Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Rock & Roll

Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Rock And Roll

People become illustrators when they develop an affinity for a certain type of art. When I first started teaching thirty years ago everyone wanted to illustrate movie marquee posters but by the dawn of the new millennium all my students wanted to work in the computer gaming field. Tattoo art was the big thing two years ago as I was winding up my academic career but for me the magic genre  was music…

…as in album covers.  When I first started out I jumped into the role-playing came market as a way to work into doing comics and book covers, but my Holy Grail was the 33 1/3 r.p.m. record album cover. Covers measured twelve inches by twelve inches and uniformly presented 144 square inches of the most dynamic art on the planet. Roger Dean, Phillip Travers , Kim Whitesides and Patrick Woodruffe were my favorites as was (unknown to me at the time) Phil Hartmann of SNL fame and I worked as hard as I could to break into that market and rub creative shoulders with those guys.

I was delighted when asked to create this cover in the fall of 1983 and hoped for many more such assignments but little did I know that before long the cassette, then the CD would conspire to eliminate this wonderful genre. I got a second similar assignment for an album entitled “Runaway Heart’ which was followed by a flock of forgettable kiddie records but by the middle of the Eighties the LP market was all but gone. I wanted to grouse about the situation but to be honest I was (still) delighted to have the small part of the market that I did.

Production notes: I don’t remember what happened to the original so it may be stashed in a box somewhere in the house or garage.  Airbrush, pen, colored pencil and gouache on hot-press watercolor board. It was rendered as a wrap-around illustration measuring 16″ X 32″ so this front cover would be 16″X16” square

1983: David Ralph 2.0: Where Are You?

He has to be at least thirty-two years old – maybe thirty-three. He probably became a solider just like his father and for all I know he could be stationed here at Fort Campbell. He’d have no idea who I was if we were to meet, if nothing but for the fact that his skin is a rich mahogany color while I am a old pasty-faced white man, but if we were able to talk for a couple of minutes he’d understand where his first & middle names “David Ralph” came from.

It was the spring of 1983 and my battalion commander didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me either.  I had just a month left before I left the active Army  needed something involved enough to keep me busy but not so involved that I couldn’t tie all the loose ends up before my date of separation. Luckily the eminent arrival of the battalion’s annual Inspector General visit (known simply as ‘the I.G.’) gave me an important task. I had to get rid of a bunch of stuff, and by stuff I mean equipment that I had amassed while leading the brigade A/DACG for the previous two years.

(Acronym alert: A/DACG (“pronounced ‘dag’) stands for “Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group”. Whenever the Air Force provides airlift they provide just the planes. The transported unit – be it Army, Navy, even another Air Force unit must provide a control unit drawn from their own personnel to provide an interface with the squadrons doing the flying.  These control groups manage the movement of vehicles, cargo and passengers from their original locations to the actual airhead where they set up an airport terminal under canvas. Functions include inspecting/weighing/marking cargo, verifying load-plans, providing shelter for passengers awaiting transit, and co-coordinating between various units and commands.)

Running the (A/DACG) was an exciting job – logistics in its purest form, but it was a hard job as well. The pace of tactical air movement is unforgiving and the slightest mistake could mean a bottleneck holding up thousands of troops. That pressure meant the job was avoided like the plague and it usually trickled down to a junior officer too slow or not imaginative enough to figure out a way to duck the assignment. Training available usually consisted of reading the pertinent field manual so it is no surprise that the assignment had chewed up seven lieutenants in seven operations. By sheer luck I was able to observe another lieutenant in action before my first time running things; that small “leg up” insured survival through my first A/DACG assignment as well as ever-increasing levels of success commanding the half-dozen airfields that followed over the next 24 months, all of which culminated in a U.S. Army Achievement medal for leading the ADACG for JRX BRIM FROST 1983.

Normally upon separation from a unit an officer just signs keys over to the replacement but in this case there was a problem: The A/DACG unit that I had masterfully led for two years didn’t really exist. It was a provisional unit cobbled together out of soldiers detailed from the battalion’s individual companies. It was the same situation with the equipment: all the vehicles, tents, stoves and stuff were listed on the property books as belonging to other units. Confusing? I gets even more complicated. I had a lot more “stuff” than I was supposed to AND my storage facilities didn’t officially exist, most of them consisting of various lockable places located on the loop –  a group of small Korean War vintage warehouses arranged around a circular stretch of track and road on the far side of post – that I had “acquired” from helpful NCOs in the battalion.

Where did the extra “stuff” come from?

As a rule units are well-prepared when they are deploy from base to the field. Everything is carefully packed on vehicles or standard 463L pallets, all documentation is in order and the troops are clean, rested and ready to go. Coming out the field is a completely different story with most of the units looking like Napoleon’s Grande Armee during the 1812 retreat from Moscow – especially during the winter months and especially-especially when there was bad weather during the retrograde.

  • Everything and everyone was dirty from heating stoves that left a film of soot over everything.
  • Load plans were essentially a wish
  • Items would be thrown onto vehicles and roped down where it fell
  • Items were stacked haphazardly on 463L pallets where they resembled piles of building blocks kicked over by a giant two-year old.
  • ….and a lot of items and equipment were just abandoned on the field and soon covered with snow.

Troops coming out of a mid-winter exercise would ditch anything slowing them down in the same way my horse Frosty would start bucking when she smelled a bear. Since my vehicles were the last Army loads to depart the airhead I would have my people collect the discarded items and store them when we got home.  I would use such items to supplement our own issue but it had other uses as well. Early on in my tenure  saved a career and kept another solider out of jail when we turned up a weapon on one occasion and an encryption module at another time, both of which I promptly turned into the proper authorities.

These salvaged items were the source of all my “extras”

It wouldn’t have been that much of a problem had the materiel in question been just a couple of tarps and some ropes but I had considerable stores of durable items like Coleman lanterns, expensive items like PRC-77 radio batteries, and often-pilfered items like cases of C-rations. As 90% of it was stored in undocumented facilities it made for an easily misunderstood situation that could make me look like the biggest black-marketeer since Milo Minderbinder of Catch-22 fame.

So there I was, the clock ticking down until my end-of-service date,  loaded down with tons of go-to-jail stuff and due to be replaced by another officer unlikely to keep the covert A/DACG supply rooms a secret. At the same time the notoriously long arm of the Army’s CID (Criminal Investigation Division) meant that I could forget just walking away from the mess. I was hanging on the horns of that dilemma when news of the IG came down from brigade, bringing with it my salvation.

Santa Claus came early and wore BDU’s that year. I went around to all the supply sergeants and made up their shortfalls with my unofficial stock.  As a short-timer my presence around the office was not exactly “mission essential” so I would quietly disappear for an hour during slow time, making my rounds of the individual supply rooms to assess situations and then returning to deliver items. As a result the battalion ended up with some very happy supply sergeants because there was /a lot more at stake with this inspection than usual.  More than two years had passed since last full-blown IG and during that time there had been multiple personnel changes, several major training exercises and of course the regular deterioration you get in documentation over of time, so it wasn’t just a matter of correcting a few shortfalls.

All of the company supply sergeants were lacking, but the one at most risk was the Headquarters Company supply sergeant SSG Roosevelt. In addition to all the other factors I’ve mentioned, his unit had been recently been reorganized from a detachment to a company which meant using a different table of organization and equipment. SSG Roosevelt wasn’t in risk of a reprimand – he was facing a ruined career and prosecution for major problems he was not responsible for.

As an artist I like to think that I know anatomy and facial features well, but I have never seen a face change expression and character to the degree that SSG Roosevelt’s demeanor changed on the day I showed up with my extra items.  It was reward enough for me to be able to make up almost his entire missing inventory  – but when he finished unloading my car he turned with an even bigger smile and said:

“Sir, you’ve just  saved my career and kept me out of jail. There is nothing I can to repay you for that – but I am going to try. My wife is expecting a baby later this summer and if it’s a boy I am going to name him after you”

I made a feeble joke, thanked him for his kindness, and then drove back to battalion headquarters forgetting his promise during the drive. Three weeks later I exchanged my I.D. card for a bundle of currency then embarked on a journey to that strange land called Civilian Life. SSG Roosevelt’s words probably would have never come to mind again were it not for a telephone conversation with my then-former battalion later about a year later when I called to ask for help getting my service records transferred to the Reserve system.

At the end of the conversation he asked if I kept in touch with anyone else from the battalion. Then he went on:  “How well did you know SSG Roosevelt  – the HHC supply sergeant?”

My face warmed flush with nervousness and said a silent prayer thanking God for the lack of video feed on telephones. “Oh. I knew him. Not real well. Nice enough guy and fairly competent from what I heard. Why do you ask?”

He replied: “Around the time I transferred to the Pentagon his wife had a baby – a big strapping boy about 8 pounds six ounces. They named him David which seemed OK to me at the time but when I found out that his middle name was “Ralph” I was surprised. There aren’t too many of those around –in fact you’re the only person “Ralph” I’ve ever known”. I mumbled something about coincidence and synchronicity and changed the subject as soon as I could politely do so.

…so please forgive me if I tend to stare at the name tags of the throngs of soldiers I when I am out and about in Clarksville.  Statistics show there to be a very high rate of enlistment among the children of career soldiers and the rate among African American soldiers is almost twice the Army average. I’m eventually going to run into David Ralph Roosevelt, and when I do will I have a story to tell him!

1983: Soap Opera

Fatherhood is not a casual thing for me. My own dad was not the most involved of fathers, a condition which in a vaguely karmic manner pushed me into trying to be the most involved father I could imagine.  As a member of the trailing edge of the baby boom it is no surprise that that imagination was heavily influenced by the media so my fathering skills were a curious amalgam of the compassionate wisdom of Ward Cleaver from Leave It To Beaver combined with the kick-a** paternalism/ protective nature of  Lucas McCain from The Rifleman. I didn’t leave it all to prime-time TV though – I read popular psychology books,  parenting theory and child psychology – but I also read about the subjects my boys liked to insure we’d always have some sort of common reference in our interests.

I also had to be very “thorough” with my own books. Both Conrad and Sean were very bright and would consume rather than just read books so I had to work hard to stay ahead of them. The day after I brought home one rather dense book on current world air forces I was grilled on the flight characteristics of the F-15C by Conrad; when I confessed to my ignorance he snorted “It’s your book Daddy” – meaning I should know it from cover to cover already.

Central to fathering skills is “correction”. Kids need correction and guidance and while I had no desire to be a “hitting dad”, I knew that my kids were going to need disciplining eventually. Dealing with intellects sharper than mine meant that I had to rule out any injunction which included the phrase “Because I said so”.  The safest course of action was to make punishments (“negative reinforcement”) appropriate to the behavior. Natural consequences would be my parenting by-word; if one of the boys was caught running with scissors they would have to spend an hour wearing a blind-fold to experience life without eyesight. If they failed to feed their pets they would not be allowed to eat meals until the pet was fed. It seemed like a very effective system…

…until the day Conrad uttered a very distinct “Damn it” as he was walking out of his room.

It shocked me – he was only four and a half and not the age at which I was expecting problems like this. I had assumed there were no “vocabulary issues” in our family as I thought I had been very careful about my choice of words around my children. As for Conrad – he failed to see any problem, stating simply “Isn’t that what you say when you lose things?”

Lori and I had a quick parent conference and decided that in line with our “natural consequences” model anyone caught swearing would have to bite a bar of soap in half. I thought it was a great solution with a readily identifiable consequence: “dirty words” contrasting with the cleaning action of the soap. There was an element of tradition in it too as both of our families had resorted to bar-soap biting discipline in the past. It also didn’t hurt that the movie “Christmas Story” currently running in theaters had its famous “soap poisoning” sequence as a bit of reinforcement as well.

Yes, it was a perfect solution…until the seconding swearing incident of the day occured.

It never even registered to me until I glanced down and saw Conrad, solemn as a hangman, holding a bar of soap up to me. I looked around in a panic, only to lock eyes with Lori across the room, a smirk on her face just barely hidden. Without even thinking I had let an almost-inaudible ‘damn’ slip out while trying to hook up a wire leading from the stereo in the front room to a speaker in the studio. Unfortunately all three of my children came equipped with sonar for ears so “almost-inaudible” was a contradiction in terms.

I was busted.

The moment turned into Tardis-time as the external time span of one to three seconds stretched out into a lengthy debate inside my brain: I did NOT want to bite that bar of soap. Not only would it taste NASTY, it most likely would cause a good case of the “Rocky Mountain Quick-step” for the balance of the day. Besides – the rule had just gone into effect that morning. Shouldn’t there be some sort of grace period to give us all a chance to bring our behavior in line with the new rule? Isn’t there a warning sign put up by the city a week before installing a new stop-light? Yeah – that’s fair. I mean, if it’s good enough for the city of Orem its good enough for me

…then I looked down at that solemn little boy and realized that whatever I decided to do at this point would irrevocably set the trend for kid-discipline in our family.  With the memories these boys had – If I “copped out” now I’d lose them forever.

I bit  the d*mn bar of soap.

In answer to your questions 1) I had no idea soap could taste SO nasty and 2) I had to stay close to the bathroom for the rest of the day (and part of the following day as well)…and the incident did have a major behavioral impact, though more on my part than my sons.  I had set a precedent and from then on whenever a temptation to “back-slide” would appear one or both of the boys would remark “Wow, that’s a tough one, isn’t it Dad” letting me know that they were watching me – and more importantly my behavior – very closely. Though it didn’t work out exactly as I had planned, the soap-bar option had a very definite effect on behavior in my family for the next couple of decades