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
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
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
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
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.