In keeping with (by now) long standing traditions both of expanding on previous columns and devoting July to patriotic themes, I turned to our July '88 issue to resurrect and enlarge the following homage to Ben Franklin.

This was one of the few times I remarked at length on my delight in being able to tell the tale without space limitations, which is ironic as this would be the last reprint of the year.


A Column Saved Is a Column . . .


Wait . . . that's not quite right. What was that phrase, anyway?

And where was I?

Ah, I remember . . .

Darkness falls prematurely, and preternaturally black it falls, as clouds fill the sky and a torrential rain begins to fall. I run drenched down old Philadelphia streets, darting down this block and that, the warm golden glow of the Liberty Bell still fresh in my memory, and finally I stop - at the locked gate of the old cemetery.

Where I am suddenly face to face with the tombstone of none other than Benjamin Franklin. Overhead thunder rumbles, and a flash of lightning evidences itself in its sudden, ominous reflection on the soggy street. The old tombstone stands as it has stood for hundreds of years, and I have made this brief journey in the precious few minutes allotted to me before I, along with my brother (and former Book Again manager) Mike, must return to a local club to make music for such denizens of this ancient city hardy enough to withstand this downpour.

"Mr. Franklin!" I call. "Mr. Franklin!"

The rain covers all, the darkness eliminates every proof that this modern century exists, and I am alone in the electric storm - Ben and me . . .

Now, it is a fitting tribute to the man that his very name still conjures up a multitude of images, that nowadays, when those few of his contemporaries not completely consigned to the dusty recollection of hard core scholars are at best remembered only as faces on paper currency, or two dimensional heroes of forgotten battles, the name "Benjamin Franklin" still evokes achievement upon achievement, inventions and intercessions . . . and Almanacs.

"Poor Richard's Almanack", which Franklin wrote (under the pen name "Richard Saunders") from 1733 to 1757, looms fittingly large in our collective cultural recollection. It was in the pages of that illustrious publication that such phrases as "God helps those that help themselves", "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" (though in fact Franklin himself never practiced that one overmuch), "Never leave until tomorrow what you can do today", "Little strokes fell big oaks", and "A word to the wise is enough" first entered the American consciousness.

Not content with the Almanack as an outlet, however, Franklin also wrote a number of outside articles and letters, from which such epithets as "Time is money", "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes", and "Snug as a bug in a rug" were gleaned.

And yes - he did fly that kite. Franklin, due to his early experiments, has often been referred to as the "Father of Electricity" - indeed, it is extremely probable that he actually coined the terms battery, condenser, positive and negative with reference to their electrical meaning. He also invented bifocals, rocking chairs, and lightning rods, which for their first fifty years were called Franklin Rods.

And some may find it interesting that the ship manned by John Paul Jones (as in "I have not yet begun to fight"), the BONHOMMIE RICHARD, was in fact named after none other than . . . Poor Richard.

The rain falls in torrents. I stand before the great man's grave, soaked to the bone, and am awakened from my reverie by brother Mike, who reminds me we have a show to do. It is the summer of 1988, and we are on a brief one week tour of the East Coast. Mike had just returned to Book Again after a brief absence, and upon our return to California a few days later I wrote this original column for the newsletter. At the time, I was inspired to write it by the almost spiritual zeitgeist I'd experienced standing before Ben Franklin's remains in the middle of an electric storm, undoubtedly not far from where he'd first proved lightning could be harnessed so long ago. Due to time and space constraints I was at the time unable to tell the whole story, to relate my own personal connection (pun intended) to this giant of Eighteenth Century experimentation.

I have now done so.

And I thank you, and wish you many fireworks and barbecues.