March 27, 2020
I wanted to get in touch with all of you for a couple of reasons… one big, the other small.
On the big, universal side, of course, is the Covid-19 health crisis—which brings out the worst and best in people… mostly the best.
Truckers are getting supplies to the stores. Market staffs are stocking the shelves all night and letting seniors shop first thing in the morning.
Knowing Simone and I are seniors, several neighborhood families have reached out and offered to shop for our groceries and leave them on our porch.
Carnival Cruise line volunteers, “We can match those big Navy Hospital ships with some fully staffed cruise ships.”
GM says, “hold off on our cars and watch this; we can make ventilators.”
Women and children are putting together homemade masks and handing them out to mailmen and delivery drivers.
Restaurants and schools insist, “We’ve got kitchens and staff; we can feed kids.”
Churches are holding on-line services and taking care of their members and the community.
Then there are our great institutions of learning, who have sprung into action.
Simone, who is on the faculty at Fashion Institute, is taking two hours of tutorials a day to prepare her for teaching Fashion Design on-line in the Spring semester.
NBA basketball players say, “Hold off on our games, while we write checks to pay the arena staff.”
Construction companies and manicurists offer, “Here are some masks for the medical staff and doctors.”
Breweries are making sanitizer out of the left-over ingredients.
We thought we could live for a while without going to a restaurant or bar. Now, we’re trying to help them stay in business by ordering take-out.
What communist China didn't count on was Americans saying, “Hey, we’re under attack. Watch us!”
Time and again, I’m touched watching people care about and help each other and I’m convinced we will get through this and have even more memories to share once we do.
We will get through this.
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On a smaller, more personal level, we recently lost one of the good guys… Kenny Rogers.
I can’t say we were close personal friends, but we were singer-songwriter buddies who crossed paths off and on through the years.
I first met Kenny in Houston when he was a member of a very cool group called the Bobby Doyle Trio.
They sang like the Hi-Los and Four Freshmen and were performing a jazz-oriented show that was the rage of the town at a lounge called The Tidelands.
Then in the sixties, the Four Preps appeared on TV’s “Hootenanny” broadcast from an Ivy League college and there’s my pal from Houston performing with the New Christy Minstrels.
(Interesting side note to that show. One of the Acts was a new husband-wife comedy team called “Stiller and Meara.”
Their timing and comedic simpatico was wonderful and I wasn’t surprised in later years to see the husband Jerry Stiller become a regular on “Seinfeld” and his wife, Anne Meara, a successful TV and Tony-nominated stage actress.
Oh yeah—one more great accomplishment by this unique couple—they had a talented son named Ben Stiller.)
Next, Kenny and I meet again at a recording studio in Hollywood where he’s cutting tracks with The First Edition.
He’s excited about one song in particular called, ”Just Dropped In (to see what condition my condition was in).”
He was right of course. It became the Edition’s first hit.
We met again later when we performed together at a charity benefit in Beverly Hills.
And then again in the Dallas airport.
We both had long layovers and spend a couple of hours in the American Airlines Admiral’s Lounge talking over our tour itineraries, friends we have in common, songs we’re working on, the NFL and the best bar-b-que joint in Nashville.
It was a really nice afternoon with a really nice guy.
At one point down the line, Kenny becomes intensely interested in recording “The Troublemaker,” a protest song I’d written with David Somerville.
As often happens in the music biz, for one reason or another, that never occurred.
(Ironically, “The Troublemaker” will go on to be a #1 country hit for Willie Nelson, the title song of his Double Platinum album—and the subject of a cover story in Rolling Stone.)
(It’s on YouTube here.)
My favorite personal remembrance of Kenny is no big deal in dramatic terms.
In fact, it’s a small story about a small incident, but it may give you an insight into the kind of person he was.
Some years later in the early seventies, I am unmarried and an executive at NBC in Burbank.
One weekend, I have a lunch date with a woman I’ve met recently. We’re driving along on Mulholland heading for a restaurant in Malibu that I hope will impress her.
She’s lovely and I’m racking my brain about how to make points with her as we drive along in my little red Mercedes 280SL convertible.
It’s a beautifully clear day and we can see the entire city below us as we purr down the mountaintop highway listening to Earth, Wind & Fire.
Suddenly, my transmission starts to make a grinding noise. I pull off the road as the car slows down and then stops dead.
We are on a remote stretch of highway and the car won’t budge.
I get out and look underneath. A section of the transmission is hanging down to the ground.
This is before cell phones and we are in the middle of nowhere without a house in sight.
I stand looking around for a minute trying to decide which direction to walk to get help.
My date waits nervously, as I try to figure out what the hell to do.
Suddenly, I hear a horn blow loudly as a white Rolls Royce convertible pulls up behind us.
The driver rolls down his window and yells, “Yo Bruce! What’s up buddy?”
It’s Kenny Rogers.
He and his manager are heading for a business lunch in Beverly Hills.
It had been a couple of years since we’d last seen each other, but Kenny gets out and greets me warmly.
My date is wide-eyed.
I tell him the problem and he immediately offers to drive us back to my place to arrange for a tow truck and pick up another car.
Now, I’m living in Encino, which is a good forty-five minutes in the wrong direction for Kenny.
He’ll be blowing his lunch appointment.
I tell him to just drop us at the nearest phone booth and I’ll call from there.
Kenny won’t hear of it. He insists on hauling us all the way back to my house.
There are worse ways to get out of a jam than being chauffeured home in a Rolls ragtop driven by a Superstar.
As we head off, he and I chat it up and are soon laughing like crazy, trading fun stories from the past.
By the time we reach my place, my date is totally blown away.
My only problem now is… how do I top this?!
(When Kenny died recently, I got in touch with the woman who was my date that day. She remembered it well and we had a good laugh about it forty years later.)
As I said, it was no big deal, but it does tell you a little about the man.
“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
Kenny finally folded them after drawing thousands of full houses over the years.
Yep—he was one of the good guys.
I keep taking time from the book to pay tribute to one more of my musical pals who’s left us.
That’s O.K. If these words I send you from time to time help you feel closer to one of your favorite artists or make you smile recalling a fond memory, that’s hugely gratifying to me.
It’s been said, “Sometimes the kindest thing you can do in a day is listen to an old man reminisce.”
Thank you for hearing me out whenever we’re in touch, and rest assured, we have more music and nostalgia to share.
I say it at the close of each letter I send you, but I mean it more than ever in these fearful times, ”take good care of yourself…and each other,” and we will get through this… together.
We will get through this.