This past week, my son, Thomas, launched a new song, Front Beach Road. It comes from a collaboration that he had with another songwriter in Nashville, Daniel Allen. The song recounts a coming-of-age memory that the two of them had about a specific street in a specific place that they both knew from growing up. The two have teamed up in a band ingeniously called Allen and Galloway. Sheer genius….but, of course, he’s my son!
A friend and colleague of mine, Johan Roels, who lives in Flanders, heard the song on Instagram as he follows my son. He took the time to write me to ask me about the song, prompting me to explain it. I told him that Front Beach Road is the street that runs along the ocean in Panama City Beach. I attempted to tell him something of the place where I spent my summers growing up, and where my kids spent their summers growing up….the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, specifically in the panhandle of Florida. I jokingly noted the appellation given to the area, the Redneck Riviera. I have a soft spot in my heart for PCB.
My family started going there when my parents first married, staying at a cottage right on the edge of the beach. My dad had grown up not far away in the paper mill town of Hosford, which is outside of Quincy, which is outside of Tallahassee. Got It? It’s real no where, man.
Hosford had a stop sign on the main drag, with a gas station and small grocery. That’s about it. My dad left Hosford to come to Atlanta in order to work at Delta Airlines. Each summer, we would travel to visit Nellie, his stepmother, who lived in a wonderful white house with an amazing wrap-around porch. There, we would sit in rockers, listening to the crickets, and watching the lightning bugs, an idyllic Southern picture, yes?
For me, as a very young boy, there was a spooky add to the scene, with an ancient old lady, rocking in a chair, with a bonnet on her head. Her name was Miss Dean, that’s what we called her, and she was Nellie’s mother. What I remember vividly was a “stereoscope” contraption with photos of the Holy Land that gave the illusion of three dimensions, that she was hot to share with me. I believe one set of slides, she said, had the “actual” picture of the cross at Calvary, which, I guess, could confer salvation, given her passion. Hitchcock missed a sure bet with Miss Dean. She generated nightmares for me, only assuaged by my dreams of the anticipated Gulf.
Across a football field length from the porch, there was the screen of a drive-in movie, which we could watch without “sound” of course. Seriously, the drive-in could have been the set for a Bogdonavich or Tarantino movie. But for us, it was a “command” performance on the way to our cottage on Front Beach Road. That is how my family got connected to the emerald water and white sand beaches in Panama City.
Our summer vacations were spent there. First, in that cottage, then in a motel across the road running down the beach, on what came to be known as the Miracle Strip. And later, as my dad ascended the corporate ladder of Delta, we had a condo in a development on Thomas Drive called Summerhouse. That would be where my young family would travel from Texas for our one-week vacation at the beginning of the summer. We actually gathered with my brother’s family there on the way to the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, on the 4th of July, watching the infamous Olympic torch, designed by my friend, Sam Shelton, make its way across St. Andrews Bay to continue the trek to the hand of Mohammed Ali. Irony has never seen a more brilliant flame.
So, I grew up there. And then my kids grew up there. Or, maybe like St. Jimmy of Buffett said, we grew older but not up. Our days at the beach were spent chasing the gulls on the beach, playing in the surf, body surfing, eating our weight in seafood, usually fried, playing golf in the mornings, Goofy Golf at a surrealistic Putt-Putt course at night with huge Florida bugs buzzing around the lights that provided illumination, of sorts. There was the Miracle Strip which was a poor man’s Six Flags with a rickety wooden roller coaster that I believe was named The Cyclone, a wooden structure that threatened to collapse with every passing rush of ride cars. It was a place to come of age, and generations of Galloways did just that. Sort of.
It was a magical place for me as a kid, with flashing signs, neon lights, music that filled the salt air. This is an odd memory, but it is pungent. We were cruising the Miracle Mile one evening, my dad driving our Ford sedan, with the windows rolled down, and the car radio playing the Fifth Dimension, Stone Soul Picnic. Surry down, a stone soul picnic. I remember sitting in the left back seat, looking out the window at the carnivalesque lights, with Marilyn McCoo singing with her lilting voice. And in that moment, with my dad and mother in the front, my brother to my right, the world seemed perfect, just the way it was supposed to be. And you surry, and you picnic. Whoa, whoa.
As Thomas was writing his song about his experience of the same beach, same road, I wondered what his memories were of that place, of our family’s occupation of vacationland, us in our Chevy Suburban, the official car of Texas. Writing for a country music crowd, his focus would be a bit different. I remember one particular sojourn from Texas, riding on that same strip of road, listening to a break-out song of one newcomer,Garth Brooks, All My Exes Live in Texas. From Marilyn to Garth…have mercy.
I tried to explain all this ethno-cultural crap to my academic friend, Johan, who like me, studies the art of creativity in human Being, and the interaction between beings. He is one of my favorite people, closing in on Marilyn. He made the point that Thomas with his own style of mix between jam band and Americana, and Daniel Allen with his more commercial country bar style, provided a potent mix which had a kind of synergy about it, something Johan and I talk a lot about. In fact, I am meeting later today with a cadre of confreres on that very topic.
Johan made a point a while back on how much he appreciates Thomas’ music. He even introduced it to his granddaughters. He made the extra effort, all the way from Belgium, to tell me how much he liked this new song, even though it was different than Thomas’ normal style. Point taken.
Now, Johan is one of my smartest friends who is an international engineer, with English being his fourth language. I only have two, English and Southern…..you’ll have no trouble guessing which one is my first. Johan and I talked about the creative interchange that took place with Thomas’ perspective, and Daniel’s perspective, each one appreciating and valuing the other’s. moving on through the process of integration, resulting in a creative event, producing this song. Voila! in one of Johan’s languages.
Creative interchange happens when the mix of perspectives interchange. It can be in an executive meeting of clinical and administrative folks, really talking together in a meeting of minds and perspectives, both committed to emerging with a new way of approaching a difficult problem.
It can happen when two politicians who care more deeply for our community than for political posturing…. and we know how costly that can be.
It can happen with two people who have different images of what the future looks like, how to do it, and how to enjoy the process……but that is a stretch.
And., it can happen when two separate people, with different souls, connect to bring birth to a creative moment of song. I am grateful for my friend, Johan, for suggesting the magic that was happening in right in front of my eyes. Creative interchange.
“Trouble with you, the trouble with me. got two good eyes, and still don’t see.”
No kidding…..I cleaned that up for you South of God folks. You’re welcome.