Monday, April 30, 2012


On that August day in 2010, I'd gone out for a lunch with Andria and wasn't gone for much more than an hour. I came home to find the back door kicked in and a lot of valuable and sentimental items gone. It's an awful, sinking feeling. Among the missing were two laptops, but we were left with a large, prehistoric desktop computer and later that evening I checked my e-mail from it to find that I'd been accepted into the Moss Workshop for Fiction with novelist Richard Bausch. It was a bittersweet day. It was a whirlwind year for my writing, one in which I was assigned my first cover story for Memphis Magazine and The Memphis News, accepted into the fiction workshop and won the Memphis Magazine short story contest. The workshop itself was a roller coaster of excitement and apprehension, fear and confidence. To sit quietly while Richard reads something you've written, and then listen as 10 people dissect it, praise it, trash it and question it, is a test in resolve.

Richard Bausch is moving on to Chapman University in Orange, CA. It's a huge loss for the University of Memphis and a boon for Chapman. He gave a farewell reading last week and I was fortunate enough to be asked to stand up and say something about Richard in lieu of any formal introduction. I was told I would be one of a few. I found I was one of seven, one for each year he was at the U of M. Had I understood beforehand that I was there to represent my group of Mossians, I would have been even more terrified than I already was. I hope I did them proud.

I'm not a public speaker. My heart races in anticipation, my mouth grows dry from anxiety, and I feel I can't concentrate enough to stand on my own, much less recite a prepared speech. But it's something I wanted to do for Richard, to give a little back to him since he's given so much to me.

Several people have paid tribute better than I - David and Maria, to name a couple - but this is what I said, or what I wrote and meant to say out loud. I'm not really sure what I said when I got up there, but I meant every word of it, or of this, at least.

My wife is not a fan of Richard Bausch. It has nothing to do with his writing, she likes that just fine. But on those workshop nights in the fall of 2010, when I'd stumble in from R.P. Tracks well past midnight on a school night, I had to blame the late hour on someone. And that someone was Richard.

I'd explain that it was all part of the instruction. And it was, too, because Richard's teaching is so wrapped up in who he is, in his stories, his examples, his experiences, his voice and his mannerisms that all we, as learners, have to do is open our minds up wide like a catcher's mitt and absorb what he says. I was determined to stay in that crouch for as long as possible.

The hell of it was, though, that the next morning I could remember little more than a stanza from a filthy limerick he'd recited or the punchline to a story about a car-driving monkey. An entire evening spent with a successful novelist spouting words of wisdom and I couldn't remember a thing.

But there is one thing I remember and it happened on one of the first nights at Tracks after a class. As we all got ourselves situated around a little table, and in the course of ordering a lot of drinks, Richard told the waitress that we were all writers. And he said it just like that, with no qualifier: we're writers. He didn't say we were student writers or novice writers or writing hopefuls. That night, around that table, we were a community of writers.

I must have laughed or made a snide comment because, even though I'd been a freelance writer for a couple of years by then, I never would have referred to myself as such in front of someone so successful doing exactly the thing I wanted to do. Richard must have picked up on this because he got very quiet, and he got very serious, and he assured all of us around that table, again without qualifier, that we were writers, and that we should never think of ourselves as anything less. I think it may be one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me.

Thank you, Richard.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Because I Said So: Driving minivan full of kids no easy ride

When we first got our minivan I thought, just like the rest of you think, that I was too cool, too young and too hip to be driving a minivan, the chariot of the suburbs. But I was not, and neither are you. What I found when I mounted up was one of the smoothest rides I'd ever had, a comfortable armrest in my captain's chair and an impressive view of all around me. There was a DVD player built in and, as we drove to Georgia for Thanksgiving shortly after purchase, I was allowed the quietest eight hours I'd had in years as my kids sat slack-jawed and staring up at the little screen with oversized, cordless headphones.

Today's column is an ode to the minivan and a knowing wave to all of my brethren and sisterthren out there behind the wheel.

I've always appreciated the way that guys riding motorcycles will wave to each other as they pass on the street in a show of knowing macho brotherliness.

I saw two people in Jeeps do the same thing the other day while zooming down Poplar. With the roofs off, wind in their hair, sun glinting off their smiles, they acknowledged each others' carefree ways and devil-may-care attitudes.

You know who don't wave to each other? People driving minivans. You know why? Because we're too busy reaching back with our waving hand to snatch a sippy cup from our youngest as she threatens to pummel the oldest, or handing a bag of Cheerios put in the glove box during the second Bush administration back to a wailing son. Noses need to be wiped, carsickness tended to and shoes located.

Are we brothers and sisters, those of us who careen around town in minivans? Yes. More so even than the helmeted and anonymous and, dare I say, lonely dudes on motorcycles. The mother idling at the light next to me in her Honda Odyssey is just as likely as I am to be wondering what is that smell emanating from the far back seat (fermented chocolate milk) or what is the whirring from beneath the driver's seat (a McDonald's Happy Meal toy).

The dad in front of me will rest his elbow on the open window and try his best to appear coolly detached as a Barbie, thrown from behind, hits him in his head. No matter, I know from the sticker on the bumper of his Chrysler Town and Country that he's proud of that young hurler.

The easy rider days have passed me by. Or, I should say, the possibility of such a day. I never had a motorcycle. I never had a convertible. Now I have four kids and a vehicle with doors that open at the push of a button on my key chain. I have a DVD player mounted in the ceiling and a commanding 360-degree view.

A car seat won't even fit on a motorcycle, will it? I've never seen one other than in the film "Raising Arizona," and even as a childless 17-year-old I knew that Leonard Smalls was being far too reckless with that baby.

When we were first married, Kristy and I had a two-door Toyota that we traded in for a four-door Nissan when Calvin was born just so we could get the car seat into the back. Not even four-door drivers wave to each other on the streets.

Parenthood, for all the people living in one house and riding in one car, is a lonely traveling companion.
Parents have been otherwise occupied since the earliest days of car travel when a baby was carried on its mother's lap in Henry Ford's first Model T as the father steered with his knee and unwrapped a granola bar for the kid in the backseat.

Perhaps it's the innate need to protect our children that keeps us from waving to others in our tribe, the absolute imperative to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes forward as we navigate the Memphis traffic. It may be what I should do, but there are things within my vehicle that require immediate attention and leave me with precious little time to look cool, nod at passing motorists and imagine myself on a vehicle built for one. 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bird Man

A year ago tomorrow I had a story in The Commercial Appeal about Gordon Hall (No adversity could keep flying man Gordon Hall on ground; April 24, 2011). Mr. Hall began flying airplanes at the age of 17 after flunking out of high school because, as he told me then, “I had no desire to learn algebra, chemistry, geometry and physics, all the stuff they were trying to jam down my throat."

Instead, he wanted to fly. And fly he did.

In 1946 he joined the Air Force but was found unfit to fly because of a lack of depth perception. He spent the next 18 years as a radio controller and air traffic controller. They couldn't keep him down and he continued to fly on the side as a charter pilot and instructor. When the Army came looking for those with commercial pilot ratings who wanted to transfer and train to fly helicopters, Mr. Hall jumped at the chance.

The only catch? Passing a Class 1 physical, including an eye exam and depth perception test requiring him to look into a viewfinder and pick out one circle of five that appeared to stand out among five separate rows.

Photo by Dave Darnell
He told the story: “As I started to look into the viewer, the phone rang, and the flight surgeon picked up the phone, smiled, turned around and engaged in the conversation, so I read off fictitious numbers," Hall said. "And then I just sat there trying to look bored because I was worried sick that he was going to ask me to repeat. So I just sat there, and he turned around and said, 'Well, that's about it.'"

He flew supply missions in Vietnam, at one point rescuing two downed pilots in the Gulf of Siam as North Vietnamese sped towards them in boats. It was his “greatest accomplishment and adventure in Vietnam.”

Mr. Hall lost all vision in his right eye in 1966, yet continued to fly charters and as instructor until 1996. I got word over the weekend that he passed away Friday evening at the age of 84.

I had a great time getting to know Mr. Hall and hearing his stories. He kept a map in his home office with red pushpins in the location of every airport in the country he’s landed in. The entire thing was a sea of red.

He wrote in his memoir, "Tiger Lead, Your Flight Is Up," published in March 2011: "Ever since third grade, I used to lie on an incline in the grass during the lunch break and I would spend time looking up at the beautiful, soft, billowy, white cumulous clouds as they floated with the wind. I was absolutely entranced at the thought of being a bird or perhaps a bird man or even being able to fly an airplane among those puffy white clouds floating in the blue sky."

Fly on, bird man.

No adversity could keep flying man Gordon Hall on ground

Gordon Hall dropped out of high school because he found its pace too slow, too rooted in the ground, and he needed to fly.

"I had some hard times in high school," said Hall, who lives in Bartlett. "My mother wanted me to go to college prep school, but I had no desire to go to college, and I flunked out of high school. I had no desire to learn algebra, chemistry, geometry and physics, all the stuff they were trying to jam down my throat."

Ten days later, in 1946, he was in the Air Force training to be a Morse code radio operator, eventually being sent to the Aleutian Islands for 14 months. The northern Pacific Ocean, he said, was a place that "impressed me more than any other place I've ever been."

Growing up in Connecticut, his father worked as a fireman or engineer on steam locomotives during the Depression to support Hall and his five older sisters. But while his father was moving across the terrain at ground level, his son had dreams of soaring.

Hall writes in his memoir, "Tiger Lead, Your Flight Is Up," published in mid-March: "Ever since third grade, I used to lie on an incline in the grass during the lunch break and I would spend time looking up at the beautiful, soft, billowy, white cumulous clouds as they floated with the wind. I was absolutely entranced at the thought of being a bird or perhaps a bird man or even being able to fly an airplane among those puffy white clouds floating in the blue sky."

In 1945, after VE Day, flying restrictions were lifted on the East Coast and the chamber of commerce sponsored 40 hours of ground school for kids. After ground school, Hall bought a block of flying time and began training, soloing only two months after his 17th birthday.

Despite his love for flying and his early training, he was unable to fly in the Air Force because of his lack of education and a deficiency in depth perception. Instead, he spent the next 18 years as a radio operator and air traffic controller.

The Army came looking for those with commercial pilot ratings who wanted to transfer from their current branch of the service to train as helicopter pilots. From 1960-64, Hall had been flying on the side as a charter pilot and flight instructor, building his time in the air. He qualified for the chance to join the Army, but he had to complete a Class 1 physical.

On the day of his physical, the final exam was the depth perception test requiring him to look into a viewfinder and pick out one circle of five that appeared to stand out among five separate rows.

"As I started to look into the viewer, the phone rang, and the flight surgeon picked up the phone, smiled, turned around and engaged in the conversation, so I read off fictitious numbers," Hall said. "And then I just sat there trying to look bored because I was worried sick that he was going to ask me to repeat. So I just sat there, and he turned around and said, 'Well, that's about it.'"

Hall was accepted into the Army as a warrant officer aviator in June 1964 and was sent to Fort Rucker for helicopter school, where at 36 years old he had the most military and flying time, and was the oldest of 16 students learning to fly the Bell UH-1Y or "Huey," as it was known.

"While these guys were starting out, I already had 2,200 hours (of flight time)," he said.
Bryce Haugsdahl first flew with Hall after moving to Memphis from Los Angeles in 1984 to work as a charter pilot and flight instructor.

"He gave me my first ride as a co-pilot in a jet," said Haugsdahl, the current president of United Way of the Mid-South "It was a real thrill for me; that was the first jet I'd ever flown. Gordon was one of the first guys to help me get my career in Memphis off the ground as far as flying."

Hall finished school in 1965 and, he said, "45 days later I was in Vietnam."
"We were the first company to pioneer air mobility, carrying troops into combat by helicopter," Hall said. "If we weren't flying combat, we were doing support for little detachments or units in our vicinity."

He took his tour in the southern part of Vietnam, mainly ferrying South Vietnamese troops into combat. On Dec. 15, 1965, while returning from a resupply mission, Hall and his crew of co-pilot and gunner were told a Navy plane had gone down in the Gulf of Siam (now the Gulf of Thailand) and the pilots had ejected. Being in the closest aircraft, Hall was asked if they were able to help with the rescue effort. He turned around and headed out over the water, spotting two crewmen in life boats not far off the coast and two hostile boats on the way to the scene. With no hoist or harness on board, Hall had to make the daring rescue of putting the helicopter's skids into the water so his copilot could pull pilots John Sutor and George Dresser aboard.

"It was my greatest accomplishment and adventure in Vietnam," Hall said.

He left Vietnam credited with 940 hours of combat flight and combat support time, was awarded 27 air medals, including two with a V for valor, and was recommended twice for the Distinguished Flying Cross in only 101/2 months.

He lost all vision in his right eye due to histoplasmosis, a fungal infection, in 1966, the same year he retired from the Army, and eventually had that eye removed. Despite this infirmity, he continued to fly as an instructor and for corporate charters, a job that brought him to Memphis to fly for the Murff Cotton Co.

When asked if the incident over the Gulf of Siam was the closest he has come to any real trouble in the air, Hall produces a sheaf of papers listing problems he's encountered as a pilot, mostly alone, though some were with student pilots. The emergencies include dropping oil pressure, stalled engines and engine fires.

"I was so impressed: Here was a guy who only had one eye, and yet he had a waiver to fly and he was so smooth on the controls, a very accomplished precision instrument pilot," Haugsdahl said. "He had the basics and fundamentals down so well that he was very comfortable in the airplane. ... He performed just exactly as I would expect him to perform without a ruffled feather."

Hall retired completely from flying in 1996 at the age of 68, having been an active pilot for more than 51 years -- 30 of them with an artificial eye -- and with 18,603 hours of flight time in his log books. A map of the United States in Hall's home office is riddled with dots, 528 of them marking every airport where he's made a landing. In his career, he's had the privilege of flying 66 different types of aircraft into those fluffy clouds he gazed upon as a young man.

"It was a challenge and a sense of satisfaction; that's the whole key," he said of learning to fly and maintaining such a long career. "I've had a great life, and I've been a lucky boy."

"Tiger Lead, Your Flight Is Up," is available online and locally at Davis-Kidd Booksellers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Artist Alley had rich newspaper heritage

This is my father's obituary that ran in The Commercial Appeal on April 14, 2012. Some people without access to the CA's website have asked that I post it here.

Thanks to Mike Lollar, a reporter and writer I've always admired, for writing this up so well and so quickly. He'd known my dad for almost 40 years. Thanks, too, to local artists Calvin Foster and Colin Ruthven, and cousin Dan Conaway, for their input.

I would also like to add that sometimes things come together at a frenetic pace and information is gathered hurriedly and, unfortunately, a name might be inadvertently left out of a story. I know this from first-hand experience. My dad's wife of four years, Antoinette Marie (Rossi) Russell, was a huge part of his life and of great comfort to him throughout his illness. Our thoughts are certainly with her at this time.

At Christian Brothers High School, Rick Alley was the student who sat in the back of the class drawing while the teacher tried to impart the real lessons.

That's the way former classmate Calvin Foster remembered him Friday after Mr. Alley died in Melbourne, Fla., a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Mr. Alley, 61, was the third generation of his family to work as an artist for The Commercial Appeal. His grandfather, J. P. Alley, won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1923, and Mr. Alley's father, Cal Alley, followed in his father's footsteps as an editorial cartoonist.

Foster, a graphic design professor at the University of Memphis, said Mr. Alley had "amazing wit, charm and talent, and I've never met anyone before or since who had such an innate ability to draw caricatures."

His favorite medium was watercolors, but with a few strokes in a pen and ink drawing, Mr. Alley could turn out a caricature revealing parts of a person's personality or character that others often missed, according to fellow artists.

Colin Ruthven, artist and former director of the art department for the newspaper, described him as "one of the best artists I've ever ever run across just from a standpoint of raw talent. He had very little training, but he had amazing skill with caricatures and whatever you put in front of him."

Mr. Alley joined the newspaper as a copy clerk in 1970 and soon became a staff artist. In a career that lasted more than 30 years, he did hundreds of caricatures, including one of legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant that led to a highly sought-after print.

But his art was more inclusive.

"He did a lot of paintings from portraits to landscapes," said his daughter, Elizabeth Alley, an artist and technical writer. "He sold his work sometimes, but a lot of times he did it just to give to people."

Son Richard said that as a child, it "was amazing to watch. I would go to bed at night when he was sitting down to work on something. I would wake up in the morning, and there was this wonderful watercolor there. It was like Christmas every morning."

Alley said his father continued to paint after his diagnosis, doing beach scenes and sunsets.

Mr. Alley's first cousin, Dan Conaway, a marketing and advertising consultant and freelance writer, said that Mr. Alley improved on an inherited talent. "Rick comes from a long line of very talented artists and cartoonists, and I think Rick was the most talented. His dad and granddad were more about political cartooning than art. It was all about the visual side to Rick."

Mr. Alley also leaves another daughter, Katherine Borden of Fort Lauderdale, and a sister, Jehl Palvado of Gulf Shores, Ala.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Forty-eight months old

The first Because I Said So column I wrote for The Commercial Appeal appeared on April 17, 2008. Four years ago today. And it's still in the archives!

We still had a kid in diapers and daycare then, and we were probably just a little in awe (and fear) of what we'd produced. It was an exciting time, wasn't it? There seemed no end to the subject matter and fodder for columns. I hope you have all enjoyed the ride, I know I have, even if we haven't successfully colonized the moon ... yet.

Thank you to my editor, Peggy Reisser, and partner in crime for so long, Stacey Greenberg. Thank you to my kids for putting up with being put under a microscope and in a clown suit by me for so many years.

I hope you will enjoy that very first column all over again:

Real kids shrink notions of big family
My grandparents, Bob and Shirley Fachini, raised seven children, a respectable number by anyone's standards.

It was the 1950s and '60s, a much simpler era, I'm told. Families were larger then because this country needed as many citizens as possible to fight communism, go to Saturday movie matinees for a nickel and colonize the moon.

They would later come to call these babies "boomers," because of how much noise that many children, at one time, in one place, will make.

Their house was warm and loving and, sure, it was cramped, but they made do. Bob built a table large enough for everyone to eat around, and Shirley sewed dresses for the girls.

It sounds like an idyllic time, and the stories of the antics of my aunts and uncles as kids have engaged me since I was a child.

It was those stories that had me wanting a large family of my own.

My wife, Kristy, and I have four children between the ages of 21 months and 10 years. And, as it turns out, we're done.

That's right. I don't know what got into my grandparents' brains to make them think seven kids was a good idea, but I'm afraid something had to be a little off for two intelligent people to willingly welcome that many little people to live with them.

By stopping now, we're not squashing my dream of raising a big family, because four is the new seven.
When Kristy and I tell people, especially new parents with only one child, that we have four, the look we get is generally awe and amazement.

Never envy.

Maybe just a hint of pity. Yes, mostly pity, now that I think of it.

The truth is, we weren't exactly sure at the beginning what we were doing.

Kristy researched parenting styles, while I was content, and over my head, just keeping the kid alive and somewhat happy. Ten years, and three babies later, it's still all I can do.

But our home now is full of love. Just as much with love, in fact, as it is with discarded Pop-Tart wrappers, broken and mismatched toys, half-emptied cups of milk and diapers, both clean and dirty.

Parenthood is an easy enough club to enter, though staying in the good graces of the club's membership board -- your kids -- is tricky.

Nothing was easy for my grandparents either, yet they signed on for seven kids and dealt with them as they showed up. And if they could handle seven, then four should be cake, right? Or at least a chocolate icing-smeared face smiling up at us.

We're doing our best with our quartet, in the spirit and with the tenacity of my grandparents.

We'll send them to the best schools we can, we will communicate openly with them and we'll raise them to be caring and informed citizens, who will one day, hopefully, grow up to colonize the moon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Because I Said So: 4 years of writing, still not expert on parenting

My dad died last week. I wrote a column. But I didn’t write a column about my dad; not exactly.

My sister and I drove 14 hours to Melbourne, FL, to say goodbye to him, but it was never my intention to write about him and us. Yet when I re-read certain phrases – “ … remember the sad …” (I know I meant for that to read “bad”) – I realize that he was more infused in what I wrote than I realized.

Being a parent isn’t a science, the best we can do is feel our way around in the dark and hope that every once in a great while we’re able to flip the light switch on so we can see where we’re going. My dad stumbled around for years without much light, unfortunately, and it took a toll on our relationship. Like many parent/child bonds, it was strained and it was elastic, bouncing back at times and stretched to the breaking point at others.

As a father myself, I’ve learned of the imperfections of parenting, of how easy it might be to make the wrong decision, say the wrong thing and set in motion a course of misunderstandings, resentment and bitterness. Perhaps the greatest lesson my dad gave me on the subject of fatherhood is what not to do and that our actions have consequences. I’ve taken it to heart.

In the end, though, it wasn’t about what had been right or wrong, but what we felt right then and how incredibly sad it is to see a loved one in his final stages of life. In the end, the pain and anger and hurt feelings just don’t matter so much. He was at peace and my sisters and I were at peace with that.

He left me with other things, too, of course: a sense of humor, a love of the ocean, the taste for jazz, some nascent talent and the ability to recognize it in others, and an appreciation for The Marx Brothers and old Tarzan movies. These are all attributes I see now in myself and in my children.

My column last week was about what a crap shoot parenting is, how the best we can do is to do our best, and just a bit about how important it is to remember the good times at all cost, which is the bit that must have been about my dad. We had some good times, though they tended to be overshadowed by the other times. I spent last week trying to focus on the good and will continue to do so, to give my own kids a well-rounded version of who their grandfather was.

This is last week’s “Because I Said So” column:

Four years ago this week, I began writing the "Because I Said So" column. In more than 100 columns, somewhere in the ballpark of 50,000 words, I've written about anything from holidays to school days, from newborns to puberty to middle age. I've written about Memphis, movies, music, time travel, books and matters of familial and national security.

What have we learned?

Probably nothing. This isn't an advice column. Oh, please don't seek advice from me. I have been a parent for more than 14 years and have four children, yet every morning when I wake from blissful slumber to a world strewn with dirty socks and baby dolls, I wonder if I'll be able to do it again; if I have the will to delude myself into the fantasy of being in charge for even one more day.

What I have expected on any of those days is for one of my children, most likely 5-year-old Genevieve, to turn her large brown eyes on me and say, "Do you even know what you're doing?"

Of course I don't. I know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I knew once how to hook up the Wii game console to the television and remove training wheels (and then put them back on for just a few more weeks). As a first-time father, however, I knew nothing at all of comforting a child late at night, colic and rashes, where Waldo was (or who Harry Potter was, for that matter), why bad things happen to good people, and explaining how the Internet, the Electoral College and combustion engines work.

As a father of 14 years, I still have only a cursory knowledge of very little, or any, of this, but what I have learned over the four years of writing this column is that neither do any of you. The common denominator in parenthood seems to be a sense of being overwhelmed much of the time and exhausted the rest. I've been stopped by readers in restaurants or the grocery store and told that their daughter also loses her mind when the seam of her sock rubs her toes the wrong way or that their son subsisted for three years on little more than frozen pizza and chocolate milk as well.

Are we bad parents? No, we're just tired. Do we have difficult children? Mostly, yes, especially that little girl with such sensitive toes. But we're doing our best to raise up children into adults who will have children who make them crazy.

I can attest that one of the biggest fans of this column is my own mother, who has gotten to see her revenge played out in public every two weeks for a hundred weeks running. This column is dedicated to her, and to the mother of my own children, and to all the parents out there who struggle and scream, encourage and laugh, day in and day out.

Four years goes by in the blink of an eye, just as childhoods will. Write down the funny stuff, remember the sad, and share it all with your children for years to come. 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, April 06, 2012

"Like space travel"

They can't all be gems.

I've been told this countless times when a column I've written has gone over about as well as a turd at a wedding. Sometimes I catch them before I send it to my editor, sometimes they get by me and make it in the paper. I woke up Sunday before last to write my column and it was all about Bobby Keys, the session saxophonist and semi-permanent sideman for The Rolling Stones. I hand wrote it all stream of consciousness like I do to get my thoughts and ideas down before going back and rearranging the puzzle of words, metaphors and punchlines. I thought it was ... okay. But then I woke up the next morning and rewrote an entirely new column and felt that it was better. That's the one you read last week.

I thought the original, the Keys version, was more time sensitive because his book, "Every Night's A Saturday Night," had just come out and I'd gone up to The Booksellers of Laurelwood only days before to hear him tell some stories about his episodes with Keith Richards, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and the like. So that column has no home unless I publish it here, which I will.

The book is good. It's not up to the level of Keith Richards's memoir, "Life," but a lot of the stories overlap and Keys is an encyclopedia of the music of the 1960s and '70s. I feel that, by the end, he comes across more as a hanger-on than a respected musician. He spent a lot of time broke, sleeping on someone's couch and hoping that Mick Jagger would deign to allow him to go on tour with the Stones just one more time. And this is when Keys was in his 40s, too old to be living like he did when he was 19.

His stories, though, of playing saxophone on Elvis Presley's "Return To Sender" (he had no idea he was playing on Elvis's record), or of how that great solo on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" came about (one take), makes it worth any music fan's time to read. There is plenty to just skim past, but you'll want to re-read the chapters about his time spent with John Lennon, and how he went to England to record with Eric Clapton, but ended up on George Harrison's first solo album instead.

Keys pursued his dreams at the cost of family, health and sanity, at times, but he used his talents to the best of his abilities and it's that pursuit that is the theme of this column-that-wasn't. Here it is in all of its unpolished glory:

Because of my love for literature, and in an effort to pass that passion to my children, I took a couple of my kids to The Booksellers of Laurelwood last week for a book signing by Bobby Keys for his new memoir “Every Night’s A Saturday Night.” The kids left my side as soon as we entered to peruse the young adult section, only occasionally wandering by to hear what the longtime Rolling Stones and session saxophonist had to say.

On the way to the store, my son had asked who Keys is and I gave him a brief synopsis, including the fact that while on tour with the Stones they lived the life of excess. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Drugs and booze,” I said. “The kind of things we don’t do, but others do and then write about so that we can read all about it.”

“Like space travel.”

“Exactly like space travel.”

It’s difficult, isn’t it? Warning your kids against a life of over-the-top debauchery when someone is out there who went toe-to-toe with Keith Richards and, not only lived to tell about it, but is still functioning and succeeding. The key (so to speak), I think, is to focus on what got him there: the talent and drive to succeed.

To this end, I introduced my 14-year-old son, who plays baritone and alto sax, to Bobby Keys. “I hated high school band,” Keys told him. “I liked the band bus, though. It was better than the football bus ‘cause we had girls on ours.”

Okay, so back to the music. Encouraging our kids in their pursuits is easy, it’s the fun part of parenting; the no-brainer. Explaining that things can be carried too far is trickier.

But it’s all tricky. I was talking with someone recently who was saying she’s glad she doesn’t have kids because there are so many difficult decisions to be made.

And there are.

It’s like space travel; it’s like being locked in an airtight capsule that’s whipping around the Earth at 17,000 mph and there are no brakes. There is no stopping to take a breath because there is no air up there. The best we can do is make minor adjustments to the flight path and hope that any single adjustment doesn’t send our kids hurtling into deepest space. Or on tour with the Rolling Stones in 1972.

I love music. I’m a huge Stones fan and would love nothing more than to see my kids excel at something they love as well, whether it’s medicine, finance, painting, cooking or the baritone sax. The trick is to make the right decisions, give a gentle nudge here and there and hope it’s in the right direction.

There may be nobody better for mentoring in pop music today than Bobby Keys, I just should have nudged him in more of a musical direction last week. I didn’t ask him for parenting advice, though he is a father himself. He has a son, his name is Huckleberry.

Bobby Keys during the recording of "Exile On Main St."