The Storytelling Singer

So Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016.   An unusual and unexpected choice because this is the first time the award has been given to a songwriter.  That Bob Dylan is one of the most influential songwriters ever and that he deserves recognition as a poet is in my opinion without doubt.  However, some will criticize the decision.

American comedian Rob Delaney wrote on Twitter “Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature? What’s next, [former baseballer] Derek Jeter wins a Tony for his rice pilaf?”

But since, we are talking about songwriting as good literature, I thought I would share with you one of my favorites which also happens to have an earworm for me for the last few days.

I refer to the 1967 number one hit, “Ode to Billie Joe”, which won three Grammys for its singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry.  I was just 6 years old when I heard it for the first time and  I had not yet developed my understanding of nor a sense of my personal taste in music but even then I was hooked on this song.  I liked the very simple guitar and strings arrangement  but I was really fascinated with was the story that the song was telling and the way it was being told;  a story of tragedy and mystery being woven in with ordinary, even banal conversation in a very ordinary setting.  Interestingly, it has been reported that Bob Dylan did not think so highly of Bobbie Gentry’s writing style in that song and that he wrote “Clothes Line Saga” (recorded in 1967; released on the 1975 album The Basement Tapes) as a parody of that writing style.   He had originally titled his song as “Answer to Ode”.

Well, ex-cu-se me, Mr. Recently Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I like the song and the way Bobbie Gentry wrote it.  Like any other fine literature, it engages, it draws one in, it tells a story about life, it affects us emotionally and it leaves us with as many questions as it answers.

Here without further ado is the work itself……..

It was the third of June,
another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin’ cotton
and my brother was balin’ hay.
And at dinner time we stopped,
and we walked back to the house to eat.
And mama hollered at the back door
“y’all remember to wipe your feet.”
And then she said she got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas,
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense,
pass the biscuits, please.”
“There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow.”
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billy Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show.
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don’t seem right.
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge,
And now you tell me Billy Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

Mama said to me “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning and you haven’t touched a single bite.
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today,
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday. Oh, by the way,
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe.
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going ’round, papa caught it and he died last spring,
And now mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything.
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

There!  Did you catch my earworm?

Call of the Wild

“How is my great Squirrel Kingdom novel going?”, I hear you ask.  Well, not very well at all.  I have a serious case of writer’s block.  In fact, I can’t even get my first line down.  I mean, I want it to be perfect but it just hasn’t happened yet.

So I decided to seek inspiration by reading some of the award winning first lines of other authors.  I thought I would share the writings of some of the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest from 2015 and 2016.

Knowing well the hand signals of his platoon leader, Private James Dawson silently dropped to the dirt, concealed and motionless for what seemed an eternity, a move that he had learned, coincidentally, from his parents whenever the Watchtower ladies would ring the doorbell. — Peter S. Bjorkman

The life of a mountain man like Jedediah Buckman is a simple one, a campfire to warm the person as well as the soul, a full moon to illuminate the forest as well as the mind, and game to nourish the body as well as the spirit, though one wonders how he could stomach beaver without mint jelly and a bold, young pinot noir. — John Hardi

When your home smells like a three-week-old buffalo carcass, your Mom is constantly being mistaken for a guy, and your sisters keep using your ears as their personal chew toys, life is no laughing matter—at least that’s how it seemed to Hubert, the baby Hyena.   — Anna McDougald

She was like my ex-girlfriend Ashley, who’d stolen my car, broken my heart, murdered my father, robbed a bank, and set off a pipe bomb in Central Park—tall. — Rachel Nirenberg

Seeing how the victim’s body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer “Dirk” Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase “sandwiched” to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt. —  Joel Phillips

“My name is Vangir,” the stout dwarf announced, “son of Valdir, son of Tolfdir, son of Torsson, heir to the dwarf kingdom of Darag-Vur, King of the Under-Folk, ring-giver, dragon-slayer, M.D., DDS. — Austin Stollhaus

If Vicky Walters had known that ordering an extra shot of espresso in her grande non-fat sugar free one pump raspberry syrup two pumps vanilla syrup soy latte that Wednesday would lead to her death and subsequent rebirth as a vampire, she probably would have at least gotten whipped cream.— MarIIgo Coffman

Here is my all time favorite;

Sex with Rachel after she turned fifty was like driving the last-place team on the last day of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, the point no longer the ride but the finish, the difficulty not the speed but keeping all the parts moving in the right direction, not to mention all that irritating barking.  Dan Winters

And here is my attempt after being inspired by such fine writing;

Bob and Sue-ann had heard the loud sonic boom and when the strange bright lights appeared in the sky above them, they ran into the barn and hid, waiting in fearful anticipation with their nerves strung to the breaking point, when suddenly………nothing else happened.

Would you like to try your hand at literary greatness?  Please leave your contribution in the comments for us all to enjoy.  I may announce a winner and there may be a prize but I cannot confirm or deny this.

The Answer

It is strange how this post came about.  I had a few competing ideas for a post but decided I wanted to share a song here.  But then, there were a few new songs that I thought were “share-worthy”.  So how to narrow it down and pick one?

While I was still pondering my choices, I visited some blogs.  A couple of blogs had posts that made me remember a dark period in my life when I went through a life sapping depression or rather it reminded me of how I was able to escape its chains.

First, Beth posted a short quote by Eugene Kennedy about friendship and somehow it was a powerful trigger for memories of a dear friend whose unquestioning, non-judging, accepting, patient friendship was like a lifesaver that kept me from going under.

Then, I read the post by Caralyn, who has a wonderfully powerful and inspiring blog in which she shares about her journey through the “throes of anorexia”.  In this post, she openly answers the questions that many ask her – “How did I break free? How did I embrace recovery when I was so sick.”  Her answer was “It was God”.  She made the choice to begin her journey of recovery and asked God for His help and found that God gave her all  the strength and help she needed for that journey.  Well, that would be my answer too about how I recovered from shattered self worth and depression.

For these reasons, I would like to share with you this beautiful song “The Answer” by Corrine May.  I only recently heard this song.  Its melody is actually that of “Jupiter”by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite which is probably my all time favorite classical piece.  But the lyrics by Corrine May reflects what I have shared in this post and what I hold true to my own heart. (Incidentally, Corrine is from Singapore which is my part of the world – so go buy her music!)

Hope you enjoy it.

I believe You are the answer to every tear I’ve cried
I believe that You are with me,
My rising and my light. 

Give me strength when I am weary
Give me hope when I can’t see
Through the crosses I must carry
Lord, bind my heart to Thee

That when all my days are over
And all my chores are done,
I may see Your risen Glory
Forever where You are.

Sapporo is Good Eating

My wife and I recently made a short trip to Japan with another couple.  We went to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido and to Toyama and Kanazawa on the main island of Honshu.  As the other couple are ardent foodies, this was primarily an eating holiday with food markets, street food and restaurants being the order of the day.  A couple of hiking trips, some shopping and sightseeing was done during the times we had to allow the food to digest.

On arrival in Sapporo, our first order of business was to seek out the seafood market (there are two, Nijo and Chuo-ku markets and we went to both).  Our mission, apart from gawking at the variety of fish and marine creatures on sale, was to seek out and devour a heaping big serving of Taraba King Crab.  These guys are monstrously, nightmarishly large but also delicious.

Another highlight was the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Street.  In the midst of the flashy neon lights of the modern, vibrant Susukino district, there is a small narrow lane between buildings which house a series of small stalls which seem to be a relic from another time and which serve some of the best ramen on the planet.  These hole in the walls are small.  The smallest could only accommodate about 6 diners while the largest could probably sit about 16 diners.  We visited this street for dinner and supper a number of times.  Once we went around the witching hour on a wet rainy night to find queues of men in business suits waiting patiently in the rain for their turn to sit in the few seats available.  Our favorites included a delicious clam ramen served with basil oil and the Hokkaido local speciality of sweetcorn and butter ramen.

It may seem strange but we also tried out a French and an Italian restaurant and the Italian place, Picchu, was really memorable for using local Japanese ingredients in a creative interpretation of Italian cooking; a Taraba Crab meat sausage is an example.

Hokkaido is also famous for its milk and ice cream so a few helpings of that was also sampled especially the green tea ice cream.

Anyway, here are some photos to whet your appetite.

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Hi everyone!  I celebrated my birthday last week and I left clues in one of my posts to let you guys know where in the world I was.  Well, I waited and waited but none of you showed up to my birthday party.

What’s wrong?  Couldn’t solve the clues? Got lost? Got mugged in Tokyo and loss your memory?  Got stomped on by Godzilla?

Well anyway, you didn’t show up and it was your loss cause I chose to celebrate my birthday in my birthday suit!  Yes… naturel.  Bet you are kicking yourself for not getting on that early flight to Japan.

After decades of thinking about it, I finally got a chance to go to a ryokan and go into an outdoor onsen.  And I took the plunge!  I embraced the whole experience which involves letting it all hang out in a public bath.

I Mean, …Ten Thousand Monkeys Can’t be Wrong

For the uninitiated, let me walk you through the process.

Step 1: Get Naked. – all you take with you is a tiny towel that is barely big enough to cover your privates.  Now it seems that the native Japanese tend to strut around with the tiny towel folded neatly on top of their heads.  Those less accustomed to public nudity may rather uncomfortably use it to shield the nether regions from prying eyes but it really doesn’t help much.  I tend to subscribe to the strategy of using the towel to cover the face so that no one knows who you are.

Step 2: Soap and wash. – There are washing stations lined up along the side of a wall where you are expected to sit on tiny stools and wash  and clean yourself thoroughly. NOTE:- You Have to be CLEAN before entering the hot spring pool.  Soaping yourself in the hot pool is a major faux pas; nay – a major diplomatic incident; nay reason for going to war.

Step 3:  Enter the hot spring fed pool and soak while enjoying the cold outdoors.  The waters heal all kinds of physical and mental ailments and tiredness.

So here we go …….

Dressed for the Occasion in a Yukata (which apparently should not be confused with Yakuza)
To prove your worthiness to enter the waters of the onsen, some torture may have to be endured
Isn’t this just magical?

Well, that’s pretty much the end of this post.  If you were expecting some nudity, shame on you!   Please remember this is a family oriented blog.

Now, do you really want to see the squirrel disrobed?  I mean, do you really?  Are you sure?  Your final warning.  It’s not too late to turn back.  Last chance to save your eyes.

If you really want to see then follow this link…… I WANT TO SEE!

P.S. when asked about wearing his birthday suit for the occasion, LGS merely told the paparazzi that “it needed ironing”.

The Greying of the Squirrel

The Lone Grey Squirrel is getting more grey.  Today I am another year older and deeper in debt.  Yup….. a look in the mirror  and ……well, not a pretty sight.

For most of my life, I have always looked younger than my age. Even up to a couple of years ago, some of the younger folk had thought I was about 15 years younger than I really was.  And I really didn’t feel old either.

Then something happened and it seems as if a switch was suddenly flipped and everything changed.  First, a friend wanted to introduced me to his new sweet young thing.  He liked her and wanted my opinion of her. And so we were introduced and she said, “Hello, Uncle!”  In my culture, this is the way of showing respect to one’s elders.

Hmmph!  “Hello Uncle” indeed.  So I told my friend that I didn’t like her – call it a gut feeling.

Surprisingly, he listened to me and after sometime, he introduced me to another girl and we hit it off; like we had been friends for years.  None of that “Hello, Uncle” nonsense.  I was happy when they said they planned to get married.  And then, the girl’s mother was due to come to town to visit and meet my friend.  He recruited me to help entertain the mum and to help him make a good impression.  I was honored.  And then I met the mum ……… (pregnant pause) ……and learned that she was younger than me.  My friend’s girlfriend’s mum was younger than me.  When did I get that old?

Then again, recently I had cause to make a police report and I went to the station and was directed to see this elderly police sergeant.  He was clearly pass his prime and was waiting out his time before retirement doing a desk job.  His hair was shocking white and he was constantly out of breath; the result of years of smoking probably.  This frail old man looked up at me and said, “Hello, Uncle!”

Hmmmph!  But there was nothing to do but shrug it off.  I was due to have lunch with some of my buddies and I wanted to relate these funny incidents to them.  Unfortunately when I arrived, they were too busy exchanging information about vitamins, supplements and which doctors were good for colonoscopies!

You know what? If this means that I really am old now, then I plan to be grumpy as well.  You know like my heroes……..

grumpy old men

Where in the World…..

The Lone Grey Squirrel is out.  He is not here

He is scouting for suitable locations for his secret hideout from which to plan world domination and enslave mankind for their own good.

You might ask, “Where in the world is ………LGS?”

Here are some clues to which country I am scouting out.  See how many clues you need before you figure it out!

  1. Imports 85% of Jamaica’s coffee produce.
  2. You could feel the earth move under your feet at least 1500 times a year.
  3. Has the world’s largest fish market.
  4. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson appear together in a movie filmed here.
  5. “Handsome Weeping Boys” is a good paying career.
  6. Surprising number of missing fingertips.
  7. Baseball is its most popular spectator sport.
  8. In 2015, the title of “World Whiskey of the Year” was awarded to one of its brews.
  9. Won a famous victory against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup 2015.
  10. “Wax on, Wax off ” Part II

Have you figured it out?  Where in the world is LGS?

“To Prince Edward Island” by Canadian artist, Alex Colville – One of my favorite paintings.


Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels