Three Greats On My Mind Today.

I can tell you where I was when Elvis died. James Brown – not sure, but remember being sad. Now Aretha Franklin. Never got to see any of them in person, but all three provide the soundtrack to a big part of my life. Two of the three had amazing Gospel careers. James Brown was… not a gospel singer. Man, was he ever not.

But I digress. Right now God’s got the band warming up with Elvis and Aretha doing duets later for the next 1000 years. Just a short time up there.

I just wanted to share three videos from them. Because it made me feel good.

In order of their deaths, I present Elvis, James, and Aretha.

First up, Elvis Presley with Suspicious Minds. At 2100 in Rota, Spain about 1987 we’d hear this every night from the apartment on the top floor. It wasn’t really bedtime until we’d heard Elvis.

Around that same time, James Brown was in part II of his career. He’d come roaring back with Living In America from one of the Rocky movies. I love this more than I can tell you.

Last, but by no means least, Lady Soul. Aretha had been part of my music word since I was a little kid. But she not only stole the show with this vocal performance – she outdanced everyone in the flick while wearing pink slippers. RESPECT is one of the best songs of all time. I will greatly miss her.

I hope this made you all smile. I know it made me grin.

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Book Review of Once Upon A Town: The Miracle Of The North Platte Canteen

I love history. I love the obscure. I love the United States of America. Imagine my delight when I found a book that meets all three of those categories, and does so in a non-fiction narrative that will choke you up about every three pages.

Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen is such a book.

A beautiful salute to an American town.

If you are a regular, you know that my book reviews are nonstandard. It comes down to this: it’s a really great story. It’s a true story. It’s full of the stuff that makes me proud to be an American. It has a wonderful style to the writing, and Bob Greene’s mom should be very proud of him. I read about it somewhere else, can’t remember where, and read it in just a few days.

Okay, if you insist: it’s the story of a small town in Nebraska that met every troop-train that stopped there for almost all of WWII. They started in December of 1941 and continued on through the war. They met every train. They charged nothing. They did it all with volunteers. They changed the lives of thousands of soldiers and sailors.

That enough? Good. Go buy a copy and get to work. It’s magnificent.

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That May Have Been The Towel You Heard Hitting The Floor.

Last week I put up a thoughtful piece on a very popular television show. I promoted it on Facebook, hastagged it on Twitter, and flooded the search engine part of the post with every tag known that would apply to the show.

I got 1 like, 1 share. That works out to exactly 1/2 of a “who cares” per author hour.

So this week you get what might be my most lackluster post in half-a-decade. I present, without further babbling, The Leningrad Cowboys performing These Boots:

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On the other hand, I did spend the weekend with the fine folks of the Athanatos Publishing Group. Very much fun, great authors, totally outside the conventional mold of Christian fiction. So we brainstormed, may have had adult beverages, toasted Athanatos Ministries (the home of the publishing house) and eaten at Fannie’s Supper Club in the heart of America’s Dairyland.

Most of all we talked. And brainstormed. And I will be taking a brief hiatus from my own work to participate in a group writing project next winter. Yes, time is already blocked out to undertake the work. It should be an excellent experience.

The blog, however, is not getting much love today. If you have any ideas on how I could get more readers, please put in a comment. I will not be handing out cash, so you can skip that right now.

Have a good week. Next week’s post will be a considerable improvement.

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When you finish reading any book (especially mine) please review it at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.goodreads.com. Your review increases the chances of someone looking for a new book greatly. Authors appreciate your review, even if it is just “I thought this was a good read and will give it to my dog to chew. I especially liked the ending, because it made me feel better when he killed all of the main characters. (no spoilers, please)” Those few words (more than 20, fewer than 1,000 is ideal), and a 1-5 rating, make or break how the search engines find us. Thanks in advance.

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Live PD Is A Must If You’re An Author – Or You Love Action

Last year I taught a couple of classes at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference. One was on basic patrol/crime scene and the other was on weaponry. I told both classes that they had homework: watch Live PD for six weeks. If that didn’t answer every question they had about what it’s like to be a cop, they could contact me personally and I’d help them out.

So far, no takers. I think it’s probably because the show is the closest you can get to law enforcement, and the culture of their world, without climbing into a patrol car.

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Each week the crew at A&E Networks put 30 camera teams in with 30 different patrol units in seven, or eight, different departments. Then they broadcast the live footage. The departments range from the middle of the Nevada desert, to urban police departments across the nation. Why does it work? Simply stated, it gives you an adrenaline fix like nothing else you can legally do on your couch. I have talked to cops who watch it as well, usually guys no longer in patrol. The mutual agreement seems to be that this transparency is the best thing to happen to law enforcement in years. It is also my suspicion that they “feel the pucker” every time an officer blows a red light running code to a call, or in a pursuit. I know that while watching the show, I’m often transported back behind the wheel of that miserable Dodge Aspen my department had as it’s squad car model. There are so many camera views, that you will have your nose to the windshield as you roar off to an emergency, find yourself in the middle of a scuffle, and then want to reach out and hug the victim. Yes, that intimate.

Why does transparency become the main impact of the show? You might turn it on for the chases, the arguments, or any number of other reasons. The usual crew of hosts/analysts are also very entertaining. But the real reason you’ll watch week after week, is that you see the world of law enforcement in a totally unscripted setting. There are no edits when they’re live on the street (they do run edited pieces from during the past when it’s quiet that night, and there is a time delay of over five minutes – just so suspects don’t see the police deploying outside their home to serve warrants.) There is no predicting what a call will turn into once it hits the radio. One minute you’re going to get a cup of coffee, and literally thirty seconds later you’ve rolled into an active foot-chase for a homicide suspect. The following clip is illustrative of what I’m talking about:

Back to the hosts for a minute. Dan Abrams, an attorney, is the primary host.

His partners from left to right on the air are Sean “Sticks” Larkin of the Tulsa Police Gang Unit and Tom Morris Jr., a former Special Officer in Washington D.C.

I follow all of these guys on social media. Be forewarned, if you follow Tom you’d better like food. The pictures he throws out there are so good looking that I’ve gained 2 pounds just thinking about ribs. Sticks, on the other hand, is dangerous to watch on the air: his main job seems to be egging Tom on in tormenting Dan. I won’t tell you all the funny stuff that they do, because it isn’t funny when I tell it. But the on air chemistry is very solid. When one needs a night off, they roll out a popular officer from the show to take their place.

How can a cop be popular because of a live television cinema verite show? You have to watch to fully understand it, but some of these officers are brilliantly funny in their interrogations. Some are simply human puzzle solvers that street crooks can’t get past. One recent favorite was Sgt. Denver Leverett – known as the “Human lie detector” on the show.

There are also what are known as “frequent flyers” on the show. Every cop has a group of people that they run into over and over. They are the ones responsible for a majority of the mayhem in an area, and you learn all their names. Same goes for Live PD – you will recognize people if you watch for a few weeks, whether it’s Robert of the shot up trailer, the Snake Lady who keeps a ball-python in her purse, or the miscreants of El Paso who seem to be at the center of every fight in the parking lot where they camp out, drink, and pursue vendettas long since forgotten by a sober person.

Finally, the K-9 (canine) officers are often show stealers. Not the handlers, but the dogs. Every dog has a unique voice, and pattern of noises. You can be in the next room and know that it’s Shep, or Flex, or one of the other dogs. People root for “Officer Barkerson” around my house. Having spent some time around those dogs, you never want to be on the receiving end of that fur-coated missile. Thus there are fan clubs for the dogs as well.

Are these run-of-the-mill cops? I think they are representative, and in the beginning of the show it was a real assortment of personalities. Since it grew in size and popularity, I think the departments are more picky about who they let the camera crews ride with each week. Wouldn’t you want to put your best face forward?

Some departments have come and gone, as have some officers. Politically it’s risky to put the show on your streets with your cops in the event something bad happens. That mentality has forced some departments to leave the show. I think, on the other hand, that it’s great to get the unscripted events. Not only can you see how the stars perform, but all the other cops that come along are on the show as well. In all the months I’ve watched the show (I haven’t missed a week) I can only point to a few officers who bothered me. Those guys/gals didn’t last – nor did their departments.

You see, you get the big picture. You know what is on the officers mind as they’re talking on the way to the call. You see what they see. And you see the absolute freak-show they have to deal with some nights. You also see some incredible restraint on their part. Most of all, you realize that the average cop out there just wants to help keep the chaos under control, protect the public, and go home at the end of the shift.

The best part, in my opinion, is that I’ve seen some cops who were marginal improve greatly. My wife and I had nicknames for them, and we’d deride them for their folly each time they came on camera. I’m pleased to say that one of the most annoying was clearly taken to task, and retrained, by their department. The change was obvious, and well received.

What do the departments get out of the show? Live PD has provided an insight for upper leadership in the departments that they’ll never get by reading reports, or watching body-cam footage. It allows them to see what the troops on the street are really doing. And it gives the public that same view.

I guess the final words are simple: if you wonder what it’s like on the street, tune in and find out. God bless those on the show, victim and cop alike.

Thank you, Live PD, for showing the nation who’s behind those badges: it’s you and me.

I’ll be watching this weekend, will you? It’s on at 8 Central. Consult your listings. Also, if you’re from @LivePDNation, I’d appreciate it if you’d share this blog and subscribe. (Yeah, they have a fan club on Twitter!)
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When you finish reading any book (especially mine) please review it at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.goodreads.com. Your review increases the chances of someone looking for a new book greatly. Authors appreciate your review, even if it is just “I thought this was a good read and will give it to my dog to chew. I especially liked the ending, because it made me feel better when he killed all of the main characters. (no spoilers, please)” Those few words (more than 20, fewer than 1,000 is ideal), and a 1-5 rating, make or break how the search engines find us. Thanks in advance.

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I Salute Toby Keith


Toby Keith is without a doubt my favorite country singer. I’ve enjoyed him since he burst on the scene, and I will be the first to admit that it was in limited doses. You see, I’m more inclined toward rock or disco – yeah, I admit it: I’m a disco generation kind of guy. Scratch me and I’ll bleed Bee Gees blue, or ABBA gold.

But country has always had a place in my listening bin. I am not a fan of a lot of what was out there when I was a younger person, as the likes of Ferlin Husky did not much for me. The same goes for a lot of the pop music that passes as country right now. But there was a period from about 1990 to now that’s kept me interested, largely due to Mr. Keith.

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The music of Toby Keith is entertaining, amusing, and touches my soul. He is connected to Americans in a way that most politicians could only hope to realize. He’s funny and smart. His lyrics are in the best tradition of story telling, and the videos that accompany his hits are probably very easy to script and shoot: the words of the song do all the heavy lifting.

More than anything else, he’s a patriot. You may not realize it, but he’s in the top of the pile for most miles travelled/shows performed for the U.S.O. He belongs up there with Bob Hope, Ann Margaret, Wayne Newton and a few others.

As a result, you are not allowed to talk smack about any of those four named above. Especially Mr. Keith.

A while back I attended his concert at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota. It’s a long way from the metro area, and it was 90+ degrees that day. That didn’t matter to his fans. They drove for hours on a congested, construction clogged stretch of interstate to hear his band perform under the stars. Mind you, there was an ocean of beer consumed due to the heat, but I’d call that about right for the event.

Mr. Keith has my back.

I have always known that he’s my kind of guy: occasionally outrageous, liberty-loving, sometimes hammered, always entertaining. His supporting musicians, and the opening act were wonderful as well. My wife and I got to the venue very early so as to avoid the traffic-jam that would come with the normal “Minnesota goes north on Friday” exodus from the Twin Cities. Honestly, at 4:30 on a summer Friday, you couldn’t get more people on that freeway if you announced an army of zombies was attacking from the south. While we were baking in the heat, this very polite young fellow came over to where we were sitting, and just chatted us up. He thanked us for coming to the show and let us know our attendance was very much appreciated. I looked at the spousal unit and said, “I know he’s somebody, and he’s very nice to come out, but darned if I recognized him.”

It was Lance Carpenter, the opening act. I can attest to the fact that he is a gracious and pleasant young man, and he is an excellent performer. Keep an eye on that lad.

The second act was Krystal Keith – Toby’s daughter. She was also a fine performer, and did a number or two with Lance. They have a chemistry and it comes across in the music.Once they were done, it was about a 20 minute wait while they reconfigured the stage.

While the equipment was checked, I gave great thought to what I’d seen and heard that afternoon in preparation for the main act. A series of people of widely varying ages, ethnicities, levels of income, and visual appeal had gathered together on the land of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. There were quite a few western hats, more ball caps, a profound number of patriotic garments that ran from flag motifs to t-shirts supporting law enforcement and the military, and modes of transport ranging from cowboy boots to motorized wheelchairs.

And lots of real cowboy hats, including my extremely battered Stetson Stallion. Tattoos were in abundance as well, including things like “Marine Corps Mom” and a plethora of obscene military tattoos that told the enemy where to go and how to get there. More than a few pairs of “Daisy Dukes” were in evidence, including the pair that went with the battered cowboy hat and the beard. (I feel that it’s a faux paux to wear boots with cutoff jeans, guys. Take heed.)

The songs? There was no whining about how life was unfair. But there were songs about laundromats, pickup trucks, love, work, and a myriad of other concerns that the middle and lower classes all understand. Lots of songs about beer and horses as well. I’m betting that most of the office holders in Washington D.C. have never gone to a laundromat, much less one with two sets of machines. Not racially segregated, but the ones on the left are for oil soaked work clothes, and the ones on the right for your dress-ups.

When the moment came for the main event, it was kicked off by the jumbo video boards showing a montage of photographs and videos of Toby Keith doing U.S.O. shows and AC/DC blaring War Machine. Most in the audience knew all the words and sang along. It was the last time for almost two hours that they would not know every word to every song.

Toby knew his crowd. He played some of the hard rockers, a ballad, and more than a couple of tunes that make you giggle when you think about the words. His band is exceptionally talented, and they were all up to the task of backing one of the biggest names in the music business. For two hours people sang lustily along with the man at center stage. I can honestly say that I didn’t even mind the off-key woman behind me: we were both having too much fun.

Finally the house lights came down and people started to leave. But we stayed and so did most for about 10 minutes when the band came back out. He lit in to American Soldier and I knew I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. If you’ve ever had your phone ring and have to fly away into the night with your gear like the soldier in the video, or been the spouse and kids left behind, it’d be hard not to choke up. Did it too many times myself.

When the song ended he spoke to the crowd and made it clear that he was in awe of the American military. And then he invited all the veterans in the audience up on stage.

My wife and I kept our ground. We’re old coots and it was young people getting up there who had just come back from somewhere. They were due the recognition. I was proud of Toby Keith for doing it, and proud of them. Then a strange thing happened: a police officer bent over and asked me if I’d served in the military. I said I had, but it had been quite a while past. He extended his hand and said, “I’d be glad to lead you up front, Sir. You should be up there as well.” My wife and I both got up and he let her know he’d bring me back.

“She’s got more service than I do.”

“Then let me take you both up there.”

And he did. We joined at least 100 other vets on stage with Toby Keith to sing The Angry American. And I can attest here and now, that I’ve never been more proud to cross a stage in my life. Awards are great, medals and certificates are nice, university diplomas hard won, but to be with our brothers and sisters, on stage with the legendary Toby Keith singing my favorite song of his on a starry night, that will be hard to top. My brothers and sisters were all there. We hugged, slapped backs, howled at the moon, and sang the anthem of our lives really loud and proud.

My wife got a hug from him, and I had the chance to shake his hand and thank him.

Note the arms around the shoulder. I’d never met any of these family members before that night, but we’d all fought the same battles and wore the same uniform. And Toby Keith made it possible. Remember: don’t let the grey hair fool you, we’ll still kick your ass.

I want to do it again:

Thank you, Toby Keith, for honoring me, and my military family, by your generous actions day in, and day out, in visiting our troops and making us feel loved. I left that stage six inches taller, thirty years younger, and ready to take on the world for my country.

You, Mr. Keith, are now in my ring of friends. For life.

God Bless Toby Keith.

 

When you finish reading any book (especially mine) please review it at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.goodreads.com. Your review increases the chances of someone looking for a new book greatly. Authors appreciate your review, even if it is just “I thought this was a good read and will give it to my dog to chew. I especially liked the ending, because it made me feel better when he killed all of the main characters. (no spoilers, please)” Those few words (more than 20, fewer than 1,000 is ideal), and a 1-5 rating, make or break how the search engines find us. Thanks in advance.

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