Friday, December 13, 2013

40th Anniversary of Bobby Darin's Death

Friday December 20 will be the 40th anniversary of the legendary Bobby Darin's death. He was only 37 years old. He was a big part of my childhood. He sang rock and roll classics like Splish Spash and Queen of the Hop and then migrated to wonderful standards like Mack the Knife and Beyond the Sea. And in the late 60's he sang The Simple Song of Freedom which is one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard. You can see and hear all these songs on You Tube. The Queen of the Hop has the classic rock and roll beat and the saxophone solo in the middle of the song is the classic rock and roll sax.

Bobby is a wonderful example of Perseverance. Doctors told his mother he wouldn't live past 15 because of the damage rheumatoid fever had done to his heart. He went on to write 163 songs, recorded over 400 songs, played seven instruments, won 2 Grammy awards, got nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, he did all kinds of great impressions and was a wonderful dancer. Wow, he did it all. He was probably the greatest entertainer in show business history along with Sammy Davis Jr. And his live stage shows in Las Vegas and around the country in the 60's and early 70's were legendary for his performances and his interaction with the audiences. He was taken from us much too early.

Go into You Tube and watch all his songs. They are all there. Watch Splish Splash and Queen of the Hop and see what rock and roll was really like. Turn up the volume, tap your feet.  And watch Beyond the Sea with Kevin Spacey starring as Bobby. He gives an incredible performance. I thought he should have received an Oscar. He looks like Bobby, sings like Bobby, acts like Bobby and dances like Bobby. And near the end of the movie, he sings the Simple Song of Freedom with the choir coming onto to the stage with him. What a dramatic moment. I get chills when I watch this.

So this Friday I will be holding up my favorite beverage, and toasting Bobby, like I did JFK on his 50th, and remember what was and think about what could have been.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

50th Anniversary of JFK's Death

50 years ago this Friday November 22, 1963 at 2pm east coast time, I was in home room at Harwich High, waiting to get dismissed for the weekend. We were all talking about the weekend and the senior play rehearsal we were going to have Friday night. Then our principal came over the loudspeaker system and said the president had been shot in Dallas and maybe a senator and governor too. We all looked at each other, not believing what we just heard.  We were all dismissed, some taking buses home and others like me, walking home.

I lived less than a 5 minute walk from the high school. When I walked into the house, my parents and sisters were watching the tv and Walter Cronkite announced  that the president was dead and Governor Connelly was seriously wounded. We were all stunned obviously. And shortly after it was announced that the police had captured a suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. It was the first time I had seen my mother cry. And two days later, we were eating lunch, had the tv on and the announcer said, "here comes Oswald" and then we saw that hand and gun in the lower right hand corner, as Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald.

When President Kennedy was elected it was such an exciting time. Our house in Harwich was only about 12 miles from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis. The local Cape Cod paper always had great pictures and stories of the president arriving on the helicopter, and Jackie and Caroline and John-John greeting him. And JFK talked about getting the country moving again, "vigor", landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, everyone getting in shape and taking 50 mile hikes and playing touch football.

And all that was snuffed out by those shots in Dallas. I was so inspired that a friend  and myself did a 50 mile hike from the Cape to Boston, in February, mostly at night going up Route 3. I went off to college in 1964 and initially majored in broadcasting, but inspired by JFK and then RFK, changed my major to political science. JFK talked about helping others and giving back and that has always stayed with me. I have been retired now for 9 years and what I have tried to do is take my 35 years of business experience and 66 years of life experience, and give back to the community in many ways, and I have on my web site a quote that RFK used all the time "To tame the savages of man and to make gentle the life of this world." And so inspired by JFK and RFK I have tried to do that. So in some small way, some of their beliefs and values live on in my actions.

And I can't help but think "what if." What if JFK had lived? Would we have avoided the Vietnam war and 58,000 American deaths? Would the Cold War with Russia have been thawed? Would we have made more progress, sooner, on Civil Rights? And if he lived he probably would have been re-elected in 1964 and who would have been vice-president? There was talk of JFK removing LBJ from the ticket. And then who would have been president in 1968 and would we have had Watergate. So much hinged on those fateful shots in Dealey Plaza.

Years ago I was traveling on business in the Dallas area. I took a vacation day and stayed an extra day and went to Dealey Plaza. I walked down Main St., following the exact motorcade route, and then I turned right onto Houston and there in front of me was the Texas School Book Depository. I immediately looked up to the that 6th floor window and had chills up and down my spine. And then I turned left onto Elm St and went to the approximate spot where JFK was killed. And looked all around, taking it all in. Just haunting. And I went and stood behind the fence on the Grassy Knoll and went over to the underpass. I tried to go up to the 6th floor of the Depository but in those days it was blocked.  What happened here? Will we ever know?

And for me, we also lost a lot of the hope, the energy, the excitement, and the promise. I do not know if we have ever recovered from that horrible day. The decade of the 60's was full of assassinations, civil rights issues,  a raging war in Southeast Asia and tensions with Russia. We still feel the impact today. And JFK inspired many Americans to get involved in government service. With his death who did we lose? Another great president, a statesman, a great governor or cabinet member?

This Friday at about 1:30pm I will stop what I am doing and raise a toast to President Kennedy, and what was, and what could have been.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 11th Hour, of the 11th Day, of the 11th Month

It was 95 years ago today that World War 1 ended. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Unfortunately we have had a few wars since. I think the entire world has been at war, since Cain and Able squared off a few years back! I read somewhere that close to 25% of all the countries in the world have some type of conflict going on-either internally or with someone else. Yikes. And we have had wars in this country going all the way back to the 1600's. One of the worst was King Phillip's War, between the Native Americans and the colonists, in 1675, where more "Americans" were killed per capita than any other war in our history.

But today is a day to remember all those who have served over the years. Many of them went over that hill and never came back. Many have horrible injuries, physical and mental, and are in hospital beds in places like Walter Reed Hospital. And many wives who have lost husbands are struggling to get by and raise their children. And many others are struggling with the stress of what they went through. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

One of the restaurants in my hometown of Newburyport, Michaels, serves a free meal every Veterans Day to all veterans. They serve several hundred meals and have been doing this for years. A very nice gesture. But we should just not remember all the veterans today. We should think of them and their families throughout the year and we should work with our elected officials, locally and nationally, to make sure they get the support they deserve and need. Today at 11am I will toast all the veterans, current and past, with a wee bit of brandy.

And maybe we should all watch the video of John Lennon singing "Give Peace a Chance" that he wrote back in the 1969 time frame. And maybe we all should indeed, give it a chance.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Someone once said the only things certain in life are death and taxes. I think we can add a third topic to that list-litter. I walk and bike all around the area, in town and on trails and on the beaches. Where does this stuff come from. I walk downtown from our house which is less than a mile. I come across beer cans, coffee cups, cigarette packs, candy bar wrappers, and assorted other trash all the time. And one section of our street, someone throws half smoked cigars away. And they are always in the same place, about 4 inches long and an inch thick. What is the story with that?

I know someone in town who walks the Plum Island beaches all the time and he has found pieces of trash on the beach for every letter of the alphabet A through Z. I wonder what he found for X, a xylophone? And this trash is all over the place despite trash barrels being well placed throughout the city and picked up on a regular basis. And how about those bags of dog poop that are left on the rail trails and hiking trails. Who do they think is going to monitor the trails for that and pick them up? Yikes.

If we all picked up just two pieces of trash a day, that is 730 pieces of trash a year. But I don't ever pick up Kleenex or paper towels and most of the time I have some type of glove on, depending on the weather. I have never gotten sick or had an infection. If everyone in Newburyport, Ma. picked up that 730 pieces of trash a year, that is over 12 million pieces of trash! Wow. We already have a pretty clean city. Then we would be really spiffy and we would all do our part to make our little piece of Spaceship Earthy a little greener.

Saturday, October 19, 2013



It has been a tough several days for the family  as my wonderful mother in law, Helen Sullivan, (Nana) died  a few days ago. Not only was she a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and mother-in-law she was also a good friend to me. You can throw out all those mother-in-law jokes, Nana was a special person in my life. I can't imagine what the past 45 years would have been like without her playing a large part of it. I loved her as much as my own mother. We never had one argument or disagreement. She took care of our kids, we had all those great times in Topsfield with the Sunday afternoon cookouts, after swimming in the pool., all those wonderful vacations in Maine, all the holidays together- just wonderful, wonderful times.

And Nana would always listen to my stories, even if she had heard them before! And she was always asking me about the projects I was working on  and wanted to see my most recent paintings. But Nana was more than a mother-in-law to me. She was also my friend, Many times I would go to the Cape to visit my mother and then on the way home stop to see her and spend the night. We would talk about all kinds of topics- Boston sports, politics, relatives, current events, restaurants on the North Shore. We would go for fried clams a lot, usually at the Clam Box. But more than that, she gave me advice  on many life topics and that meant so much to me and helped me immensely. I will miss those talks.

And I have special thoughts for all of Nana's grandchildren. They were all very close to her. They visited her, called her often, and wrote her. And she visited and stayed overnight with so many of them and was a big part of their life. And Nana was so proud of each and every one. Every time I visited Nana she would give me an update on each one of them, telling me what they were up to. And just recently she was talking about buying a present for her great grandson Chase.
I hope all the grandchildren treasure those memories and remember all the good times. My grandmothers died many years ago but I still have fond memories of being with them and think of them every week still. One grandmother lived with us for a few years and I can remember sitting on her bed with her listening to radio shows and when she had her own apartment, going over there to have home made cookies.

And the North Shore has lost one of its biggest advocates. Nana knew all the roads, all the shortcuts, all the restaurants and all the history. She was a walking Chamber of Commerce, and the Boston sports teams have lost one of their biggest fans.

Nana's legacy to all of us is: love of family, instilling a wonderful sense of values in all of us, and a strong faith in the Catholic Church, receiving communion on a regular basis, even as she declined. As we take Nana to her rest in a few days, let us not weep. Let us celebrate the wonderful 96 years she lived and the great memories she left us. May God bless and keep Helen Welch Sullivan. I miss you Nana.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


One of the great American track and field athletes, Jesse Owens, would have been 100 years old on September 12th. I remember reading about him when I was a kid and seeing him on the old Ralph Edward's This is Your Life TV show. When he was in high school he equaled the world record in the 100 yard dash, and when he was in college at Ohio State, he set numerous records, including a grand finale when in the span of 45 minutes at a Big Ten track meet, he set 3 world records and tied a 4th. All in 45 minutes! Wow!.

He competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and won 4 Gold medals. This was when Hitler thought the German athletes were superior to any other race in the world. Some of his records stood for decades. And throughout it all he had to put up with discrimination. In college, when the track team traveled, he had to eat in black only restaurants and get take out. But while in Berlin for the Olympics, he could stay in the same hotels as everyone else.

When Jesse returned to the U.S. they had a ticker tape parade for him up Fifth Avenue yet when he went to the reception for him at the Waldorf Astoria, he had to take the freight elevator to reach the reception.

After the Olympics, he returned to the U.S. and accepted some commercial offers. The U.S. athletic officials withdrew his amateur status. As a result his commercial offers dried up. He held various jobs but ultimately filed for bankruptcy. He worked his way out of it and became a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. and traveled the world and became a motivational speaker and an inspiration for all.

In 1976 President Ford presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He went on to receive many more awards and accolades and in 1990 was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush. He died on March 31, 1980 of lung cancer in Tucson, Arizona. I think he was one of the great Americans. He was an inspiration to us all. He overcame discrimination and a tough childhood, worked throughout high school and college (he couldn't get a scholarship despite his great talent) and became one of the great athletes in history.

Friday, June 7, 2013


The latest poverty numbers have been released and they are pretty discouraging. I thought the economy was getting better. The stock market has doubled in the past 4 years, housing prices are rebounding in many sections of the country, foreclosures have dropped significantly, and retail sales are up for many stores.

But 22% of all children, about 16 million live in poverty. And for African-American children its 39% and Latino children its 34%. Women are 34% more likely to live in poverty than men. 28% of all workers make poverty level wages. Those receiving food stamps is at all time high. And the number that bothers me the most is 50% of all jobs in the US pay $34,000 or less!! Many states have created new jobs but many of them are minimum wage or close to it, and don't have any or minimal benefits. How can you support a family on wages like that? How can you save to buy a house or condo? And every two houses bought in the country, creates at least 1 job.

So what can we do about this? Well, short-term or tactically, we can donate our time and money to soup kitchens, food pantries, food banks and places like the Salvation Army. If each one of us put 2 pennies a day into a jar, that's $7.30 a year. In my hometown there are over 17,000 people. If we all put those pennies in a jar for one year, that's $124,000 a year. And thats just one town. Imagine if every town in Massachusetts did that? There are over 300 towns in the state. That's close to $37 million a year. Hey, those pennies add up.

Long term and more strategically, we need everyone to get a good education and not just get jobs, but get careers. So how are we going to do this? Right now 25-30% of all students who enter 9th grade in this country do not graduate. And in some of the inner cities, its 50-70%. What happens to all those young adults? If they find work, it will probably be a minimum wage job. Some will turn to drugs, some of the girls will get pregnant, some will go to jail for various crimes. And the US has close to 2 million people incarcerated, the highest rate in the civilized world. And it  costs close to $80,000 a year to keep someone in prison. And more than this, what bothers me the most is that out of all these young adults that drop out of school,  all that unfulfilled potential is lost. Who would have been the next great statesman, the next great artist, or senator, or writer or even president?

So we have to keep these students in school. We have to give them Hope and Inspiration, to help many of  them get through tough family situations.  We have to help them develop a Vision for their lives and the Goals to reach that Vision. We have to give them a road map on how to succeed in life and teach them the life skills they will need to reach that success. We have to reach out to them. We need everyone in the country to think about this and give back and develop all the ways to eliminate poverty in the United States in our lifetimes and indeed "to make gentle the life of this world."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Remember Patty

Its been a sad several days for the Larkin and Sullivan families. My sister in law Patricia Anne Sullivan (Patty) died in her sleep last Wednesday night. She was born on St. Patricks Day and would have been 68 this past Sunday. The family always gathered on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate Patty's birthday. It was always one of the highlights of the year. This year instead we were at the funeral home for her wake. But after the wake we all came back to our house and had corned beef and all the trimmings, we toasted her with our favorite beverages, and my wife Kathy made a birthday cake, we lit the candles and sang happy birthday to her.

I have always had a special place in my heart for anyone that has to live with handicaps of any kind. And Patty has always had a special place in my heart for the 45 years I have known her. I have two sisters whom I love very much, but I love Patty just as much. She was always my sister as far as I was concerned.  Sometimes we take for granted the every day things we do, like drive a car, get married, have kids, maybe have grandchildren.  Patty couldn't do a lot of those things but she really didn't need much to be happy. In recent years if she got a puzzle and stopped at Dunkin Donuts for an iced coffee, went for a ride and stopped to see her mother,  I think she was pretty content.

In the past few years, when Patty was on a liquid diet, we couldn't go out to eat anymore. My wife Kathy would pick her up at the Group Home, and drive her to Topsfield to visit her mother- Nana, and her sister Beth. I would drive down there ahead, and spend time talking to Nana and wait for Patty and Kathy to arrive. We did these visits a couple of times each month and I always looked forward to those visits. Now there will be a big void in my life.

And in years past when Patty would come to Maine, she and I would ride down to Naples in my truck,  and we would go for a boat ride on the Songo Queen. We would sit up front on one of the benches with a good view and Patty would be sipping a coke. And afterwards we would get an ice cream. And sometimes on the way back to the cottage in Bridgton we would sing songs, maybe Christmas carols or Happy Birthday, even if they weren't in season.

My heart is heavy without Patty here anymore, and my thoughts and prayers go out to her brothers and sisters, and all her friends in the Group Home, and especially to Nana. I can't even comprehend what it is like for a parent to lose a child.

I hope Patty is in that great big blue lake in the sky, riding on that heavenly Songo Queen, sipping a coke, with her Daddy and all her aunts and uncles by her side, looking down and smiling at all of us. May God bless and keep Patricia Anne Sullivan.  Your loving brother in law. FRAN

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Blizzard of 1888

We certainly have had a lot of large snowstorms this winter including the Blizzard last month and the storm today, where some towns had two feet.  And we had superstorm Sandy last fall  and two huge snowstorms the last two Octobers. There have been many articles written about the impact global warming and the increase in ocean temperature and air temperature have had on our weather. Some articles have said that we are going to continue to have large, huge storms and more of them. And that may well be.

But huge storms have always been with us in New England history especially snow storms. The Great Snow of 1717 is still talked about. The snow was 3-4 feet deep and that was the snow, not the drifts. There was no travel for days. And more recently who can forget the Blizzard of 1978 and all those cars stranded on 128 and the state shut down for a week.

But next week is the 125th anniversary of the  grandaddy of them all- the Blizzard of 1888. March 11-14. Spring was in the air. The crocuses were coming out. The weather was unseasonably warm. And then it started to rain. But lurking to the south was a monster storm. The temperatures dropped. The rain turned to snow and before it ended 3 days later, 40 to 50 inches had accumulated. Drifts were 30 to 40 feet! Some drifts covered 3 story houses! The next time you are traveling north of Albany on the Northway, Route 87, and you pass Saratoga Springs, think of them receiving 58 inches of snow on the ground!!!That was the record for the storm.

80 mph wind gusts were reported and the barometer reached 29.00, as low as some hurricanes. The storm stalled near Block Island and just spun like a top, intensifying as it went and throwing foot after foot on New England towns. The mid Atlantic states and New England were paralyzed for days. A drift at Westport, Ct. on the railroad tracks was so huge it took 8 days to clear. More than 400 people died, including over 200 in New York City.

200 ships were wrecked or tossed ashore, leading to the loss of life of 100 sailors. And after the storm there was severe flooding as warm weather returned. After the storm New York city started placing its telegraph and telephone lines underground. And the storm was partially  responsible for the establishment of the Boston and New York underground subway systems.

So large storms have been with us in the past. The question to be answered is will they now be more frequent due to the climate changes. Keep your eye on the Weather Channel and the local stations to find out!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Day The Music Died!

Yesterday was the 54th anniversary of the day the music died, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper-J.P. Richardson, along with the pilot, Roger Peterson died in that horrible plane crash in a cornfield in  Clear Lake Iowa. I was in 7th grade, and I can remember it just like yesterday, sitting in Mr. Fish's homeroom in the old Brooks Academy building, and we were all stunned and couldn't believe it. Most of us were into rock and roll and loved the music of all three of the musicians.

They had just performed a concert that night in the Surf Ballroom, in Clear Lake, and for various reasons, they wanted to fly to the next concert site instead of taking the tour bus, which had broken down and didn't have much heat. And who took the flight and who didn't take it, has taken its place in rock and roll mythology! The Big Bopper took Waylon Jennings place and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss to get a seat. And Dion of Dion and the Belmonts could have gone but didn't want to pay the $36 fee. Supposedly Waylon Jennings thought about this every day for the rest of his life.

The Surf Ballroom is still there and every Febuary 3 they have a memorial concert. Its on my bucket list of places to see before I check out! And the cornfield is visited by thousands of fans from around the world each year.  And I think back to the mid 50's. I was there for the beginning of rock and roll. I talk about this  in my memoir of growing up on Cape Cod and in the United States back in the 50's and 60's, called Cape Cod Forever. It will be an ebook out this summer. Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis, Chuck Berry-my all time favorite, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper.  They were all there in the formative years of rock and roll, and many of them were huge inspirations for the Beatles, Rolling Stones and many of the other English groups in the 60's.

And you know, you can see them all today on YouTube!! Clips of them in concert are all there. And there are Buddy Holly tribute shows all around the country. There are some singers who sing like him, look like him, sound like him and who play the same guitars and music as Buddy did. Buddy Holly lives, 54 years later!! So if you get a chance, go onto YouTube, type in Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper  and go down Memory Lane for a few minutes and think about them as we remember them on their anniversary.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, FRAN