Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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    By on April 22, 2014 in Writing

    April 22, 2014

    Circling the Circles

    When I was attending Indiana University and majoring in journalism, there was an “elective” in the class schedule that focused on the meaning of rock and roll songs. This was a no-brainer (yes, a play on words) so I took the class, only because the interplanetary rock collecting class was full.

    Remember, this was the ’70’s. There were lots of classes like that. While we’re on the topic, there was a class on violence in Shakespeare and we spent an entire semester on the Bard’s 1602 tragedy, “Troilus and Cressida” where something like 18 people are killed in the first act. The class became an incomplete because the prof killed himself while grading papers.

    OK, back to the story I’m trying to tell.

    I was also working at a radio station playing albums on Saturday nights (it was called AOR at the time which stood for “album-oriented rock” but I chose at lower-rent version called “all over the road”). Program directors of radio stations in college towns don’t listen on Saturday nights.

    I had come across an album by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen and figured right away this was worthy of airplay, just because the name sounded cool. There was a tune called “Down to Seeds and Stems  Again” that was a mix of bluegrass and rock that I knew would work with the audience. Look, it’s a Saturday Night in a college town and people who weren’t out drinking were listening to the radio and sharing doobies, (not the brothers).

    It became a popular tune and I remember playing it more than once during my three-hour shift and getting phone calls from the same voices saying “wow, that sure sounds familiar.” I suggested they may have heard the tune an hour earlier and there was always that wonderful slow-motion pause as the wheels turned to put 2 and 2 together in order to equal 5.

    I liked the words and used it in the meaning of rock and roll songs class.

    “I saw your other man today, he was wearing my brand new shows, and I’m down to seeds and stems again, too.”

    I wrote a paper saying this was someone who had lost everything and was suddenly faced with the basics and looking at the big picture: “who am I-why am I here and WTF do I do now?” The prof gave me a “C” saying I completely missed the theme and this was about someone saying when they feel bad, they smoke dope and the song is about realizing they’re at the bottom of the bag with nothing usable. Everyone in the class agreed. I was a nitwit. I mentioned it on the air to my radio audience and they agreed with the class.

    Jump ahead 30 years. I’m interviewing Bill Kirchen, lead guitar player for the Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen at a bar in Annandale, Virginia for a story about his being nominated for a Grammy Award (I remember him saying he’d been “Graminated  for a Nommy”). When I told him about my college class experience the room turned cold real fast. “It’s about dope,” he said looking straight at me. “It’s about going through life and realizing you’ve got no dope left.” He paused and then smiled. “But yeah,” he added, “there’s nothing wrong with the other way.”

    I’ve been told I think too much but the point is, those words written by Shakespeare or Commander Cody are the same and the audience decides what they mean.

    A Note On Leno

    By on February 12, 2014 in See It Here, The Way I See It, Writing

    Jay Leno has left the building.

    After 22-years doing “Late Night,” the 63-year old is saying “good night.” I have a story about the early years:

    When I was producer of Larry King’s popular late-night radio program for Westwood One, I faced a moment every producer of live (and probably some taped) shows faces: a guest cancellation. And it happened two hours before we went on the air. We were in Los Angeles and I pulled out a notebook I carried with phone numbers. The technical name for this was “OSNW?)” Translation: “oh shit, now what?” It sometime went by another acronym called “OFNW” but I won’t go into that here.

    I called Jay Leno’s contact and told him my story. We’re in LA, we have the second hour open, I need a “yes” or “no” within the next five minutes or
    I’m going to the next name in my book. He said he’d call Jay and let me know.

    NOTE: This was before the Internet so we used phones. I find talking to someone works better than e-mail. Just sayin’.

    Three minutes later, Leno called me.”Hey, when I get done with the show (he had been doing the “Tonight” show for about a year by then and, yes, it was taped), I’ll get on my bike and be there.” I gave him the address and right on cue, Jay pulled up outside our studio in Culver City on a huge Harley.

    When I’ve told this story, I always get the same question: Who was #2 in the OSNW?

    Nobody, I say. In fact, I never had a #1. When they show up on time, that’s when they’re #1. One has to be humble when doing anything live. Mr. Leno proves this is true.

    A Lesson from Pete Seeger

    By on February 12, 2014 in See It Here, The Way I See It, Writing

    Pete Seeger was a guest on Larry King’s late night radio show in the 1980’s. He brought his banjo (of course) and played a few verses of tunes while Larry asked questions. We never screened phone calls, other than the city and everyone had a story for Pete about how his music had made them see optimism despite his songs being so well known for things that aren’t right (Where Have All the Flowers Gone-1962 is one example).

    But he made the point that night, and through most of his life, that we may create problems but—we can also fix them. In an interview I later did with him for the book Powerful Prayers, he told me about a song he had written called “Arrange and Rearrange.”

    “I was out one morning to get firewood to warm the house and I saw the sun coming up. I thought to myself, “Dear God, I really hope we manage to survive all the problems we’ve created for ourselves.”

    And then he picked up a guitar nearby and started singing:

    “Early in the morning I first see the sun, I say a little prayer for the world. I hope my little children live a long, long time, yes, every little boy and little girl. I hope they learn to laugh at the way our precious old words seem to change, Cause that’s what life is all about, to arrange and rearrange and rearrange.”

    He always carried a notebook to write ideas that came to him while going about the day. His publisher had asked him to try a song similar to “Good Night Irene,” which had done well. “I need something that isn’t a protest song,” he was told.

    Pete went to his notebook and found the words in Ecclesiastes about “to everything, there is a season.” He went to work and added the words, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” We were given “Turn, Turn, Turn” as a result of that moment.

    Yes, he wrote protest songs. Pete Seeger believed we can do better than this.