My Brief Life
In America, we are quite obsessed with fame, not just the riches it brings but the popularity and the access to a larger life in the spotlight, where everyone knows our name as well. We believe that celebrities are inherently different from the rest of us. We believe they are immune to insecurities, loneliness, even to the consequences of death. When someone famous dies, we make a celebration out of it, and collectively disbelieve that it has even happened. In many cases, they become even more iconic with a legacy that outshines the one they had while they were among the living. We ignore their multiple cries for help as they overreact, and we dismiss their broken relationships as part of the game and collectively, we do little to nothing to reach the people at the top of their field or those who shine brightest in the public spotlight. Why? Because we have not come to grips with the truth of Jesus’s statement. “What shall it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” We mistakenly think that gaining the world is a viable step in ensuring our eternal destiny, that somehow God will tip the scales and give those who have achieved much on this earth a different measure of judgment on the final day of reckoning. We have funded entertainment industries, endured political dynasties, overlooked oppressive and excessive monopoly business practices and educational environments that say loudly and clearly “success at all costs”. We forget about the dire consequences that come with the practice of extreme selfishness, and we overlook the eternal rewards that come with loving God with a whole heart and loving one’s neighbor as yourself. We are obsessed with winning and not losing, we forget about the importance of honesty in business and politics, the crucial life-changing necessity of morality in entertainment, and we water down allegiance in religious practices everywhere, conveniently replacing compassion for others with the mantra, “People can believe what they want.” We forget that as free moral agents, we can believe and live as we chose, but we cannot and will not escape the eternal consequences of those very choices.
It is easy for us to embrace messages like, ‘cheat on your partner’, ‘do anything for fame’. We step over others in our business and personal pursuits and we think it is OK to influence policies and politics regardless of the inherent truth or lies we put forth. We tell those in charge that no matter what you do, we will still believe you - it is blind loyalty. We have created a delusionary world, a world in which the famous have their own self-made rules; the larger their footstep, their wealth, the greater latitude they are allowed. We have blindly followed those who have “succeeded” and continue to follow and worship them even when the road they traveled was one that led to their despairing and untimely death. We make idols of Elvis, Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Monroe, Cobain, Jackson, Ledger, and Winehouse and propel them to stratospheric stardom in their demise, it is often a stardom that shadows the success they had while they lived. The big question is why? Are we so bound with our own innate failures that we chose to ignore a perfectly loving God, who lived as a human free from sin and self-interest? A God who alone paid the ultimate price for our disobedience, disobedience encompassing the entire human race by stepping onto a rough wooden Roman cross sweeping away for all time and eternity our ancestor’s act of rebellion, one that began in the Garden of Eden, when they picked forbidden fruit from the only tree forbidden to them and they disobeyed the only commandment their loving Creator had set for them. We can look back now and see that mankind has reaped centuries of death, destruction, disappointment, and decay. That one act had horrendous consequences.
During my short life, I have had my share of run-ins, multiple conversations with celebrities some were fleeting many were consequential. Each of the celebrities was famous in a different sphere - in politics - in entertainment, music, even science. I have always been surprised how normal each person was. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that although they existed with fame and fortune, they were not much different from others I had met and ultimately not much different from myself. One of the first celebrities I met was Seth Taft, grandson of Howard Taft, a US president. I was fourteen years old and hired for the Cleveland Ohio Mayoral race promotion in 1966. Seth would drive up to the West Side of Cleveland by the Lorain Bridge and Twenty-Fifth street area while my three-piece band was playing loudly trying to attract a crowd. He would talk to the small crowd that had gathered around to hear us. He would have us hand out balloons, buttons, and stickers. We got to interact with the crowd and even shook his hand a few times. He did not win the election, nor any of his subsequent bids for senate. He was, however, able to become the county commissioner, and a prominent attorney and died at the age of 90 without compromising his principles. I do not know where he is spending his eternity.
I loved music and studied piano and keyboards at the Music Grotto on East 24th and Euclid Avenue across from Cleveland State University. I went to concerts with my friends and oftentimes got there early to assist with the equipment, hoping for a free ticket. I got a free concert ticket by helping out the James Gang. He did not think much of a few fourteen years old boys waiting around in the parking lot, helping to move their equipment into Saint Richards’s gymnasium in Avon Lake where they were booked for a dance. Outside of looking scornfully at us for a brief moment, he barely gave us the time of day. I was grateful for the free ticket and enjoyed the show I went on to see him several more times. Years later, Joe left the James Gang went out to Hollywood where he later joined the famous band the Eagles. He has a Christian wife and family and is living in the famously wealthy San Diego Rancho Santé Fe area. He is most famous for his self-deprecating song ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ where he sings about destroying hotel rooms, speeding in his expensive vehicles, and the dangers of drug use and rock stardom. He has donated a number of guitars to his child’s Christian school for their fundraising events. He is one of the few survivors that got help and now lives a drug-free life.
I loved it when the local band with the top forty hit - The Choir came to St Edward's High School. I thought their lead singer Eric was extremely talented He played guitar and piano. They could imitate anyone’s songs and all loved Eric Carmen. I was surprised when a few years later my high school buddy Rich Reising recording for Cleveland International chose Eric to produce their CD 'No Surf in Cleveland' for his band “Euclid Beach Band.” I went to New York City to visit them in the studio. Eric at the time was burning through the recording budget and tried to talk me into traveling across town to bring him something to keep him going. I was surprised how little the group was getting accomplished; it appeared that he was more worried about having fun than making good music. The album did not turn out very well but Rich and his bandmates were able to help Eric when he recorded the classics ‘Never Fall in Love Again’ and ‘All by Myself’ and join him on tour. Since then Eric has retired from most of his touring and is raising his family in Cleveland, I imagine his jail time for a DUI put him on the sobriety wagon.
I was fortunate to meet and work with many bands, both personally and on the concert committee of the University of Arizona. I also was able to work as a volunteer with Wolf and Rissmiller Concerts out of Los Angeles. I saw and talked with lots of different band musicians backstage, people from Electric Light Orchestra, Bruce Springsteen Band, Peter Frampton Band, Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd, Leon Russell Band and was able to talk with Donald Fagan of Steely Dan who was upset with his high school promoter chum Larry because he had to play a Baldwin and not a Steinway at the Tucson Music Center. I also met a lot of fellows that were insecure and seemed obsessed with drugs and meeting girls. I often wondered ‘why they did not have their own girlfriends, why were they so desperate’?’ They were famous and rich. It was an eye-opener for me.
One time, I was back from college and visiting my parents in Bay Village, Ohio and my friend Doug who had performed on the Upbeat local television show came to my house with Neil Sedaka, famous for the song ‘Calendar Girl’. Doug brought him over to my parent's, where he played McArthur Park by sight-reading on our slightly out of tune Story and Clark Console piano. Doug told me later, Neil was interested in him. I was again surprised why someone so famous was bothering a young man who had barely just become an adult. I did get to talk with him and found out what an accomplished musician he was. He did not make any bones about the fact he preferred men to women.
One day my friend Pete, a backup singer came into Arizona for a concert with the Billy Joel Band at the Coliseum, I was picking up Pete for a day of sightseeing and I got to shortly meet Billy in the hotel parking lot before he went on a motorcycle ride. He was a skilled musician and seemed to enjoy himself. He was very non-pretentious about his fame and fortune and seemed to live in the moment. He drove his motorcycle fearlessly without bodyguards in tow.
A few years later, I went on a missionary and music trip to Mexico City staying with a friend from the United States Embassy and met a girl named Lynn the former road manager for The Who and Rolling Stones was also a former girlfriend of Music manager Peter Asher. She was in a Mexico jail for drug possession and asked me for help. I knew Peter managed Linda Ronstadt and got myself invited backstage to meet Linda at a concert my friend promoted in Tucson and sat next to her after the show and asked her for help. Linda who had dated Governor Jerry Brown was skeptical about helping at first but rallied up her musician friends to put money together to get Lynn out of jail. I heard that It took over fifty thousand dollars and about nine-months of time. I was there to pick her up at the San Diego Correctional Facility when she was finally released. I kept in touch with Lynn as she went back to work for Arista records and became the road manager for Whitney Houston. We had many conversations and Lynn tried her best to put the past behind and embrace the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. Twice she invited me to an event where Whitney was singing the second time Whitney was performing in New York City and could not sing the whole set, two of my friends Jerry Peters and Paul Jackson Jr were both in her band and enjoying the shows. To this day I don’t know if she made it or not. Whitney died in a tragic drug overdose; with her stellar gospel background, no one really knows for sure where she is spending eternity. She had married Bobby Brown singer for New Edition who had worked with my friends Ric Timas and Vincent Brantley. I imagine drugs caused negative things to happen in her marriage. When she sang about Christ you could feel the passion I wonder if her use of drugs and search for fame and fortune caused her to walk away from her faith as the circumstances of her death are still a mystery.
While in LA, I sought out keyboard lessons from acclaimed producer Michael Omartian. I arrived at his home after securing his address from Pat Boone’s office. He was pulling out of the driveway and stopped for me. I asked him if I could get a couple of lessons, as I was new in town. He was very gracious but told me ‘No.’. His wife Stormy was in the car with him and said he did not have time to teach her either. I shared a jazz class with her later on at the Dick Grove School for Jazz in Sherman Oaks. I also got to meet Gospel Great Keith Green and was able to learn a few songs from him. He was an inspiration I was sad to see him die so early in a plane crash. I tried to get in Richie Furay’s band but didn’t pass the cut. I joined a fairly well known Gospel Trio the Archers and we traveled around doing shows at colleges and festivals. One of my highlights was meeting Phil Keaggy who was instrumental in leading my best friend Doug to Christ. He was sincere and kind. He also was a wonderful singer and guitarist. I became friends with Leon Patillo former singer for Santana I helped book him in a few shows and visited with him at a couple of different festivals. I got to have a meeting in Beverly Hills with Bruce Bird who ran Donna Summers record company Casablanca. He was using various drugs and hurting his health. He accepted Christ right before he died. Donna Summers died as well knowing Christ and they have made a musical out of her life for Broadway.
I worked as a volunteer for the Phoenix First Assembly and was able to meet a few well-known athletes. The one who impressed me most was Ernie Shavers. I went to a few events with him was able to drive him around and found out how much Christ had shaped his life. Ernie had fought Mohammed Ali in a classic battle in the boxing ring. I was able to hear Ernie’s Testimony. In an industry where so many go through fortunes and disgrace, Ernie received God’s power to hold his head up high and walk in humbleness. Ernie always took time out to speak to kids and warn them of walking on the wide road to destruction.
There is one celebrity encounter that will always stick with me. While I was working my way through my new career as a piano tuner. I took a part-time job as a room service waiter at the Pointe Resort in North Phoenix. I was delivering room service to a breakfast guest and the world-renowned scientist opened the door - Carl Sagan of the popular PBS series Cosmos. We engaged in a two-hour marathon conversation of Creation vs. Evolution. I was not a skilled debater but had listened and studied some well know creationists and was able to share some good facts with him. But I have learned that salvation is not a matter of convincing the mind. It is a matter of the heart being converted being open to humble itself before God. More than enough proof has been uncovered and provided for us to believe, and also there is plenty of falsehood to allow us not to believe. We can with supposed logic deny that Jesus is the Christ that there is no creator. It is foolish to do so but you will not get thrown into a Mental Institution for doing so as many share those beliefs which ultimately come down to each of us experiencing the changes that come with forsaking our own ways and walking on the path that God sets before us. Was the world made in six days? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is the bible a truly divine book? These are the questions that everyone has to ask of themselves. If we seek with all our hearts we are promised the ability to find God and the true answer.
The Carl Sagan's breakfast meeting I had stretched out over three hours. Every time I came up with a good point that he had no answer to, he sent me back to the kitchen for some warm toast. He told me his best friend was a minister who believed in Christ but he never humbled himself or sought Christ at least not that anyone found out about, he died without knowing or accepting Christ. Yes, he engaged in conversations examined other proofs but ultimately held on to his own beliefs. We can’t find God unless we come as little children we just have to decide to believe. After we make that choice we can find ample proof that there is a God and he is a ‘Good God all the time.’ We have to accept the fact that the free will we have bears extreme consequences. If your child runs away from a home where they are loved and nurtured they will soon find themselves in a world of perverts and unimaginable horrors. It is the same with our spiritual home. We come from the very heart of God the electrical impulse that is measured when a sperm cell impregnates an egg is the very hand of God giving us life. Taking us from eternity to live here. God hoping we chose to find him to love him, God paying the ultimate price to help us set aside our sinful nature. We live and breathe in the heart of God every thought he has for us is eternal and bears eternal consequences. We cannot die our spirits live forever either with God in Heaven or separated with the rebel Satan and his angels in the Lake of Fire. It was for our welfare that Christ stepped onto the wooden cross. As Eve took the forbidden fruit in a display of disobedient our very frames were created in that sin selfish nature, the nature that tells God “No, My Way.” It doesn’t have to be that way. From our inception to our death we exist in the Love of God. We are in His mind, heart, and will. Jesus told the story of the father with the prodigal son. After the son left he went outside each and every day. Looking into the distance and hoping, praying that his son would voluntarily return. When he was broke, friendless and reduced to living with the pigs he came to his senses and went home. He was not condemned or lectured; he was given a ring, a robe, and a feast. He was covered with kisses. If we consciously walk away and chose never to return to God’s Heart our eternal home if we ignore such a great sacrifice then we will suffer needlessly from the consequences of our self-will. Our free will is not violated but the consequences of it are not just here on earthy they are eternal.
I went to an Oscar party with some fellows in a movie I helped produce called “Death or Prison Eventually”. The party was for all the Hollywood actors who did not get Oscar nominations that year. It was fun there were a lot of real Hollywood stars there- Corey Feldman, Tom Sizemore, Gary Busey, and Sally Kellerman. I saw a very famous lawyer from the OJ Simpson case and looked at her and told her how nice her outfit was. She smiled and thanked me. I was shocked to see how some of the celebrities could not even walk. It reminded me of the time I ran into Johnny Winters at the Renaissance Festival and he was blind drunk being carried by his friends.
My favorite encounter was with Bob Dylan outside the Tucson Music Hall. I had driven down from Scottsdale with my music friend Victor. We were standing outside. I was hoping that Larry Vallon the promoter was going to get me free passes. Bob walked up to us and asked whether the music on his Gospel Album Long Train Coming was popular enough to satisfy the thousands of fans he already had. He had obviously gotten bad press for not playing. “If I Were a Carpenter.” “Lay Lady Lay” “Blowing in the Wind” and countless other of his folk-rock hits. We talked for about twenty minutes and I encouraged him to keep going that I loved his new tracks. They were great.
My second meeting with Amy Grant was a bit humorous. I got hired to do sound for her at East Valley Auditorium in Phoenix. It was a low budget show produced by her Brother-In-Law manager from the Blanton and Herald Company. What we were told in the rider for the event was different from what they wanted. I was to do an on-stage mix for her, just a guitar and piano setup with two onstage monitors. I also had the gig tuning the piano for an extra forty dollars. She showed up with boyfriend Gary Chapman and was going to do a bunch of duet tracks and was also going to use a taped background. I had to drive across town to pick up a TEAC 4 track tape machine. When I got back I was finishing the tuning. She walked up to me at the piano and asked. “Are you hungry? Would you like a hamburger or anything to eat?” I was flattered that she even cared told her "Thank you." and then added "No!". The show was embarrassing for me but I survived. During the entire concert, my head stuck up above the stage level because they wanted me to mix from in front of the stage. Before the end of the concert, one side of our amp blew knocking out the sound on the right side of the auditorium. Her manager was mad at me but she seemed to enjoy herself.
I met Rob from the world-famous Milli Vanilli about five times. I had to bring a pizza and sodas to every meeting. He had burned through his money from Arista Records and I was working on a screenplay for him to star in. He was to be an angel punishing wicked people. He hated my script, really hated it. I spent probably a hundred dollars on all the pizzas because my buddy Ricky said he wouldn't even talk to me unless I fed him first. Later he committed suicide by jumping off a hotel in Hollywood. I was sad to hear it.
I met Jim Brown actor and Cleveland Brown's football player twice in my life. The first time was at the Hippodrome Building on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, we were coming down in the same Elevator, I had to strain my neck to get a look at him. And then thirty-some years later when Dick Bernal threw a dinner in Los Angeles and I sat next to him during the event. The first time I was barely five feet tall and he towered over me. The second time I was almost six feet tall and he was only slightly taller and I found him to be really really nice and committed to help others. He was a truly pleasant gentleman.
I was up in Missoula, Montana for a wedding and my relatives were hanging out at the hotel bar/restaurant. I sat down next to them and started talking to a really nice person in the same group. I thought he was there for the wedding. No one in my family said anything and our talk went on for about forty minutes. I asked him his name. He said he was well known and it was Dirk. Well, I guessed he was Dirk Benedict from the A-team, later my sister in law asked me why I talked to him all that time. I told her I thought he was with the wedding. He was super nice and knowledgeable about a lot of things.
I met Alice Cooper one time. He was moving to Chicago and called me to buy his piano. We had a long talk in his house overlooking Phoenix. I saw him years later at a Phoenix Suns game sitting next to one of my piano tuning customers Danny a concert promoter. He didn’t remember me but he was still nice. I took a few friends to eat at Alice Cooperstown the food was quite good I think he came in when I was leaving. A girl I liked sang in the choir at the church he went to so I saw him a few times there are well, I pretty much let him have his own space. I was always taught to live and let live.
My piano tuning took me backstage quite a bit. I got hired to tune the piano for a Glen Campbell recording session in Paradise Valley Arizona. The Pantheon studios had a nine foot long Steinway Concert Grand that held tune very well. When I was finished tuning I played one of my worship songs. “Oh Lord, Oh Lord” fairly straight B to E pattern, Glen listened in and offered me a job writing songs for him. The pay was to be $200 a week. I thanked him and allowed him to record my song. He never finished it, but Steve the Engineer let me hear the demo. I was pretty excited he had even recorded it. I shared the gospel with him a few times. Later he joined Northern Phoenix Baptist Church. I saw him one-time play with the choir. He was a great singer and player. I jammed a bit on his guitar it was amazing.
My meeting with Lawrence Welk was very brief. He was performing with his orchestra at the Sun Dome in Sun City. I was tuning the piano before the show and he walked up to me and started a conversation. “I used to be a piano tuner. “ He said. “That is great I replied.”
While living in LA I got invited to the home of John Reid. He was living in a mansion in Beverly Hills. I was working with a girl who had a crush on his client Elton John. I was hoping to get some help with my recording career at the time Elton was selling out stadiums. The lunch was fun it never dawned on me that he was a homosexual and was probably interested in me.
John Heyman was a well-known movie producer. He won an academy award for Passage to India and produced Saturday Night Fever and many hits. I was introduced and pitched my script Sugar Baby about a white baby adopted by colored kids. He loved my script and let me come see him every few months. We would chat about Broadway Plays and Songs and we enjoyed each other’s company. When I finished my first full-length animation script Donkey Ollie Shipwrecked I booked a room at Club Med Paradise Island and paddled a kayak to his Paradise Island home. I met his mom paddled around with his daughter. He even got a call from his best friend Richard Harris while I was visiting. It was a fun afternoon. He optioned a script but never filmed it. Later I filmed some cartoon movie episodes with DQ Animation in Hyderabad, India. John had a close relationship with his Son David Heyman who produced all the Harry Potter movies, for a while he was walking with God fellowshipping with other Christians, and produced the movie Jesus, now translated into 300 plus languages. He died a few years back I am hoping he once again made his peace with God.
Sometimes it is sad to meet well-known people. The late Jeff Fenhold of "Jesus Christ Superstar' comes to mind. I helped book a few of his tours and put together the artwork and the duplication for his testimony cassette most of it about his short audition and songwriting period with Black Sabbath and his time on Broadway and hanging out with Salvador Dali. I was impressed by his Dali necklace and some of the drawings he had. It was sad to see Jeff go through a divorce and have his heart crushed. We got together quite a few times but it never seemed to me he was at peace. Maybe now he is resting in the arms of Jesus Christ a man he played on Broadway and spoke about on television and church stages.
John McCain the famous senator was introduced to me at the home of a politician in Mesa Arizona. He was so committed to earthly fame and position that in spite of having a deadly battle with brain cancer stayed in the Senate not even taking time out to spend with his family before his death. That seemed excessive to me.
I never thought I was talented enough to write a book. I had memories of going to the Bay Village Public Library with my mom and carrying out so many books they spilled all over. I have memories of being bored and hiding a book in my textbook reading my way through boring high school and college classes. I liked to write poetry, songs, church plays, and screenplays. I just never thought I could do an entire book until a friend named Etan asked me to finish up a novel he had written. It was that experience of typing correcting, editing adding words that gave me confidence.
There comes a time in the life of every writer where the characters become alive and you sit on the edge of your seat typing away wanting to write the next page, the next chapter so you can find out where who will live and who will die and what they will do. I am comforted by the fact that God wrote a book about me as it states in Psalm 139. So while I am alive I will continue to write stories to inspire both young and old and carry out my appointed destiny. It is not likely I will ever be famous or be invited to talk shows or literary award presentations. It is likely that I will enjoy writing more and more as the days come and I will become a better communicator. Who could ask for more?