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Entry date: 4-9-24 – 20 is a Nice Number – Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


I had 11 students, well, 10 since one of my students moved away, who missed school yesterday. I assume that it was because of the eclipse or possibly a few of them were raptured. Hopefully they will come today because we have a big state test, but who knows?


20 students would be so much easier than 30. I had time to work with students individually yesterday and it felt really nice. I could give a student one-on-one attention and only once did I have to stop doing that and put out a ‘fire’ on the other side of the room. This ‘fire’ was students talking loudly instead of working on their assignment.


We are eight full months and some change into the school year, and I still have students who think that if I’m talking with another student, it must mean that I can’t hear them. It is so sad that ten-year-olds don’t have an inkling about how communication, or the human ear, for that matter, works. I’ve even told them about 150 times, at least, that I can indeed hear them even when my attention is focused elsewhere.


This is why teachers quit.


Seriously, there are days when I feel like I’m just beating my head against a wall. I suppose that is nothing new for most people who work with other people. I remember feeling this way back in my call center days, too, but now I do get the occasional reward by seeing a student learn something that will help them their entire lives. Those moments were far fewer in the call centers.


I also realized yesterday that my classroom is actually built with about 20-25 students in mind. If we had a little more room to move around, I know learning would happen way more often. They are stacked on top of each other all day long. No wonder they are constantly distracted.


This is the hand I’ve been dealt, though, and I’ll play it. I’ll continue to play it until I either can’t, or something comes along that I can’t turn down. I like playing this particular hand, actually. The days where kids learn and grow are completely worth all the other stuff.




Fiction is calling my name. I will sort this out. I am pretty sure I can get around the obstacle I’m facing if I have people sign in to the website and they will be the only ones who can see the fiction.




I love a good compilation. When I got my first compilation cassettes back in the early 80s, I loved the format. I could get 20 punk bands on a single cassette. It didn’t matter if I didn’t like all the songs because there were enough on there for me to find the ones I did like and that was all that mattered.


Don’t get me started on the mix tape/CD. I loved those, too, and it was an honor when someone would take the time to make you one. When CDs came out, I scooped up compilations whenever I could. Some of my favorites, though, came from my mom and stepdad over the years. Joe would get sets of comps, I think, from clients as he sold various electronics back in the day and if wasn’t stuff they wanted, they passed them on to me.


Some of them were nothing special, but others, oh boy. I got hours and hours of entertainment out of them and found a ton of new music, at least to me, that I liked. In a few cases, the gift keeps giving.


Now, back in my punkest of punk years, I would have told you that I hated country music. I might have given Johhny Cash a pass, Hoyt Axton, too, and a few others. I loved Loretta Lynn, for example, after seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter. I also liked Willie Nelson a lot, too, but most country music was not anything I wanted to hear.


In 1991, though, my mom passed a Rhino Records’ Incredible Collection compilation called Classic Country and I fell in love with it. This was the beginning of my mantra, “Sure, I like Country, as long as it came out before 1967.” I still use this line sometimes, but I’ve expanded my love to a handful of current local artists and a few others.


I’m sure there are tons of compilations out there just like, and probably way more comprehensive, Classic Country. I’ve scooped up a few similar things on vinyl in the last few years and will probably buy more. I have a real soft spot for old, classic country music. I like a lot of the western-style stuff, especially things like Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys or Buck Owens & The Buckaroos. The Bakersfield sound speaks to me.


Classic Country has 26 tracks and most of them are fucking great. Webb Pierce’s “I Ain’t Never” starts things off. This track came out originally in 1959. It’s old enough to retire this year. I find myself listening to this music and wishing I could be there with people back in ’59 hearing it for the first time. There is just enough early rock and roll in Pierce’s style that I’m sure he was considered somewhat subversive.


I’ve mentioned it before, but if you want to learn more about classic country music, you have to listen to the Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast. It is so good and offers a really thorough commentary on classic music. Next up is Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go” with the classic opening line, “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.” The style is simple and straight forward, but Reeves has such a great voice that he doesn’t need anything more than the great lyrics and a simple melody.


Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak” is a great song. It has this nifty little guitar riff that kinda rules, but it is just behind the vocals in the mix, along with a great little piano line, too. I wish I could write a song like this. Truly.


Marty Robbin’s “Devil Woman” kind of pales in comparison to the first three tracks, but it’s still really good. I often skip it, though. I’m not a huge fan of Robbins. I like Ned Miller’s “From a Jack To A King” more. This is from 1963 and from the 1964, we get Connie Smith’s “Once A Day.” I skip that one most of the time, but when I don’t, I like it. There is some nice steel guitar on it.


Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” is another of the many staples on this CD. Great bass line on this one, too. This song swings. I’ve heard some good covers of this over the years, too, but I like this one the best.


Loretta Lynn is up next with “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” I tend to feel every line when I listen to the late, great Lorretty. I hope I can call her that. I mean zero disrespect at all. I am a fan and highly recommend the Cocaine & Rhinestone episode about her. I tried to get an interview with her one of the last times she came to Phoenix, but I got shot down. That would have been awesome if I could have overcome my nervousness.


“Sam’s Place” by Buck Owens is another great song. I just wrote about Buck a week or so ago, so I’m going to just say I love “Sam’s Place.” Now, Tammy Wynette on the other hand, I can’t really get into her music. I just want to hear John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd sing “Stand By Your Man.” Maybe someone in the know will point me in the right direction.


Wanda Jackson, on the other hand, speaks to me a bit more. “Right or Wrong” is kind of a sad song. It’s leads into the great Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” This song kind of blossoms right in front of your ears. I like the finger picking on the guitars, too.


“New San Antonio Rose” by Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys is up next. On Sunday when I visited my Granny, the man in the next room over was listening to this song as I walked out. I almost went into his room and said, “I’m going to write about this song in a day or so,” but I thought it might frighten him. I had been listening to it as I pulled up, too, which was super weird.


I’ve heard some Bob Wills’ stuff that was recorded with just one mic in the middle of the room that sounds great. That’s some bad ass engineering for you. Check that stuff out!


You have to love Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” From the opening fiddle riff to Frizzell’s kick ass delivery of some great lyrics, the song just embodies honkytonk music. The guy had a tough life, from what I’ve learned, and made some absolutely shite decisions, but if you can overlook that, the music is pretty damn good.


I am also a big Patsy Cline fan. “Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray” is definitely not a ‘feel good’ song, but damn if she doesn’t sound just lovely on this song. I never skip this one. Not once.



The heart of Classic Country is just so strong from the Wanda Jackson song through to Merle Travis song “Steel Guitar Rag.” After Patsy Cline, George Jones rules on “She Thinks I still Care” which has some extremely well written lyrics, then Tennessee Ernie Ford does “16 Tons.”


Back in 1991, I think this was probably one of the songs I listened to the most. I fucking love it. Again, I ask, how could you not love this song? “I owe my soul to the company store.”


Jerry Lee Lewis throws it down with “What Made Milwaukee Famous” and it’s another, pardon the pun, sobering thought. There are a lot of songs on Classic Country that straddle the line between country and rock and roll. The roots are deep.


Willie Nelson does “Crazy” and the arrangement here is wonderful. It’s from the 60s, I think, and just sounds killer. Patsy Cline did this song so beautifully, but I like Willie’s version almost as much.


Rhino threw on “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash here and it’s great and all, but there are so many other Cash songs that would have been better. “Ring of Fire” is a song that I used to argue was done better by Wall of Voodoo. That was brash of me, but I’ll stand by it.


As mentioned earlier, the great run of songs stops with Merle Travis and “Steel Guitar Rag.” It just doesn’t do a lot for me. Buddy Holly and the Crickets share “Oh, Boy!” They bring the rock, too. Listen to the drums on this one.


“Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet is a fun one. Turn it up, too, because it is a rocker in sheep’s clothing on this CD. Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West slay “The Night Rider” before Ernest Tubb closes things out with “Walking The Floor Over You.” I kind of wish they would have switched Ernest Tubb’s song and Jimmy and Speedy’s song, but that’s just me.


Classic Country is well worth picking up if you still listen to CDs. If not, I’m happy to share the playlist I made on Spotify. You can find it here.




See you tomorrow.

Ai's version of Aidan Mann, a character from the book I continue to work on.

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