book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Kenny Rogers shares his life in a memoir…

Here’s another reposted book review. This one was written for Epinions on October 8, 2012. It appears here as/is, although Kenny died on March 20, 2020. I miss him. His music was a big part of my childhood. So was his acting.

The other day, I ran across a news article about country singer, actor, and photographer, Kenny Rogers.  The article was about his brand new book, Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir (2012), and his publisher’s demand that he remove a chapter about his experiences with plastic surgery.  Having grown up in the 1970s and 80s, and having a mother who loves his music, I was already pretty familiar with Kenny Rogers as a singer.  I had heard a little about his photography and business ventures with Kenny Roger’s Roasters, a chain restaurant he lent his name to, and I had seen him act in Six Pack and a couple of television movies.  And I had noticed the dramatic change in his appearance after he got his eyes done…  I knew I wanted to read his story, even if there wouldn’t be anything about who botched his surgery!

Kenny Rogers… a man of humble origins  

At the beginning of Luck or Something Like It, Kenny Rogers writes about his humble origins in Houston, Texas.  He’s one of many children, born in the middle of a big brood.  His father, who died in 1975, was an alcoholic who spent all his extra money on booze.  His mother was a practical woman who worked hard.  When Kenny was young, they lived in the San Felipe projects in Houston, but were later able to move to a better part of the city when the family’s finances improved. 

Kenny Rogers attended Jefferson Davis High School in Houston and eventually got into music as a means of getting girls.  He was also athletic and went out for sports teams, but it turned out he was better at making music than playing sports.  Oddly enough, Rogers didn’t seem to come from a particularly musical family, though he does write that his older sister, Geraldine, taught him how to sing harmony when they were in church.  Rogers writes that he was immediately hooked on harmony and it became a defining feature of his sound.  He loved being part of a band because of that sound.

Speaking of bands… 

Kenny Rogers has been in quite a few of them.  Perhaps his best known band was The First Edition, which was the band he was in when he became famous.  Rogers explains how he moved to Los Angeles and rubbed elbows with some very talented folks.  He learned how to play folk, jazz, and even a little psychedelic styled music.  He learned how to alter his image so he could fit in.  And he even writes briefly of auditioning Karen Carpenter for The First Edition when their lead singer decided touring wasn’t for her.

He also writes about his famous duet partners, particularly Dolly Parton and Dottie West.  He very graciously explains why he owes Dolly Parton a great debt, since their famous duet “Islands In The Stream”, helped keep his career going after he signed a deal with RCA that seemed destined to ruin him.

Speaking of songs

I really enjoyed reading about Kenny Rogers’ hits.  He takes the time to explain the stories behind some of his biggest songs, like “Lucille”, “Reuben James”, and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.” 

Married five times…

Kenny Rogers claims that he loves being married.  In fact, he loves it so much that he’s walked down the aisle five times.  Granted, his first wife was the result of a shotgun wedding.  Rogers seems to have gotten the hang of marriage, though, having now been married to his fifth wife, Wanda, for twenty years.  Besides being a prolific husband, Rogers has also fathered four sons and a daughter.  He writes a bit about his kids.  I was heartened to read about how he managed to heal his relationship with his eldest son, a product of his third marriage and the victim of parental alienation.

His photography

Kenny Rogers is well-known as a singer and an actor, but did you know he’s also a photographer?  Rogers writes about how he became interested in taking pictures and some of the projects he’s undertaken with his camera.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed reading about Kenny Rogers’ life.  He comes across as a nice person, suprisingly down to earth and candid about his successes and failures, and gracious to all who helped him get to where he is today.  I didn’t even miss the missing chapter about his plastic surgery. 

Kenny Rogers has been around for 74 years and had some amazing experiences.  I never got the sense he was bragging about his good fortune or whining about his misfortunes.  He just comes off as someone who came from humble origins and had a rare combination of drive, talent, and luck that propelled him to success.  His story is the kind that has the potential to give people hope.

He includes photos in both color and black and white.  Just as an aside… In case anyone is wondering, no, Kenny doesn’t include the roasted chicken recipe made famous in his restaurants.

Aww… his widow and sons still really miss him.

Overall

I would definitely recommend Luck or Something Like It to Kenny Rogers fans or even people who just enjoy a good life story.  I read this book on my iPad and am pleased to report that I had no issues with that method.  Even the pictures looked great.  Five stars.

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musings

Skinny jeans and scarves…

I read a funny story this morning on one of my favorite forums for English speakers in Germany. Back in 2015, someone posted about being confronted by an aggressive driver. The person was in the left lane, next to a bus, and another driver cut her off. She made a hand gesture at the aggressive driver– maybe not the middle finger per se, but perhaps a WTF gesture– and the aggressive driver then came up beside her and pointed to his phone, indicating that he was going to report her to the police for “insulting” him.

As I have written before, it’s against German law to insult people, particularly in traffic or when they are public officials. If you “shoot the bird” at someone, you can be hit with a heavy fine, particularly if there are witnesses or someone has a photo. Since everyone carries a camera these days on their cell phones, it’s probably pretty risky to let your fingers do the talking.

The thread died in 2015, but someone recently revived it with a story about being honked at in traffic and responding with the rude finger gesture. The person wanted to know which was worse, the insistent horn honking or the middle finger in response. Because, by the poster’s reasoning, the horn honker started it with the rude honking. My guess is that they’d probably both get in trouble if it was reported; but much to my surprise, an interesting discussion commenced. Here’s how the story went:

We were taking the kids to the dentist appointment. One of the kid was feeling unwell so my fiancee were sit with the kids on the back seat. When the big boy was feeling better my fiancee decided to change seat to the front, bcoz we had to go on a longer journey after and she has licence too so it’s better she sits at the front. So I pulled off to a side road where I stopped and turned on the emergency light until she was changing seat. Than an other car appeared at the back of our car and start to honk repeatedly and long. On the day I met some other drivers were really screw me up with stupid things and I was on the top when this thing happened. He could have just drive pass me but instead he honk unnecessarily. I felt really insulted so I showed my “stinkyfinger” up out the window. Just this week I recieved a letter from the police they want details who drove the car that time. 

Just as an aside… I think it’s funny that the middle finger is called the “Stinkefinger” here. Cuz why does it stink? Eeeeew!

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, Facebook was still kind of in its infancy. Consequently, this particular forum was more popular with American military types. Now that we have Facebook and other outlets for communication, that forum has less participation from Americans affiliated with the military. It’s more populated by Europeans who speak English. However, there are still a few folks working for Uncle Sam who hang out there. One of them got involved in this thread, and he has an appalling inability to use punctuation and capitalization. He wrote this:

This is what happens when you have a country of people which are entirely reliant on the government to solve their problems. 

Well… yeah, I guess I can see his point. I think it’s stupid that a person can be fined for flipping someone off or insulting another person. Especially since I don’t think that particular law gets enforced a lot. I mean, Bill and I have seen people use their middle fingers in traffic. Once or twice, it’s even been directed at us. Big fucking deal. Especially since Germans don’t seem to have any issues with dropping the F bomb. I guess cursing is only forbidden if it’s done in German. In any case, the guy above identified himself as an American who works for the military and has been to war a couple of times. He’s made a living out of fighting. My guess is that he votes for conservatives, too.

Then another poster, clearly one who is more in touch with the European mindset, wrote this:

The alternative been people getting out of the car and having a physical fight in order to “solve” the problem.

American guy came back with this:

This is an unpopular opinion im sure in a country full of emasculated men and millennials but what is so wrong with that? Someone drives around aggressively like an ahole and is at fault, risks other peoples safety and property and someone calls him out on it by beeping his horn. ahole gets mad and starts with the driver who called him out on it. Instead of both of them threatening to tell their mommy (the German government) about their petty squabbles; pull over and handle it like two grown men. Animals do it, kids do it, lots of people do it in other countries not full of guys wearing skinny jeans and scarves.

Im not saying it solves the problem but its a solution and I guarantee both people will remember it for years to come. You either dont drive like a dick cause someone will bust your head over it or you learn to mind your own business and not to honk at people because someone will put you in your place. Im not advocating they murder each other but sometimes pain solves problems more than monetary fines. If you make 100k a year, a 200 euro fine is not a learning lesson to anyone but if that guy wakes up sore every morning for a week and has to be embarrassed with his black eye in public that is way more effective than a ticket at changing behavior. 

At this point, I had to stop and laugh. I have seen a lot of German guys wearing skinny jeans and scarves, although they’re usually younger people. Most German men of a certain age are sensible enough to know when a certain fashion is “more for a younger person”. But then someone wrote this:

“…  in a country full of emasculated men and millennials …”

While I don’t disagree with your statement as a whole about people being too whiny about a honked horn or a middle finger waved in the air – this quoted part alone deserves an “ok, Boomer…”

This is more my experience with most German men…. I haven’t seen too many men wearing rhinestones on their skinny jeans.

American military guy writes:

Im only 35 but its hard to ignore the skinny jeans with attached rhinestones and scarves

Hmm… Now, I haven’t seen any men wearing bedazzled jeans with rhinestones. Where is this dude hanging out where he sees something like that? Because I would like to see it for myself! I have seen women with bedazzled jeans, but even that isn’t a common sight for me.

A few more people came along and took the American to task for embracing violence. He left a couple of snarky comments. Actually, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and I had a good laugh because I could practically hear him in my head. I’ve been around a lot of Americans like that– guys who think a knuckle sandwich and a handshake can solve any problem. It’s a fairly common attitude among people in the military. Like I said– they make their living fighting wars… or planning wars. Anyway, the more peace loving Europeans told the American guy that he shouldn’t be encouraging violence. He wrote this:

Look im not some violent psycho that solves every social issue with his fists and as someone whos been to war a couple times, I totally understand what violence can do; Im just saying that someone people earn a punch in the face and theres zero reason to run to the police and complain that someone gave you the finger and hurt your feelings. People need to be a little more self reliant and handle their issues alone without the governments help. If two people get into a road rage issue, pull over and figure it out like adults. 

Okay… so it’s best to solve road rage by beating the shit out of someone? That seems counterintuitive to me, responding to rage with physical violence. My guess is that I’m seeing a collision of cultural values here. In Europe, violence isn’t necessarily something that is embraced, probably because of how incredibly horrible World Wars I and II were. But in America, we have many cowboys who like to kick ass and embrace their inner animal with a good old fashioned fist fight. A lot of them take jobs in the military sector where it’s allowed to kick ass from time to time.

The woman who confronted the American guy continued to reject his assertion that physical fighting solves anything. American guy continued to protest:

No im saying be a self reliant adult and dont involve the government in every petty life issue. Something that very few people here do. 

I don’t necessarily disagree that people should handle their issues privately. In a perfect world, adults can come together and solve their problems without involving the government or physical violence. Unfortunately, as Bill and I have discovered, some people are just plain unreasonable and uncooperative. And, short of knocking the hell out of them, which most normal people would rather not do, sometimes it’s necessary to go to the government for a remedy. Now, that doesn’t mean I think that people should run to the police every time someone shoots the bird at them or calls them an asshole. That’s ridiculous. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into physical altercations with most people in most situations, tempting as it may be. Resorting to physical violence only means that the biggest, strongest, and toughest always get their way, and that’s not fair. Besides that, it’s just kind of stupid to beat people up over petty disagreements. Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch said it best…

Poor Peter… Buddy Hinton clocked him, and Mike found out that his father is an aggressive asshole, too. Well, if calm, cool reasoning doesn’t work, put up your dukes! Or, at least that was the moral on that particular episode of The Brady Bunch.

Although, if I recall correctly, Peter Brady did end up using his fists against Buddy Hinton, knocking out his teeth. And then they shook hands and became friends. Hmm… maybe that’s where the American military guy got the idea that sometimes might makes right. Or… as Kenny Rogers put it, “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.” But speaking for myself, I think it’s better to pursue a remedy without physical violence whenever possible. And I sure as hell don’t want to be clocking someone or being clocked on the side of the Autobahn.

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Ex, musings

Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man…

Every once in awhile, when the weather is rainy and dark and Bill is at home, we like to have a leisurely breakfast while listening to music. This morning, it was a live album I bought by the late Allen Toussaint. Released in 2013, Songbook is just Allen on his piano, playing wonderful music. Although I’ve been exposed to Allen Toussaint’s music all of my life, I never bothered to listen to him just by himself. The closest I came was in 2007, when Bill gave me The River in Reverse, an album Toussaint made with Elvis Costello the year after Hurricane Katrina wiped out Toussaint’s home and recording studio in New Orleans.

I loved The River in Reverse. We were living in Germany the first time when Bill presented it to me. In those days, I had an elliptical machine that I used sometimes in a futile attempt to burn fat. We set it up in the mother-in-law suite in our house, along with a TV and an old school stereo with a cassette and CD player. I think it also had a USB portal, but in those days, I wasn’t USB savvy. Anyway, even though I loved The River in Reverse, I never explored Allen Toussaint further until recently.

I have Keb’ Mo’ to thank for re-introducing me to Allen Toussaint. I recently purchased a second copy of his wonderful live album, The Hot Pink Blues. I already had that album from iTunes, but thanks to upgrading to Catalina, my music library is a bit fucked right now. I have a Bose speaker that works well with Amazon Music, so I’ve found that it’s easier to just buy another copy from Amazon of the albums I really love. Allen Toussaint’s Songbook was a suggestive sell… and I’d probably been drinking (I’m really great at “drunken downloads”). So I downloaded Songbook and it was the musical backdrop for us this morning after I listened to Allen’s thirteen minute version of “Southern Nights”. By the time he’d finished, I was a bit weepy. I had to share it with Bill, who also got verklempt listening to Allen Toussaint describe his childhood in Louisiana. Bill and I both come from rural southern roots, so the story he told resonated with us.

No story telling in this version, but you can hear Toussaint’s evocative piano playing. I compare it to Pat Conroy’s vivid writing style. Allen Toussaint doesn’t even have to sing. The piano playing tells the story. Bill is distantly related to the late Glen Campbell, too. Glen Campbell made “Southern Nights” a huge hit.

I was also made emotional by Toussaint’s lovely piano playing. Playing piano was effortless to him and, I could tell, making beautiful music was a passion and a joy for him. I was thinking about what a privilege it must be to have the power to make total strangers misty at the beauty of music you’ve made. I have had a few people cry when I’ve sung, but they’re mostly people who love me anyway. I never met Allen Toussaint when he was alive; I never made it to a single one of his shows. But listening to his music this morning felt very intimate. I could relate to where he’d been. He made me cry.

Allen Toussaint was fortunate enough to die at a “good age”… and he didn’t spend weeks sick and dying in a hospital bed. Instead, he played his last concert in Madrid, Spain, then died of a heart attack in his hotel room. He left behind a treasure trove of wonderful music that still makes people feel things and sometimes get a little weepy.

Bill and I love to sit around, drink wine, and listen to great music, especially when the weather sucks. We’ve had some great conversations this way. Fortunately, we have compatible tastes in music and he’s very open minded to hearing new things. He’s often told me I greatly expanded his musical repertoire, which was not an experience he had with his ex wife. She liked Top 40 and pop country, and ridiculed Bill for liking alternative and grunge music. She claimed he was just trying to be “hip”. Instead of being a unifying thing, music was something to fight over in their relationship.

Ex would use music to belittle Bill. She’d play songs as a means of showing what kind of man he should be. He can’t stand listening to “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams or “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because those were songs Ex ruined for him. Or she’d make up insulting lyrics to hit songs as a means of putting him down. It got to the point at which Bill would respond in kind. Like, when she’d sing “Never Gonna Get It” by EnVogue, he’d respond with “Really don’t want it.” Or he’d hum “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull when she was around.

I don’t think music should be used as a weapon. I love it too much to use it to hurt other people.

As we were talking over Allen Toussaint’s music this morning, the subject of conflict came up. Bill doesn’t like conflict, which has led him to a lot of trouble. Some of the problems he’s had come about due to not wanting to fight have been very serious. For instance, on the day he married his ex wife, he knew the marriage would fail. He had voices in his head telling him he shouldn’t marry her. They even fought on their wedding day. But instead of disappointing his ex wife by calling off the wedding, they married and spent almost ten rocky years together. It’s taken years to mostly undo the mess, which has affected a lot of innocent people.

As we were talking about how sometimes fighting is the right thing to do, I was suddenly reminded of a classic hit from 1979. Written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler, “Coward of the County” was made famous by Kenny Rogers, who sang as if he was the uncle of a young man named Tommy whose father died in prison when he was ten years old. Tommy’s father told him not to get into trouble. He didn’t want his boy to die in prison. He made Tommy promise to “turn the other cheek” and avoid fights, even when he really wanted to knock the hell out of someone. Tommy faithfully honored his promise to his dad, and let others walk all over him. Everyone in the county called him “Yellow”.

Then one day, the “Gatlin boys” came calling. They assaulted and gang raped Tommy’s girlfriend, Becky. When Tommy found his love battered, bruised, and shattered by the three brothers’ brutality, he was torn between wanting to avenge Becky and stop people from calling him “Yellow”, and honor his promise to his father that he would stay out of trouble. Tommy makes up his mind, goes into town, and puts all three Gatlin brothers out of commission. It’s not clear if he used his fists or a firearm, nor do we know if the boys were killed or just knocked out cold. Then Tommy says that he’s always tried to walk away from trouble when he can. But sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.

A classic song… even though one of the songwriters supposedly had a feud with the legendary singing group, the Gatlin Brothers. The legend goes that songwriter Roger Bowling said, “Fuck you, Gatlin.” to Larry Gatlin when he congratulated Bowling for winning an award for one of Kenny Rogers’ other hits, “Lucille”. Interesting story.

I couldn’t resist playing it for Bill, who smirked and said, “It’s kind of a cheesy song.”

I disagree. It’s 40 years old and still resonates. As Bill pointed out, they made a movie out of it. There’s a lot of truth in the lyrics, too. Sometimes you have to get in a minor conflict now to avoid a major one later. It would have been better if Tommy could have been more assertive when he was younger. Maybe those Gatlin boys wouldn’t have had their way with Becky. Maybe Tommy wouldn’t have had to dispatch them in such a dramatic way. We wouldn’t have been left with such a classic song or story, either.

After listening to the song, Bill agreed it wasn’t so cheesy after all. Especially as we face down another week here in Germany.

We finished our coffee and Bill took Arran for a walk. Now he’s at AAFES looking for board games to play and a jigsaw puzzle for us to do today while he cooks a rib roast for dinner. I think it’s going to be one of those “easy like Sunday morning” days… even though “Easy” isn’t really a happy song, is it?

So glad I grew up in the 70s and 80s, even if it does mean I’m getting old.

It’s amazing how music can help you solve your problems. It relieves stress, lubricates conversation, makes you move, and even helps you cry when you need it. What a gift it is to have wonderful music to listen to on a rainy Sunday. I bought a bunch of stuff last night and this morning, so we’ll probably have some great conversations today.

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