Paying tribute to Grandpa, the most grateful man I’ve known

On Saturday, April 18, my grandfather Marshall Cheek Kidd passed away. He had just turned 97, and, for the first time, was really starting to feel his age. The life of the party was slowing down, both physically and mentally. It was hard to believe, but the man with the gift of gab suddenly had a hard time keeping up with conversation. A man known for his delightful aphorisms (“Giving up procrastination is very difficult,” “Big data allows us to make bigger mistakes with confidence,” “Politics, like religion, is not about logic and reason,” to give you a few) stopped sharing quips and just shared smiles, still just as grateful for each moment.

Gregarious by nature, Grandpa was always a sucker for social interaction, which made this global pandemic extra discouraging for him and those he loved.

“For your grandpa, social distancing is a punishment,” my Aunt Margie told me last week. Margie and my Uncle Steve (Marshall’s eldest son) went to see Marshall at his retirement home in Nashua, New Hampshire over the weekend, but they could only talk to him on the phone and interact with him from outside the building, separated by glass. It’s hard to know how much of this my grandpa understood. He couldn’t eat with his friends anymore. Meals were delivered to him. He couldn’t go out and about to see his plethora of friends and participate in lively discussions. Lockdown was enforced, as residents and employees were testing positive for COVID-19.

Grandpa would also test positive.

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Marshall spending some time with his grandson in the early 90s at his lakehouse in New Hampshire

Listening to Benny Goodman, my grandfather’s favorite composer, I reflect on Marshall. Like Goodman, he was a clarinet player. I got to see him perform with a big band once during a visit to New Hampshire when I was in high school, and he was fantastic. Playing the clarinet was one of his great joys in life, and it was evident when you heard him.

He stayed with the music. At The Huntington – where he spent the last decade and a half of his life – he participated in the Monday sing-a-longs, his clarinet chops still there after all those years.

Grandpa once told me music was the secret to a long life. He was quite certain of this.

“I noticed this at my last high school reunion,” he said. “Most of us from band were still around.”

Although I didn’t have an appreciation for jazz in my adolescence, my grandpa was still able to establish a bond between us through music. He’d always ask what I was into and was almost always willing to listen.

During one visit I played him Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and asked him if he could play it on the clarinet.

“It’s actually pretty easy,” he said, smiling. “Can you play it on guitar? If not, you should try it. You’ll get it.”

 

His self-confidence and constant belief in me never failed to inspire. I came home from that trip and brought “Kashmir” to my guitar teacher. He taught it to me in one lesson, and I came to admire my grandfather even more. He always applied himself and always was a student of life. He couldn’t get enough. I would even share some of my college textbooks with him so we could learn together.

Grandpa’s thirst for knowledge was almost as contagious as his positive attitude, which constantly amazed his family. We’ve often joked about how many times he said, “This is the best day of my life.” How wonderful is that?  It’s like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said, “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

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Grandpa playing piano at the Huntington a few years ago

Benny Goodman plays on, and I can see why Grandpa was so taken by his sound and why he picked up the clarinet in the first place. He was fortunate to be a part of such a remarkable era, and he didn’t take it for granted. One of the only regrets he shared with me was not being able to fight in World War II. He would’ve gone in a heartbeat, but they didn’t take him, so he stayed behind and studied engineering at Ohio State University. He went on to become an electrical engineer, working for RCA and General Electric. He enjoyed his career and was honored to play a part in creating the Lunar Excursion Module for the Apollo program.

Grandpa was always the first to tell you how good he had it. Even during hard times he could seek out the silver lining. I’ll always cherish that about him and aspire to follow in his footsteps that way, especially right now, when we could all use a little more positivity.

I can’t think of a better way to do that than with music, whether it’s performing, writing a song or putting it on and sharing a dance with my wife.

My grandpa once said, “If it weren’t for music, I would’ve been a disaster.” I know the feeling and will always be thankful for his encouraging words that helped instill the confidence I needed to stick with guitar. But, more than that, I will always be grateful for his love, his wisdom and his joyful spirit. Thank you, Grandpa.

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Let laughter and positivity carry you through this difficult time

“Blow up your TV. Throw away your paper.

Go to the country. Build you a home.

Plant a little garden. Eat a lotta peaches.

Try and find Jesus, on your own.” – John Prine, “Spanish Pipedream”

Well, it’s Holy Week, and here we are in the middle of the greatest pandemic of our lifetime. It becomes more real all the time. When I heard legendary singer/songwriter John Prine was put in intensive care after contracting Covid-19 I felt numb.

A man I consider the Kurt Vonnegut of country music, Prine has many songs that capture the beauty and absurdity, the wit and wonder life has to offer. I paid tribute to him last week on my weekly live stream by playing a few of his tunes, including “Spanish Pipedream.” It’s one of those songs that can make you laugh out loud. Prine has a lot of those: “Illegal Smile,” “It’s a Big Old Goofy World,” “In Spite of Ourselves” and “When I Get to Heaven,” to name a few). So when I saw the news on Instagram I stopped what I was doing and tried to process this alarming news. Prine passed April 7, joining country singer Joe Diffie, Fountains of Wayne singer Adam Schlesinger and more than 10,000 others killed by the virus in the U.S. thus far.

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John Prine performs “Six O’Clock News” in Milwaukee April 25, 2018, a show I went to with my father and brother-in-law

Among those deceased is Lew Berry, a funny, tough (he held our school’s squatting record), larger-than-life character I graduated from high school with in Indiana.

Famous musicians are one thing, but when it starts taking 37-year-old buddies, it gets personal. There’s no ignoring this. We can’t pretend it’s not coming our way. We can’t pretend the stay-at-home directive doesn’t apply to us. Like Don Thomas wrote in a letter to the editor in last week’s Lewistown News-Argus, “Really, really wanting to believe something will not make it true. It may have worked for Peter Pan, but it will not alter the course of the current epidemic.”

With all this in mind, it’s natural to be scared or anxious, it’s understandable to go to a dark place, but try your best to stay positive. That’s what I’m going to do. It’s something my wife encourages and exemplifies. There is so much to take in. Sometimes I overload myself with news and constant phone calls. It’s good to be informed, yes, but balance is critical. We can’t make information an obsession.

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Prine plays “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” with The Milk Carton Kids in Milwaukee

Sharing music has helped me. So has laughter. The more we can make ourselves laugh the healthier we’ll feel. Motivational speaker Les Brown agrees with this philosophy. His live stream helped me out Monday morning with some jokes that brought levity to the situation: “If you get an email that says, ‘knock, knock,’ don’t answer – it’s a Jehovah’s Witness working from home.”

There is a lot of healing in laughter. This was evident while watching “The Croods” with my stepkids and “Raising Arizona” with my wife. There is also a lot of healing in positivity. Les Brown encourages us to have a “perpetual mindset and attitude that we will get through this.” Yes, there are going to be more deaths. People we know will die. It’s a harsh and uncertain reality, but we are in charge of how we respond to it.

I ask you to follow this advice and find something that makes you laugh. Share what brings you joy with your partner or your children. Use this time to your advantage and avoid panicking, even if you’ve lost your job or are suffering in other ways, be it loneliness, depression, fear or financial strain. Try your best to stay mindful, stay grounded and be purposeful in how you use this time. If you need help, reach out to a family member, a friend, a counselor or a crisis hotline.

One way to improve physical and mental health is by utilizing Lewistown’s walking trails. I can’t believe how many people were on them Sunday, enjoying the beautiful day with their families. We are lucky to have them in our backyard. Take advantage.

As bad as it is, there is still much for which to be grateful. Find those things in your life. Listen to some John Prine, too.

(a previous version of this was published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

 

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Local musicians, artists go “live” to lift spirits

It was February of 2007. I was in New Orleans with my friend Daniel – a native – celebrating his first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the impassioned city, its impact still widely spread. Daniel’s home had significant water damage and some of his friends were still crashing in FEMA trailers.

New Orleans, however, is a resilient place. Hope remained, spirits stayed strong. The community – and thousands of others from all over the nation and the world – united together for the carnival’s return.

The most unforgettable moment of this experience came uptown at Tipitina’s. Trombone Shorty – who had just returned from a tour with Lenny Kravitz – was headlining with a band of local All-Stars, getting funky, the spirit of The Big Easy back intact. As Shorty and his band marched through the crowd, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” everything was electrified. We were all moving and grooving together, marching along.

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Tipitina’s in New Orleans – a historical music venue named after a Professor Longhair classic.

I’d never felt anything quite like it. Music rejuvenated the people and it rejuvenated a city that went to Hell and back. It was soul restoration.

Nothing brings us together like music, and, during this alarming time in history, we need it badly.

Unfortunately, we can’t physically bring people together during this time of crisis, so musicians are taking to live streaming to entertain, to try and bring joy to others who are saddened, sick, stuck at home or all three.

A friend of mine was just streaming live in Austin, Texas, backing up Nikki Lane on keyboards. It was a fun time for him joining a bill with Willie Nelson at the top, but he’s just processing like we all are and trying to find ways where he can contribute.

“It all feels like self-healing to me,” he said. “I’m happy to pass it on.”

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A lot of musicians are taking to live streaming during this crisis, and I’m glad to participate.

That’s what local musicians are doing, too. Last week Chris Hildebrant and I did back-to-back sessions on Facebook live and we’re going to do it every weekend. Dave Rummans, Jeff and Casey Sanders, Christie Aldrich and others are doing the same, and why not? Music offers community and solace.

When I did my live stream last week from my basement, it really felt like I was playing a show. The comments poured in, people were grateful, excited to have the entertainment. Like Jon said, it was a self-healing experience, but it also brought joy to others, and that’s special. That’s what we need. Whether a musician or not, we can all find ways to contribute. Like David Byrne of the Talking Heads said, “we’re all in the same leaky boat.”

It’s inspiring how many musicians are keeping the party going right now. DJ D-Nice (Derrick Jones) kicked this trend into gear a few weeks back through “Homeschool,” the name for his social distancing Instagram live parties he puts on from his kitchen in California. This party has had some A-list viewers, including Will Smith, Jimmy Fallon, Michelle Obama, Magic Johnson and Lenny Kravitz himself.

“We are one,” Kravitz commented during last Saturday’s “Homeschool” session.

The streams might not get as wild as that night at Tipitina’s 13 years ago, but – even when we can’t leave the house – music can continue to lift us up, pacify our problems and set us free. I invite you to join me and the other local musicians, to follow your favorite artists and see what they’re doing because they are likely going to stream, as well. Also, if you want to bring a taste of New Orleans to your living room, check out Jon Cleary’s “Quarantini Hour” from his Facebook music page.

We can get through this, friends. And if you’re having doubts, put on some music. Let your troubles subside.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to proposing

Are you thinking about popping the question?

If so, how do you know you’re ready to make the move?

Do you create the mood or wait for the moment to present itself?

Do you involve others or keep it private?

There is no “one size fits all” here. The best proposal is not about what someone else did – it’s about what’s right for your partner.

If your partner is more private, you probably don’t want to make the big announcement in front of strangers at a restaurant.

If your partner hates surprises, you probably want to ease them into it, give them subtle hints and not get carried away.

Understanding your partner and understanding yourself are the most important elements of a proposal. On this note, if you find yourself more nervous than excited about the action of proposing, have more talks with your partner about the future. Make sure you are on the same page, and don’t stress it. Don’t let anxiety take hold. It’s a fun and exciting time and should be something you look forward to – not something that terrifies you.

That being said, it’s totally common to be nervous. This is a big deal, no matter how long you’ve been together. Asking someone to be your partner for the rest of your life should be the biggest question you ever ask, leading to the biggest question you’ll ever answer.

It’s hard to know exactly when you are ready to take this plunge.

I’d been with my partner for three years before proposing, so I’d obviously had a lot of time to think about it before the big day.

What made it clear to me was the conviction I had that life was better with Kari than it was without her, than I felt completed and comforted by her presence and her endless love. I never wanted to lose her.

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In 2015, we booked Chico Hot Springs for Valentine’s Day (which also happens to be Kari’s birthday) and I packed the engagement ring in my travel bag. There are few things in this world Kari loves more than hot springs, so I figured combining a soak with a proposal would be perfect. Considering she’s not a fan of the spotlight, I had no intention of proposing in the pool or at dinner. I didn’t want to create a moment. Instead, I wanted the opportunity to occur organically, and it did

Was I nervous? Absolutely. It’s a gigantic question. Although I was optimistic, I had some jitters, and, more than anything, I wanted it to be special and wanted it to be a surprise.

Fortunately, she didn’t see it coming.

“You did it!” she said, before giving me an answer.

She gave me a hug, a kiss and then she said, “yes.”

Was it easy? No, but it was perfect for us, a memory we’ll always cherish.

A year and a half after I asked the question, we said our “I dos,” and we’ve been enjoying the journey of a life together. It’s what we hoped for that evening in Chico, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.   

In my opinion, this is what proposing is all about: consider the ultimate answer before you consider asking the question, and, when you’re ready, make the moment something you know your partner will appreciate.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus 2020 Bridal Edition)

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Be pleasant this holiday season

“Years ago my mother used to say, “In this world you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” – Elwood P. Dowd, “Harvey”

Sixty-nine years after its release, there’s still a lot we can learn from “Harvey,” especially Elwood P. Dowd, one of Jimmy Stewart’s most iconic roles.

Dowd always set his intention to be pleasant. Wherever he went he was interested, cordial and kind. He listened. People enjoyed having him around, so much so they didn’t mind that he had an invisible friend: a 6’4” rabbit named Harvey.

Giant pooka aside, Dowd lived his life one social encounter at a time, looking forward to meeting strangers and becoming their friends. What a novel concept.

Perhaps the 1950s was a simpler time. Having talked with some Central Montanans recently about their experience during that decade, it sounds like it was, but that’s no excuse for us to lose sight of being pleasant, especially in rural, small-town America, where we are supposed to take pride in such a trait.

How did we get off track?

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Growing up, my dad would often share a Kurt Vonnegut quote with me: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” As we go throughout our day, who is it we are pretending to be? Who is it we are trying to impress? When we have so many demands, so many commitments, so many relationships, sometimes we forget what we’re after in the first place.

I don’t know what it was like in the ‘50s, but I remember it being easier in the ‘90s and early 2000s, when our lives weren’t our phones. Now we’re always accessible. We’re always busy. It’s hard to stop and enjoy the silence when we won’t allow ourselves to experience it.

This being the case, it’s easier to get irritable. You can let news and work consume you. You can let the divisive political culture become an addiction. Instead of just reading an article or watching a show, you have social media constantly reminding you of the day’s drama, triggering an emotional response. No matter what side you’re on, it’s easy to get defensive, reactionary, even volatile.

Stop. Take a breath. Reset. And say to yourself, “I don’t know what’s in store today, but I’m going to try being pleasant.”

This is, of course, easier said than done, but being pleasant – like anything – takes effort, and, if you pretend for long enough, you might realize it’s not an act anymore.

I’d like to be more like Elwood P. Dowd and focus on the moment, live one interaction at a time, not be so easily distracted. I’d like to be pleasant, be it at home, work or out and about.

This holiday season seems as good a time as any to start pretending.

(As published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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Reflections on “Joker” and society today

“Wanting people to pay attention, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder. Sometimes you have to hit them in the head with a sledgehammer…then you get their strict attention.” – John Doe, “Seven.”

Kevin Spacey’s role as a serial killer playing out the seven deadly sins in the iconic David Fincher thriller from 1995 has many similarities to Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of mentally disturbed Arthur Fleck in “Joker.”

Doe’s actions were meant to protest society’s tolerance of sin, which he believed had reached an apex far beyond healthy, far beyond excusable. He wanted to do something about it by making a graphic statement. Driven by his narcissism, he believed he was chosen to deliver God’s wrath.

Unlike “Joker,” Doe’s actions were orchestrated. Arthur Fleck did not intend to use violence as a way to express himself. The gun he uses to kill three men on the subway was initially meant for self-defense. But once he’s lauded as a vigilante he trades up a failed stand-up comic career to go full-time villain.

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What did you expect? It’s a bad-guy origin film, one with an ending that empowers evil. In the shocking climax, “Joker” is celebrated – even oddly worshipped – for killing fictional TV talk show host Murray Franklin (appropriately played by Robert DeNiro, star of “Taxi Driver” and “King of Comedy”).

In “Taxi Driver,” Travis Bickle (DeNiro) tries to avoid turning into a “Joker.”

“I don’t believe one should devote his life to morbid self-attention,” says the lonely narrator struggling to find friends in late-70s New York, a dark and depraved place like the Gotham Todd Phillips creates in “Joker.”

Bickle turns to violence, as well. In the end, he’s a savior for a 12-year-old prostitute (Jodie Foster). He has good intentions as a vigilante, but let’s not forget he first attempts to assassinate a political candidate. He feels rejected and tries to take it out on the man who represents everything he can’t have, the man the woman he loves admires.

We pity Bickle, but do we celebrate his murders? Do we root for him? Do we root for Arthur Fleck? Are we supposed to celebrate him as he dances on top of the crashed cop car while Gotham goes up in flames?

These films all glorify evil in some way, but our society is more frightened and fragile now. Violence, sadly, is an option, an escape route, a way to achieve celebrity status for far too many. Death counts are rising.

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Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” came out the year before “Seven.” There was controversy and concern, but nothing like we’re seeing today. If these movies were to come out now, the outrage would certainly be there. The protests would impact the viewing of the film, just as it has with “Joker.” We were told it should scare us, we were warned it could potentially the wrong ideas to the wrong kind of people.

What good were these warnings? And were they legitimate? They certainly worked for DC Films and Village Roadshow Pictures, as “Joker” has grossed more than $700 million worldwide.

Are these warnings merited? Are dark films such as “Joker” to blame for what society has become? Who can say? Four years after John Doe’s rant in the backseat of the police car in “Seven,” two bullied outcasts shot up their school in Littleton, Colorado. Would they have done that if they hadn’t seen “Seven” or “Natural Born Killers,” the latter of which was one of their favorite movies?

People try to blame the media, but aren’t these films reflections of our sick society? These movies are works of fiction. They are art. And they are inspired by the society that breeds them. We’re broken, and one large reason we’re broken is captured by Doe’s self-righteous comment. We’re ego-driven and we don’t feel heard. We’re isolated and desperate. We all want to feel important. Instead, we feel like a pawn in the game, a sheeple, insignificant.

This is more the case now than it was in the ‘70s or the ‘90s. With the prominence of the Internet and social media, we’re all drowned out, leading to more megalomaniacal, bombastic cries for help. Our sledgehammers are AR-15s.   

How do we prevent this?

We start where we are. We listen. We don’t go online to find our friends. We find them in our community. We talk to our neighbors, or at least make an effort. We don’t try to be right all the time. We try to co-exist with those who have differing opinions.

Will this solve everything? No. But it’s a start. Don’t let contempt fuel you, and don’t let ego drive you. Be kind and considerate to others and be compassionate to those who are in need of compassion. If we try harder, perhaps the John Does, the Travis Bickles and the Arthur Flecks won’t feel so alone.

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Magic waters: Hot springs are magnificent for both humans and wildlife

When my wife, Kari, stepped into the natural, 94-degree pool at Days Inn Thermopolis last Labor Day weekend, she was overcome with euphoria. She smiled and let out a big sigh. Completely captivated, she became one with the water.

Such is the salvation in the hot springs of Wyoming. Upon dipping in, your sorrows and troubles melt away. Relaxation becomes you.

A Greek word for “Hot City,” Thermopolis is best-known for Big Horn Hot Springs, one of the largest mineral springs in the world, releasing 2.8 million gallons of 135-degree water daily. For more than a century, Thermopolis’ hot springs have been praised by doctors, practitioners, biologists and people of all ages and all walks of life, from all over the world, to take in Star Plunge Swim Center, Plaza Hotel, Hot Springs Water Park and other hot-spring related jewels the town and state park provide.

What is now revered as a hot spring mecca, Thermopolis was discovered by two frontiersman. In 1884, Joe Sneider and Ed Crapon saw steam rising from a small body of water while passing through the area. At first, they thought it was a hostile Indian camp, but as they got closer, they had located something magical for both people and wildlife: hot springs of “considerable magnitude.”

Purchased from the Shoshone and Arapahoe Indians in 1896 by the Federal Government, this land was presented to the state of Wyoming and turned into destination for soakers.

Local pharmacies used to bottle this water and sell it to patients to treat “a variety of ailments,” according to the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources. Through the decades, stories have been told of “miracle cures.” In an issue of the Thermopolis Independent Review from Nov. 27, 1952, for example, 79-year-old Jesse Smith reported his gray hair turned black after drinking hot springs water for three months.

A gateway to Hot Springs State Park and the county seat of Hot Springs County, Thermopolis is hot spring heaven, as several hotels and other establishments in the area are supplied by the natural mineral water and even have pools of their own, be it the Days Inn, Best Western or the bath house at Hot Springs State Park.

Hot Springs State Park is to hot springs lovers what Graceland is to Elvis Presley admirers: the hot spring playgrounds, the bath house and the tufa terrace waterfalls, the latter which makes the park reminiscent of Yellowstone’s natural geothermal wonders.

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Taking a walk

After starting our day with a soak, Kari and I took a stroll on walking trails meandering through Thermopolis. We walked over the Bighorn River on a magnificent suspension bridge, passing several ancient travertine terraces formed by mineral springs that used to be much larger and omnipotent. Dying springs, such as the Spirit Hole and Devil’s Punch Bowl, provide a glimpse into what a once-active spring looked like below the water surface. Evidence of the travertine formations can be seen along the Bighorn River and on the hillside across the river. Some springs were still active during the early 1900s, forming today’s rainbow-colored terraces. The Park’s clay mounds stand where hot mineral water once bubbled out of the ground.

The water flowed through these surfaces, bubbling over a ground that looked like white clay and, in some instances, red clay.  On the walkway nearest to the Days Inn, the water reddened from one day to the next. We were fascinated by the transition. Hot springs lovers aren’t alone in their fondness to the area’s steamy paradise.

Kari at Hot Springs

Welcoming for wildlife

“What’s that?” Kari asked, as we passed Star Plunge Swim Center and headed toward Hot Springs Park looking into the Bighorn after seeing a splash. “Did you see that?”

The critter popped his head up and swam away. A mink.

Many other animals were present: ducks, mule deer, snakes, a wide variety of insects and other creatures of land and water. Birds particularly find solace in the area. Sparrows, mourning doves, robins, meadowlarks, red-tailed hawks, Great Blue Herons and others find a home here.

“We are in the middle of the mountain fly way,” Hot Springs State Park Assistant Supervisor John Fish said. “We have literally thousands of birds migrating through here seasonally.”

The water – and its temperature – contribute to Thermopolis being a migratory hot spot.

“We have a micro climate here due to the hot mineral water springs and the Bighorn River that is a tail water from Boysen Reservoir. The river generally does not freeze from the dam all the way down through town.”

Without the water freezing, Fish said birds tend to stay in the area longer.

“We have robins that have been known to stay most of the winter here,” he said. “Belted King Fishers are a regular to our cooling ponds and have been seen perched right next to hot water discharges. Mallards, widgeons, teal, golden eye, mergansers, coots and Canada geese are very common. We do get quite a few shore birds on the terraces, as well. These would be the birds that utilize the hot water the most.”

Retired Yellowstone Park Ranger Katy Duffy agrees with Fish, saying she’s found thermal areas (particularly the geyser basins by Old Faithful) attract a plethora of bird activity year-round.

There are a number of reasons for this, Duffy said, from “potential availability of food” to “preferential climate,” but there is no study Duffy knows that asks what inspired birds to specifically target thermal areas.

“Thermal areas are warm, so water doesn’t freeze,” she said. “They see the open water in the unfamiliar habitat and they think they can drink it and that there likely will be insects. If you are a duck you can find the vegetation you need. I’m not saying it is a fantastic area for birds, but it stays open and has strange geothermal features that may spark an interest for some birds, especially ”

Could the hot water scald them? Perhaps, but there are no statistics available regarding the regularity or rarity of such an occurrence.

“Birds make mistakes,” Duffy said. “So do other animals.”

(as published in the Thermopolis Independent Record, Sept. 12, 2019)

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“Dookie” Lives On: Reflections on Green Day’s breakthrough 25 years later

August 14, 1994

Twenty-five years ago today, Green Day burst onto the scene with a playful, unhinged 8-song performance at Woodstock ’94 that ended in a full-out mud-throwing fight with the audience.

“This isn’t fucking peace, it’s fucking anarchy,” said frontman Billie Joe Armstrong as dirt-drenched festival goers kept making their way onto the stage.

Armstrong paraded around with his guitar, his dark blue hair almost brown from the mud pies people chucked at him. The chaos erupted during “When I Come Around,” and it only escalated from there. As Armstrong ran from the fans, bassist Mike Dirnt laid on the ground, keeping the beat together while slithering in a pile of dirt. Drummer Tré Cool kept it steady, watching the insanity he helped unleash.

Such destructiveness on display may have outraged some members of older generations, but these three young rebels from the Bay Area captured the adolescent struggles felt by so many of America’s youth in the early ’90s.

And they did it by bringing punk to the mainstream.

“Punk has been one of the best kept secrets in the world, and we sort of went and blabbed to everybody about it,” Armstrong said in an interview earlier in ’94.

“Dookie,” their groundbreaking album, had released in February and quickly caught fire, launching the band into the international spotlight, making them one of the biggest bands around. They also hit at the right time, replacing Nirvana as the hottest new power trio.

I was 10 at the time. I didn’t even understand most of the lyrics or emotions associated with Green Day, but I liked their energy and intensity. They were reckless and fun, and I was young and impressionable. I couldn’t get enough.

Again and again, I’d pop the CD in, jam out to “Burnout,” and let it play all the way to F.O.D. (Fuck Off and Die).

I could identify with their self-expression, even if I couldn’t relate to their thoughts on sexual frustration, boredom, poverty and angst. I just like how it made me feel: wild, awake and alive.

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yes, this is my mug

I started playing guitar a few years after “Dookie” came out, and I wanted badly to play along with it. I’d make a lot of noise, but it took a long time before I was able to play songs by myself, let alone with others. My dad – an excellent guitar player – wanted to help light a fire in me to play more and often. He did just that. One day,  while I was having a Green Day listening session, he picked up my Fender Strat and jammed the shit out of “Basket Case.”

Giving me a nod as he set the guitar down, my Presbyterian pastor father said, “I kind of like Green Day. They’re fun.”

At the time I was also listening to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and other grunge bands, whose lyrics often bothered my dad. The songs were too depressing, he said.

“The Day I Tried To Live? Like Suicide? Give me a break.”

But there was something different about Green Day. They might fit the bill of “complaint rock,” but they did so in a more playful, engaging way. They were extroverts, which set them apart from many other rockers of the era.

Instead of a sob story, Green Day’s hard-driving punk was witty, silly, simple and surprisingly poignant.

They also didn’t sound like anybody else. Sure, they were influenced by the Ramones, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and a plethora of other bands, but their sound was distinctly them, and Armstrong said that’s how is should be, as punk is meant to be personal

“Punk has always been about doing things your own way,” he said in an interview once. “What it represents for me is ultimate freedom and a sense of individuality.”

I could feel the independence associated with the genre, which in turn empowered me to find my own way to express myself. Once I started getting more disciplined as a guitar player, I learned how to use that self-expression musically.

Today I play out regularly with a band, a duo and as a soloist. This year I added “She” to most set lists as a way to pay tribute to “Dookie.”

As I continue to reflect on Green Day and their iconic Woodstock appearance, I reconnect with my young self and feel inspired to prioritize fun when performing. Young Green Day might be an extreme example, but their shows sparked something in their audience – they elevated them – and that’s what people want from a concert. They want to leave feeling elevated, they want to forget their troubles and release their anxiety.

This goes for a good album, too. Much has changed in the music world since “Dookie,” which only adds to its greatness. The raw, organic nature of the album makes the achievement more notable, and it’s aged remarkably well. It’s a masterpiece worth celebrating half a century later.

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For Brady: Feed Jake

“You gonna play a song or what?”

I was strumming an orange Washburn acoustic the bartender handed me. It was one of several guitars hanging over the bar at the Oasis on Merrill Avenue, in the heart of downtown Glendive. I’d just interviewed for the reporter position at the Ranger Review and wanted to get a feel for the people.

Brady, a heavy-set outlaw close to my age, sat near the end of the bar, wearing a white T-shirt and a baseball cap. He’d been there for a little while, taking it easy, having another. It was a cold, windy day in June, making it more welcoming to take a load off. By the time I got there and was fiddling with the guitar, he was ready for some entertainment.

The bartender, Sean, looked over at Brady, then looked back at me, and smiled, deciding he’d have a little fun with the moment.

“He used to box. I’d say he’s probably been in around 60 fights. If someone starts messing with him we try to hold them back,” Sean told me.

It was clear Brady was respected and his requests were granted.

“Alright, I’ll play something.”

I jumped into “Long Black Veil,” an old traditional about a man who was hung because he couldn’t bare telling a soul (or a judge) that he’d been in the arms of his best friend’s wife the “night a man was killed ‘neath the town hall light.” Brady was familiar with the song, and he liked my version. He asked for another, so I sang Willie Nelson’s “Blue Rock, Montana,” a tune about entering a bar, among other things.

Before the song ended I felt a connection with Brady. He gave me one of those “not bad, man” nods, and we were cool.

That never changed.

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Brady James Smith: 1982-2019

Even though we were never close, Brady and I had a kinship through music. This was further solidified a few months after we met, when Brady signed us up to sing “Feed Jake” by the Pirates of the Mississippi at Oasis Karaoke Night.

It was late in the evening and we were both lit up. I had a friend visiting who confused many in attendance with a heartfelt rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House.” Brady and I were up.

I think Brady was surprised I didn’t know the song, but it didn’t really matter. We still made it our own. I had no concept of the vocal melody (or timing), so I started ad-libbing and messing around. I got the concept. Jake needed his food. The request to feed him must be respected. Brady and I enforced this. We even got angry about it, insisting and pleading that Jake not only be fed but also walked and bathed. We even got the audience involved, although I don’t recall how. I just remember everyone was with us. Brady ate it up. We were in it together, laughing our asses off, derailing the train together with hilarity and debauchery.

Performance – even drunken karaoke – can be a beautiful thing. Granted, I don’t have the best recollection of that duet, but I do recall we were locked in. The laughing didn’t really stop, for us or the spectators. The fact that I didn’t know the song provided a comic relief we wouldn’t have had otherwise. The hilarity was healthy, and it became ingrained in our friendship. From then on, almost every time we saw each other, we’d remind the other to feed Jake.

This never left us.

When I heard he passed I was devastated. Although our friendship consisted mainly of drinking buddies who ran into each other while out on the town, it was a friendship with an unbreakable foundation. Music united us, and we remain untied even after his passing.

I miss my friend and I wish him peace in the great beyond. I hope to see him again some day.

In the meantime, I’ll make sure to feed Jake.

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Homecoming: Daniel Bonte returns to Indy

“I bolted, man.”

Daniel Bonte and I hadn’t talked since 2002, when we graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana. He was calling from Orange County, California, wanting to reconnect before embarking on a tour that includes a date at The Rathskeller in Indianapolis, his first performance in his hometown.

I’d heard he was headed back to our old stomping grounds, but I wouldn’t be there to catch him. I left, as well, moving to Montana 10 years ago. My friend and fellow 2002 HSE grad Mark Munz told me his new group, AM Radio, would be opening for Bonte.

“This is just our third gig, and it’s a real showcase,” he said.

Munz’s bandmate Adam Zoibi, who also graduated with us, couldn’t believe it.

“We put a gig together for St. Paddy’s Day to help my friend out at his new bar and now we’re getting legit,” he said.

Bonte’s been legit for some time now. Five years ago I was at Disneyland with my wife-to-be and her stepchildren. As we walked past the House of Blues on Disney Way, I saw a flyer for Daniel Bonte and The Bona Fide.

“What?” I thought. I didn’t know Bonte had that kind of ambition. I didn’t know he was a performer or even into country music.

What did I know about Daniel Bonte? Nothing, really. What do we really know about each other at that time in life? We would say “hi” here and there, but that was about it. When we talked on the phone the other day, however, he filled me in on what life was like for him back then.

“While you were all listening to ‘Dookie,’ I was listening to Clint Black, Garth and a lot of other country,” he said.

But, after high school, we evolve. We spread our wings. We find our niche.

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And that’s exactly what Bonte’s done. Along with his band, the Bona Fide, Bonte continues to make his way. During his young music career, he’s opened for Billy Currington, Easton Corbin, A Thousand Horses and others, bringing a sound reminiscent of Garth, Travis Tritt, John Mellencamp and Keith Urban.

His sound is ever-evolving, as his “Making My Way Back Home” tour has more of a Texas outlaw country vibe. Recently inspired by upcoming artists such as Cody Jinks, Bonte is adding more depth to each song, telling a story while filling up the dance floor.

Bonte may have bolted, but he’s excited to come home and see family and friends. It will be a happy homecoming for him, and he’d be delighted to see you.

I encourage those of you still in the Indy area to go see him Thursday night. Munz and Zoibi will kick things off with some memorable 90s alternative tunes and some catchy originals. Then Bonte and The Bona Fide will play their hard-drivin’, good-timin’ country.

And, for those of you who remember Bonte’s C + C Music Factory tribute in the seventh grade talent show, you’ll be pleased to see he doesn’t just sing. He’ll be bustin’ some moves.

The free show begins at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

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