In Memory of Tony Briand 

This piece is long overdue. I don’t know if I couldn’t bring myself to or thins just got in the way. Looking at his Facebook pictures makes me think it’s the first rather than the second. I’m not a big crier, which is odd given the work I do, but looking at his picture brings me right to it.

Just before December 15, 2016, one of my best friends from High School, Tony Briand died. I hadn’t seen him in 25 years and, clearly, it was my loss. I know it’s been that long, since I saw him and met his wife either on or near my honeymoon and I’ll be married 25 years in May. 

Tony, as I told our friend, Ed Smith, was “my favorite wiseass”.  In my life, that’s a high honor.  But it’s because of him, that I value such things as wit, humor, and intelligence, mixed with a bit of protective spunk that made him my friend. In short, I’m a wiseass because Tony was.

My favorite example of this is when another sort-of friend planned to “out-insult” Tony. To my knowledge, Tony hadn’t done anything to him, but the guy was jealous of him, and “rank out contests” were something 15 or 16 year boys did. So he insulted Tony and, after the shock of the insult hit, Tony said something back. The guy did it again and, again, Tony responded. Third time out, the guy escalates, and so does Tony. Suddenly aware that he’s not going to beat  Tony in this battle of wits, he got upset and gave Tony the middle finger, to which Tony responded, “What’s that? Your sperm count, your IQ, or the number of single White parents you have?”  It was like watching Oscar Wilde as a championship boxer. It was over and he never picked on Tony again. To this day, I remember the scene like it was yesterday. 

Now, looking back on it from this perspective, it probably wasn’t cool. It was, however, verbal self-defense. As someone who had moved from the teen violence of Springfield, I knew what it was like to need defense in some framework that made sense to me. Tony wasn’t physically violent, or aggressive. He never started anything, but he never took grief from anybody — something I could only aspire to. 

I knew where Tony got it from. My mother was short at 5 feet her whole life and she learned that she had to defend herself. Tony was the same way. I was pretty hapless in High School with issues I didn’t even know about til tears later. Though Tony apparently had a rough childhood, as teenager there was none of that — or not that it showed. Because Tony could defend himself, he never had to, and neither did I when we hung out — which was all the time. Tony was in my home room and we became fast friends almost immediately. 

Tony lived next to the Hampden Country Club and after school, we would frequently play Frisbee catch on the grass or the green when no one was around. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody). Later, Lucie, his mom worked there with Eddie, his step-father. She worked the night of my 20th (?) reunion and I was thrilled to see her. I attempted to stop by before the funeral out West, but it didn’t come together. You know how some friends you can pick up where you left off? Yep. Lucie and Eddie.

Tony was my good luck charm as I drove in High School. Only once did I drive someone else and that day, someone yelled an obscure remark about the Beatles, just as we passed the police. The officer thought it was me that yelled and that I was using a slang term for police. Neither was true, but the other car (with Tony in it) got away unscathed while I got a ticket. After that, I only drove with him. 

Tony, who became a professional chemist, saved me from flunking Chemistry as my lab partner. While I would shatter test tubes turning on the power spigot, Tony would laugh with me about it, and still manage to get the exact results. It was just his thing, and he was great at it.

Tony was kind of an introvert and, on some weekends, he would intentionally stay home… and read 5 books. Absolutely a genius both with his mind and in life, he was a great friend who valued smarts in himself and in others. My first party ever in High School was my graduation party and Tony was there, as a girl I was interested in got drunk and hit on him. We laughed our heads off about it, because there was no danger. Tony would never betray me, and I knew it.

I took six months off after High School to “travel the world” or at least the East Coast hitchhiking. Tony went straight to UConn and introduced me to college life there when I visited him. My folks moved to California and I lived at Tony’s house for awhile, with Eddie, Lucie, and Paul. Later, when I moved out there, he stayed with my family, until he got a job making vitamins (and telling me that my urine would change color if I had enough B vitamins. Ah, the wonders of science!). 

He got a job and then got work at Boeing or something and he moved to the more traditional (like New England) Orange County where he apparently met his wife. The last time I saw him, he was so happy and so in love, I knew there was hope for all of us.

As I write this, I can see that nothing spectacular happened with Tony in High School or after. All of the stories above are just goofy things a High School student would do. I think that was the point. With Tony, I always felt accepted and normal, without being picked on or dealing with big issues. It was simply dependable and normal — like life should be. I have since had many clients who will tell you they never knew what normal looked like. Because of Tony, I did.  It has been such a life-long gift he gave me.

His wife, just after his death, said “He always spoke highly of” me. I can’t imagine why or what he said, because, as I said, we didn’t do extraordinary things together. Nonetheless, his friendship changed my life and I will never get to tell him that now. 

As I wrote this piece, I am aware of people in my life that remind me of Tony. My youngest daughter, for instance, is an introvert and has a voracious appetite for reading and learning… and she can dish it out as well as anyone. I admire her for that. It’s because of Tony. My friend of 30 years Rob McCarthy has the same intelligence, kindness, and normalcy about him. I treasure his friendship because of Tony, I’m sure.

I still want to get together with friends and toast his memory. I still want to connect with Lucie, Eddie, and Paul. A day or so after I learned of his death, I had a dream that Tony came to me and wanted me to be there for the wife he loved. I pray for her frequently, because I know what a loss she is facing. If none of the real-life meetings happen, at least I have done this for my friend Tony Briand.

Resisting with peace,
John


The Mixed Metaphor of Chuck Berry

It is a loss to the world today, but a rather weird loss because somewhere in the cosmos, literally, Johnny B. Goode is playing. When the  Voyager spacecraft began its mission to see what’s “out there” in galaxies we’ve never seen, it included a recording of Johnny B. Goode. A man who suffered under a racist judicial system in his own country — going to jail for tax fraud when others would have gotten a slap on the wrist and a payment plan– has now been heard all over the galaxy.  That irony was not lost on him.

Neither was the fact that he, a legend of Rock ‘N Roll, only had one number one hit in his entire lifetime. It was the novelty song “My Ding A Ling”. Does that even seem possible? No, but it is true. That said, The Beach Boys felt compelled to give him writing credit for one of their early songs — I think it’s “Surfing U.S.A”, but I’m not sure. Brian Wilson wanted to give the man his “props” (proper respect) and did — not because he had to, by legal dictate, but because he wanted to honor Berry. John Lennon, when guest hosting the Mike Douglas show, also showered respect on Berry. Keith Richards decided to film “Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll” as a tribute to Berry, and yet there’s a section of the movie where Berry is alone with other Black musicians, (including Little Richard) and Berry is angry about the way White musicians like Pat Boone had treated him and “his kind”.

 Chuck Berry is a prime example of what it meant /means to be a famous Black man in America. The best at what he does, and yet mistreated because of his color. But Chuck Berry was a mixed metaphor in so many ways — playing piano chords on a guitar, where they are more difficult, led to his signature sound. In his prime in the 1950’s, he could only be heard by a certain section of the population at the time. In the beginning, that thing we call Rock ‘N Roll was called “race music” — it was the music that “the colored people” listened to until Elvis played it. That’s why Elvis was such a scandal at first — because he played their music, making him a perfect form of teenage rebellion — like White folks physically, but singing the sexualized songs of “those colored folks” that was so dangerous. 

In addition to that, he threatened all kinds of ideas about Blacks. When they weren’t considered intelligent people, or supposed to be political, Berry wrote lyrics like “he was campaign shouting like a Southern Democrat” in “Maybelline” — and made them fun — as White pop stars  sang “moon, spoon, and June” in theirs. The song, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N Roll” knows it’s being subversive when it says “deliver me from the days of old”. 

After losing popularity in the U.S. somewhat, he and bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and rockers like Little Richard were rediscovered in England by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton, and that’s when he probably made most of his money — post-prime.  After that, he was an icon.  George Thurogood owes much of his career to Chuck Berry, as do the Stray Cats, and every other rockabilly act ever. Chuck Berry is one of the few people in rock music with his own genre/identifiable sound. Like Hank Williams’ style in country music, there are things called “Chuck Berry licks” which are recognized by people worldwide. Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley in blues, Harry Chapin in folk-rock “story-songs”, all have risen to that iconic level where people can recognize the work, pay tribute to it, or mess with it but they cannot be ignored

I saw him twice in my lifetime — during the 50’s revival of the 1970’s and in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. He did not disappoint. For an old guy then he moved, sang, “duck-walked” and challenged other musicians all night long. Today, ar age 90, he died, never to do that again. 

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N Roll! Chuck Berry has died. Long live Chuck Berry.
Resisting with peace,

John

High School Professional — Cinderella At Conard

In a public High School in West Hartford, Connecticut — Conard High School to be exact — an incredibly professional production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was performed.

I don’t use the word “professional” lightly. It is exactly the term for what Conard produced tonight. I have seen traveling productions of Broadway shows. They are above this production. I have also seen many a community theater production in my lifetime. This production is better than those, and far better in quality than any High School production I have ever seen.

The reason for this is the incredible concentration of artistic students at Conard in band, orchestra, and choir, plus art, drama and stagecraft. Tonight, the two leads, Mary Looney as Ella and Jake Yearsley as Prince Topher sang for two hours (with a fifteen minute intermission) and never reached beyond their range, never were too quiet or too loud, never missed a line. That would have been impressive in-and-of itself and I would have gone home having enjoyed the evening.  But the next rung of players — Madame (Lila Goldstein), Charlotte (Janey Lorenzo) and Gabrielle (Delina Bartolomei) played their parts with comedic style and timing usually found in older adults. The boy who played Sebastian (Ray Plocharczyk) stayed in character the whole play — and did it well, with a unique flair to the character that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Charlie Uthgennant as Lord Pinkleton rounded out the cast.

Again, I would have been impressed with just the singing, comedy, and acting. There was more. My daughters go to Conard, one is in choir, the other in band, so I am used to seeing the semi-annual concerts given by their groups. They are huge affairs as there are at least four groups that are part of the overall choir. The best of these is “B Sharp”, an a capella group, but each has its own style and strength.  The ensemble in tonight’s musical was complimented by use of people from the school’s choirs.  They were everywhere.

In the pit, the show’s orchestra (made up of band members, I believe) was incredible. The music, like the actors and singers, had a comedic timing to it. My particular favorite note was the violin part at the beginning of the second act where the person played what seemed like the same note for at least ten measures to build up tension for the entrance.

As if that weren’t enough, there was beautiful choreography as dozens of dancers swooped and swished around the stage. I don’t know if Conard has a dance program, but the talent here was obvious and the dancing w as flowing and graceful for the two hour length of the play.

My favorite part, though, was the set and special effects. I had reasonable expectations about this before I got there. High School shows usually have good sets and cool little effects,  but this was spectacular. There was lattice work surrounding the stage that was intricate and almost looked Celtic, giving a sense of the woods somehow. Onstage, there were huge, intricate, and yet delicate trees — maybe a dozen of them. If you’ve seen the forest near the Batcave in the first Michael Keaton movie, you can get a sense of what these looked like — in a High School production! Sound-wise, the production featured horse-clomps and knights who reminded me of coconuts and Monty Python. There was a clock on a scrim that I assumed was wooden for most of the production. Turns out, it was done with lights and bells and so on. Technical director Jared Boulet, assistant stage manager Iris Madsen-Bibeau, the entire tech crew, and adult helpers like Patty Buccheri must have worked for months to get this  so well done. Kudos to them.

Oh, then there were the dresses during the play. If you’re going to see the play, trust me, there is magic in the dresses on-stage which can only be experienced with awe and wonder. I still don’t know how it was done and I was there.

In addition to that, the play was politically subversive in its own way, calling out the cynicism of the elite or those who think they are. There were a few scenes where the nobles played a game called “ridicule” and insulted each other. This was stopped by Cinderella being intentionally kind the wicked step-mother in public, and it changed the tone of the story dramatically. In contrast to our times, the crowd there tried on kindness and openness instead of hate, changing the whole society into one of unity and equanimity.

In short, there was no part of this production which wasn’t up to professional standards. This is, of course, what happens when music and the arts are part of the curriculum in a public school. Students use the wide range of gifts they are given, and the rest of their intelligence and creativity soars. Even taking into account the immense local talent here in West Hartford, wouldn’t it be great of every school in the country gave this much attention to the arts? The joy, the fun, the skill-building and confidence that was on display in Cinderella should be seen in so many other places, where it would lead to “optimism” among the “citizenry” (people in the play, see what I did there?).

Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella has a matinee tomorrow, March 12th and plays all next weekend at Conard High School, West Hartford, CT. Go see it, or miss an incredible chance.

Resisting with peace, music, comedy, dancing, and special effects tonight,

 

John

 

Shock And Awe… But Why?

For months, I have tried to talk about America as though it was one country, because I like to conceive of things that way — holding us accountable to our best selves and our highest ideals. Beside that, last I looked, we were 50 United States, so I’d like to think I have my facts straight.

But, if that’s true, why would we elect a man who has built a “shock and awe” campaign as his cabinet? For that matter, why would the President-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named request the Cabinet he has? His cabinet is a) a man f0r the EPA who doesn’t believe in the EPA, A woman to head public education who doesn’t believe we should have public education, an attorney general who won’t follow the rule of law, a secretary of state whose company is larger than many countries, and is therefore above this countries needs, a man who thinks his own people came here as immigrants on the bottom of slave ships. Those would be his ancestors! And, in the middle of it, is a man who supports White Supremacists, the President’s Chief of Staff!

Every liberal I know is busy defending themselves and the causes they believe in pretty much non-stop. Every day brings something new  — an attack on Muslim rights, on Women’s rights, an attack on the law, an attack on decency. The administration is waging a campaign of shock and awe against its own people. “Shock and Awe” was a term I heard first in GW Bush’s Gulf War and it was designed to loosen people’s resolve to fight against the overwhelming odds facing them, and a chance for us to show off our military toys which included a fireworks show that we could watch from afar. That campaign was designed to make us say “ooh” and “ahh” while we destroyed a country for political reasons.  The premise then was “this is war against our enemies and that’s different because these are extreme circumstances”….

While we now know there were other factors at work , that was the contention. But if that was the contention, if that’s the purpose of “shock and awe”, why would use it against our own citizens? Why would the administration break up families willingly? Why would our government make it difficult for women to get healthcare? In fact, why would we make it hard for everyone to get healthcare? Why would we hate workers rights? Why would does this government accuse professionals in the press of doing their jobs? 

Is it because America is homophobic, sexist, anti-semitic, racist, xenophobic and every other darn thing? It could be, but those are all philosophic answers and descriptors, rather than root causes.  They are different descriptions of hate, hate, hate, hate, and hate.  So then comes the question underneath it all — why does this country’s administration hate its citizens?

We are a nation of Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and various mixes of that. No matter what we are individually, we are not the majority. That means everybody else combined is. Why would we hate them?  We are a nation of men and women and apparently everything in between. If America has more women than men, why does the administration pass laws that penalize women? Isn’t that hating or distrusting or denying the majority’s legal rights?  We are a nation of people who like to be in love and occasionally have sex as a way to express that. 99% of people hope to that in their lifetimes. Why would we hate people who all do the same thing?  We are a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs, and atheists and a lot of others. Why would our government hate anyone that’s not Christian — and a certain flavor  of Christian at that!?

These are simply facts — citizens of this country are all a mixture of all these things . Why does our government hate  the majority of its citizens? What could those citizens possibly have done to require such a response? The answer is nothing anyone could do can justify this kind of treatment of America’s citizens by its government.

Years ago, someone I know had a bumper sticker which said, “Ordain women or stop baptizing them”. There are, factually, women who seemed to be called to ministry. A majority of people in any group can see that. They follow the rules and belong to the church. They are welcomed into full fellowship through baptism. Why should we sell them the half-set-of-rights package when they were told they bought the complete package?

In the same way, “Give citizens their rights or stop making them pledge allegiance and take an oath to become citizens”. We are told that the Constitution is for all citizens. We know that roads are driven on by all types of citizens and even people who aren’t citizens. Schools are built for all citizens. If they’re all citizens, they should have the rights of all citizens, and — for dignity’s sake — that should include the right to not have your parents taken away. Poor people are citizens just as much as rich ones are.  Full citizens should have full citizenship rights. That’s what makes America great. People who don’t understand that don’t want America to be great — in the first place or , as they say, “again”.  People who don’t understand that, in fact, hate most of  America, because they hate the part of America that’s not just like them — the majority.

Next time you vote, where ever and when ever you vote, don’t vote for someone who hates the majority of America that exists, but wants an America just like them from the past. They get their share of rights already. They don’t need yours.

 

Resisting with Peace,

John