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Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind with a short attention span, although I'm not sure I can say that any longer, because this is the first day of the new and expanded format of the way I heard it, which will require of you a slightly longer attention span. I hope you like it. It's episode number 178 and it's called Be wary of all earnestness. Be wary of all earnestness.


That's a quote from my favorite fictitious character of all time. The one and only Travis McGee made real by the one and only John D. MacDonald, a writer after my own heart. McGee was a Florida boat bum who lived on a houseboat called the Busted Flush that he won in a card game. He solved crimes whenever it suited him. That's what Travis McGee did. It was his world view, however, and his unique approach to working as a freelancer that informed my own business model and inspired me to take my own retirement early and in short installments, just like Travis McGee, which I did for nearly twenty years before dirty jobs came along and throw a wrench into the whole works.


I'll have more to say about Travis McGee and a future episode today, though, as promised, a new format for the way I heard it. I'm posting the audio version of my book right here on the podcast platform one chapter at a time.


We begin with the introduction, followed by Chapter one, which includes the true story of a very funny soldier and the very old song that changed his life.


Then Chuck and I, the producer of this podcast, sit down to discuss the very weird impact of that same song on our own misspent careers, as well as many of the other old songs we sang with the old soldiers and the mighty chorus of the Chesapeake. Back when we were a couple of aspiring actors growing up in Baltimore, we also discussed the dangers of earnestness, the reasons that I am wary of it, and the undeniable fact that this podcast occasionally drips with it.


It's not just the way I heard it, it's the way I talked about the way I heard it. And it starts right now. And by right now, I mean approximately one second after I thank my friends at Lifestream for sponsoring this episode. Lifestream is a consumer lender, and with their help, you can roll your high interest credit card payments into just one payment at a lower fixed rate like strange credit card consolidation, loans have rates as low as five point nine five percent APR with auto pay and excellent credit, which means you can get a loan today from five grand to 100 grand with zero fees.


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Where was I? Is Episode 178 be wary of all Ernestas introduction the way I wrote it.


I drove into the long term parking lot at BWI 25 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart, this would have been back in 1988, June. I think I had bags to check and security to clear. But if I hustled, I could still make it. There was just one problem. I couldn't seem to get out of my car. It was the strangest thing. The door wasn't locked, nor was it jammed. In fact, the door was open.


But I was stuck to my seat and I remain that way until the man on the radio spoke his magic words, words that would allow me to grab my bags from the trunk and sprint for the gate. Finally, those words were spoken and now you know the rest of the story.


How many times did I sit in parking lots and driveways long after I'd arrived at my intended destination waiting for Paul Harvey to utter those words, too many to count thanks to his insanely addictive radio program, the rest of the story. I missed my flight that day. And ever since I've wanted to write stories that can't be turned off or put down until the very end. Stories that make people late. I'll have more to say about Paul Harvey later. For now, I just want to thank him for inspiring the way I heard it on the podcast, whose title is shared by the book You've just begun.


Like the rest of the story, the mysteries in this book tells some true stories. You probably don't know about some famous people. You probably do. Your job is to figure out who or what I'm talking about before I get to the end. Inside, you'll find 35 mysteries pulled from my podcast. Think of them as tiles in a mosaic. Each of these tiles is followed by a personal recollection. Think of those as the grout that holds the tiles together.


Many of these mysteries were written in the heart of America, in her greasy spoons, hotel rooms and train stations, others were composed high above the fruited plain as I flew hither and yon to host one show or another. Funny thing, though, while writing mysteries up there in the friendly skies, something mysterious happened to me. Time became compressed, distances started to shrivel. How many times did I begin to write on the tarmac at SFO, only to look up a few minutes later stunned to be landing at JFK?


Too many to count. Picture me at 37000 feet, my laptop is open. The light is on above me and everyone around me is sleeping. That's what I pictured for the photo on the cover of this book, Me in a middle seat. Writing the words you're hearing today. I went with a corner diner instead because the food's better. But you get the idea. Half of this book was written on the road. The other half the grout was mixed right here at my kitchen table.


Perhaps you can picture that to. A fire snaps and crackles in the background, the fog blows in from under the Golden Gate, and my faithful dog Freddie gnaws on my slippers as I wrestle with the question gnawing at me. Why exactly did I write about the people I wrote about?


I mean, something must have drawn me toward the subjects I'd picked, right. The more I considered what that something was, the more I discovered some surprising connections, personal connections that I hadn't noticed from thirty seven thousand feet or at the lunch counter at Mels. Invariably these connections began to rhyme, and soon the mosaic began to change. The Groot's and the tiles became equally important. How many times did I look up from my laptop only to see that the fire had gone out?


The dog was asleep, the fog was gone and the moon was right where the sun had been shining just moments ago. Too many to count. You've already met Freddie and you'll run across him again in the hours to come. He's a good boy.


You'll meet my parents, my girlfriend and my high school mentor. There will be ghosts and pigs, farmers and fishermen, movie stars, presidents, Nazis and bloody do gooders, along with the fictitious knight errant upon whom my entire world view was once based. Along the way, you'll hear stories about dirty jobs and a long list of less notable shows that still haunt me on YouTube, shows I've tried to forget but cannot.


In all cases. Each story is told the way I heard it. If you've heard it differently, I'm OK with that. And I hope you are too. By the way, I'm trying to picture you, too. Is that creepy? I hope not. I see you checking into some quaint bed and breakfast in Oregon, maybe, or Texas or even in England or France. You've arrived late, worn out from your journey. You've built a fire and slipped into bed.


This book, dogeared and stained, just happens to be the one lying on your bedside table.


You pick it up, you start to read. And when you look up, the fog is gone, the fire is out. And there's the sun right where the moon was just moments ago. You wonder where the night went. On Monday morning at the water cooler, you might share one of these stories with a friend, they'll probably raise an eyebrow and say, wow, is that really the way it happened?


If I were you, I'd say, you better believe it. At least that's the way I heard it. Chapter one, this isn't funny. Corporal Kominsky was precariously perched atop a makeshift utility pole 40 feet above the frozen ground in the dim light of a crescent moon. He squinted to complete his task and tried not to lose his battle with gravity. As a member of the 100 engineer combat group, Kominsky was used to such work, what he was not used to was doing it so close to the enemy.


You see this particular pole to which this particular corporal clung was planted in Belgium, specifically in the Ardern forest, just through the trees. A big chunk of the German army was preparing to launch an enormous offensive that would be remembered forever as the Battle of the Bulge.


There were so close Kominsky could smell them. An odor, a stew of gasoline, bratwurst and boiled cabbage filled his nostrils. He could hear them, too. They'd been playing propaganda recordings all night long. An unholy mix of the German national anthem, the latest ravings of the mad Führer and the sweet voice of Axis Sally urging our boys to lay down their guns and surrender. As he twisted the last wire around the last screw that would carry the current to a slightly different broadcast, he heard a harsh whisper from the sentry below him.


This isn't funny, Kominsky, that made the young corporal smile. If there was one thing he'd learned growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, it was this. Whenever anyone said that's not funny, it was almost always certain to be hilarious. Kominsky shimmied down the pole, took one last glance up at the enormous loudspeaker he'd just installed and chuckled, the sentries shook his head as Kominsky scurried back to battalion command. Along the way, he stepped around numerous foxholes filled with exhausted and freezing guys.


Their spirits needed a lift. And by God, he was just the soldier to do the job. Kominsky searched through a small box of vinyl, 78, looking for the perfect selection for an occasion such as this. His eyes settled upon a classic and he chuckled again. A switch was flipped, a dial was cranked, and the wall of sound that erupted from Kominski loudspeaker echoed through the frozen forest. In an instant, the racist rantings of Adolf Hitler were drowned out by the unmistakable refrain known to millions.


Toot, toot, tootsie. Goodbye. Tut tut, tootsie. Don't cry. For several glorious and confusing minutes, the only thing the soldiers on the other side could hear were the dulcet tones of the one and only Al Jolson who, like Corporal Kominsky, just happened to be very, very Jewish. Kominsky watched the war torn boys poke their heads out of their foxholes like curious prairie dogs, the absurdity of the situation took a few moments to process, but soon the irony washed over the troops and laughter set in Nazis in the middle of a battlefield driven by their insane hatred of Jews were being serenaded by one.


Now, that was funny. I guess if you can make people laugh on the battlefields of Europe, you can make people laugh anywhere, and that had always been Corporal Kominski goal. After the war, he found work as a writer and comedian for the next 20 years. He made a name for himself in Tinseltown. Finally, he got a chance to do what he had been born to do, direct his first effort, nearly gave the studio a heart attack.


It was a screenplay he had written himself, but the suits were not amused. That is not funny, they said. But of course, Kominsky knew exactly what that meant. He had a winner. He stood by his guns. He dug in his heels.


Before long, Americans were tapping their toes to catchy numbers like Springtime for Hitler and punchy lyrics like Don't be stupid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi Party.


Maybe it was in bad taste, maybe it was too soon, but all those put off by Kominski directorial debut were soon afforded more opportunities to be offended on the big screen, the small screen and, of course, the great white way, because even though Melvin Kaminsky changed his name, he never changed his tune. In Belgium, he'd confronted hatred with a song and dance in New York and Hollywood. He doubled down. Today, The Producers is considered to be one of the greatest comedies of all time and the funniest corporal of all time.


That's easy. That would be the always improper, always tasteless, never appropriate. Mel Brooks. Anyway, that's the way I heard it. I never played to Tootsie in a forest filled with Nazis, but with the help of three high school pals, I did sing it in four part harmony for a variety of captive audiences. In Baltimore, Maryland, nursing homes were our favorite venue, followed in no particular order by hospitals, bathrooms, VFW halls, prisons, elevators, stairwells and crowded restaurants.


Why, you ask, why were four teenage boys terrorizing an unsuspecting public in 1979 with songs written decades before we were born?


Two words. Fred King. At overly high school in Baltimore, our larger than life music teacher, Mr. King, had introduced us to the mysterious pleasures of barbershop harmony. Mr. King himself had been a legendary baritone and a quartet called The Auriel, for he was known in the trade as the king of the barbershop. Under his tutelage, we amassed an impressive repertoire of chestnuts like Marji, Leida Rose, The Sunshine of Your Smile and Sweet Adeline, unapologetically sentimental tunes that might have made other teenagers cringe.


But we love those songs and we quickly formed our own group. We called ourselves Semiformal because we wore tuxedos and tennis shoes.


We misspelled formal F. Oh, you are amazed l because there were four of us and we were terribly clever. Chuck sang lead, I sang bass, Bob and Mike sang baritone and tenor respectively. Soon we became the youngest members of the oldest men's chorus in the country, the world champion chorus of the Chesapeake, which Fred King also directed.


Every Tuesday night, 100 men from all walks of life gathered in the old gymnasium at Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors, carpenters, lawyers, plumbers, accountants, dentists, teachers, Democrats, Republicans, Protestants, Catholics and Jews, a cross-section of men whose deep love of four part harmony was rivaled only by their deep love of God, country and beer. I will never forget the first time I heard them sing, the Nazis might have been stunned by the sound of Tootsie blaring through the forest on that cold winter night.


But the sound of 100 men singing that same song in perfect harmony would have left them gobsmacked. It was a sound unlike anything I've ever heard, a sound that filled the air with overtones that buzzed, crackled, a sound so rich and full and unmistakably masculine, it made the hairs on your arms stand on end. Ultimately, that was the sound that pulled me into show business. After rehearsal, we'd follow the men over to a Highlandtown bar called Johnny Jones for another kind of singing.


They called it woodshedding because a woodshed far away from the ears of innocent civilians was the only sensible place to do it. Improvisational harmonizing isn't always pretty, but it's fun to do and a fine way to learn the old songs. Johnny's had a space crammed with square tables, just the right amount of room for four men to harmonize at point blank range. Johnny himself would pour beer without thinking to ask for my age. Pitch pipes would blow in various keys and various quartets would sing various songs simultaneously.


There were songs about mothers and flying machines and pals who would never let you down. There were patriotic songs as well as songs about sweethearts punctuated with bottomless pitchers of draft beer and Maryland crab cakes. It was a soundtrack from another time, and in between the cacophony, the men lit their pipes and told their stories, oftentimes war stories. Kids today think they know everything, and back in 1979, we were no different, but after a few visits to Johnny's, I began to think differently about the cost of freedom.


That'll happen, I guess, when you harmonize with men who actually fought in that terrible battle that began in Belgium December 16th, 1944, along with the dead and wounded, 23000 U.S. soldiers went missing in the Battle of the Bulge. That fact I learned from an old tenor named Gus, who for a time had been among the missing. He was just 17 in 1944, the same age as me when we met in 1979. And he'd actually been there in the Ardern doing things in that dark forest on my behalf that I would never be asked to do.


Brave men like Gus had learned the hard way what I came to know simply by standing beside them and singing You're only as good as the man next to you. But then Mel Brooks would tell you that courage is a funny thing, you never know where you'll find it or whether you'll have it on the day you need it the most. Before we dive into the way I talked about the way I heard it, a quick word about my shorts, my skivvies, my unmentionables, me undies are what they're called and ridiculously comfortable is what they are, super soft, incredibly breathable, light as a feather and impossibly cozy.


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Well, would you think, oh, I have thoughts.


Many thoughts, like many, many thoughts. Share them all.


Chuck Klausmeier, the producer of the way I heard it, share them all, first of all.


The introduction is really good. Glad you like it when I when I listen to it, it makes me think I wish that the podcast had an introduction as good as that. Because remember, when we first did the podcast, we didn't even know what the introduction was. Well, we don't know what the podcast was. That's true. We don't anyway. I wasn't even sure what a podcast well and truly was. And just so you know what's happening, folks at home.


My old buddy Chuck is sitting with me at my kitchen table and we've just listened to what you've just listened to for the first time really in a while and a long, long time. Yeah.


Yeah. And I don't know about you, man.


I really in the early days with this podcast and and with this book, unapologetically ran headlong down that long and winding road of sentimentality and earnestness.


Man Manami an earnest cat. Well, you know what, that's the weird thing, because you're not an earnest cat. I know you. You're a guy who kind of shuns earnestness to a certain degree. You like to be irreverent. You don't like to take yourself or anyone around you too seriously. Well, and it's. And it's fun. I'm. I'm wary of earnestness of which is why I mean, in the book that makes an appearance. Well, it's the epigram.


Yeah, right, right, right. I went with Travis McGee, my favorite fictitious character of all time, who said, be wary of all earnestness. And Sam McGee, who says a promise made as a dead unpaid. So, yeah, those those those two quotes are really the first thing that you see in the book. And then what do I do right out of the gate?


That's so funny because I had the same thought that this is very earnest.


It is. It is. But you know what I mean. If it's a street, you know, the house of earnestness is not too far from the house of sincerity. And sincerity is always good in my mind. Earnestness. You know, that's a tricky thing because that's that's what salesmen are.


Politicians, newscasters. Right.


At any time you see somebody looking into the lens, nodding in a self-assured way and talking in a tone that's a little naum lower than they would normally use right there, they're either trying to sell you something or trying to persuade you to do something. And it could be a thing worth doing. It could be a product worth buying.


But it's that it's the earnestness that makes you wary. Yeah. Yeah, always. And yet it's it's very difficult to look back, you know, and and tell a a biographical historical tale and not and not have that tug at you, you know, and then when you start to write about it personally, you know, that then then the earnestness becomes, you know, deeply felt.


And, you know, I mean, I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but listening to me talk about the days when you and I, when we were 17, sitting in Johnny Jones Corner Bar. Yeah. Listening to those old men sing those old songs. Jesus. I mean, I felt like it was yesterday, honestly.


Well, I'll tell you, that is the sincerity and the earnestness for me, even though I was aware of it as I was listening to it this time, it was dishtowel check for me to listen to because I do remember what that place smelled like and and just these old guys who had fought in World War Two.


And and I remember what we smelled like wearing those old mothball tuxedos in that old barbershop quartet, wearing those stupid tennis shoes, singing in nursing homes.


Oh, my gosh. What the heck was wrong with us? Oh, are you kidding me? I was booking us jobs right and left.


I remember I was kind of like the manager. I had the the cards printed up, you know, semiformal. Yeah. Yeah.


It was. What a weird time. What a weird time and what a what a strange thing this is right now in this moment, talking to you, a guy I've known 41 years about this podcast which somehow Forrest Gump its way into existence, which somehow you wound up producing. Yeah. And now here we sit talking not just about the days of wine and roses vis a vis you and me, but the process of writing biographies about famous people I've never met.


I mean, what the hell is happening? Well, I don't know. We'll find out. Let me let me let's bring it back to the to the episode itself for a second.


That was one of the first episodes, I believe we released that either on day one, we released five five at a time, you know, to start.


And then I think it might have been episode six. If I'm actually you know what?


I have a sheet right here. You refer to the sheet and I'll remind people that this whole thing, six, this whole thing wasn't supposed to be a writing project. I mean, the fact that it led to a book is just bananas. But when this started, my partner, Mary and I, we we just wanted to find a narration project, you know, because I was in the booth. I'm still in the booth once, twice a week, whether it's, you know, Bering Sea gold, how the universe works.


Well, just to clean the place for the next guy. Right. I mean, it was just like, well, why not bring back these short Paul Harvey stories? And so we hired writers and the writers came back with stories that were four or five hundred words long. And this was one of them. Yeah. And I remember reading it and thinking, you know, this is with respect. This is not the way I would tell the story.


It's not the way you heard it. Yeah, right. It's the way I read it. Yeah. But I suddenly realized, you know, I, I want to take a pass at this. And a day later I had a version of what we just heard and I realized how much I loved writing it to to my delight. And then I realized to my horror how much time it took. And so this quick little narration exercise that was supposed to be an homage to Paul Harvey's old radio show became a writing exercise.


Right. That literally suck the life out of me in a good way.


But wow.


I mean, it's so it's really like the frog in the boiling water, right? This whole project. Right.


Yeah. Because you were like, oh, just make a few edits here and there. And then the next thing you know, it's like a page one rewrite. Yeah.


Yeah. 175 stories, roughly a thousand words apiece. That's one hundred seventy five thousand words. You you did not say there was going to be math.


There's always math man. There's always math. All right. So aside from the fact that was overly earnest, surprisingly sentimental, what else struck you about it?


The thing that struck me just listening to it now was the alliteration. You're a big fan of alliteration, a little Kominsky precariously perched on like.


That's beautiful.


Do you remember Lois Backscheider? Of course. Lois Backscheider was a was an English teacher in the high school where we went. Yeah, right. And she was also my journalism teacher. Right. And she looked me square in the face one day and said, Michael, alliteration almost always annoys.


And you said, I like the cut of your gym. I like that. I've got to do it. Let's just see how annoying I can be. You know what? You're doing a great job. And, you know, I.


I love that. And I and I and I got that that style is very, very cool.


Um, you know, she also told me not to lie with regard to journalism, which seems, you know, an obvious thing to do. And I don't lie in this podcast. But as I discussed last week, part of the reason we're deconstructing these and part of the reason I'm stepping back from the keyboard a bit is that the way I heard it is an excuse to mix fact and fiction. And that's such a weird thing to do in the age of fake news, you know?


Right. It's such a it's a it's confusing for people. This book is is autobiography and biography, history and memoir. And and the podcast itself really is kind of a hot mess of what can I believe and what can I believe. And so part of the reason I wanted to talk to you and and take a closer look at some of these stories is just to know clarify some of the things I said, maybe, you know, with your help or or also maybe talk about things that I left out that maybe I should have put in.


Well, what would I do differently with the eight or nine hundred words I've got, you know, and it's they take on their own life when you look back at them.


I mean, listening to this just now about Mel Brooks, I'm like, you know what, I I wanted to tell the story of the fight he had with Gene Wilder about the scene from Young Frankenstein putting on the Ritz.


Oh, right. Right. Now, Brooks didn't want that scene in the movie. And and and Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks went toe to toe. Wow. And Mel Brooks, to his credit, stepped back and said, you know what, I don't.


We have to win them all. I didn't hire Gene Wilder just because he was a great actor, I hired him because his instincts are good and maybe he sees something I don't.


Well, didn't Mel write the script? Yes. How how did Putin, Putin on the Ritz get in there? Because when you get creative people together in a room, I mean, you and I know this. Yes. How many times? Oh, my gosh. You know, the stories they zigs that they zag, that they take on a life of their own. So, you know that I didn't put that in the story because it really didn't have anything to do with what what I really was hoping to write about, which was, you know, isolating a moment in Mel Brooks, his youth, when we could look at a decision he made and then realized later that that decision informed everything about his career.


Yes, I totally agree with that. But but this is a really good point that you bring up about that incident with Gene Wilder. Could have been the incident that you focused on. Typically in these episodes, you pick a moment in time and you you you put us in that moment. In this case, it was him in the Dan Forest climbing up the makeshift telephone pole, you know, but it could have easily been on a soundstage somewhere, you know, where he's going toe to toe with Gene and we don't know who Gene is.


And, you know, you could have you could have spun the tale in that way to to to to tell us something great about Mel Brooks.


But the reason that this one that I think you chose most wisely is to your point, this incident, which happened a million years ago, tells you everything you need to know about his sense of humor. He was he wasn't Mel Brooks yet. I know it's a perfect story.


So, I mean, if you if you tell the story with of Gene Wilder or with Mel Brooks and I mean, there's so many instances where Mel Brooks becomes irreverent, subversive and does a funny thing in spite of the fact that the studio or the network doesn't want him to write. I mean, his career is full of those things. Right. But to find a moment in his life back when he was Melvin Kaminsky, where he did the exact same thing that he would do countless other times.


Right. Not on the stage or in front of a camera, but on the top of a utility pole, just trying to get a laugh. I mean, to and then talk about committing to the bit. Well, talk about snipers.


I mean, talk about 25 years later, imagine being him looking back and writing Springtime for Hitler. Oh, my gosh. And and and writing, you know, don't be stupid. Be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party. I mean, would he have written the producers had he not done that thing in the Ardern? We don't know. No. Yeah, but the way I heard it, he would have said no, he wouldn't know.


Yeah. Without that telephone pole. He doesn't do that.


And look, to be clear, there's there's not a single lie in that story, but there are lots of things that I can't prove, you know, and there are lots of things that I imagine.


And my argument is my imaginings support the facts. We know he was a corporal in the eleven before it was a combat unit. He did climb a pole. He did jerry rigged the speech. You know, it was to a Tutsi that they played, you know, all of those things happen.


I don't know if the smell of bratwurst and sauerkraut was I don't know that, you know, didn't we also learned that it couldn't have been a vinyl 78 because they were using some other type of material, like during the writing the book that came up.


It was like, what? Yeah, it wasn't vinyl. What did they make it out of it? It was something else.


There was a guy named Alex who who helped me assemble the book and do some of the writing. And, you know, like you, he's a pedant like Basken, the guy that produced dirty jobs, you know, Total Petitt. And he's like, well, wait a minute. You mentioned he grabbed the vinyl recording and put it on the on the record player. But of course, back then it wasn't vinyl. What was it like? Like acetate?


Maybe that sounds good to me. I don't know. Someone someone will write in and tell us what it is. I'm sure. My God, you can always count on the yes. The characters will learn about the characters later in the book. And they do include you. They do include Alex. They do include, you know, a lot of fans. Yeah. Over the years, my dad is one of the greatest oh my God.


Of all time. You know, my dad, you know, can't. Can't listen to the end of a story or a joke if he hears anything that does that doesn't line up perfectly his own recollection of. Right. You know, how it happened.


Well, let's not get over our skis too much and tell everybody everything about the podcast and let's not talk. You know, let's not be those guys who just talking. Definitely. Definitely not going to be those guys. This is still supposed to be, you know, a short podcast for people with curious minds and shortages.


This is for people with slightly longer attention spans, I think.


But pardon me.


What I'm what I want to know is let's move on to the to the group part of the chapter where you talk about, you know, the old days and Fred King and everything. What was your impression? First impression, hearing it again? Well, I miss Fred. Yeah. You know, and honestly, I miss you. I miss that version of you because I miss that version of me. You know, looking back at the 17 year old, I'm looking back at me at 17 and, you know, sitting in Johnny Jones hearing war stories, specifically stories from guys like Gus who were in the Ardern with Mel Brooks.


Now, they didn't know each other, but they were there in that battle. Gus went missing like for two or three days, Silver Star, Purple Hearts, you know. So I'm 17, listening to the story of that battle from a guy who was actually there. And in between those stories, he's teaching me songs right from a soundtrack from back in 1927.


Yes. When he was born. Right. So you got to think if Gus is born in 27, he he's in the Ardern. He's a teenager. Right. 25, 37, 47 minus a few years. Right. He's he's 17, 18 years old. Yeah. And here I am, 17, 18 years old in 1979. Yeah. And when I think back and when I think of Gus and I think all those guys we knew I remember old man.


Right. But the truth is they were in their mid 50s.


They were younger than us with that is so jacked up. It's it is awful.


What time does. No. Not just to our bodies but to our to our memories.


And, you know, the the way I remember myself, the way you remember yourself, you know, that's why this podcast is called The Way I heard it, because it's also the way I remember it. And, you know, somebody famous, Santana, you know, if history is written by the winners. Yep. Right. And of course, you know, if we don't remember it, we're doomed to repeat it. All those old bromides have a lot of truth to them.


But but to me, the thing worth talking about as we unpack this whole hot mess of a book in this podcast really and truly is the the way we remember things in the era of fake news and unreliable sources. You know, for the first time, we have access to like 99 percent of all the known information in the world. Right. You know, Chuck and I are sitting here right now at my kitchen table with our computers open. You know, this is how a lot of podcasts work today.


You know, you listen to Joe Rogan. He's there. Yeah, right. So everybody's having a second and third screen experience all of the time. And we're living in this world where anybody with an opinion or a story to tell can hop online and find a source, multiple sources to bolster their belief, no matter how hairbrained.




And so, so much of what passes for discourse and conversation today is really just people arguing over the verisimilitude or the veracity of their sources, which are so easy to identify. Right. And then use as a cudgel. And so, you know, I mean, I had a conversation not long after that episode originally dropped, you know, about the vinyl and versus the acetate and a couple other details in there. And these are passionate conversations with people who who who are deeply invested.


Yeah. In in a detail. And I'm I'm fascinated by that, that that propensity and the degree to which that exists in certain people, yourself included. Right. You you have that desire to see all of the facts perfectly aligned. Yes. More than I do. Yep. But neither of us have a desire to mislead or misinform. Right. But, you know, how does that impact or relate to the world we're living in now where one minute masks are absolutely, positively worthless?


Don't don't do it. And the next minute they're absolutely everything. Literally life saving, right? Yeah, somebody's wrong. Somebody's always wrong. Yeah. And it's the it's the certainty that shot through the whole thing that we'll hear about later.


Yeah, I was just just thinking that that's in another episode. What's the how how do you think spending time with these old vets, these guys who fought in World War Two in a comaraderie way when we are so young, I'm 16, you're 17. We're sitting in a bar drinking with them and singing with them. Yeah.


How did how what effect, positive or negative, did it have on you?


Well, I can't think of any negative effect because that was the first time really Fred King tossed me the keys to his Lincoln Continental not long before that evening and asked me to drive him down to Lynchburg, Virginia.


Yeah, he got in the back seat and fell asleep. And I with a map I got us to where we needed to go during a rainstorm. So like a four and a half hour drive, I was 17. That's the first time anybody outside of my family treated me like a man. Yeah, like a grown up, tossed me the keys, trusted me with his life to drive a car the size of a bus to a place I'd never been.


I barely had my license. Right. So this guy, Fred King, he's the he's the same fellow that directs the course of the Chesapeake that we're talking about now. And he was in Johnny Jones with us many, many times. So the answer to your question is he he was always in the room. So I always had that dynamic right. I always knew he was there. And I felt trusted and and respected and taken care of for for all those reasons.


But to hear war stories.


Yeah. From old men that Fred venerated. That Fred. Yes. Right, right. Right. Like, these are guys, you know, Fred would pull me aside and say, hey, that guy Gus, you're talking to us, took out two machine gun nests. Right? That guy over there, Snake, you know what he did, right? So I had all of these stories in my head, but they didn't really mean anything because I had heard them second hand.


But when you sit down at that little square table. Yeah. And learn Roses of Picardy or Sweet Adeline or any one of the songs from that old great song, you know, when you're taught those songs by men who sacrificed everything. Yeah. For what we have today, then then you get a weird mix of first hand things. You get, you get an appreciation for art, you get that sentimentality in that earnestness you want to talk to you about, but it's unadulterated.


How many times, Chuck, did you see those old men singing those old songs with tears streaming down their shirts? Right. Sure. And then they paused to tell you a war story. So laugh and then they laugh, right?


They laugh. It was this weird mix of a gallows sense of humor with the with the no bull crap experience that that defines you. And I think most importantly, that that band of brothers mentality. So we had a band of brothers. It's it's so weird to talk about it in terms of music. But Fred King always said, you know, the music doesn't make the fellowship. The fellowship makes the music. Right. So that's the answer to your question.


It was a band of brothers feeling that came both through the stories of literal soldiers telling me war stories, but juxtaposed and shot through with this artistic affection and this love of music. Right. And it all came without apology, without pretense and with bottomless pitchers of draft beer, national bohemian, as I recall. And so Natty Bo Nattie Bellhorn.


And you take all that Baltimore and you throw that together in a back room of a bar called Johnny Jam, and you got a little something wrong.


I'll tell you this. One thing about the listening to this, listening to you tell the story.


First of all, you're a great storyteller that that's also occurred to me. I mean, I knew it, but it's like listening again, you know, and really paying attention. I'm like, yeah, really good storyteller. But I believe that spending the time we spent with those men was really good for us as young men to become, you know, proper adult men. Yeah, like, I feel like I learned a lot about respect. I feel like I learned a lot about appreciation of art, gallows humor, just so many things that I picked up from them.


But here's what occurred to me this time is I'll bet those guys it was good for those guys. Oh, yeah. Teaching us that stuff. Oh, look. And that's that's something Fred told me not long before he died, is that right? Yep. Yeah. He said you guys have no idea how critical it was to have that. Level of youth infused into that group of men, it's symbiotic for sure. It goes both ways. But look, this is probably the last thing we because we don't talk for 24 minutes.


Studies show people drift off it at twenty eight. I drifted off about 18.


So. Well, you, sir, are a dick.


You're just now noticing.


No, I was I was going to say that the big take away from me and again, you never get to say this in the moment. You only know looking back. Right, right. When the fork in the road turned out to really be a fork in the road. Yeah, but those nights in that back room of that bar with those guys redefined. Cool. Yes, they redefined cool.


And I didn't know it but but they taught me that you can be on the outside of cool and still feel incredibly hip. And when I look back at that, that part in my life, I was a Boy Scout. Yes. Not cool, dude, right? I mean, cool within the troop. Yeah. And cool within that subculture, but a fine reason to get to get in the eye. Yeah, right. And school. You sang barbershop.


I sang barbershop. I sang in the Glee Club. Yeah. Right. I, I did a lot of things. Not cool dude. Not cool. Always on the outside of cool but I never knew it. In fact I felt terribly clever and really, really lucky to be on the inside of these subcultures that most people looked at and a snarky way. And I think maybe you know, I think maybe this weird relationship with sentimentality and snark is exactly why listening to these first two stories was so surprising for both of us.


Because today, certainly on dirty jobs, you know, I'm a smart Alec. I'm looking for the poop joke.


I'm looking for the the thing that makes not just on dirty jobs, dude, it's it's it's at your kitchen table. It's taking a walk here. You're always looking for those jokes because I'm wary of earnestness.


But when the chili meets the cheese and you look back and you try and find the moments in your own life where where you realized what was what, that is a very earnest thing and that's a very sentimental thing. And so when you see an old man heavily decorated for courage under fire, weeping as he sings Sweet Roses of Morn, you're presented with a lot of cognitive dissonance. And it was that feeling that allowed me to feel just fine singing in the Baltimore Opera for six years.


Right. It was that feeling that allowed me to feel just fine. Sitting on the air in a home shopping channel, QVC, my first job on TV right at three in the morning, selling tchotchkes. I can describe right it.


Those guys gave me permission. To try anything and Mel Brooks at the top of a utility pole, doing whatever he could to get a laugh from his friends while he was basically being shot at by Nazis, that gave him permission to be anybody he wanted to be. It also gave him permission to let Gene Wilder call the shots when it came right down to it. And you are just calling everything back.


We call it landing the plane. Wow, dude. And it's something that's a three pointer. It was it's something I appreciate you would take to heart in future conversation. I'm just a garden hose on a lawn, like spraying in every direction.


Whatever comes into my tiny little brain just goes straight out my mouth.


Friends, your patience is as much appreciated and unparalleled. We've talked now for 28 minutes and 29 seconds, so I know I'm about to lose you. Let me thank you for listening to this spontaneous analysis of the way I heard it. The only podcast for the curious mind of the short attention span. Let me remind you that the book we've been talking about is still available. Wherever books are sold. You can download the audio book if you like. If you just can't wait to listen to the next chapter, go ahead and download it.


But look, you know, you can get it for free right here. We'll be back in a week or two. Why not do both? So there you go. There you go. Once again, trying to please everybody. Well, you know what? I just want things to be I want us all to get along.


You want everybody to be happy? Yes. But the final lesson is that those guys really drove drove in for real. Who's the audience that matters most? I don't know, it's you, dummy. Oh, it's you, that's why they called me dummy. The first order of business is to amuse yourself.


Oh, right, yes, yes, yes, yes. That's it. Your favorite comedians, they're not trying to make you laugh. They're trying to make themselves laugh. And the best writers that I know, they're not writing for me. They're writing for them. And my favorite podcasts, you know, isn't this something that I tell you?


Oh, let's not get into that now. All right. We're 29 minutes 47. So what are you what are you Big Ben? Come on. I'm telling you, we have time if we end this in the next eight seconds to keep it under 30 seconds. Yes, I am. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next week out of your house by everyone.