Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mike Gallagher

When Mike finds out that I wrote a chapter in my blog about him, he's gonna flip. No doubt he'll ask me to remove it. Not because he is a fugitive from justice, but because he his modest.

When Mike isn't doing his other job which is working for a progressive Pittsburgh chemical company which manufactures "biofuels", he is a dad, a singer, a friend, and a saint.

Mike earned his status as a father when he started his family with the love of his life, Marlea. He even titled his new CD for his wife. Mike has four kids. Two are in the U.S. Army, one is preparing to go to the American Seminary in Rome (yes, Italy) and Mary Kate is at home. Go to Mike's FaceBook page and see how many pictures there are of him. And then count the pictures of his wife and children. This, as far as I am concerned, speaks volumes. Mike is one of the best Dad's I know. I would like him to be my Dad but I'm about a decade older than him so that's out.

When a person sings, they use the same vocal cords that they use for talking, except they hold on to specific frequencies and try to keep things in tune while stories are told. So when a person sings, they really are vulnerable. It's hard. And it's not easy remembering all of the words to all of the songs. Some might say that Mike spends a lot of his musical time singing in pubs. An Irish pub is usually filled with a handful of people that come to hear the person sing. The remaining 90% are there to meet friends, eat, or watch TV. Oh, and they drink too. But whats amazing is that they also talk loudly. And when Mike tries to sing louder, they talk louder.

Tonight at a pub in Carnegie, a neighborhood named for Andrew, I saw this young couple. They were both locked in to the TV because Pittsburgh is on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. But after the game, they were locked in to the commercials. She even locked in to her boyfriends cellphone call list while he went to the men's room. While all of this was going on, Mike sang a couple of anti-war songs. (Did I tell you that one of Mike's sons is in Iraq and the other is training to go to some other sand-laden dangerous paradise?) But all the while that Mike sung these songs with a few love songs thrown in, the couple would not even look his way. And they were only 5 feet from Mike. But Mike doesn't complain because he knows that there are others peppered in the crowd that really want to hear what he has to sing about.

The friend part came on gradually as we got to know each other over the past couple of years. I played on his recent CD and he is going to be on my upcoming recording. But when Mike was kind enough to take some words I scratched down 5 years ago and set them to music, both he and I had no idea where the song would be today. It is presently finding its way through Pittsburgh government and hopefully on to becoming the official song of our city. You can hear it at and search for BobTheWhistler. Then look for Fire & Steel. It takes a real friend to take your words and make them come alive with music.

Finally, Mike Gallagher is a saint. (Oh man, is he going to kill me....). With God's help, he single-handedly brought me back to the Roman Catholic church after an absence of over 20 years. Mike and I have played music for the Bishop of Pittsburgh more than once. He is an excellent example of a man who is strong, yet humble. But more importantly, Mike is a holy man in every definition of the word.

Sure, there are other saints in my life; Charlie, El, Cori, Brian, Ricky and the other Mike. If you know me, then you know their last names.

But Mike is special and I wanted you to get to know him.

And these saints are teaching me about what is important and what isn't. Mike is important and so are all of you who spent the time reading this.

Tonight I'll thank God for Mike and for you. Call it a Litany of The Saints.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Old School

What you are looking at is a motorcycle that has been refurbished to reflect an "old school" motorcycle design.

Many things can be classified as "old school" such as cars, transistor radios, turntables, buildings, cooking and people.

Dorothy Hovanic was old school. Sure, she was 82 when she died last Saturday, but age rarely comes into play when pinning that title on someone or something.

For people, old school can mean those who won't change. Like Father Richard Infante of Pittsburgh who still has not been willing to learn how to use a computer or even myself when I chose to write a song about Pittsburgh that looks back into history instead of celebrating Pittsburgh's present status as a world leader in medicine, education, and music. We're not stupid and we're not resisting change. We are comfortable with who we are and where we are. Yes, comfortable.

In a blog or two ago, I mentioned Dorothy Hovanic's husband, John, who can still fit into his Marine Corps dress uniform. John still grows a garden and has done so for many years before the word "recession" or even "victory garden" were coined. He enjoys tending to his tomato plants and Dorothy enjoyed watching him and eventually making marvelous culinary delights from the very things he grew.

My home town of Smock is undergoing a change. We are slowly slipping away from being old school. Younger people now inhabit the houses which are now over 100 years old. Grass grows up to your knees and concrete sidewalks have as many cracks as lines on a road map. Cars are parked in the yards on that grass that we religiously mowed weekly. And I hear that drugs and alcohol have replaced penny candy and Sun Drop.

But what is really problematic is that the respect for people and even things is slowly fading away, just like Smock's octogenarians. Which begs the question "What will happen to the old school of thinking when all of those remaining fossils either die or get deported to nursing homes?"

I went to Dorothy's funeral yesterday and saw her son and my friend John Michael. Yep, I still call him that and he still calls me Bobby Joe. And that's OK. He's old school. Still married to the same girl for 20+ years. Still lives in Smock but on the "new" side of town. Worked in the steel mill and retired from the same job. Never took a penny of "government money". I love that guy.

So I guess my definition of old school means that you stay honest, work hard at working hard, love your family as well as your neighbor, and NEVER under any circumstances, lose respect for yourself and all those around you, whether you know them or not. You know, all of that love God and love your neighbor stuff. Like Moses and Aaron taught.

I don't know what's going to happen to my town. The only surviving thing from Smock in twenty years may be this blog that I write. My hope is that those who may read some of the stories here may be curious as to what the term "old school" means.

If I'm around in 20 years, I'll be glad to tell you about how things were in the Smock of the late 20th century.

And if we both live long enough, I'll introduce you to John Michael Hovanic, a perfect example of what old school truly is.

Or should I say "was"?