Why I Chose to Cover Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”…. Yes, I Sing and Play Guitar.

When I moved to Nashville on September 11, 2005, it was because I wanted a chance at a career in music; writing songs, singing, and playing guitar.

The problem was, I had earned my college degree in English and was naturally thousands of dollars in debt. Therefore, I accidentally got a full-time job in HR; where I ended up working over a decade of my life.

Obviously, along the way, I found the love of my life, got married, had two kids, and moved to the suburbs.

But my love for doing music never stopped. It was just on hiatus.

Then when my office branch got shut down this past October, forcing me to become a stay-at-home dad, I had to find creative ways to exercise my mind while caring for my young daughter.

Fortunately, she didn’t mind playing on the floor while I played my guitar.

Just the week before I lost my job, I had taken a couple of days off work and met up with a new friend, out in Los Angeles. He also sings and plays guitar. As a souvenir from Nashville, I brought him a very Johnny Cash themed t-shirt.

That stuck in my mind.

So I figured, why not play a Johnny Cash song and put it on YouTube? And that happens to be the video featured at the top of this blog post.

I think part of the strange appeal of “Folsom Prison Blues” is that it’s told from the perspective of a convicted murderer who openly admits he committed the crime, despite his mother’s proactive warnings from the time he was even too young to understand he apparently was predestined for a life of crime.

The song challenges the listener to have compassion on the kind of person most people easily ignore.

As time allows, I definitely plan to record more songs on this new YouTube channel, Nick Shell Music; which is actually my 3rd YouTube channel. Eventually, I plan to release some new original songs of mine.

If nothing else, I am simply doing this for me. Just because I enjoy it.

Maybe you will too.

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I Write Jingles for Toyota (Along with Philips Norelco & Monterey Bay Aquarium)

It’s true. I do indeed write jingles for Toyota.

I Write Jingles for Toyota

Perhaps my inspiration is Phoebe Buffay of Friends when her song “Smelly Cat” was bought out by a major cat food brand.

In the age of YouTube, what can stop me from using my own time and talent to write and record jingles for free, and then promote them on my blog and YouTube channel?

Who knows, maybe I can eventually become a jingle writer full time? I’m making a habit of self-appointing myself as “jingle writer” for Toyota, as well as other brands.

I’ll show you what I mean…

Three weeks ago, our family was sent a 2015 Toyota Corolla to review here on Family Friendly Daddy Blog. One of the things I decided to do with it was to shoot a “homemade commercial”.

So I wrote “Down Low in a Corolla”:

Can’t ya see that we’re Corollin’?

Down low in a Corolla

Gotta keep that family flowin’

Down low in a Corolla

Can you keep up with us?

We’re no Kardashians

But we can lay it down if you can pick it up

Jammin’ to grooves of Walk the Moon

Kids’ car seat in the back

Before that, I recently wrote “Family in a Camry” while we reviewed the 2015 Toyota Camry:

I got my family in a Camry

And we’re happy campers trippin’ to your town

Here we go!

This same video also features the jingle I wrote for Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Hey, hey! It’s Monterey Bay Aquarium

Hey, hey! It’s an underwater adventure

I immediately afterwards wrote a jingle for the 2015 Toyota Avalon:

Come along, in an Avalon, we’re gonna make it great!

In July, Scion (which is part of the Toyota family) sent me to Grand Rapids, Michigan to check out their new Scion iM and IA. Here’s that jingle:

I’ve got my eye on Scion

Try on Scion

Experience what Millennials already know

The first Toyota jingle I wrote was back in May, when my son and I made a homemade commercial for the Toyota Sienna, which doubled as a trailer for our Jack-Man series.

Jack-Man rides in a Toyota Sienna minivan

His getaway car is driven by his dad

I also wrote a jingle for Philips Norelco:

In your face, 9700

In your face, you’ll be glad you found it

It cleans itself like a smart razor should

The percentage display shows the charge is still good

In your face, Philips Norelco

In your face!

We’ll see where this takes me. I enjoy writing and recording jingles for companies, for fun and for free.

You never know when it may get the right person’s attention.

I Write Jingles for Toyota

The Glory of Eating Out: Entertainment, Activity, and Ignorance of Calories

Eating food can easily become entertainment, in of itself.

This Saturday, my wife will finish her final class for her Master’s program.  We’ve been anticipating this day for a year and a half- specifically, we’ve been planning to go somewhere nice for dinner to celebrate.  Though we’ve had our sights set for months on Stony River for a good steak dinner, we remembered recently that we don’t really like steak.  So we instead have discovered a quaint “only in Nashville” sort of place that looks to be more our speed: http://www.12southtaproom.com/

Something I’ve been realizing now more than ever is why eating out is fun.  There are obvious reasons for this, like not having to cook, set the table, or clean the dishes.  And the fact that when you eat dinner out, you have many choices of what you will eat.  All valid reasons.  Yet very obvious.

Here are more subtle reasons:

Environment: Whether or not you truly are a “people person”, or are one and just don’t realize it (People Watching 101), part of the allure of going out to eat is to be around people you don’t know, who serve as background noise and sometimes accidently, as entertainment.

Of course aside from the strangers we like dining near (not with), there also is something soothing/weird in looking at the random memorabilia hanging on the walls- whether it’s old pictures of sad, creepy looking people from the 1920’s, a goofy moose head, or a canary yellow guitar that Tom Petty used to record his Wildflowers album in 1994.  Ultimately, whatever it is, it’s something else to look at.

Activity: Eating good food that we enjoy is more than just about “getting full” or about nutrition.  It’s simply a fun activity.  Yes, we could make the same menu items on our own (with enough Internet research for recipes) and they may taste similar.  But aside from the fact that we’re not cooking it, there is something fun about having someone else serve you.  When someone else waits on you, it gives a sense of “I deserve this” (Password).

Ignorance to calories: Yes, we are overaware that fast food is a killer.  But we turn a blind eye to the nutritional facts at nicer restaurants, essentially all of them.  Even when the meal is low-fat, and even more difficult to pull off, low-sugar, it is still almost guaranteed to be high in sodium- which is linked to heart disease and hardened arteries.  But no matter how nice the restaurant it is, it’s pretty much given that there’s at least 75% of your daily sodium in the meal, at best.

And of course, the serving portions are typically at least twice to three times what a meal should be.  But turning a blind eye to all these nutritional facts makes it much more fun.

So go now, and celebrate, with strange wall decorations, quirky people sitting at the table next to you, and a meal prepared by the salt gods.

Singleness; The Gift No One Really Wants

Not all single people mind their status.  But they may mind being reminded of it.  I know- I used to be one of those single people.

A month after I graduated high school (June 1999) I joined the youth group of First Baptist Church for a trip to Centrifuge, a one week Christian camp for teenagers.  We stayed in the college dorms of Union University in Jackson, TN.  I was the oldest one in dorm; the other guys were mostly freshman and sophomores.  

One night after whatever campy game we played, we were hanging out in the dorm, getting ready for bed.  And I observed a chance conversation that has stuck with me (and my sister after I told her, turning the event into a longstanding inside joke) – one that I will never forget, not that it was some prolific thing.

The most good-looking guy of the youth group (tanned, blue eyes, well-mannered, came from a respected family) was being told by his peers that Jenny, the token Barbie of the youth group (aside from her looks, she was caring, sincere, and also was a good kid from a good family) was rumored to have said that she said he was cute.

His peers were doing their darndest to get him to ask her out, talk to her, just to do something to make her his girlfriend.  His response?  Shrugged shoulders, looked down at the ground, a sort of “eh, I don’t know…” demeanor. 

One of the guys then responded with what is now, to me, a very famous line:

“Dude… ya gay?”

Sitting across the room from him, halfway pretending not to even listen to the conversation, aside from laughing and thinking it was funny, I related to the kid.  Because I knew his struggle.  Not a struggle with his sexuality, but a struggle with having to entertain other people’s expectations of him dating.

Not all teenage boys are obsessed with “one thing, and one thing only”.  Yes, they are aware, as they are wired to be.  But sometimes a kid just wants to be a kid.  And having a girlfriend gets in the way of that.  And he knows that, so he doesn’t bother wasting a girl’s time when he knows he would just hurt her feelings by eventually choosing something else over her.

Not the norm, but the norm for some.  And it’s the only norm I knew.  Anything else, to me, would be phony.  Or deceitful. 

So yes, I was like him.  Never had a serious girlfriend in high school because, if nothing else, I knew I was moving out of state for college.  So why even get into a relationship if I’m just moving away anyway?  Me and my logical mind. 

Well-meaning people, often in an effort to help me be normal, would offer to set me up with a “nice Christian girl”.  Always a nice gesture, but I didn’t want anyone’s help.  If I was interested and inspired enough, I would find a “nice Christian girl” on my own.  (I have a feeling that there are Jewish guys out there who can relate to this story by simply replacing “good Christian girl” with “good Jewish girl”…)

I almost feel sorry for the few girls that I may or may not have strung around in the process of being in any situation that somewhat resembled me dating them.  Keeping them guessing.  Having them wonder why I didn’t show more initiative to pursue them.  Having them possibly (and understandably) take it personally that I wasn’t making them more of a priority.  I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t really want to.

It was me.  Not them.  I honestly cared more about learning to drive and strumming my guitar and playing James Bond on N64 with my friends and shooting paintball guns at street signs than I did having a girlfriend. 

So how did I treat this situation?  I had girl friends (friends that were girls), not girlfriends.  And it worked for me- I was good friends with many girls and around them a lot, but kept the relationship platonic.  But I also had plenty of friends that were guys, as to not become that guy in a modern day setting who would end up going to watch Sex in the City 2 for “girls’ night out” and be the only guy in the group.

(It goes without saying; Man Law prohibits straight men from going to see Sex in the City 2, under any circumstances.  However, watching and discussing The Bachelor and/or The Bachelorette is completely permissible; as it is excused as a way for husbands/boyfriends to spend more quality time with their wives/girlfriends.) 

By the time I actually was ready to date, a few years later, the whole concept seemed to have more of a purpose.  I never had to date a bunch of people to know who I was looking for in a wife.  So when I finally did meet her at age 25, there really wasn’t anything to figure out.  And I looked back at all those years of other people wanting me to seem more normal (by regularly dating), and knew that I did what was right for me.

There is more pressure than there needs to be when it comes to dating, especially for teenagers and people over 30.  When the time (and person) is right, a “friends only” person will make an effort to date. 

I think the Christianized “gift of singleness” concept is a bit hokey; it’s the gift no one really wants.  But just because a person is 30 years old and still single, it doesn’t mean anything.  They’re just being smart.  And patient.  Not settling.

I could easily be in the same single situation.  It’s just that I was spared at age 25 of meeting the right one.

Yeah, right!

Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

The Token Guitar Guy who Thinks He’s Cool Because He Can Play “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton

One in every ten guitar players is a “cool guitar guy”. That’s a guitar player who uses his musical abilities as a social crutch. In college, Cool Guitars Guys were easy to spot: They could be found conveniently playing on a sidewalk near the dorms with the most females. Their favorite songs to play for people include, but are not limited to “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Tears in Heaven”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Enter Sandman”, and “Wonderwall”. Cool Guitar Guys don’t really have to sing much more than the chorus, just the main guitar licks. Because once the familiar part of the song is played, a token instant-fan or two will feed Cool Guitar Guy with “Oh, I love this song!” Of course you do.

Cool Guitar Guys usually have faces that are fist magnets, like Spencer Pratt. They always have this tendency to break Man Code, spouting off how much they loved the movie The Notebook, in an effort to show their sensitive side to the girl listeners in their small audience. And if they can find a reason to talk about kids, they will go and on about how much they love their nieces and nephews (to convince prospective dates they would make a good husband one day).

Granted, Cool Guitar Guy isn’t taken seriously by the other nine guitar players in the statistic. Because normal guitar players don’t need the guitar to be cool and to start conversations.