatherhood, Laurel Hill Cemetery, marriage, Uncategorized on May 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

My younger son Chris and I were cruising down the Schuylkill Expressway early on a recent Saturday morning, one of the only times you can legitimately use the word “cruise” when describing a trip down that legendarily congested road. As we headed east, our friend Cliff Hillis was advising us to hang on to the moment, once it begins. Not to get stuck in the moment, but to catch a glimpse of the ephemeral nature of life and to realize when you are in the process of having a moment that you’re never going to forget.

Cliff wasn’t physically with us in the car, but his Song Machine CD was. Chris is slowly embracing pop music, one song at a time, so it took some repetitions of the first few tunes on the CD before we got to “Hang On To The Moment.” Once we did though, I realized that hanging on to the moment is one of the primary items on my agenda right now.

Chris and I were headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery, making “Hang On To The Moment,” a appropriate soundtrack. Imagine the infinite amount of life moments represented in a cemetery holding more than 80,000 permanent residents!

We were on the way to witness the removal of the General Meade tree, a Norway Maple more than 160 years old. This tree had shaded the grave site of General George Gordon Meade ever since his funeral in 1872. The tree was beautiful but had reached the end of its natural life.

Think about the moments that tree silently witnessed. Of course, the Meade funeral was the most famous. Meade’s body was brought to the cemetery via the Schuylkill River and President Ulysses S. Grant delivered a eulogy. But the tree was witness to hundreds of other, smaller, funerals over the course of its lifetime as well.

Once we arrived at Laurel Hill, Chris and I observed the early stages of the tree removal and then took a walk deep into the south section of the cemetery. At one point, we were as almost as far away from Laurel Hill’s gatehouse as you can get, while still being in the cemetery.

We visited the small mausoleum of William C. Dulles, a 39-year-old lawyer who had the misfortune of boarding the Titanic in 1912. Here was a man who was forced to become suddenly and grimly aware of the limited amount of moments in one’s life. How did he react? Very little is known about Dulles, so we don’t know what those last moments of his were like. We only know what is noted, somewhat oddly, on his tomb: “Died from Titanic, April 15, 1912.”

Not far from Dulles lies Charles Vansant, the first victim of the infamous Jersey shore shark attacks of 1916. He was just 25 years old when he waded into the surf with a dog 100 years ago this July 1. Again, not much is known about Vansant these days, only that his quarter century of life moments ebbed that summer day, as he was surrounded by shocked family members and onlookers.

While in the south section, we also visited the stump of another recently removed tree. It was under this one that fictional character Rocky visited the grave site of his also-fictional wife, Adrian, and contemplated the moments they shared.

So, yes, a walk through Laurel Hill can be a reminder to hang on to the moment. But of course, you shouldn’t need a  graveyard stroll to get what Cliff is saying in his song. Each time our life changes in some way, we’re invited to hang on to the moment.

The day I met Donna.

The day Donna and I got married.

The days that our sons Jimmy and Chris were born.

The day my dad died.

These, and some more private to mention here, are the days when I was being gently told to hang on to the moment. I’ve tried to listen and do just that, but the moments get so slippery after awhile, it can be hard to hang on, especially as the mundane details of everyday life threaten to swallow up every waking moment, including those when one ought to be sleeping.

During the next two weeks, we will celebrate the end of Chris’ middle school career and Jimmy’s high school graduation. Moving on to high school and college will surely bring changes for our boys–changes that we can tell have already begun–and life will never be the same for any of us.

It is an exciting time. A sad time. A scary time. A time of change and growth and opportunity. A time during which I want to wrap my wife and our sons up in a huge hug that lasts a long time, even as Donna and I wave the boys in the direction of their futures and just tell them, “Go for it, whatever it is.”

And it’s a time to hang on to the moment.


raspberry strawberry lemon and lime what do i care? (Happy Birthday Bob Dylan)

In Bob Dylan, Uncategorized on May 25, 2016 at 3:25 am


hey bob dylan

happy 75th birthday to you!

mr. t and i are spending the last hour of your big day listening to your widely-reviled self portrait album because why the hell not?

i won’t belabor the point because you probably have candles to blow out

but thanks for being you all these years

even when you did that victoria’s secret commercial

and made the bob dylan christmas album

(no. especially when you made the bob dylan christmas album)

thanks for making music that dad wanted to play around the house.

music that seeped into my soul when i was barely out of kindergarten

and never went away.

thanks for profound songs like “like a rolling stone” and silly songs like “country pie” or is it the other way ’round?

thanks for bewildering me at live aid and mesmerizing me with a mind-blowing “tangled up in blue” years later (the last concert dad and i saw together)

thanks bob. for everything. stick around for awhile, won’t you?

A Short Treatise on How to Listen to a Large Record Collection

In 1979, music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on May 19, 2016 at 1:50 am




Everybody likes a good treatise, right? Treatises are so much nicer than manifestos, which can come across as quite bossy, you know?

Unless, the manifesto is Roxy Music’s 1979 album, Manifesto. Many people may, in fact, enjoy listening to Manifesto more than they’d enjoy reading any given treatise.

Sadly, Roxy Music never recorded an album called Treatise.  If they had, then at least we could compare Manifesto to Treatise to decide which was the better Roxy Music album.


This is a treatise about how to approach listening to a large record collection. It’s not some kind of big deal statement, like a manifesto might be. It’s really just a set of suggestions. As it happens, I am listening to Roxy Music’s Manifesto while writing this treatise, but that is largely a coincidence.

I have been collecting record now for more than 40 years. I do not remember a time in my life when I didn’t have at least a few 45s and an album or two to play on a toy record player. Clearly, I enjoy experiencing recorded sound as it has been preserved on vinyl and  (to a lesser aesthetic extent) compact disc. But sometimes my brain can go into vapor lock simply trying to decide what to listen to at any given time. At these times, having a systematic approach to listening to records can be helpful.

Here are some strategies for listening to a large record collection.

  • Listen to what you want. This is the ultimate no-brainer, right? Just listen to what you want. Provided you can figure out what that is.
  • Listen to what you listened to in high school. Have you ever met someone who listens exclusively to what they listened to in high school? Or maybe college? You could go that route.
  • Listen to the same favorite records you always listen to. If I had to, I could probably list 40 or 50 records that I return to often and just listen to them for the rest of my life.
  • Focus on a certain year. Pick a certain year–say 1979and focus on listening only to records from that year, at least until you think you’ve gotten that year figured out.
  • Focus on a certain artist. Listen to everything you’ve got by one particular artist. Then move on to another artist.
  • Focus on a certain genre. This is all well and good, but pinning certain artists/albums down to one specific genre can be slippery business.
  • Roll your 20-sided dice. Use a chance operation to determine what you listen to at any given time.

These are all just suggestions. If this were more of a manifesto, I’d boldly tell you how I plan on approaching this conundrum. But given that it’s a treatise, I’m just going to put this out there and let readers decide for themselves what to do. Meanwhile, I may occasionally check in to report on what my recent listening habits have been.




In 1979, Music/Memory on May 9, 2016 at 2:30 am


I may spend the rest of my life contemplating 1979.

It’s not necessarily a nostalgia thing, but I bet most of us have certain years of our lives that we occasionally revisit in our imagination. We might pull out the old family photos, check out television shows from that year on YouTube, read about the exploits of our favorite sports teams that year.

As for me, this weekend I have pulled out a stack of record albums, all of which were released in June, July or August 1979. I was listening to them one at a time yesterday afternoon, though I’m currently stuck on Chic’s epic Risqué this evening. It contains their masterpiece, “Good Times,” a song of deep Zen contemplation masquerading as an escapist disco tune.

I am endlessly fascinated by 1979. I want to write about 1979. But 1979 looms so large in my mind, and it is so broad and deep–even in its apparent shallowness–that I don’t even know where to beginning writing, other than writing, “I want to write about 1979.”

If I wrote fiction well–and I do not–I would be mining my memories of ’79 to write a novel into which I’d somehow sneak about my feelings about the United States circa ’79 and how it relates to the United States circa 2016.

I want to write more about the aforementioned Chic and how much the jittery rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers inspires me and oddly reminds me of the jittery rhythm guitar David Byrne plays on Talking Heads seminal third album, Fear of Music, released just weeks after Chic’s Risqué. Disco and new wave classics, both inextricably tied to late ’70s NYC, and thus to each other, though maybe no one wanted to recognize the connection at that point. But, oh to have Nile Rodgers co-produce that Talking Heads reunion album that most assuredly will never happen!

’79 feels so transitional, for me personally, but also for the country and for the world. A decade coming to a close. It is not a year many remember fondly, and yet I do.

’79 was the last year I wore a leisure suit (see above, taken on December 24, 1979).

’79 was the year I graduated 8th grade. The year we moved out of the house in which I grew up.

A song about ’79 is the only Smashing Pumpkins song I give anything resembling a damn about.

Right now my younger son Chris is almost exactly the same age as I was in ’79.

’79 is a pool, deceptively shallow, yet really kind of deep. And even though I am about as afraid of deep water now as I was in ’79, still I want to dive into this pool and see what I find. Not to wallow in the memories per se, but to see how ’79 connects me to NOW.

Make no mistake: for the most part, my head is very much in the present tense. And yet, there is part of my mind, part of my imagination, part of my soul, that is going to hang around ’79 for awhile. Until I figure it out, I guess.

Please consider this a work in progress. In the midst of a life in progress.



The Day After the Busy Day

In Philosophy/Creativity, Really Cool Notebooks, Relay for Life, Uncategorized on May 1, 2016 at 6:03 pm


It is a rainy Sunday afternoon in Phoenixville. The rain is light but steady. So steady that it isn’t going to stop for the rest of the day.

It is also the Day After the Busy Day. It’s funny how often the Day After the Busy Day is a rainy Sunday.

I had known for nearly two months that yesterday, April 30, was going to be a Busy Day. Two of the biggest events in which I am involved happened yesterday. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Phoenixville’s Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society, was originally scheduled for a weekend in May, but a venue conflict led to a rescheduling of the event. (You can support my Relay fund-raising, if you’d like, at my Relay page)

Meanwhile, A Whole Lot of LuLu, a huge vintage craft show held twice a year in downtown Phoenixville, was scheduled for yesterday as well. I share a vending space with my good friend Michael at LuLu and sell my Really Cool Notebooks. It is always a good time.

But Relay and LuLu on the same day? This was a scary proposition. Each event was long enough that I could participate in both, but this was going to equal one long day.

In the end, it was a great day. It started at 4:30 a.m., when I got up and assembled some new notebooks made from record album covers by the likes of Madonna, Molly Hatchet, Masters of the Universe, and the long-lost disco group Sheila and B.Devotion. I was downtown at LuLu from around 8:00 until 4:00. It was a typically fun LuLu experience, though my sales weren’t great. You can never tell about these things.

After packing up and heading home post-LuLu, I hit the scene at the Relay, which had been in progress since 10:00 a.m. I had a brief distraction, which led me to an impromptu grass-cutting session before spending the rest of the night at Relay, getting home just after midnight.

(And, to think there was a special 180th anniversary celebration at Laurel Hill Cemetery, where I’m a tour guide, yesterday. But my plans yesterday never included any sort of trips outside Phoenixville. I hope everyone at LHC had a great time though.)

A Busy Day. And, now, the Day After the Busy Day.

Sometimes the Day After the Busy Day can feel empty and dismal. I remember that’s how it felt the day after the closing night of the ninth grade musical, in which I was a cast member. Being part of the play had given me a feeling of belonging in my new school and the day after felt depressing.

Today feels different though. Today, I am embracing the brief window of emptiness that I am feeling now that LuLu and Relay are over for now. Rather than an emptiness that feels lonely, the emptiness feels like a pause to regain/realign my perspective. I know that more Busy Days are in the immediate future; there is no lack of activity in my life right now. However, my preoccupation with yesterday’s Busy Day had become encompassing enough that I need a few hours on this rainy Sunday to step back from busyness of any sort.

The Day After the Busy Day is the day to set the reset button.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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