EXCERPTS

Excerpt from “Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings & Other Collected Stories”

No One Can Sing a Song Like Me and Roger Daltrey

 I’ve lived my life (or parts of it) by a motto: “No one can write a song like Pete Townsend and no one can sing it like me.” Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who, said that in an interview in 1970-something when he was young and confident.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00065]In the shower, alone in the car or at times when no one was around and I had the stereo cranked too loud, I’ve dedicated my life to those words.

In the shower I’ve given it my best Roger Daltrey: “On the dry and dusty road. The nights we spent apart alone. I need to get back home to cool, cool rain.”

I’m convinced, driving in the car, that if Daltrey was wrong and someone can sing a song like him it must be me: “If I swallow anything evil, put your finger down my throat; and if I shiver please give me a blanket, to keep me warm let me wear your coat.”

It’s probably worth noting that I’m utterly tone deaf and the motto I most sound like is: “can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

Nevertheless, when my first son was just a little baby and woke up crying in the middle of the night, I found that for the first time I had a captive audience.

I started singing to Harrison when he was just days old, rocking him in the middle of the night. And the songs I sang weren’t lullabies. I sang The Who, The Band, Dire Straits and Pink Floyd – I sang the songs I knew by heart and had rehearsed a thousand times over.

And as Harrison grew older and gained little brothers, I continued my performances for all three of them when I put them to bed. It doesn’t matter to my sons that I sound awful, the boys love me and can’t understand why I went into newspapers when I could’ve been a Rock Star.

Poor kids … tone deaf apparently runs in the family.

So Thursday morning I thought that all those many auditions in the shower, in the car, alone in front of the stereo, had finally paid off.

For Father’s Day my wife (and ostensibly the boys) bought me an MP3 player. I set to work downloading my favorite Who songs (one of the kids has lost my Who’s Greatest Hits CD). Of course, once the songs were on the MP3 player the kids adopted it as their own to hoard and fight over, and I’ve only been able to listen to it three brief times.

Mixed in with “You Better You Better You Bet” and “Baba O’Reilly” are a few other favorites, including “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys and several selections from the Chieftains. Most all of the songs on the MP3 player are songs that have put my children to sleep at one time or another.

Thursday morning, my middle son Nathan had wrestled the MP3 player from his brothers and was listening to it. I was standing beside him when he stopped the player and said the words his father has been waiting 33 years to hear: “Daddy, were you in this band?”

At last! Someone besides me thinks I sound like Roger Daltrey! From behind the biggest grin any father has ever had I said, “No, Nate. I was never in any band. Why?” I asked this not because I didn’t understand the implication of his question but because I wanted to hear the words.

“Because one of the guys singing sounds just like you.”

After years of practice, it had finally come. Now Roger Daltrey would have to confess, “Nobody can write a song like Pete Townsend, and nobody can sing it like me and Rob Peecher.”

“Which song are you listening to?” asked this proud papa. If I’d nailed one of the songs, I wanted to know which one in case I ever find myself on a lit stage in front of hundreds of screaming fans.

“Sloop John B,” Nathan answered.

“I sound like one of the Beach Boys?” I asked, incredulous. A Beach Boy? Don’t misunderstand, the Beach Boys are all right, but they can’t sing like Roger Daltrey: “I wear kinda crazy clothes, and I look pretty crappy sometimes, but my body feels so good and I still sing a razor line, every time.”

At an innocent 6-years-old, Nathan can’t understand that he lifted me up and then crushed me. Even so, I’m only more determined now. If I’ve mastered the Beach Boys, surely Roger Daltrey isn’t too far off.

 

Rob Peecher is editor of The Oconee Leader but he could’ve been a Rock Star.

 

Excerpt from “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs”

In February of 1861 a group of secessionists led by a sinister Corsican barber named Cypriano Ferrandini and calling themselves The Blood Tubs plotted to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln as he traveled through Baltimore on his way to his inauguration. Had it not been for Jackson Speed, that reluctant adventurer, working as a Pinkerton Detective, Lincoln might have only been a footnote and the nation’s history would have been completely different. After meeting with Ferrandini (whom he referred to as Fernandina), Pinkerton was adamant that he had a plan conceived to foil the Blood Tub plot and apprehend the plotters.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]Pinkerton said, “Ye must stay close to Trichot and keep yerself apprised of the plans. Whatever Fernandina does, ye must nae allow his plans to go forward without your watchful eye upon it. And every detail ye learn, Jaggy, ye must pass along to me through Miss Cherry. And when the time comes to select the man who must kill Lincoln, Jaggy Speed, it must be you who receives the assignment! Do whatever ye must to make Fernandina select you as the assassin. In that way, and in that way alone, we can ensure the president-elect’s safety and the ultimate arrest and prosecution of these plotters.”

I gulped fear. My intention was to be well out of the way when time came to kill the Illinois lawyer who would be president. But here was Pinkerton demanding that I be the man beside Lincoln.

“And what do you propose to do when I’m standing on the train platform with Lincoln and with all the Blood Tubs standing behind me and I decline the invitation to run Lincoln through with my knife?” I nearly screamed at the man.

“Keep yer voice down, Jaggy,” Pinkerton said, getting wide-eyed and looking around to make certain I wasn’t being overheard. “I shall be there, along with whatever force is necessary to apprehend those chiefs among the plotters, who most certainly will be on hand to see that the act is carried out. I will perfect my plans, but at present I perceive a plan whereby you will approach Lincoln and rather than run him through, as ye say, ye usher him quickly back aboard the train. I and my force will rush forward at that moment to apprehend the plotters. I will station more men aboard the train, and we will quickly bundle up the plotters, put ’em aboard a separate car, and take ’em immediately to Washington D.C. where we will have ’em thrown into a prison for the rest of their worthless lives. Oh, aye, Jaggy Speed, this will prove to be the finest moment for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and ye shall be the hero among my men!”

His eyes stared off into the distance like a mooncalf, and the drool at the corners of his mouth put me in mind of a starving man staring at a steak dinner just beyond his grasp. Oh, aye, Pinkerton was as big a lunatic as Ferrandini. His plan was foolhardy on the face of it – holding the president-elect out as bait and putting him in the very moment of assassination in order to trap the Blood Tubs was all lunacy and too risky by far. But that Pinkerton’s entire plot hinged on me was beyond the pale. If this was the best that Pinkerton could do, Lincoln was all but dead already.

Excerpt from “Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria”

 In late August of 1846, Jackson Speed found himself in charge of Mississippi Colonel Jefferson Davis’s mules. The work was no fun as the mules were unwilling beasts and road was choked with heat and dust, but it kept him with the baggage train in the back where he was well pleased to avoid the fighting. That didn’t work out so well for Ol’ Speedy, as we know. In the following excerpt from the book, Speed sets out from the camp at Camargo for the Mexican city of Monterrey. He was told by all who knew that there would be no fighting at Monterrey as the Mexican forces there would surely retreat in front of the Americans and leave the city open for them. That didn’t work out so well for Ol’ Speedy, either.

When I think back on it, I am amazed at my naivety. I was young and foolish, and made rash decisions without any thought to the consequences. I knew nothing then of warfare or marching. I certainly did not know then that the first rule of staying alive is always, under every circumstance, avoid marching to battle with a band of lunatic officers who are convinced of the ease of victory. When they are certain sure of victory, they are always wrong. The same can be said, too, for camp rumors. If they’re going around camp saying there will be no fight, you can bet the fight is coming.

On the first day of march, the damned mules in the baggage train again stampeded – startled, if you can imagine it, by the clanging of the cooking kettles and other gear strapped to their own backs. They scattered gear all over the road when we were not half a mile from Camargo, and those of us in the mule train spent the day reassembling all the gear and catching all the mules. After our first day of march, we camped within sight of Camargo.

Each morning, the army set off in front of us, marching in the cooler temperatures of the morning, while the muleteers – the Mexicans we hired to handle the mules – packed gear and loaded the animals. It was always late morning before we got moving, and so we marched in the hottest part of the day. The countryside was full of cactus and mesquite and any other kind of shrub that grew thorns so that there was no breeze to offer any ease to our sufferings. The dust kicked up by the mules and wagons in the supply train was so thick that most of what a person breathed in was dirt, filling the lungs and congesting the chest. We tied bandanas over our noses and mouths, but this was nearly as unpleasant as it only contributed to the extreme heat. The heat and the dust and the bandanas were so choking it all combined to make it nearly impossible to breathe.

Like everyone else, when we first set out I gave no thought to how soon I might next get water, and so I drank liberally from my canteen at the start of the march and then found – even when we stopped at night – that there was no fresh water to be had.

Often we passed soldiers who had fainted of sunstroke and were left by the side of the road, some to recover and others to die.

In the distance we could see the Sierra Madres mountains, and they promised cooler temperatures, breezes and fresh water, but they forever stayed in the distance and it seemed that no matter how much we marched we never could get any closer.

It was hellish, miserable marching, and the Mexican mules were impossible to move. No amount of whipping, beating or coaxing could get them to make reasonable time, and as often as not I took to whipping and beating the muleteers as well as the mules to give vent to my frustration.

After two weeks of marching, we at last reached our destination of Cerralvo in the Sierra Madres. This was where General Taylor and those other elements of the army that had gone on ahead of us had camped and waited for our arrival.

I can tell you that after that sun-baked, dusty road where there was no relief of any kind, being delivered into Cerralvo was like achieving the Pearly Gates of Heaven. In all my travels, I’ve seldom found a place so pleasant, and I was determined that I would not be moved from that place – not by Colonel Davis, not by Old Rough and Ready, and not by any encouragement or threat that man could make.

Cerralvo was resplendent with fresh springs and clean, clear well water. The townspeople grew all manner of fruits – oranges, watermelon, figs, lemons and even apples. There were pecan trees for shade and streams and a pleasant breeze in the higher altitude. The townspeople made a pleasant wine that I thoroughly enjoyed, and they were all so agreeable to the invading force that it felt like a holiday. One of the first things I did was bathe in one of the streams, and I nearly froze to death in the water. It was that cool and refreshing.

Clean water is a luxury, and those who have never suffered without it cannot fully appreciate what they have.

Thinking back on it now, I am almost transported, and I cannot recall any other march with any other army into any other battle that can make me have such fond recollections as those of Cerralvo.

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