Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘fatherhood’

HooplaThon Day 4: Starship Versus a Nap. Starship Wins!

In 1985, memoir, Music/Memory on September 15, 2016 at 1:06 am

HooplaThon Day 4 HooplaMeter: The Hoopla is beginning to feel like quicksand.

Back on Day 1 of this adventure, I noted that one of the reasons I was launching this Starship enterprise was to battle back my recent instinct to take an early evening nap, from which I subsequently wake up at midnight and can’t get back to sleep.

Tonight is one of those nights. The sleepy siren songs are calling me, and yet Starship is calling me louder, telling me that you can’t build a city on rock’n’roll–or any other foundation really–if you’re sound asleep before your 14-year-old kid is, and then wide away in the wee small hours. So here I am, freestyling it. That’s right–it’s straight from my brain to the keyboard tonight.

The thing about Starship and “We Built This City” and Knee Deep in the Hoopla, is that there really is so much to say about it all. It’s all about what constitutes bad music, what good versus bad taste is, what the ’80s were like and how bands that started in the ’60s coped with being middle-aged rock stars in the era of Prince, Madonna and Michael.

It’s about synthesizers and power ballads; selling out and buying in; the meaning of “hoopla” then and now; ironic listening. It’s about Marconi and mambas.

So, OK, let’s start with those mambas. You’d think Marconi would be playing a “mambo,” but it sure as hell sounds like Mickey and Grace are singing “mamba.”

Thanks to my dad, I know a thing or two about mambas. I know that there are green mambas and there are black mambas.

And, again, all thanks to Dad, I know that the black mamba is the most poisonous snake on earth. Even more poisonous than the cobra.

This is the kind of information Dad was prepared to offer anytime, anywhere. I think he would most often talk about mambas when we were walking through the reptile house at the Philadelphia Zoo, but I have a feeling that there were random moments throughout my childhood when Dad would discourse on the awesome, overwhelmingly venomous, way-more-deadly-than-the-cobra great black mamba.

So, oddly, when I hear “We Built This City,” I think of Dad. I have no idea what Dad thought of the song but I can almost hear him exclaim, “What the hell is Marconi messing with a mamba for? Doesn’t he know how freakin’ deadly they are?”

I’ve been thinking about Dad this week anyway. I always do when I drive his Jeep, which I’ve been doing this week. The radio/CD play doesn’t work–even when Dad was with us, he claimed the CD player only worked when the temperature was plus or minus two degrees of some number. When it did work, the only CD he listened to in the Jeep was Led Zeppelin Live at the BBC. And maybe the Ry Cooder film music compilation. But definitely not Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

Anyway, I’ll listen to my portable CD player sometimes in the Jeep, but there are times when the silent commute is nice. Contemplative. Except this week, all I can contemplate is Starship. “We Built This City.” Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

I’m working on theories about all this. “Looking for clues,” as the late, great Robert Palmer once noted, though I doubt that Starship was among his concerns.

There is some kind of unifying theory that explains “We Built This City” and Knee Deep in the Hoopla. And one of these nights, during this HooplaThon, I’m going to crack that code. It’s not looking good for me revealing any of my revelations tonight, but soon. It’s all going to happen. Nothing’s going to stop me now. Because I’m layin’ it on the line and it’s not over ’til it’s over. But for tonight, it’s over.

As always, I’d like to thank my sponsor for the HooplaThon, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!



I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink in Memory of the Great Merle Haggard

In country music, fatherhood, music, Music/Memory, Uncategorized on April 7, 2016 at 3:37 am


It’s late on a Wednesday night, but there is just enough time for a quick shot in memory of the great Merle Haggard, who died today on his 79th birthday. Even though I need to get to bed soon, for now, I think I’ll just stay here for a few minutes and drink to Merle.

It’s not exactly a coincidence, but the song that immediately comes to mind when I think of Hag is called “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” from a 1980 album called Back to the Barrooms. Hag’s ’79 album was called 190 Proof. I sense a theme.

I love “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” because it is a quintessential country music about drinking. Merle opens with “I could be holding you tonight/I could quit doing wrong and start doing right,” but soon concludes “I think I’ll just stay here and drink.”

Classic. “Hard country” is what this type of kickass song was called in 1980 and the band behind Merle rocks it out. Total classic.

But it’s not simply that “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is a great song, one of dozens of stone cold classics written and recorded by Merle. Hell, during his Capitol years, Merle recorded songs that are better than this.

But “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is a Dad Song. If I were to make a list every few years of 10 songs that immediately remind me of my father, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” would make the list every damn time. Always near the top of the list.

Dad liked Haggard, of course, but he loved “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” I’m thinking we probably heard it often on WDSD out of Dover/Smyrna, Delaware — “50,000 WATTS OF POWER!” — but eventually Mom or I bought Dad Merle Haggard’s Greatest Hits, which covered his late ’70s/early ’80s tenure at MCA Records.

Dad’s been gone for nearly 13 years and now the Hag is gone too. But the music — and the memories of Dad loving the music — will be with me for the rest of my life. And every time I hear “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” I’ll drink a shot for Dad, and for Haggard.

Funny thing is, I don’t think I’m alone. I’ll bet a lot of folks had — or if they’re lucky, have — dads who loved/love Merle Haggard. My boys sure as hell do.




Too Much Thyme on My Hands

In fatherhood, journal, journal keeping, marriage, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm



Earlier this week, Donna and I made two dinners in a row that featured fresh basil. As often happens when I’m dealing with herbs and spices, my mind drifted to an essay I wrote quite a few years ago called “Too Much Thyme on My Hands.” It was about spice racks and about having too much/not enough thyme/time on one’s hands.

Plus, it gave me permission to craft sentences that involved multi-level spice/Styx lyrics puns. Now, that’s high concept.

I had to search hard on my old blog website, but I finally found “Too Much Thyme on My Hands” back among my February 2009 entries. I am posting it below, since time and what I do — and could do — with it has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

For now, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it. “I’m just going to leave this here,” as people seem to be fond of saying on social media these days. I will note, though, that the 11-year-old and 6-year-old I mention are now 18 and 13, headed off to college and high school in the fall. That’s what time does, you know.

As for me, the fact that I originally wrote the following piece seven years ago says everything I need to know right now about the acceleration of time.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” philosophy. I think it’s way too simplistic. But one thing I do know: generally speaking, men dig spice racks; women, not so much.

I vaguely remember when Donna and I got married and set up housekeeping in 1992. I mentioned the inherent coolness of having a spice rack in our kitchen. Donna was decidedly noncommittal on the issue. As it turned out, Donna thought that the idea of a specific rack for spices, to be displayed on a kitchen wall, was kind of silly.

Since that time, most men I’ve spoken to on the spice rack issue have admitted to their enjoyment of the concept, while most women have expressed opinions similar to Donna’s. There are exceptions, of course, in much the same way as there are women who actually enjoy progressive rock band Rush, despite the oft-told-tale that Rush is very strictly “a guy thing.” (In fact, it was a Rush concert review in which I first encountered the phrase “sausage party” to describe a group consisting entirely of men.)

Anyway, I bring all this up because today Donna and I cleaned out a cupboard in our kitchen. The cupboard contains a lazy susan which had gotten overrun through the years with all manner of grocery products, including quite a few little plastic jars of various spices. When we did our cleanout today, Donna and I established a few policies in order to be consistent in what got discarded and what did not. We determined that any spices that were opened but did not contain any discernible “sell by” or “use by” date would be thrown away, in order to most successfully achieve the goal of cleaning out this little corner of our kitchen as much as possible.

While doing this cleanout, we found at least three (and maybe four) opened, but undated, containers of thyme. Clearly, we had too much thyme on our hands, though it was a mystery to us how we actually accumulated all this thyme. However, adhering to our pre-established policy, which we believed to be sound, and not knowing when the next time we’d use thyme would be, we ditched all the thyme. Now, we have no thyme in our house.

When you think about it, is it any wonder we had too much thyme on our hands? I mean, when I think about my life over the last five or ten years, I think about how we’ve often gotten so caught up in getting from the beginning to the end of any particular day that it’s become easy, very easy, to lose track of both the thyme, and the time, that we really have.

The result of all this, it seems, has been this unbelievable acceleration of time, in which Donna and I have suddenly been homeowners for more than ten years, and we’ve got kids who are 11 and six years old. And, of course, we take a peek in our cupboard and discover at least three, and maybe four, separate containers of thyme.

I believe this is what noted singer/songwriter David Byrne was referring to when he wrote,”Well, how did I get here?” in the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.” Interestingly, Byrne was much younger when he wrote that than I am now, but he was clearly onto something.

So. How to deal with the loss of all that thyme? And time? First of all, it’s a good idea to reflect on the notion that the time I’ve spent being married to Donna and raising Jimmy and Chris with her hasn’t been lost at all. It has been time very well spent. Also, I’ve realized that the time I have left from this moment (spent with the amazing music of Thomas Dolby, a glass [or two] of wine, a pen and a notebook) onward is to be savored, much like thyme, used in a particularly good recipe, is meant to be savored. Of course, we no longer have any thyme in our kitchen, but we can pick some up at the supermarket the next time we need it. That is the huge difference between thyme and time.

Kids Take You Places

In fatherhood, parenting, Uncategorized on February 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm


Kids take you places. If you’re any kind of decent parent, you go along for the ride.

Yesterday, Chris and I visited the ruined pump house that was part of Phoenixville’s once-thriving iron industry. Left to my own devices, I might have spent those early morning hours at home, but Chris was insistent that he needed footage of this particular industrial relic for a video he planned to make that day. So we went out for a chilly walk, took each other’s pictures in the ruin, and were back home by 9:00.

I’ve been along for the ride (even though I am, of course, the driver) for many of Chris’ excursions recently. Yesterday, it was Phoenixville’s lost industrial field; last week, it was the Very Best Restaurant on Pottstown’s main drag. Chris’ quirky interest in retail spaces has led us to visit several area shopping malls. Not to shop, mind you, but to study the architecture and aesthetics of the places. Chris and I talk during these trips about why people don’t shop in enclosed malls as much as they used to, and why Radio Shack closed most of its stores, and what led to the demise of Deb Shops. These are topics I never would have thought of on my own. In his way, Chris is getting his dad to think more deeply and broadly at the same time, an impressive feat for a 13-year-old kid.

Of course, being along for these kinds of rides did not start with Chris. Chris has an older brother, Jimmy. Practically from the moment Jimmy was born–with the surgeon singing Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” in the operating room–he’s been leading me down all kinds of paths, and I’ve been happy to be along for the ride.

Like a lot of kids, Jimmy became enamored of professional wrestling. This is something that I always managed to avoid, even during the glory days of Lou Albano and Hulk Hogan back in the 1980s. But Jimmy’s love for it was irresistible, to the point that I happily took him to a couple of the big WWE events, where I finally gave in to the sheer ridiculousness of it all for myself.

The best WWE moments that Jim and I had together though, were the trips we took to George’s Collectibles, up in Levittown, to meet pro wrestlers, including the very cool Steve Blackman. We made three such trips, building time into those Saturday mornings for me to drive the extra 30 minutes or so to Princeton, New Jersey. There, on one of those Saturdays, Jimmy and I got completely drenched with pummeling rain while running around Princeton Cemetery to catch the gravesites of Aaron Burr and Grover Cleveland. Then we headed back to George’s to meet the wrestlers. Combining my love of old cemeteries with Jimmy’s WWE  obsession was clearly one of the best father/son bonding experiences ever.

More recently, I was literally along for the ride when I taught Jimmy how to drive. Again, this led me down mental paths I’d never known, since it had never occurred to me that I had it in me to teach someone to drive, even though I’ve been driving for decades. But that’s not all. While Jimmy was driving around, I let him pick the music we’d listen to. He inevitably picked this Kanye West mix that he made for himself, but also to educate me on Kanye’s work. Hearing the man’s music has given me a wider perspective on Kanye West and, while I still think he says lots and lots of jerky things, I’m not going to fall as easily into a knee-jerk middle-aged “hey-kid-get-off-my-lawn” guy reaction to All Things Kanye as I might have if Jim had not made sure I listened to the music.

These days, Jimmy is in the second half of his senior year in high school, and he’s got his mom and me along for the ride again. This ride could very literally lead us to the very same college dormitory that I led my parents to back in the fall of 1983. As this process unfolds, what Donna and I are learning is the gradual art of letting go, as Jimmy begins to move forward with his life.

I am learning now that letting go and letting kids grow up is tough, but it is the ultimate goal of parenting. Fortunately, if you’ve done it right, your kids might just let you occasionally come along for their rides into young adulthood and beyond. As long as I’m around, I’ll continue to enjoy coming along for any rides in which Jimmy and Chris care to include me.


[The Bracket]

In Sports on March 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

[An article on The Bracket, featuring various tangents enclosed in, you guessed it…brackets!]

My 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket has been submitted to the proper authorities. That is to say, my serious attempt at a bracket. A second, less serious attempt may follow. The deadline for that bracket isn’t as drop-dead serious as the first one.

If it weren’t for my son, Jimmy, I’d have no bracket. This is because I am not essentially hardwired for sports, either as a participant or as a fan. I do not say this as some sort of snobbish badge of pride, but I also do not say it out of shame. Sports, in any form, are not a primary subject in my mind and never have been. That is just the way it is.

Being a guy who doesn’t follow sports does occasionally lead to some awkward moments. Take any pair or group of men who don’t know each other well, put them together and what is the one conversational area that is typically a guaranteed icebreaker? That would be sports. But sports talk more often than not leaves me nodding my head politely and eventually admitting that, generally speaking, I don’t follow sports.

And that is where the awkwardness sets in, at least sometimes. Other times, we just move on to greener conversational pastures.

[And please note: I do not in any way mean to imply here that talking sports is distinctly the realm of men and that women do not talk sports. In addition to not being interested in sports, I’m rather allergic to that kind of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” line of thinking, even though aspects of it may appear to be true at times. But I am talking specifically here about my experience with other guys.]

Here’s a great example, from my life, of how clueless I can be about sports, specifically about the ritual of March Madness.

On March 26, 1988, following a Saturday morning acting class I was taking in my last semester at Temple University, I boarded an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, headed south to visit my friend Greg at his parents’ house outside of Washington, D.C. I believe it was a weeklong celebration of Greg’s birthday, with several of our college friends involved.

Almost immediately after boarding, I found myself being introduced to D.J. Fontana, a legendary musician who drummed on dozens of recording sessions, particularly for Elvis Presley. The man who facilitated this introduction was equally legendary: Paul Burlison, the guitarist for the Johnny Burnette Trio. That band’s song, “Train Kept A-Rollin'” is historic, in large part due to Burlison’s pioneering use of feedback in his guitar playing. Burlison noticed my Elvis Presley t-shirt and thought I might want to meet Fontana.

I subsequently spent the rest of the train trip sitting with Burlison, Fontana and four other musicians who were each pivotal to the Memphis, Tennessee music scene in the 1950s and early ’60s.

[Burlison, who offered me the seat next to him, was a hell of a nice guy. I was sorry to hear a few years ago that he has died. But I’ll always remember our conversation.]

Upon arriving at Greg’s house, I was excited to tell my story of a brush with rock’n’roll greatness and I couldn’t understand why this tale didn’t seem to pierce the gloom I was perceiving among my friends.

However, I soon learned that Temple’s basketball team had just lost a game.

[Yes, OK, but: I just met Elvis Presley’s drummer!!!]

It wasn’t just any game though: it was Temple’s fourth game in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. The team had just lost, 63-53, to Duke, after winning 18 straight games before it.

[I know all this because it’s on Not because I remembered the details.]

In other words, this game was a really big deal, but it went completely under [or over] my radar.

In recent years, Jimmy has implored me to make a bracket and I have. However, I’ve always experimented with it in goofy ways, such as using an online coin toss program to determine my winners.

This year was different though. I actually sat down with Jim, talked about the bracket and studied his bracket. I took his advice on certain games and went in the opposite direction for other match-ups. I tried my best to leave my own theories of randomness and chance out of the equation and I think I came up with a workable bracket. Jimmy seemed to approve. Now, like everyone else, I’ll wait to see how I did.

I promised Jim that if I should happen to make out well with my bracket, he will share in the glory. By which I mean, the money. But there will be glory too and Jim will certainly deserve his share.

[Just to suit my own curiosity, I may make a second bracket in which I pick the winners using my pair of 20-sided dice. I’ll report the results of both brackets in a bracketed note to next week’s column.]

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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