I joked with my friends in Edmond/ OKC today that if they would just move to Amarillo they wouldn’t have to worry about losing branches because we don’t have any trees here. That’s obviously not true. I’m not even sure it’s that funny.
We lost about a fourth of the biggest tree in our front yard last night when the weight of three days of ice and snow became too much. We hadn’t been out of the teens and 20s since Sunday evening and we had experienced three straight days of deep freeze temps and a constant wintry mix of precipitation. Light snow, sleet, freezing rain, freezing mist — it fell for three days and just kept accumulating on the tree branches that were still full of leaves. It’s not supposed to do this in October!
I was worried about all our trees, but especially this one on the east side of our front yard. I don’t know what kind of tree it is — the leaves look like Chinese Elm but it’s not and the branches look like Hackberry but it’s not — but the branches were sagging big time. I checked on them through the kitchen windows every couple of hours and fretted that I couldn’t do anything about what might or might not happen. They were predicting 5-8 more inches of snow last night before the slow-moving system finally cleared the Panhandle. That’s what concerned me. It looked 50-50 on whether we would lose the whole tree or not suffer any damage at all. I couldn’t tell. We’ve not been in this situation before. Ever.
The blizzard hit at about 6:00pm and lasted about four hours. A classic Amarillo snowstorm: big, wet, fat flakes blowing sideways and sticking to everything. By 7:00 I knew we were in trouble. I spent about 20 minutes in the worst part of the storm with a long rake, trying to knock the snow and ice off the branches of the trees in the front yard and the back. I spent the most time and paid the greatest attention to this one tree that looked like it couldn’t take another five minutes. All the major branches were bowing and sagging to within three feet of the ground. I must have looked like a fool out there, but I managed to knock enough snow off the branches that they were about seven or eight feet off the ground.
At 10:15, as Carrie-Anne and I were getting ready to go to bed, we both stood at the window and looked at the tree. The branches were about halfway back to where they were before. I said, “They look so heavy.” It was still snowing.
And at 10:45 it happened.
It looks like we got around seven additional inches of snow last night during those four hours. And it was too much. Thankfully we only lost that one big branch. This is nothing like what they’re suffering in Edmond this week where my sister Rhonda lost almost every single branch off every tree they own — nothing but bare trunks in their once beautiful yard.
Today the sun is shining for the first time in about a week and it’s climbing into the upper 40s. Clear skies, no wind — it’s an absolutely beautiful October day and everything’s melting. Almost melting too fast. The streets and sidewalks are flooding all over southwest Amarillo, cars are getting stuck in rushing water on Bell Street and 45th. And I’m shoveling our driveway that is always too big after a snow.
I’m grateful we only lost about a fourth of the tree. It’ll be fine. I’m thankful it mostly missed the house — just a nick or two, it looks like, to a few shingles and the gutter. The skeleton-ghost thing I had hanging in the tree survived. And now I’ve got something to do on Saturday when the temperature is supposed to be near 70.
There was an almost 30 year period, from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, when every band in America had a guitar player who thought he was Eddie Van Halen. Of course, there is only one Eddie Van Halen. And his passing yesterday after a long battle with throat cancer caught me off guard, brought to mind many memories and to my heart many wistful waves of nostalgia, and afforded a wonderful opportunity to connect with lots of great old friends.
The first text came from the Drake — love the Drake — at just after 2:30 yesterday afternoon. “Pour one out for Eddie Van Halen, dead at 65.” After we exchanged a few messages regarding the details and once I confirmed the awful news with a quick search of the internet, the first phone call I made was to our youngest daughter, Carley. It went straight to voice mail.
She immediately texted me two words: “I heard.”
She knew. She knew exactly why I was calling. Her follow up text informed me that she was in class and would call me soon.
My next call was to Todd Adkins. Todd was my best friend in high school and we were roommates during our Freshman years at OC. I think it was the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years in high school when Todd’s aunt made him a cassette tape copy of Van Halen’s phenomenal debut album. She recorded it from her LP to the cassette, wrote “Van Halen” on it with a black ballpoint pen, and gave it to Todd. And we absolutely wore that tape out. My October birthday meant I got my drivers license before anybody else in our class and we played that tape on a continuous loop in my 1974 Monte Carlo. One night, very soon after I began driving, I spent the night at Todd’s house on Telegraph Lane off I-30 and St. Francis. We spent most of the whole night terrorizing his neighborhood, doing things we should not have been doing, with the windows rolled down and that Van Halen tape blaring .
The very first time I ever heard “Eruption,” Eddie’s screaming guitar solo that leads into their blistering cover of “You Really Got Me,” was spinning that tape that belonged to Todd. “Eruption” is one-hundred-seconds of pure jaw-dropping, face-melting, guitar genius. I’m not sure I had ever heard anything like it. And I was hooked. Todd and I rolled that tape way too loud on an oversized boombox during late night basketball games in Glen and Becky’s backyard. We listened to it before football games and while we were washing our cars, to and from concerts and on long road trips. We took it to college, pulled our stereo speakers out into the courtyard, and blasted that tape across the tennis courts, up to the student center, and through the lobby in the girls dorms. When I hear any cut off that incredible album, I think about Todd.
Todd and I only talk every two or three years or so. When he saw my name flash on his phone, he just knew someone had died. He was not relieved to learn that it was Eddie Van Halen. We talked together about our wives and our parents, our younger sisters and our kids. And we remembered the Texxas Jams and the late night basketball and the cruising and screaming along with Diamond Dave as Eddie’s guitar deliriously pierced our brains and infected our souls.
As I started my truck to head home last night, “Atomic Punk” was playing on the stereo. “Nobody rules these streets at night but me, the Atomic Punk!” Yeah, I had already been listening to that first Van Halen album all day. I plugged it in on my way to work yesterday morning, the day Eddie Van Halen died. I listened to it to and from lunch that afternoon, and it was in the player when I started for home. It’s not a total coincidence. There’s always about a 70-percent chance I’m listening to something by Van Halen.
When I got home, I immediately pulled out all six of my original Van Halen LPs and went through the liner notes. I reviewed the ticket stubs from the six times I saw Van Halen in concert. I remembered that my first Van Halen show was the 1986 Texxas Jam, and I had won the tickets off the radio. I noticed that my ticket from the 1990 concert at Reunion Arena was $12.50, the 1992 show at the Erwin Center in Austin was $22.50, and the last time I saw Van Halen, with Carrie-Anne on the floor at American Airlines Center in 2004, the tickets were $97.50. Worth every last penny every single time.
There were also the concerts that didn’t happen. We were at the 1988 Texxas Jam with Van Halen headlining when, two songs into their set, Sammy Hagar’s voice completely gave out. They were doing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and he couldn’t get through the first chorus. Sammy stepped off the stage while Eddie, Alex, and Michael finished the song. Then those three did a wild cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Michael Anthony taking the lead on vocals. Then Sammy came out and announced they couldn’t continue that night, but they would make it up to us and do a free concert in Dallas at a later date. That fall of 1988, we all had tickets to Van Halen’s Oklahoma City concert at the Myriad Gardens; then we all got refunds when the band cancelled. Three years later, on a late November afternoon in 1991, Dallas radio stations announced that Van Halen was playing that free concert in the West End. That night. We were in Marble Falls by that time and I was broadcasting a high school football playoff game that evening. I couldn’t have made the four-hour drive in time anyway.
Speaking of Sammy Hagar, I am not a Van Halen fan who lives and dies in the David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar wars. So many fans of the music are in the “either/or” category – you have to love one and hate the other, you have to choose – and I’ve never been that way. I truly believe you can put 5150 and OU812 up against Van Halen’s first album and 1984 and they’re all so solid. They all stand up, side by side, because the driving force behind all of it is Eddie. It’s his band. It’s his songwriting. It’s his passion. It’s always been about Eddie for me.
The Eddie Van Halen poster I had on the wall in my room as a teenager growing up in Dallas? The one I took with me to college and hung in my dorm and my apartment? I’ve still got it. It’s hanging up in my garage today. It’s always been about Eddie.
Two Sundays ago, Carrie-Anne and I were driving home from church, listening to Van Halen’s “Right Now.” I said, “Do you remember when they played this song in Dallas? Remember the video clips they were playing and all those funny slogans they were showing during this song? Remember when Eddie played this solo?” She replied, “All I remember is that when he played his solos, he played too long.” She doesn’t get it. I love her dearly. But she doesn’t understand.
Eddie always did something with the guitar you had never seen or heard before. Every time. Even two hours into the sixth time I had seen him live, I was still surprised. Still overjoyed and almost overcome. His fingers moved so fast and he used every square centimeter of the guitar, from top to bottom. His sound is uniquely his – you know it’s Eddie by the second note. That guitar solo in the middle of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It?” You know why it sounds just like Eddie Van Halen? Because it is. Only he can do that. And he always had so much fun. He was always smiling, laughing, while he played. He made it look so easy and so fun – the way he interacted with his band mates and with the crowd, the way it seemed so effortless. Of the tributes you’re seeing on the news, of the video clips, he’s smiling in all of them. He loved what he was doing and you loved being in his presence while he was doing it.
I heard from David Byrnes yesterday and the conversation quickly turned to how old we are. Darrin Carpenter checked in with me and we discussed 5150 — he had been listening to it that morning, just like I had been listening to Van Halen I. I texted Mike Osburn and we acknowledged the sadness we both were feeling and the gratitude for the chance to re-connect with old friends. Carley called me back and I vowed to get her to an Aerosmith show before Steven Tyler dies. She made it to Tom Petty with me in 2016, but I never got her to a Van Halen concert. I always thought we would have time. I just assumed Eddie Van Halen would always be playing guitar somewhere. Valerie checked in with me. She knew it was tough news for me. My brother-in-law, who teaches at a Christian high school in Edmond, Oklahoma texted me this morning to let me know he was beginning every single class period today with “Eruption” in honor of the greatest guitar player in history. He’s got a surround-sound system in his classroom; I’ll bet it’s awesome. Even as I’m typing this post, I can hear Van Halen coming from Elaine’s computer in the office next door. She’s remembering, too.
Here’s “Eruption.” Let’s all listen to it one more time.
Three years ago today, great American songwriter and rock star Tom Petty died in California. I was in Edmond attending a preacher’s conference at Oklahoma Christian University. I talked to Carrie-Anne about it over the phone several times that late afternoon and into the night. Our youngest daughter, Carley, and I cried together on the phone a couple of times that day, so grateful that we had seen Tom Petty in concert the year before, floor seats at American Airlines Center in Dallas for her 16th birthday. And so sad that he was gone. I still get emotional when I hear the live version of “Breakdown” on the radio. Or any of the songs from that classic third album that served, along with Van Halen’s debut, as the soundtrack to my teenage years. Or anything from his final release, 2016’s “Hypnotic Eye,” that contains so much honest and hard reflection on his own life and the cracked society around us.
Tom Petty’s music has always connected to something deep inside me. It’s his unique and nasally voice, his slow southern accent, and his wry and dry sense of humor. It’s his laid back style, his incredible versatility, and the way he made all of it look so easy, like he wasn’t even really trying. Mostly, though, it’s the lyrics. Nobody can write a three-minute song that gets right into your soul like Tom Petty. His words connect. They always have. Whether you’re a rebellious teenager beginning to test the boundaries of the structures around you or a divorced middle-aged guy surveying the landscape of your life and asking all the existential questions, Tom Petty’s lyrics are always real and true.
You can’t go wrong listening to a Tom Petty song today.
The girls are home from school, Carrie-Anne’s making cookies and enchiladas, we’re playing games and watching movies…
And I’m eating.
It’s communal, it’s recreational, it’s familial, and it’s also related to stress. I’m an anxious eater. And now that the City of Amarillo has today issued a two weeks shelter-in-place order, I’m in trouble. The city’s motto during this virus crisis is “All in Amarillo!” Mine is more like “Supersize for Safety!”