Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The real Mark Hall

Having a common name has been, for the most part, a source of amusement for me most of my life. "Like the card company, only backwards" is what I used to tell people to help them remember "Mark Hall." The main problem has not been so much getting people to remember it, it's keeping them from mistaking me for all the other Mark Halls of the world.

When I was a kid, there was a guy next door a few years older than me who shared my name. My family found it very entertaining to put me on the phone when one of his teenage girlfriends called.

There's a character in Michael Crichton's book Andromeda Strain (made into an excellent film) with my exact name, including middle. That was cool, though I think I would have liked the film anyway.

In high school I found out there was another guy there with my name when I was called to the office (for a good thing) and he showed up too.

After college I was doing missions in Hawaii and applied for a missions assignment (same place, longer term) and used a Cleveland, TN, youth pastor as a reference without notifying him (I had worked at his youth camp). My Hawaii supervisor got a call from the Mission Board to check some very contradictory information that the youth pastor, I had been married and divorced twice, for example. Took a while to sort that one out.

Over the years I've discovered there are several musical Mark Halls; one played for Vigilantes of Love out of Athens, GA (a roommate from there knew him) played in a Celtic Christian band named The Crossing...and the son of one of the pioneers in the Muscle Shoals scene wrote a song for Tim McGraw ("I Like It, I Love It"). And of course, for those who follow contemporary Christian music, the songwriter and lead singer of the very successful Casting Crowns has put me in the role of "not that Mark Hall". I've ushered a couple of Dove Awards nights where his/my/our name was announced. It was almost like a Dickensian vision of what could have been, had I reached that level of success (in worldly terms). At least he's done right by the name. And I've made the joke more than once that if I get any of his royalty checks by mistake, it's too bad for him.

Now one of my multitudinous namesakes is a county commissioner in my hometown of Cleveland; more amusement for family and friends there. I've never found out whether any of the ones I knew of there were the same person. I'd say chances are good that's the case...but given my experience I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

This is why when I moved to Nashville to join the teeming community of songwriters, where name recognition is very important, I decided it was a good idea to include my middle name, in print or online, to help avoid confusion. Except for people who don't read very carefully (or something) and call me "Kelly." You just can't win.

Monday, October 29, 2007

He's traded rhinestones for the real thing

Country music legend and Opry regular Porter Wagoner passed away yesterday. He was 80 years old, had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and had fought various other health challenges that come with the territory. Can't say it was a surprise, but definitely reason to pause out of respect.

Country Hall of Famer dies at 80

I realized one night while ushering at the Opry that a line from my song "God Never Says Oops" might have originated with Porter's song “I’ve Enjoyed As Much of This As I Can Stand.” My dad, when tired of watching whatever TV program the family had outvoted him to watch, would say that as a joke as he got up to do something else. That's what I was thinking of when I wrote "Larry is lonely/He's been single all his blessed life/He's enjoyed all the freedom he can stand/And now he wants a wife." Then when I heard Porter sing his song, I figured either that's where my dad got the line, or possibly they both got it from other people. Either way, it's a good one.

One of Porter's hits was "A Satisfied Mind" (he didn't write it but he made it his own). It was also recorded by Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and others, but it seems especially applicable for Porter:

"A Satisfied Mind"
by Jack Rhodes & Joe Hayes

How many times have you heard someone say
"If I had his money I could do things my way"?
But little do they know that it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind

Once, I was wading in fortune and fame
Everything I'd dreamed for to get a start in life's game
Then suddenly it happened, I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far with a satisfied mind

Money won't buy back your youth when you are old
Or a friend when you are lonely or a love that's grown cold
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind

When life has ended, my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones, I'll leave there's no doubt
But there's one thing for certain, when it comes my time
I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind

25th Reunion report

So, the reunion. I enjoyed it a little more than I anticipated, which is not saying a huge amount (see previous post), but something. The weather could not have been better; clear skies, warm but with a slight chill after sundown.

The "tailgate" turned out to be hanging out together in/around a pavilion on the school grounds; didn't notice anyone actually eating (except one, as I left the game). Which was OK. Just a handful came for this part. The new principal gave us a tour of the campus; we were prepared for a shock, but it all looked surprisingly the same, with the exception of the library (which has been "Starbuck'ed" to include a coffee bar and tables for casual reading--very clever) and a refurbished gym (not that I would have noticed; since gym class wasn't required I only went there for pep rallies during school hours).

A knot of us classmates ended up in the same section at the football game. One former marching band member noted the much-reduced size (and corresponding quality) of the current band, compared to the glory of the band in her day (victory in statewide competitions made it less uncool to be in band, apparently). The team wasn't exactly dominating the field; apparently BCHS hasn't caught onto the UT strategy of booking easy opponents for Homecoming whenever possible, but then alumni contributions are probably less crucial. But none of the comparisons dampened the enjoyment of each other's company. And two of our classmates had family members in the Homecoming court, so we had that to brag to each other about.

On Saturday I got to the Cleveland Country Club a little early, and the others trickled in slowly. There was a lot of glancing and downright staring across carpets to determine if we were supposed to know that person, etc. The nametags for alumni only were helpful in sorting out spouses, but many times we weren't sure until we came close enough to read the names. An international summit of U.N. leaders could hardly have exhibited a more cautious-yet-cordial manner. Except for the former cheerleaders, who all still looked pretty much the same, and were not given to quiet greetings anyway.

I was reminded several times of the different "life stages" that were represented. Some had young children, some had kids starting college; most married, some still single, some single again; some working average jobs, one guy a hospital CEO...and one not present, a math whiz, rumored to be doing secret government work. Some of us had about as much to say now and we did in high school (or as little). And that's....OK (to quote Stuart Smalley from SNL). At worst it was interesting to see how time had treated us; at best, it was great to find we could pick up on old friendships and find them as fresh and soul-nourishing as ever.

Attendance from the 20th (about 200?) to the 25th (about 75) dropped so much, I can't help wondering what the next one will be like, whenever it happens. To quote Phil Keaggy's song "Cherish The Moment": "We may not pass this way again, so take nothing for granted."

After the group picture was taken, I headed out to do the solo acoustic gig I had wrangled for late Saturday night in downtown Chattanooga. I have mixed opinions even now about whether that was worth doing, given the lack of audience (for most of it) and the hassle. As if my ego hadn't already been tested enough that weekend! But it was a good reminder of why I need an audience to do much of my best stuff. Funny songs and stage banter are just sad otherwise. But a few people cheered on the latter part of the set, and I don't know if I finished well, but I did finish loud.

I continued in the spirit of the reunion weekend on Sunday and met up with my friend John and his wife. We had not had a huge amount in common as middle- and high-schoolers; our friendship was born as much out of location as anything, since we were both stuck out in the boonies and were the closest neighbors our age. Long bus rides have been the catalyst for many relationships, and ours was no exception; in this case it was a school bus. But we did manage to forge a strong bond, which was evident in our chat over tacos.

Then I was off to the evening service at a local church. My friend Janelle and family members (friends of my family from way back) were singing several songs, and she had invited me. One of her sisters had been in Geometry class with me in h.s., so yet another connection to make. She had told me the service started at 6:30, but as I slipped in at 6:35 or so, I realized the service must have been well under way, as Janelle and co. were already singing, and especially as they sat down after that one song. So one of the few times I would have been on time (relatively speaking) I was the victim of her error! I gave her a hard time about it. But it was a minor hitch, and the service capped off a memorable weekend.

See the pics below or click here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

From country club to nightclub

This weekend I'll be headed south to Cleveland, Tennessee, the place of my upbringing (I would say "where I grew up" but obviously that process is not past tense) to join with my fellow high school alumni in marking the 25th year since our graduation. Some will be celebrating the great time they had at Bradley Central, and some will be celebrating their liberation from it. I'm mostly in the former group, but the latter has a point.

I didn't love it but I didn't hate it; the academic side was mostly easy, so that made it tolerable, but the social side was definitely mixed. I wasn't as awkward in real life as Napoleon Dynamite, but I can definitely relate to him. Lived in the boonies, had no car, rode the bus through senior year, drew a lot in my spare time, was fairly clueless about style and girls (never went to dances or ballgames--I had NO dates), and tried to make up for it all with the false bravado and "cool" exterior most high schoolers probably feign as a coping technique in order to survive (many never stop feigning). Instead of numchucks I had humor. Thank God for the church youth group, the center of my social universe. And I still wear a plastic Casio watch (when something works....).

I didn't see much of anyone from h.s. after graduating. I found it odd that out of a class of over 500 I was the only one I knew of going to the University of Tennesssee, but being thrown into that huge pool was what I needed...that, and the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministries). And, again, church.

The 20th reunion was the first one I attended; that was a fascinating experience...seeing who'd changed, who hadn't, revealing my secret crush to the "victim" (her husband was understanding) and then to everyone, a la a Conan O'Brien sketch (which killed, to my delight). And doing a couple of songs for everyone, and getting few (solicited) laughs as well. These were my equivalent to Napoleon's "sweet" dance routine that wins over the crowd (you have to see this film). Mine was 20 years later, but good enough.

This time, I have no wife or kids or hot girlfriend or even a date, or great career or property or car, or much of any of the typical things men like to display at these things as a way of saying "See? I'm NOT a loser!" Or even a CD to show for all the time I've spent doing music instead of pursuing the typical American dream. I do, however, have plenty for which to be thankful: family and friends, memories and stories of experiences I wouldn't trade for anything (and in some cases the accompanying pictures), and a body and mind that still cooperate. And hair. And most importantly, I've been blessed with the gift of grace and a hope for an even better life beyond this one.

So I guess my role will be to make the guys who do have all that stuff all the more thankful, and to remind everyone (incl. myself) that God's grace is sufficient to make complete that which seems incomplete. And if a few married folks look my way with a sigh of envy for my freedom...well, I wouldn't celebrate it but it can't be helped.

After the banquet at the Cleveland Country Club on Saturday I'll go straight to Midtown Music Hall in downtown Chattanooga to do a solo set as an opener for a young band of local rockers. Better wear a collar so as not to get cultural whiplash.

I don't expect to fit comfortably into either "club," but I'm happy to give it my best to make both my own for the time I'm there. And maybe offer something of value in both places. These days that's as much as I ask least until I record that CD.

"Cool Bear in Repose" (my title) by fellow alum Elvis Wilson. Named after you-know-who, and currently an art director whose past credits include the cover art for Bela Fleck's "Cosmic Hippo". Now that's cool.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

East Side Music Scene

This oughter be a good 'ern:

East Side Music Scene
Thursday, Oct. 18, 8 pm
12th & Porter, Nashville

Casey Kessel, Kelly Archer, Jerry Castle, Johnny Microwave and JD Simo.

As long as they don't brag about how their neighborhood is cooler than mine, we'll get along just great.

I've never actually heard "Johnny Microwave," but the name makes me very curious. Sets up a certain expectation for very short songs.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another meaningless comparison

Switched at birth? No. But fun to put side-by-side anyway, for pure visual effect.

This is Josh Duhamel of the TV show "Las Vegas" and Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass." They're both on TV. And they look alike. So....yeah.

Which is sure to make you wonder: what else could you have been doing with the time it took you to read this?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Peace is the word..."

Peace symbol becomes sign of 'glitz and glamour'
Emblem of social change becomes accessory for kids
(from the Tennessean)

"Kids really see the peace symbol like a smiley face or hearts," Dunn said. "Kids don't make the same (political and social) connection. It is just another fashion symbol."

Yeah, it's like...remember when wearing the cross used to mean you liked Jesus? Like that.

Funny how each person quoted reads her own priorities into the issue:

The Fashionista:
"It has been around, but this year it is all about glitz and glamour." (Who makes these decrees?) "Kids really see the peace symbol like a smiley face or hearts."

The Peacenik:
"For the majority, it is a statement of how they feel about things going on in the world." (Has she taken a poll?)

Just another example of how we tend to interpret others' actions by our own motivations.

And is it just me or does every so-called "fashion expert" come across as a little too eager both to tell people what to do, and do what he or she is told? Not to mention kind of shallow and not too bright. It's no coincidence that wonder every fascist movement has its own uniform, at some point.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Little Debbie lives

I knew a guy in college named Mark Waldron who would ask if you wanted to see his girlfriend and when you said yes, he'd pull his wallet out and, with a very serious look, show you a picture of Little Debbie (of snack cake fame). When you laughed, he'd look at you with a glare and say "What're you laughing at?" It was funny.

So is this, in a cute kind of way:

I know the young woman on the right (seriously). I don't know if she posed with this hat at my suggestion or not, but I'm very happy she did. Last I heard she was looking for an upstanding, conservative cowboy type; "dress for the job you want," they say. If you're fortunate enough to fit the description, and meet the rest of her criteria (her standards are appropriately high), I'll be glad to recommend you. Otherwise, just enjoy the picture. You can even print this one out and lie to YOUR friends, but of course you'll be the only one in on the joke, so don't expect anything more than a polite and possibly puzzled look.

I Get To

I "surfed across" an interview with Deborah Norville (who grew up in my neck of the woods not far from Chattanooga, by the way) talking about her career, her faith, and her new book Thank You Power. She encouraged viewers to contact her via her website, so I did, because I felt I had to make sure she was aware of the song "I Get To." I first heard this song when Blue County performed it at Tin Pan South this year, and have not gotten over what a powerful message it has: instead of saying "I have to..." too few of us say "I get to...". The book and song go together like PB & J. (Of course I'm assuming the book avoids the errors of The Secret...I'm giving Deborah the benefit of the doubt for now).

I found a link to a site where it's available to listen:
Go to and listen to the song "I Get To" (give the music player on the upper right time to load, and click the title if a different song starts playing first).

I also found that it's available for purchase on iTunes as well. So I let her know.

(Here are the lyrics, by the way).

I got a standard reply (apparently I wasn't the only one responding to her invitation to write), with a promise to try to follow up with an individual message. Good 'nough.

THEN I read the entertainment column in the Tennessean this morning, with the headline "Norville to sign her book that teaches 'thank you power'." Hmmm. She'll be in town on Friday, as it turns out, so I launched a small but focused effort to let Blue County, their label and the song's publishers know they need to get her a copy of this song. This is the upside of a slow work season; I get to play publicist.

Meanwhile, I ADJURE YOU, COMMAND YOU, AND INSTRUCT YOU to take the 3 or 4 minutes required to listen to this song. Trust me, you need it as much as I do.

Monday, October 08, 2007

No animals were harmed in the posting of this blog

First, read this story from the Tennessean (Oct. 8):

Man pleads guilty to beating girlfriend’s pig
Staff writer
A Nashville man who beat his girlfriend’s pet pig after the woman kicked him out of the house pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty this morning.

Carl Houston was originally charged with aggravated animal cruelty and was facing a felony conviction for beating the animal, which goes by the name of “Bacon Bit," on November 2006.

In exchange for pleading guilty to the lesser charge, Houston, 39, agreed with prosecutors to serve 11 months and 29 days probation, ordered to perform 20 hours community service and attend anger management.

He is also required to stay away from his ex-girlfriend and Bacon Bit, Davidson County District Attorney General Spokeswoman, Susan Niland said.

If you're not already giggling (though I'm sure we agree that it's wrong to mistreat animals, let's assume the pig is feeling better now) you might get a laugh out of some of these:

· It's not Mr. Houston's fault; she told him to pick on someone his own "size," and he thought she said "IQ."

· Like the saying goes, "You always hurt the one you love...or her livestock."

· Maybe he was trying to patch things up by fixing her a nice pork dinner...the hard way.

· He was making a point about how cold she was being toward him, and things just got out of hand.

· To be fair, Mr. Houston was provoked. After the woman threw him out, the animal taunted him by writing in poop "And they say I'M 'some pig'."

· Mr. Houston originally used an insanity defense, claiming he'd heard the phrase "Take HOME a PACKAGE of TENNESSEE PRIDE" one too many times.

· It's always the pets that suffer the most.

· Marv Silverman of the Jewish Defense League said "We told you people to stay away from pork."

· Early reports of Mr. Houston being contacted by recruiters from the Atlanta Falcons proved to be unfounded.

· George Jones had no comment at press time.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"L & C" = "Live & Coherent"

For those of you who like to keep your options open until the last minute...this is what you were holding out for (how's that for hype?):

Tonight I'll be jumping in on a round at Dunn Bros. Coffee, in the L & C building, downtown Nashville. Hosted by Karin Paparelli and featuring guitar master Gary Talley (of BoxTops fame..."Gimme a ticket fo' an aeroplane") somewhere in the mix (hopefully way forward, at least during my songs).

Actually L & C stands for Life & Casualty, the insurance company. My grandfather sold policies for L & C way back when, and my dad did too for a you might say my family helped build that tower. So when you come, show some respect and don't leave a mess!

Here's a page with all the relevant links to get you there.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Coming up for air

These guys (and a few gals) need our prayers...even after they get out. Mining work is no picnic under the best of conditions...but when the power goes out...

Here's the story:

Hundreds of S. African miners surface

Wild…in a good way

Attention, those of you who, like me, are interested in all things South Africa…
Click the pic to go to the official loads automatically, so watch your volume.

Let’s hope this is as good as it might just possibly be.

It's a show “about a New York veterinarian who moves his second wife and their two sets of children to a South African game reserve run by his former father-in-law.” I've never made it out to the game parks in my S. Africa trips, but as one who was yanked from a comfortable "Wonder Years" life out to more of a "Green Acres" existence, I expect to relate to the kids pretty well.

Go to Wikipedia for more info (sorry, but it had more info than the CW site offered).