With enough imagination, dedication, perseverance, and help it’s possible to do almost anything. If you doubt me, consider that human beings designed, built, tested, refined, rebuilt, and flew rockets that landed us on the moon – and we did all that in an amazingly tight timespan of only nine years.
As I said, you can do anything you put your mind to, provided you’re willing to work with others and stay on task until you achieve success.
This is true of aerospace, but it’s also true of every other phase of life.
Let me share a recent example from my own experience. Perhaps it will inspire you, or at least give you a sense of what’s possible.I first became aware of Gram Parsons in 1973. I was on an Eastern Airlines flight headed from Florida home to New England for my sophomore year of high school.
With my trusty copy of Rolling Stone in hand, I settled in for the flight and was totally engrossed by a story of talent, death, and post-mortem absurdity that transformed a guitar strumming Florida boy into a legendary figure of Shakespearean proportions.
The seed was planted in my brain. It has never left me.
Decades later I found myself living in Winter Haven, Florida. It’s where I took on my first flying job as a CFI. It’s where I made my home, and where I still live today. It’s also the town where Gram Parsons was born, where his family was revered and perhaps feared due to their wealth, and where the teenaged Gram Parsons started his musical career.
Having real talent, and coming from money, Gram’s family established and ran a teen club known as the Derry Down, for the simple purpose of giving the tuneful young man a place to perform in public. And he did. On Dec. 20, 1964, the Derry Down opened for business, with Gram Parsons and the Shilos headlining the bill for the entire first week.
From there Gram went on to form and front the International Submarine Band, he joined the Byrds for their countrified album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, launched the Flying Burrito Brothers, and became a fixture at Keith Richards’ house on the French Riviera during the recording of Exile on Main Street. There are even rumors that Gram, not the Glimmer Twins, wrote one of the Stone’s most celebrated hits, Wild Horses. Yet, all that glitters is not gold. Gram’s time in the sun was limited.
By 1973 the Derry Down had moved to a new location across town, the teen club scene was winding down in Florida, and Gram met his end in the California desert after ingesting an excessive mixture of alcohol and opiates.
In his wake, the country rock genre he’d pioneered began to thrive. Gram’s old friend and fellow Floridian Bernie Leadon took up a spot in the premiere country-rock band of the age, Eagles. The rest is history.
Gram faded from public memory, although musicians still held him in high esteem throughout the years.
“I miss him still,” said Keith Richards in 2004. “I mean, Gram Parsons, who never actually had a hit record of his own, ever, has one of the most solid and faithful followings of any artist that I can think of.”
Like Gram, the Derry Down disappeared too. Lost from memory, it became an automobile paint shop, a garage, a carpet warehouse, and ultimately a sad, dilapidated building on the verge of being razed by the development company that owned it.
And then Bob Kealing came to town.
Kealing is a reporter with the NBC affiliate in Orlando, and a talented writer. He’s written books about Jack Kerouac, and more recently about Brownie Wise, the woman who developed the plastic containers everyone knows as Tupperware. In between those two projects he wrote a wonderful book about Gram titled “Calling Me Home.”
While in Winter Haven on a book signing spree, Bob led a crowd of enthralled readers to a spot just down the street from the library where he was speaking. He pointed out a tumbledown cement block building with a sagging roof, cracked windows, and peeling paint. It was there he dropped a bombshell on the local crowd. This was the original Derry Down. The very place where Gram Parsons’ career began.
Like John Kennedy challenging the nation to put a man on the moon and bring him safely home again, Kealing’s appearance left a lasting impression on a group of people who suddenly realized they had an unexpected opportunity at their fingertips. If they applied themselves, they might resurrect a venue that could serve the local community, but would also have the drawing power to bring national music acts to town, just so they could say they played in the same building Gram Parsons inaugurated all those years ago.
And so it came to pass. Contractors volunteered to help restore the building. Residents and visitors to the area made financial contributions making it possible to purchase materials. And the owner of the building gifted it to the community in a show of almost unimaginable generosity, allowing the project to move into high gear without a looming debt to hamper its progress.
This week the Derry Down will officially reopen. It’s been a short four years since Bob Kealing’s book brought him to town. And even less time since the populace of this fine southern city became aware of their hidden treasure.
With life breathed back into it, the Derry Down has already hosted the likes of country troubadour Jim Lauderdale, as well as nationally known locals like Jim Stafford, Les Dudek, Jon Corneal, and Jim Carlton. I might have played there once or twice myself during the fund-raising phase of the project, too. The more the merrier, you know.
Whether your goal is the moon, the restoration of a forgotten landmark, or getting a new student pilot into the air, it’s doable. It may even be fun. But you can do it if you try. And try you must if you are to succeed.
Yoda would be proud of you.