The Dumas Demons won the 3A State high school football championship in 1961 and 1962. It must have been a city ordinance requiring every business in that small Texas panhandle town to have at least one eight by ten framed photo of both teams displayed at all times. If you were a football player during one of those two years, you were royalty. I became a student in that high school a few years later; I didn’t play football.
One could gain some status of a far less lofty ranking by being the son or daughter of a wealthy rancher or farmer. Those students were identified by the new Mustang or Camaro they drove. The lowest of the accepted castes were those smart kids known as nerds. I fell within the bounds of the Untouchables. I didn’t play sports; my dad didn’t own the BAR_S ranch, and I wasn’t smart. I was an untouchable, a nothing.
During the third or fourth week of my freshman year, I met Tommy, and we started creating a dream. Tommy surpassed me in many areas. He was much taller. His family was poorer than mine and he might have had three or four fewer watts in his lightbulb. But we were friends, and we shared a dream. We were going to start a band.
Jimmy, who we gave the nick name “Jock,” came along to add a third member to the unnamed future rock legends. Jock was three or four years older than Tommy and me. He’d dropped out of school long before graduation and knew how to play a half dozen chords on his thirty-dollar Sears guitar. Tim, our token popular kid, said he could sing and suddenly we were a band. The Avengers became the first rock band in Dumas, Texas history.
We practiced as though we were training for the Olympics. Five, six nights a week, three, four hours each practice. Tim sang Louie Louie, I played Wipe Out on my three-piece gold-sparkle Ludwig drum kit, Tommy (who had quickly out-distanced Jock’s guitar ability) played lead and Jock played rhythm guitar. You may have noticed there was no bass player. Bill would come along a year later.
Equipped with one Gibson amp, two cheap guitars, a bullet mic, and my drums, we were booked to play our first gig at the YMCA. It was a hit. All thirteen songs we knew, we played at least three times each that night. We were on the road to the Dick Clark Show. A year later, far better equipped with a new drum kit, Tommy’s new Fender Strat, a real PA system and enough songs for three long sets, we rocked the YMCA.
For some unremembered reason, we changed the band’s name to The Echoes. After recording a record which sold at least twelve copies, we backed the Last Kiss one hit wonder J. Frank Wilson at a dance. We waited and I’m embarrassed to say, Ed Sullivan never called.
What began was the growth of passion. We’d found something which inspired us to work harder than we’d ever worked before. Yet we were not working harder because someone was making us, we were doing it because of the desire which had grown within us. One member of our band kept his passion for decades. In 2015, my boyhood friend and bandmate Tommy Shannon, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Chris Layton, were inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame.
I left our band some months before I graduated from high school. I’ve played music off and on for many years since. It’s been fun but has never equaled the passion I felt when I was sixteen. For the next forty years I repeated many times, never having felt the same passion for anything.
During my second year of university study, I started playing tennis. First it was with friends, then at a tennis club and eventually tournament play. It was fun, and I became a decent tennis player. I played more than a hundred tournaments over the next thirty years. I won a few tournaments, and I lost many more. It became more than a casual hobby, but never reached the level of passion.
I also had a rewarding career as a social worker, therapist, and administrator. My work was meaningful, and I enjoyed it. I’m grateful for an opportunity to help people. It was a fulfilling career which I took seriously, yet it was never a passion.
Six years ago, after my retirement, I began writing and joined a wonderful group of talented and supportive writers. I studied, I wrote a lot of poor stories and eventually published my first book. It is, a good story, poorly written. Two years later, I published my second novel. It is also a good story and written better than my first one. If I were to give it an honest rating, I’d say it is a C+ book on bad days and maybe a B- on my good days. I am my own worst critic. But I am also the most honest.
Something else has happened. Now, when I sit on those days when words don’t come easily or on the days when they do, I am happy. I would dare say I have again found PASSION. I like to write. And like the time when I was trying to learn to do a faster single-stroke roll, or hit a better backhand, I’m working hard to be a better writer. It’s fun. I understand there’s a difference between knowing how to write well and writing well. I also believe anyone with an average IQ can become an accomplished writer. It takes an effort equal to learning any other skill.
I have no illusions of writing as the giants of literature wrote. Maybe they had a special gift, but I believe what they all shared was a desire to be good and then better than good. A desire and a willingness to put in the work. To show up for life.
I’m enjoying and feeling grateful to have a sense of passion about something. It is like the feeling I had when I was sixteen and trying to figure out how to play the short, accented roll in Walk Don’t Run. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll again sit down behind a gold-sparkle Ludwig kit and attempt to learn the five-four time signature of Take Five. Maybe not, I’ll stick to writing.
“If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.” Wanda Skyes
Go Well, David
Denni’s Wise Words
“When faced with the choice of being a princess or a dog, always be a princess.”
Go well, David