We’ve all got a bucket list, right? Maybe not written down, maybe not
in order of importance… but if someone asked you, at a cocktail party,
what’s on your bucket list, you’d quickly be able to think of a few things.
Don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t have a bucket list,
I just live life every day and let it happen. That seems adventurous enough
I mention that response because I happen to agree with it these days.
But is it my “cocktail” answer? No. My answer would have to be, “I don’t
have a bucket list any more. My bucket is empty.”
That’s right. there’s no thing I still want to do, no place I still want to go,
at least not enough to put on a list of things I really want to do before I
kick the bucket. Sounds like a really bad, negative thing, doesn’t it? Almost
makes you want to feel sorry for me… “Poor dude, he’s lost his will to live,
to be out in the world, experiencing new things, new places… what a bore
he must be now… pathetic!”
I can see how that might be the case, but it’s not true. See, when you see
a person who has lived for 75 years, which I have, you tend to see him as
either a doddering old fart or someone who looks and acts pretty well for a
person that old. And you can visualize this bucketless person in at least
two ways… !. the above sad sack, or 2. one who’s lived a full and wonderful
life already, and is now content to enjoy his or her accomplishments and
memories. Remember now, all this develops from our individual perspectives.
I know there are those who are thinking, “Damn, I’m never gonna get like him!
When I’m 75 i’m either going to be still rarin’ to go, or already dead!” (Ron Abbe,
I’m thinking especially of you here…) And I get that. It’s just that we’re all
different, and that time, when we feel we’ve done enough in this life, comes at
a different time and place for each of us. While some (mostly men) need to
prove they can still do what they did as a younger person, I am not one of
And what is “enough” anyway? It’s an ever-changing, moving target for each
of us. For me it was 43 years of being a professional musician. It was 33 years
of living in the South, away from my beloved Montana, to chase my musical
dreams. “Enough” for me, was visiting 14 foreign countries, many with my
Betty Ann. It was visiting all our states except Alaska. Alaska! (Hm, maybe
there’s still a drop in the ol’ bucket after all…)
Certain questions almost have to be asked of a person who insists his bucket
list is finished… like “Did you accomplish your dreams?” In my case, oh hell
yes! But you have to salt that heavily with the fact that a kid from Montana
might not have the loftiest dreams and goals. As a child I wanted to be a jet
pilot or a ship’s captain. Having those dreams squashed by poor eyesight
and nonexistent math skills, I ended up dreaming, as a teenager, of being
a jazz piano player who played in a tall building back East for a sophisticated
audience. I know, a weird dream, but I had begun to love jazz so much by the
time I was 17… to play cool jazz in a tall building back East was a huge leap
of a dream for me back then. My dream had nothing to do with money or
fame, I guess it assumed a certain amount of either, if you were playing in an
Did I accomplish that dream? Oh yeah! When I was 27 I played “The Top Of
The Pru,” in Prudential Center in Boston. The icing on that cake was that my
parents were in town and got to see me play there!
And what happens when one’s dream gets reached early? Another dream?
Just milk the glory of that one and call it a day? Oh no! Human nature has it
that there’s always a bigger, better adventure just around the bend. I had a
friend named Mike Hughes, a monster jazz pianist at Berklee in Boston, who
got the job of musical director of the road show of “Hair” right out of school,
which he did for several years. I called him 30 years later and asked what he
did after that. He laughed. “Oh, that was pretty much the high point of my
career! It all went downhill after that. I got married, had a family and have
been gigging around L.A. ever since.”
Not me. I had yet to have way better, more exciting experiences than I
would’ve dared to dream before. I was a composer/pianist in Atlanta’s
largest recording studio for 13 years, an experience I can’t begin to explain.
The high point of all that was conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra
recording pieces I’d written for WTBS in ’84. thrill of a lifetime! Didn’t I want
to do more of that?? No no… too much pressure. I have never been a “big
pressure” guy, and when I was successful doing one, it was usually, “Okay,
we’ve done that. Let’s move on…” It was the same with big road shows, big
concerts and important occasions, all of which I did for 5 or 6 years. Then it
was, “Okay, enough of that.” The recording studio was my comfort zone, my
safe haven. I had my own recording studio in Atlanta for 33 years, and had
many great experiences there, too.
So were there any dreams you couldn’t, didn’t reach? Not really… seems
there was always a new opportunity that challenged me, often pushed me
to the limit. I used to want a record deal with a major label, but never got one. Hindsight tells me that turned out to be a good thing… I was happy where I
was in Atlanta.
All right then – do I have any regrets, things I wish I’d done differently?
Hell yes! I wish I’d learned to snowmobile years earlier. I loved sledding, and
didn’t get nearly enough of it. I started when I was 62, and had to quit when
I turned 72… just got too hard to go where I knew I could, probably too
dangerous, too. It’s like once you’re a good skier, you can’t go back to the
bunny slope. And of course there are relationships I wish I’d handled differently.
But I guess most of us struggle with our relationships at one time or another.
Other than that, however, I’m tickled to death with my life and the fact that
I’ve been lucky enough to live this long.
Does my life compare to the most colorful friends I know? No, not really.
The aforementioned Ron Abbe has had a most colorful life, in ways I can’t
imagine. The unspoken mayor of Puerto Vallarta, he fishes, travels and
probably owns 3 or 4 golf courses in Central America. He has fought and
beaten Iron Men and kangaroos and takes it all for granted. No, my life
doesn’t compare to his, but then if it would have, I wouldn’t have survived it!
Another wild man I wouldn’t compare my life to is my oldest and dearest
friend, Rick Gohn. He also grew up in Virginia City, Montana and the only
two dreams he had that I’m aware of is 1. breaking the land speed record
between V.C. and Butte and 2. marrying the lovely and talented Joani.
Without going into personal matters, I can at least state that he knows his
way around the Pentagon, has been on a first name basis with many there,
has traveled all over the world, is an excellent chef and an expert on spirits!
Spirits? Oh yes, he knows (and can mix for you) almost any libation you can
imagine. I believe his crowning achievement would have to be single-
handedly putting three Scottish single malt distilleries out of business,
simply by being able to drink more than they could produce over time. I know,
I know, I can hear him fairly scream, “But it takes 12 years to produce that
fantastic elixir!!!” True enough, Rick, but it takes you only 12 minutes to
dispose of a fifth of it!
All things being equal (which they aren’t…) I’m satisfied with my life, with
what I’ve done and where I’ve been, and with where I am now. My life here
with Betty Ann is far more than I deserve. We are grateful every day for our
lot in life, with the good health and well-being of our families and loved ones.
Oh, and that empty bucket over in the corner? Actually it’s not really empty…
look closer. That bucket is filled with sweet memories of a life well-lived and
much appreciated. And the list within is complete.
Except for, perhaps, a trip to England or Ireland, maybe spend a little time
in the Cotswolds and the Western coast. And then there’s always Italy again.
And I still haven’t been to Alaska…