The Sounds of Silence

Naturally, I’m a big fan of writing, but some of my favorite writing is not designed to be read in a quiet well-lit room.  It is meant to be spoken aloud.  I like listening to speeches.  They’re not always the work of one person.  Some are, but most require the combined efforts of many speech writers, and this collaboration only helps to make them better.

When we remember famous people, we often link them to their most famous speeches.  Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and you will recall his “I have a dream” speech.  Think of John Kennedy and you may recall the words from his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  Think of Jesus, and the word of the Sermon on the Mount might spring into your memory.  “Do unto others, as you will have them do unto you.”  That was a classic speech.

Abraham Lincoln is linked to a classic speech of his own, his “Four score and seven years ago” Gettysburg Address.  That’s probably one of the rare speeches that many people have memorized in its entirety.

Some memorable moments from famous speeches turned into moments that the speakers would probably wish we would forget.  George H.W. Bush was haunted by his “Read my lips.  No new taxes” speech.  Bill Clinton gave many great speeches, but the line he spoke that most of us remember is “I did not have sex with that woman.”  Richard Nixon is linked to the ironic phrase from his “Checkers” speech, “I am not a crook.”

Some great speeches were delivered by actors, and I don’t just mean the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I’m talking about actors in movies.  Michael Douglas in The American President, letting Sen. Bob Rumson know that “this is a time for serious people and your 15 minutes are up.”  Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday encouraging his team to “fight for every inch,” and the future “Senator” Blutarsky mobilizing his frat brothers with his stirring oratory, “Nothing is over until we decide it is.  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Bluto's speech

I like speeches and this month I am getting plenty.  We have both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions providing dozens of them.  I don’t always agree with the speakers, but I enjoy watching them try to build their cases.  Normally, the speeches at a convention take 3-4 times longer than they should.  Every sentence is punctuated with phony “spontaneous” applause and cheering.  This year is different.  The virtual conventions are providing noise-free speeches.  Nobody is hooting, hollering, waving a sign, or releasing red, white, and blue balloons during the speeches.  There are no interruptions for incessant cheering.  All we get is the message.  We can agree or disagree, but, this year, we are getting the words without all the noise, the thin silver lining in the big dark Covid cloud.

You can now go to YouTube and listen to all the convention speeches in just minutes instead of days.  You can find the message that resonates with you, and, like Simon and Garfunkle, visions can be planted in your brain, within the sounds of silence.  Then all you have to do is vote, and that is how you can make your own speech and let your voice be heard.


Peace & Love, and all of the above,




Stranger in Paradise

Stranger in Paradise

Since mid-March, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home.  Haven’t we all?  One of the things I’ve been doing to prevent “cabin fever” is spending time in my backyard, and, there, I’ve been accompanied by my music.

When I was a little asthmatic boy, the doctors suggested to my parents that I should play a wind instrument.  I chose the clarinet, because it was light and easy to carry.  I took lessons for years, but pretty much wasted the money my parents were paying for those lessons.  I never really got any good at playing the clarinet, and I never showed any signs that I would ever get better at it.  However, my lungs were getting stronger, and I was getting bigger and healthier.  The clarinet seemed to have had its day with Benny Goodman, though, and I was tired of it.  So, I asked my parents for a saxophone.  The saxophone was one of the popular instruments in Rock ‘N’ Roll.  The other was the guitar, but I had no aptitude for that instrument.  At least the saxophone was something like the clarinet.  Much to the annoyance of my neighbors who had to listen to me practice, my parents bought me the bigger, louder instrument.

Of course, I wanted to be in a Rock ‘N’ Roll band, and, so, I joined one.  Since none of the other band members wanted to sing, and there were only a handful of instrumentals, the job of lead singer became mine.  They let me play my saxophone on two songs, Tequila by the Champs and Summertime, from the musical Porgy and Bess.  I wasn’t very good at those two songs, but it didn’t matter since we rarely played them in public.

Then I joined the Navy and as soon as I got to boot camp, I auditioned for the Boot Camp band.  They really weren’t that picky, so I got in.  They really weren’t planning ahead too well, either, when they accepted about a dozen saxophone players for a marching band that only really needed about four.  So, I was in the band, but I never played a note.  That didn’t matter to me though, the important thing was that I wound up in a company composed of musicians, and other “special” people.  We had guys on the precision drill team, and other people of dubious special talent, who were not in the service for our ability to lay waste the enemy.  For us it was Boot Camp Lite.  Every time our company was scheduled for the obstacle course, I told our Drill Instructor, Gunner’s Mate Chief Jordan, that I had band practice.  I never once had to go on the infamous obstacle course.

After that, I didn’t play an instrument for 45 years.  Then I moved to Lancaster and decided to give it another try.  I bought a clarinet and saxophone, but they sat in the closet until Covid-19 hit.  During the first few months of isolation, I started to play both instruments, and for a laugh I posted songs on Facebook.  It didn’t take me long to reach the same level of mediocrity that I had attained as a child, but, this time, it was fun.  And now we have YouTube.  There were dozens of videos available to teach me the things that poor Don Felice Alfino struggled in vain to teach me as a child. I can now play 7 notes on the saxophone that I didn’t even know existed back then.  I found “back-up” tracks on the Internet that allow me to play along with other musicians.  The “Music Minus One” orchestra contains every instrument but the saxophone.  So, theoretically, the orchestra is complete when I play along.  Theoretically, that is.  They usually finish a song when I am about 3/4s of the way through it.  It’s going to take some time for me to actually be able to play with them, but time seems to be the one thing we all have plenty of.

I may not sound too good yet, but I bought a couple different background cloths that, at least, make me look good, and as Billy Crystal would say, it’s better to look mah-vel-ous than to actually be mah-vel-ous.


Billy Crystal
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — Episode 17 — Pictured: Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas during “Fernando’s Hideaway” skit on April 13, 1985 — Photo by: R.M. Lewis Jr./NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Peace & Love, and all of the above,