Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jim Croce the Guru

Most summers, to escape the oppressive Texas heat, I venture to the Great Northwest to hike in the mountains of our beautiful National Parks. Usually I'm hiking alone (partly because most people know I like to walk much longer distances then they can tolerate). Rangers will tell you that's not a good idea, but if you don't go with a group, be sure and make plenty of noise. This is so you don't surprise any bears and make them angry, and possibly would convince them to go some other way.
I always carry a little "bear bell" I bought at a shop near Glacier National Park, but I also tend to sing as I hike along. If you were to be on the trail ahead and suddenly heard someone singing the entire catalog of Jim Croce songs, well, you and the bears are about to run into me.  So far, I've encountered bears twice, but no bear attacks! Thanks Jim.
The Grand Teton Encounter
The reason I know all of Jim Croce's songs is because he is my guru.

What seems like a century ago, my Mom asked me to go pick up the big bro from a class he was taking at UT El Paso. I got there early and so sat at a student lounge in the building and it just so happened to have a TV playing some musician talking about a song. He was a guy with a big mane of curly hair, mustache and a big nose (I was a short-haired teenybopper) so I wrote him off as a hippie freak of some sort. I was a straight-laced guy who more likely took after my conservative Dad rather than my psych-major, pinko brother (politically, we changed places as we aged).

Something about the guy got me to start to listen to him though. Maybe it was the smooth voice or friendly attitude. Soon I became intrigued by the little tale he spun about a truck driver. After the story, he began to play his guitar and sing and it seemed to strike a nerve in the back of my mind.

My brother shortly got out of class, so I didn't get to hear more, but oddly, this guy remained a fixture in the recesses of my subconscious. After all, as a kid influenced by his parents instead of his brother, I was more likely to listen to Andy Williams (I still love his rendition of "Exodus") and Frank Sinatra than the Beatles or Dylan. In other words, I made no attempt to figure out who was the singer/songwriter I had just been mesmerized by at UTEP.

Years later, after I began to follow my own path musically and philosophically, I came realize that I had fallen under the spell of Jim Croce.

I eventually acquired every single song he wrote. I had them on  cassette, vinyl and cd. I also bought all his music videos (they were on one DVD). It was when I played those videos that it suddenly dawned on me that it had been Jim Croce who entranced me on that TV  all those years ago. What really struck me though was the realization that I probably saw him on The Tube that day only a short time before his death in a tragic plane accident not far from El Paso.
Maury Muehleisen, who played and toured with Croce, also died in the accident

Years before this epiphany, while I was with the 82nd Airborne, I adopted one of his songs as my theme song. I'm not going to say which one, as it's a personal thing, but it basically dealt with doing things your way as you travel through this life. Yeah, you can probably guess it from that clue.
Jim Croce became my Guru a short time later when I adopted his "The Hard Way Every Time" as my mantra. The philosophy behind it felt so compelling I couldn't resist. It begins with a chorus that goes "I've had my share of broken dreams, and more than a couple of falls...but in looking back...I've learned the hard way every time."

However,  it's the final chorus that rings most importantly: "...but in looking back at the faces I've been, I would sure be the first one to say, when I look at myself today, wouldn't of done it any other way."

I wholeheartedly follow this philosophy. No, I don't go out of my way to get into trouble or try things just to be put in peril—although I have to admit, I do try things out because I do think it might be an adventure—but it does mean that I accept my mistakes, my problems, my adventures, and know that they have shaped my life. Although I may not like what happened to me, I accept it as part of my life and my experiences.

In other words, the person I am today has been formed by all those experiences, good and bad.  I like this concept because it basically helps me face those trials and tribulations I encounter. It's a more poetic way of saying what doesn't kill me makes me stronger.
By the way, if you do buy the videos of Jim Croce, be sure and watch the special feature that has a duet from some TV show of Jim and Ingrid Croce. Whenever I watch them sing "Spin, Spin, Spin" I think they were a perfect couple. They look lovingly into each other's eyes, have a magical presence and, of course, harmonize beautifully. Sorry, sometimes I just get sentimental.

(We at The Thurber Brigade wish to once again apologize for the repeated use of The Donald in our last blog. It turned a lot of stomachs and we hope that this reverent and reflective essay on a great American singer/songwriter will soothe those souls damaged by the previous blog.  No, we can't promise we won't do it again since crazed American voters keep voting for ----- in record numbers, but at least remember that we are concerned about your mental well-being and will do our best to calm you when needed.)