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#Music

  • A YouTube Conversation About the Arts

    A YouTube Conversation About Writing, Teaching, Learning, and the Arts

    Watch my conversation with Sean Murphy, founder and CEO of 1455 Literary at: 
     

     

    Thank you, Sean, for these flattering comments, for the wonderful conversation, and for your important work at 1455 Literary (www.1455literary)!!!

    By Sean Murphy--It's Back to the Future with this next installment of 1455's "The 14:55 Interview":

    Known for many (MANY) years as one of the most popular --and flat out best-- teachers in the history of Fairfax County, Chuck Cascio has also spent decades writing (journalism, sports, non-fiction, and lately, fiction). He also did no small part in helping infuse purpose and passion into your humble narrator, and, as the supportive, encouraging, and exceedingly patient faculty advisor (i.e., editor-in-chief) of South Lakes High The Sentinel, inculcated a respect for the discipline--the nuts and bolts of what real writing entailed.

    So it's with great joy that I chat with "Mr. Cascio" about a great many things, including his memories of being a precocious writer-in-training stealing glances at his parents' copy of The Catcher in the Ryeand why 1968 was such a momentous year in American (and Cascio family) history, and why the theme of coming-of-age recurs in his work. Special praise is doled out to "Born to Run" and Lost in Translation (an unimpeachable one-two punch for easily recommended album and movie), a heartfelt and welcome tribute to the amazing, if under-read, Wallace Stegner.

    Chuck confesses he still needs to read Anna Karenina (don't worry, I'll keep on him, and by the way, that's always a reminder that my friend Jeanne McCulloch's remarkable memoir ALL HAPPY FAMILIES takes its title from Tolstoy's immortal opening lines). We also talk about why it's worthwhile to reach out to a writer, thanking them when their work moves you.

     

    On that note, I know I am one of THOUSANDS of appreciative students (I won't say "former" student, b/c once Chuck teaches you, you stay taught) that want to thank Mr. C. for being something rare in this world: a positive role model and inspiration. I still can picture the sweat on our brows as we cut and pasted (with a razor blade, kids) articles for another issue of The Sentinel, but I'm delighted that my happiest memories of him have yet to be made.

    Watch the interview now: 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLznxZDM8mQ

     

     

     

     

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • Lessons in Racism: A Tribute to Donal Leace

    LESSONS IN RACISM--
    A Tribute to Singer, Songwriter, Teacher Donal Leace
    by
    Chuck Cascio

     

    It has been present all of our lives. We can look around and still see it. But it hits us hardest when something spurs our awareness and reminds us: Racism is real...it has been real...we have seen it ourselves, personally.   

    Donal Leace (no "d" at the end of his first name) was a Washington, DC-based Black singer, songwriter, entertainer, scholar, and teacher whom I met many years ago when I was 16 years old and working one memorable summer at my cousin's folk music club, the Shadows, in Virginia Beach. (Note: That club is not related to any club or restaurant that may have the same or similar name in Virginia Beach today.) I learned recently that Donal died of Covid in December 2020, and though I had not seen Donal in many years, hearing of his death brought back many memories...memories made all the more significant to me as the country engages in heated discussions about race. 

    One of my many jobs at the Shadows was to book hotel reservations for performers and then to greet them at the designated hotel when they arrived. Donal was scheduled to sing at the Shadows for a couple of weeks as the opening act. He drove down from DC (he lived in an apartment above the famous Cellar Door club in Georgetown), and I met him at the hotel where I had reserved his room. As we walked into the hotel together, a noticeable silence overtook the lobby. 

    When I reminded the man behind the desk, whom I had interacted with before, that I worked at the Shadows and that I had made a reservation for Donal, the man looked confused. He browsed a ledger intensely, flipped some pages, then finally looked up and said, "Sorry, got no reservation for him and no rooms are available. Fully booked." He scribbled something on a piece of paper and shoved it at me, saying, "But here is the address of a place where he can stay."

     

    Donal_Leace.jpeg

    Donal Leace: Singer, songwriter, teacher...

    I started to argue since I knew I had made the reservation and even had a confirmation number. But Donal tapped my shoulder and said, "I know what's going on here. Let's go." 

    We went outside into the beach sunlight and I started to blurt, "Donal, I'm sorry, I..."

    "It's not you, Chuck. This is what it is. You see what it is, right?"

    Of course I did--everywhere in Virginia overt racism was evident daily: The "Colored" restrooms and water fountains separate from "Whites Only" ones. The swimming pools with signage stating boldly, "No Coloreds." The segregated schools and neighborhoods. But in that moment with Donal, it all hit me hard, personally.

    We rode about 20 miles inland to the address the hotel clerk had given us, finally coming upon a dilapidated, sad building with a sign in front that read "Colored Motel." 

    "Guess I'll be making the trip from here to the club and back every night," Donal said matter-of-factly.

    Something swelled from inside me, and I said, "We have room at our house, Donal. Come stay with us!"

    Donal hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure? Will your roommates be okay with me?"

    "Yes," I said without hesitation, and we climbed into his car and rode back to the house I shared with three guys all in their early twenties. When we arrived, I explained to my roommates what had happened, and there was no hesitancy. Donal was given a room and throughout his stay, we all laughs and music together…but we shared other things, too, such as:

    After Donal's first night performing at the club, we all finished our closing chores, and I asked Donal if he wanted to join us at a local diner where we always went for our late-night/early-morning food and laughs. He came with us, and as we all entered the familiar diner on the main beach drag, I immediately recognized the evil quiet that blanketed us. We were quickly seated in a far corner booth by a waiter who knew us all, except for Donal, by name. 

    We introduced the White waiter to Donal, but the waiter simply turned away, refusing to shake Donal's extended hand. A minute or two later, the waiter returned and handed menus to each of us. Hungry, filled with the nightly relief of pulling off another successful club experience, we all started enthusiastically blurting out what we were going to order...except for Donal. He quietly perused his menu and, once the rest of us had quieted down, said, "Um, this place seems a little pricey, doesn't it?"

    In those days, you could get a club sandwich or scrambled eggs or fried chicken pieces for a dollar or two, so we were all surprised at Donal's comment. He smiled sadly, knowingly, and flipped over his menu so we could all see. Every item on his menu was at least 10 times the price shown on the rest of ours'! 

    One of my roommates angrily waved Donal's menu at the waiter.

    "What the hell is this?" the roommate said.

    "What do you mean?" the waiter said with a shrug.

    "You know damn well what I mean! You gave him a different menu than ours! Everything on his is much more expensive! Give him the right menu!"

    "That is the right menu...for him," the waiter said matter-of-factly. "So what can I get you guys?"

    With that, we all climbed out of the booth, and one of the guys got in the waiter's face and said, "We won't be back here. Ever."

    "Suit yourself," the waiter said, "but don't you go around saying we wouldn't serve him...and his kind. If he wants to pay, we'll serve him. If not, that's his choice."

    Yes, some things have changed since those days on Virginia Beach. But not enough. Racism still exists. It is, and has been, all around us. Think about what you have seen personally. Think about how it hit you. Think about how it hits others, daily.

    Racism is real. It is systemic. It must be addressed. 

    Thank you, Donal—for your music, laughter, friendship..and for the difficult lessons I learned from you during that brief stretch of summer.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

    (Readers: Tell me your story, if you like. Nothing will be reprinted without your permission, and you will retain all rights of anything that is printed: chuckwrites@yahoo.com.)