On friendship, music and time

Tackling three such enormous topics seems a bit daunting, but these are the subjects that filled my week, and I’d like to share them. 

Which leads to the problem of even starting this message….  I remember a poster that hung in my college dorm room which said, “Where do I begin to say the things I want to say?”, and my mentor (a teacher at the community college I attended for two years) who said when she gave it to me — “Just start with a first step, and every step after that will become easier.” So here we go, and I believe together we’ll see this trio of threads woven through and through.

On Wednesday afternoon, I heard about the White House opening the nomination process for the 2010 Presidential Citizens Award; the deadline was Thursday at midnight, Eastern time.  The notion came up among some long-time friends to suggest for this honor our friend Herb Allen, whom we all knew because he was the long-time musical director of Up With People. Herb was (and remains) an inspiration, a teacher and friend — he’s been hospitalized since mid-December, however, though he appears to be facing his health challenges with his usual boundless energy and wry wit.  

More than 20,000 people traveled with this organization, including me (for three years, in the 1970s) but it seemed that no one had commited to doing the paperwork to nominate “Herbie,” who celebrated his 80th birthday at last year’s UWP reunion in Tucson (at left — who could resist that smile?)   The nomination involved writing a short narrative answering two questions — why the person deserves the award and the person’s longterm impact on individuals and communities.  I decided to do it.

It’s humbling to consider representing the impact thousands felt during this man’s 45-year career — all alumni and literally, anyone who ever saw an UWP show — and to do so in just 1,500 characters for each answer — and finish it in less than 30 hours! 

First, I had encouragement and trust from Herb’s daughter (occupied with dealing with her dad’s health and its increasing toll on her mother Jane) and another old friend, Willie Knowles (one of UWP’s superstars but may be now better recognized as one of Beyonce’s uncles.)

And I had a lot of other help, too, as friends rallied with quotes, word lists and suggestions of things to include. They e-mailed, heard about it on FaceBook, and wrote or phoned with ideas.

One person who called probably really didn’t have time this week — David Grossman, Executive Vice President of The Recording Academy (best known for the Grammys — which take place tonight.)

Dave was the drummer in my cast year on the road. At the time, we were both seniors in high school — he was the coolest guy I’d ever met — super talented but at the same time, down to earth. I knew how strongly Dave felt about Herbie’s influence on this life, as he was the one who had presented Herb with the UWP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 at another reunion (Dave worked for Paramount then) and I’d seen them together in action in 2008.  

That David carved out a few minutes to talk about how much Herbie meant to him says much, both about Herb and David — and the power of friendship and the power of music.

Curious how it turned out and whether I was up to the task in fewer than 500 words?  The nomination text, submitted on-line with just five minutes to spare)  is posted as a note on my FaceBook page.

January 23rd was also all about old friends — we knew Todd Fogelsonger and Ava Chakravarti in Seattle but hadn’t seen them for 15 years — and music, as their band Manooghi Hi, was performing in Park City, Utah, as part of the Sundance Film Festival Twenty Ten. 

As I write this, I’m listening to their debut self-titled CD. It’s an amazing blend of rock and Indian music — termed Hindi-grunge — truly a one-of-a-kind sound. Knockout talent named Mehnaz (whose song “Miss India” made her a star in Bombay and beyond) is their lead singer, backed by Todd on guitar and vocals, Ava lending her vocal skills, and a well-tuned assortment of super-talented musicians: Jimmy Thomas (JT) on super-solid bass (we knew him years ago, too, because he played in Mass Hypnosis with Todd and Ava), drummer John Hollis, Kent Halvorsen (of Sky Cries Mary) on keyboards and a hot Seattle percussionist named Larry rounding out the group (though he’s AOL in the pic below, which was taken by a woman connected to the Discovery Channel.) 

We arrived in Park City about 2 p.m. First up: Mehnaz taking part of a panel about international music taped to be broadcast on the Oprah Network. We spent the rest of the day with Todd and Ava catching up and sharing stories about the roads we’ve been on since we were last sharing a tune and a toddy, back in the Great Northwest.

Their gig in Park City started way after midnight and it ROCKED.  My photos and a couple of videos (also posted on FaceBook) don’t really do it justice — but you might get an idea of our great time. (You can also click here to read some press about Manooghi Hi and for an easy link to them on You-Tube.)

Who knows, maybe next year at this time they’ll be meeting David Grossman at the Grammys. Doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility, to me, and nothing would make me happier.

So that’s all I have to say, for now, about the power of friendship, music and time, well-exhibited by these two very different experiences.

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