Category Archives: But Seriously…Blogs

The History of Seymour Swine and “Blue Christmas”

scan0001Dreams don’t always pan out the way we hope… in fact, I’m guessing they don’t most of the time.

In 1985, Sandy and I had dreams of launching an entertainment career.  After “Blue Christmas” had created such a buzz in Charlotte during the 1984 holidays, I was approached by a movie promoter and entrepreneur named Dan Burris.  Dan told us he thought we had a national hit on our hands.

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This concludes our shameless self-promotion… now, back to our story….

So on a sticky Carolina afternoon in July ‘85, we met Dan at a popular Charlotte restaurant (Gus’ Sir Beef for you Charlotteans) to discuss that possibility.  The thinking was to first, get the rights to the song from the radio station who played it, then put out a single (a 45 rpm record, not long before those newfangled CDs started showing up).  Through Dan’s tireless efforts, by late October, we had about 20,000 copies pressed, and shipped to record stores (remember those?) throughout the Southeast, ready for the Christmas season.  The first copies (I don’t remember how many) were red vinyl with a pink label.  Traditional black vinyl copies came later.

By the end of Christmas 1985, we had sold a modest 5,500 or so copies of my single – but hey – I was now a recording artist!  Though sales didn’t break any records (pun intended) the song became the #1 requested holiday tune in several major markets like Atlanta, Miami and Nashville!

That’s when the real work started… mostly for Dan.  In early 1986 we recorded an EP (5 songs) at Reflections Studios in Charlotte.  What a blast!  Then Dan (not one for flying) took trains and automobiles to both New York and Nashville, and began diligently shopping the songs to music people:  agents, lawyers and labels.

In late summer 1986, we heard back from the A & R department (those who choose the songs/artists that will be produced) at CBS Records in Nashville.  They left this message on Dan’s answering machine, “We want the pig!”

I was about to get laid off from my construction job, but suddenly, I didn’t care!  I just knew I was moving to Nashville… how ironic.

But here’s where the dream took a hard left turn.

Days after being laid off, we learned that the president of CBS decided against the recording contract.  There was a lot of in-house turmoil, records were being replaced by CDs, and he didn’t feel like taking on a novelty act.

And just like that, we fell off the mountain.  While Dan continued to pursue some pretty big leads, that was as close as we came.  Soon the song made its way all over the country:  Kansas City – Honolulu – Detroit – even Dr. Demento’s show in L.A., where it played once again this year.

Yep, Dan was right – we had a national hit, alright.  In fact since those early days, it has played all over the world.  Places like Kuwait, Iceland, and Australia, to name a few.  We just didn’t get to “ride the wave.”

No, the dream didn’t pan out as intended.  But since hanging out with John-Boy and Billy way back then, I’ve been blessed to entertain and bring laughter to thousands, and “Blue Christmas” has  played only a small part.  I even received a letter once, from a very sick man who used that song to bring laughter- and healing – to his body.  He gives the song credit for helping save his life.  To God be the glory.

Turns out that silly song has done things… I never dreamed of.

And I’m certainly not done dreaming.

Over the Hump – for …2014!

Mic and Denny action photoLet’s get past the hump of 2014…because, well…

Some years you celebrate – Ring out the old!!

Some years you celebrate that they’re over – Ring in the new!!! Please?

Last week we arrived in Charlotte for Christmas with family – the first without Dad. We had just visited Sandy’s family ties in WV and North Wilkesboro, NC. During which I found out I’d just lost a high school classmate – with whom I had reconnected with in Nashville after many years. He had even helped us move to a new apartment, just 2 months ago.

Upon arriving in Charlotte, we discovered Mom had broken a bone in her foot. The next morn Sandy awoke with the flu. So I fired up the “ambulance” and escorted them to two different walk-in clinics. Since it was Christmas time (read: both were packed) I went to a coffee shop to wait for one of them to emerge from their respective band-aid stations.

Sipping Jamaican Me Crazy coffee, still upbeat in spite being a first responder to my impaired family, I happened upon a young(er than me) couple from Minnesota, in town for the holidays. We had a pleasant, even funny conversation. But as we swapped stories, it became apparent to them that 2014 had been a rough year.

I did my best to not be a Denny-Downer, but by the end of our convo, the young(er) couple and I toasted (roasted?) the new year – may 2015 be a good year!

Indeed, 2014 has been a …”hump.” But rather than weep in my “cup of cheer” – I’ll just focus on what 2014 taught me.   So… In 2014, I learned:

That “Coming Soon” is meaningless. Because “soon” is nebulous.  We need to set goals – with deadlines.

I have Adult A.D.D. Guess I’m way to “mature” to have ADHD. I ain’t exactly “hyperactive” these days – I’m content with just “active.” And for the first time in a few years, I’m shooting for “focused” as well.

It’s never too late to follow a dream. My Sandy is pursuing an MFA. I said, “A WHAT???” She assured me it meant Masters of Fine Arts. Ohhhh… A year from now she’ll have a Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Creative Media. She’ll even be qualified to be a professor. I’m already sewing elbow patches on all her blazers, and she’s learning how to smoke a pipe. But suffice it to say she may not be the youngest student in the program.

to plug into a town, it helps to move into a town. We moved 15 miles from Mt. Juliet to Nashville, TN. It has saved hundreds of miles and several hours of commute already. But more importantly, we have much easier access to all that Music City has to offer. And thus…

When you live in an upstairs apartment, fewer buggy-wuggies visit – guess those stairs are hard for them to climb too.

…Mt. Juliet gets up earlier than Nashville. You can still find bagels at Panera’s after 9am.  Might have something to do with the commute…

that we need to plug in – and people don’t just knock on your door. We’ve always had it easy, apparently. People – and livelihoods have always sought us out. But now, we have to shout above the din of others all wanting piece of the action.

…that when trying to connect – when someone gets your business card – and says that, since they don’t have a card, they’ll email you… don’t take that chance – get their number and arrange to have coffee with them.

As a writer, I learned that in a film script, character is everything: characters will drive the plot, because characters are what we care about. In radio – people like to say that “content is king.” But online – it seems more like “FREE content is king”  …which is great…unless you make your living creating content…. Bu the way – no charge for that little tidbit.

…and even good script writers can get in the bad habit of characters saying each other’s name at the end of every line, Joan. That’s not how real conversations sound, Suzie.  Right, Denny?

…How to grieve the loss of a loved one. In 2014, I lost my Dad, and I lost another aunt..

scan0001But Mom lost her sister and her husband. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of Mom. She could have thrown in the towel. She has Parkinson’s Disease, she’s got issues of her own. But she’s a survivor – always has been – and she’s going to lunch with other ladies. She’s still going to church – and is getting back in the choir. Church members are making sure she gets to practice – since she can no longer drive at night. And she wants to get back to playing the piano. There’s something special about music. But then, I’ve always known that.

How ‘bout you – what did you learn in 2014? I could use the help – maybe you could too.   Let’s help each other get over the hump. I’d love to hear from you – so we can learn from 2014 – good bad or indifferent –let’s get over the hump – let’s make 2014 – a learning experience! Happy New Year!

Where Ya Been, Den?

photo(2)Hey genius – over here… Where ya been???

Yeah, yeah – I know. I guess 2014 has been a, uhh… pivotal year.

Pivotal is a cool word – It’s derived from the Latin, meaning “I couldn’t find a better word and didn’t feel like consulting my thesaurus.”

Anyway, due to the pivotality of this year, I’ve been slack for the past little while in bringing you the entertaining, high-quality content that 10 or 12 of you have come to expect.

…but with good reason… I hope.

As you may know, a very significant event changed my life forever: the death of my dad, Bob Brownlee, Sr., whom I dearly loved, and dearly miss.  I take after him in many ways – my love of sports, my sense of humor, we’re both Caucasian…

And as the days leading up to his departure turned to days of grief (and celebration – he’s home with God!) when he did pass, nothing else mattered quite as much.

And upon coming back to re-pivotate our “real lives” here in Tennessee, Sandy and I already had it in the works to …pivotally move:  from the outskirts of Nashville to becoming bona fide residents of Music City. We’ve now got our new domicile (this time I did check the thesaurus) pretty well settled, and are diving into our “new normal,” …just in time for the pivotational holidays!

They say two of the biggest “stressers” in life are the death of a loved one and moving.  And while I don’t feel any more stressed than usual, things sure became anything but normal.

All this to say – I plan on pivoting back into the swing of things again. And I need to provide some fun and profundity – and build an audience.  I hope you’ll check in with me as I check back into the pivotude of life.  Please consider subscribing to me, and I’ll consider making it worth your while.

And please – tell a friend (your friend.   Mine already knows.)

And thanks for your patience… with my abuse of the word “pivot.”

“What’s on the Refrigerator?”

For at least a generation now, it’s been customary to show off our little darlings’ artwork at the epicenter of our homes – the refrigerator.

Yes, somewhere around 1980, pre-historic magnets apparently evolved and crawled up out of the tar pits, seeking a new domicile.  Soon, they mysteriously learned to reproduce, often with cute colorful plastic disguises, like ladybugs, daisies, and letters of the alphabet.  Before we knew it, they became hideous mutations, smearing themselves with advertisements for insurance agents, radio stations, ambulance-chasing lawyers – even churches.

Then, somewhere in the night, they began to attach themselves to everyone’s favorite large appliance.  Their appetites insatiable, they would not be stopped until their demands had been met: that they be used to secure the artwork of tiny hands full of crayons, magic markers and primary-colored paints.

And now, in homes all across this great land, 20-cubic foot Frigidaires everywhere have been adorned with adolescent construction paper masterpieces.

And we’ve just let it happen.  Why?  Because it’s become the standard way of showing the wee ones… that we’re proud of them.

When I was a kid, our refrigerator had one color:  white.  And nothing attached to it – not even fingerprints, let alone finger-paints.  So after I’d channeled my inner-Rembrandt in Mrs. Yando’s kindergarten class, I would then bring home my artwork, get the obligatory positive parental feedback, and… that was that.  I now wonder – how many times did Mom run off, sobbing, “OH!  What shall we do with this masterpiece?  If ONLY there was a way to attach it to the refrigerator!!”

ge2drOld FridgeBut no.  Sadly, my elementary art gallery was never displayed, never anchored by… refrigerator magnets.

Now, looking back, there was one particular crayon-creation of mine that actually made quite a stir.  Though my fellow kindergarteners had pretty much embraced the reality of 26 letters, we still hadn’t learned to use them in conjunction with each other.  But I had a big brother, a dad and a chalkboard at home, so I – unbeknownst to Mrs. Yando – had already learned a bit of reading and writing from Bob 1 and Bob 2.

In this particular “piece,” I had drawn a picture of me, flying out of my playground swing, head first toward the chimney of our house, which of course had black smoke billowing out of it – as if my parents burned tires to keep us warm…  The picture implied that I was going to quickly make a Santa Claus entrance – just in time for supper.  But then – I did the unthinkable….

I wrote something along the bottom.  I wrote, “Oops, I have to go home!”  I wasn’t supposed to know how to do that.  But – thanks to Bob 1 and Bob 2 – I wasn’t Rembrandt… I was Einstein.

They thought I was a genius.  Seriously– my teacher, the principal, the 5th graders who quizzed me like I was some sort of mini-science experiment, all thought I was a prodigy.   They even wanted me to skip straight to second grade – all from one piece of “art!”  (I’m not making this up.)

I’ve since devoted the rest of my life to proving them wrong!!

Obviously, they did get it wrong.  Fortunately, my parents and my brother’s first grade teacher all knew skipping a grade would be a mistake.  Thank God, I didn’t end up in Bob 2’s class …for he’s the real genius.

Fact is, though, we all missed it.  It wasn’t about reading and writing, or art (definitely not about art!)  It was actually… a cartoon; my very first attempt at comedy writing… a pre-indicator of who I was to become.

I’ll bet you had similar experiences – not necessarily ones that got all the academics’ undies in a bunch – but flashes of brilliance may have been vibrant illustrations of who you are – who you would become.  Boy, if only someone had noticed….  Maybe Someone did.

I’ve often wondered – what happened to that picture that stirred up all that commotion?  Where is it now?  Gone forever?  Maybe – but upon asking that question, suddenly a thought popped into my not-so-genius mind.

I’ll bet it’s hanging on God’s refrigerator.  He made me the goofball I am, and that crayon masterpiece was one of the first indications.  And He’s proud of me.

He’s got a big refrigerator and lots of magnets.  So, what’s He displaying there with your name at the bottom?  Write to me – and share them!

Photo by Denis Byrne

Coincidence? Obedience?

We followers of Jesus love clichés – we have many.

One that you’ll hear on occasion is, “With God there are no coincidences…” or “with God, nothing happens by accident” or the pithier, “Coincidences are just those times when God chooses to remain anonymous.”   Pretty clever, eh?

So, do we believe them – those clichés – whether good or bad the circumstance?

Many of us believe God is sovereign – meaning the Supreme Ruler.  (Frankly I don’t know how He could be God if he wasn’t) So, if He sees all and is in all… (as opposed to the Deist god who created everything then stepped back and said, “You kids play nice – I’m going on permanent vacation to a galaxy far, far away.”)  …if God is involved here and now – and He’s God… then I’m guessing He doesn’t miss a thing.

He misses nothing.  But does He orchestrate everything?  We love to see “the hand of God” (another of our cool clichés) when things turn out really good, but not when things turn out crummy.  Then we like to shake “the fist of man” at Him and say, “Where were You, God?!”  At least I do.

I think the key is our obedience.  And I DON’T mean the jot-and-tittle rigors of committing to the rules of the Bible, then working – striving – failing – confessing – working harder – striving harder – failing anyway – confessing again – working even harder……UGH….

I mean the obedience that applies these words:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Here, Jesus is saying obedience means:

789px-Young_oxenResting…learning…and resting some more….

If you’ve ever seen a picture of two oxen yoked together, you get it: there is grueling work ahead.  And if they don’t work in perfect harmony, the job becomes incredibly harder.  But what if Jesus is the other ox…?

So I recently obeyed that voice.  I go to a terrific men’s breakfast twice a month.  Since I’m making little income, I told my friend Lyle I couldn’t afford to go.  He said “I’ll buy your breakfast.”  I said, “But there’s also gas, tips… I can’t afford it anymore.”  He said, “I think you need to be with the brothers.”

Sandy said the same thing.  So I laid my clothes out the night before, (attending  requires me to arise at 5:30 to get to the other side of Nashville in time for chow.)  I laid them out in case I heard God saying I should go.

Next morning I awoke before the alarm…and I hear, “Get up Den.  I want you to go…”

I went – and a new guy sat at our table.  He was energetic, funny, and we bonded immediately.  I reached out to him after, gave him a business card – I didn’t want to lose track of him. He said he’d email me.  Often that well-intended email never arrives.

His did – an hour later.  In it, he invited me to a very exclusive prayer meeting at a remote little stone chapel.

I went – and found myself surrounded by incredibly godly men – true pillars of faith in the heart of a Bible-belt city.  I thought, “What am I doing here with these spiritual giants?”  There were 12 in attendance.  So I felt like Matthias – he was the new 12th disciple, voted into the apostle club after Judas Iscariot screwed up his membership.  But they included me, we sang, prayed, had communion, then prayed over individuals and their needs.

I got prayed over – with hands laid on me, I felt the fervent prayers of eleven righteous men.

So I kept in touch with the energetic guy who invited me.  Soon after, I visited his office.  This was the man to whom I said, “You’re like me.”  Then he told me he has ADD.

Because of that encounter, I’ve read, studied, taken tests, got recommended to a shrink, and now have the meds that might help put my life back on track – and maybe I’ll even be able to earn a living again.

Coincidence?  Obedience?   I submit: both.  Because I obeyed – and attended the breakfast – all the rest happened “coincidentally.”  They would not have happened had I not obeyed.

“Coincidences are just those times when God chooses to remain anonymous, and we choose to be obedient.”   Pretty clever, eh?


Photo courtesy of:  Wikimedia Commons