A Father’s Day Story

For some reason when Father’s Day comes around I mostly think about my own father. John O. Lyons was my dad. He had six kids and lived a fascinating life full of youthful enthusiasm during his early years, adventure then the pragmatic realism of fathering during his middle years, and  a comfortable retirement later in life while he took his pills and struggled with Parkinson’s Disease. One of his books, The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978) is an amazing read. The first chapter “Into the Void” should be required reading for undergraduates going into the field of psychology or history. Today, it would no doubt confuse the youth often obsessed  with the notion of the authentic self and identity.

In the mid 1960s, my father who was an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, for reasons unknown at the time, took a side job delivering the Wisconsin State Journal on Sundays. We never questioned why he did this side job. Was the price of milk too high? Were five kids just too much? I have two older brothers and on these Sundays we each took turns waking up before dawn to help dad with his rural paper route. We would take off in the dark in the  family blue VW bus. My job in the backseat was to collate the stacks of newspapers, put a rubber band around each one and then hand them up to my dad to stuff into newspaper boxes. I was maybe five or six years old.

Years later I was told that on my first day as my dad’s helper, I was surprised to find out that all the newspapers were exactly the same. Obviously, I was way ahead of my time,  predicting the demise of a single source of truth years before Facebook, social media and digital journalism monetized silos of falsity. We would deliver hundreds of identical  Wisconsin State Journals. In the wintertime it would sometimes get a bit precarious on the icy roads as spinouts did happen and word of uncontrolled donuts on icy farm roads would reach the discussion at the dinner table. For sure, when we got home I would go back to bed and fall asleep in the warm soft sheets that I had left a few hours before.

John Lyons with Emma in 1966
John Lyons with his daughter Emma in 1966

When I was in high school, while scarfing down a bowl of cereal in the kitchen, my dad informed me out of the blue that he had a son with a previous wife. Anthony, was evidently my half-brother.  Even though I had never been informed or this I looked at him and was neither surprised or shocked. When you are a self-absorbed sixteen-year-old, such news means nothing. Later on we learned that Anthony had died young in a car accident in his thirties – our half-brother from another life we never met.

A few years back, after both of my parents had passed, we all started putting the pieces together. The morning paper route in the blue VW bus was surely to help  pay for child support for Anthony. The irony is that while I was with my dad on his morning paper route  helping him pay for past deeds, it turned out I was the lucky one as I was the one able to spend those magical mornings with my dad. I still remember the smell of the seats in the VW bus, the noisy sound of the motor and can see his hand reaching back for the next paper.



Dear Senator, I have a question

The halls of the federal government are mysterious. The levers of power. The committee meetings. The fundraising lunches. The ribbon cutting ceremonies. Voting on bills never truly read.  The photo-ops.  More telephone calls. More fundraising. Most of us surely do not know what goes on in the daily life of a United States senator.  Seeing as there are only fifty US senators, actually meeting a senator in person is a rare opportunity. In less populated states your odds may be better.

On a clear day, about ten years ago, while visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico for Thanksgiving, we went to a museum in Santa Fe and outside were two people who appeared to be greeters. They looked like retired people who perhaps volunteered at the museum – maybe people on the museum board of directors. In an attempt to talk to someone besides my in-laws, I went up to the two greeters and shook their hands. To my great surprise, one was the senator from New Mexico, Thomas Stewart Udall. I was a bit taken back about how I was there asking questions of Senator Udall while people just strolled by into the museum… “oh yeah. that guy again?” At the time I did not know of Senator Tom Udall but did remember well his father Stewart Udall and uncle Mo Udall who was years ago a congressman and in 1976 a presidential candidate. I loved the character of Mo Udall. Mo had this this very slow, pedantic delivery,  large furry eyebrows, a glass eye and self-deprecating humor. He was six feet and five inches tall, handsome and looked a bit like Jimmy Stewart.

The Udall family has been in politics for generations. I learned later that in the southwest, and especially in New Mexico, anyone running for office must fight for the state’s many Indian reservations.  This is probably the sole reason that the state votes Democratic. Tom Udall does not have the same gravitas as his uncle Mo but seemed like someone doing the good work. Money for the res. Protecting the deserts and rivers. We chatted a bit, as I attempted to update the Udall family tree in my head. He has since left the senate and is a United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Such are the levers of government.

Years earlier, sometime in about 1977, in Wisconsin, in the main auditorium in Madison West High School, William Proxmire, the Democratic United States Senator spoke to the entire school. This was a big deal and the auditorium, complete with a balcony, was packed. Proxmire was famous for looking for waste in government. His Golden Fleece Award would every month point out waste in government.  He would look under the hood of various government agencies – the Defense Department and the National Science Foundation and question expenditures.  Studies he deemed useless and toilet seats far to fancy. He had good intentions but in the end set the stage a few years later for Ronald Reagan to say “government is the problem.” This  general mood and cynicism about the government is still with us today.

The first Golden Fleece Award was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation, for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love.[4] Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were awarded to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel (“The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy,” reported The New York Times), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.'”[4]– Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Proxmire#Golden_Fleece_Award

Anyway, I was sitting in that auditorium and and there was the usual stench of sweaty pubescent body odor. Probably a lot of striped polos shirts, mullet haircuts, and girls with curled hair attempting to look like Farah Fawcett.  I do not remember much of what Proxmire said at the beginning as I was surely distracted by the spectacle. Near the end the senator fielded questions from the audience. I rose my hand thinking I would never be called but he pointed right at me. “Dear Senator.” I said, “What do you think about the current situation in Iran?” He looked a bit confused. The person next to him whispered into his ear as he seemed to not understand the question. “Iran,” I said. “Like, the country in the Middle East.”  It was 1977. People still said “I-ran” for the country Iran. My family had lived in Tehran in 1970 and 71 and I had been keeping tabs on the situation probably through the newspapers and maybe even the television news. I had always wondered how it was possible for the two disparate worlds to get along and how the meeting of the West with the Persian world would work out in the end. Stylish woman getting off the plane from shopping sprees in Paris, wearing the latest fashions  in the same streets with Moslem woman in traditional chadors.  How is this possible? The senator was, I think, caught a bit off-guard, and mumbled something and took the next question one of which was about the legalization of marijuana which he ardently opposed. “Why would you want to put that stuff in your perfectly healthy bodies?” he said, with no apparent experience at how it made art class after lunch far more interesting.

By the time I was a senior, 1979, Iran was all over the airways and newspapers. The Iran Hostage Crisis dominated the news and helped forge public opinion that made for the election of Ronald Reagan. Little did most Americans know the history of the region and how Iran, the country was a in many ways the creation of the West and how the Shah was propped up by the US military and military advisers. The Phantom jets provided by the US military would fly over Tehran often, screeching though the sky. After the Iranian revolution those same jets would become useless for lack of spare parts.

William Proxmire would go on to be a senator for many more years. This was a time when it was all about the old boys network, but during a period  when senators actually talked to one another. There is a telling photo on Wikipedia of them sitting arm to arm, Democrats and Republicans talking through something.  A bygone era.

1974, September 5 – East Room – The White House – Washington, DC – Sen. Proxmire; Greenspan, Gerald R. Ford, Reps. Rhodes, Patman – seated at table, listening – Conference on Inflation

In the end, if you have a chance and get to chat with a senator, ask them a few questions and see what they are made of. You may learn a few things. You may even stump them.

Remembering Pat Martino

Pat Martino (Patrick C. Azzara) (1944 – 2021) passed away November 1, 2021. He was an amazing guitarist and had a life story that is interesting on so many levels. The most unusual aspect is that in 1980 after a brain hemorrhage, Pat lost all his memory and had to literally relearn how to play guitar from the very beginning. He then went on to continue his career as a phenomenal jazz guitarist.

Martino had been performing until a hemorrhaged arteriovenous malformation caused a “near-fatal seizure” in 1980.[5] The resulting surgery which removed part of his brain left him with amnesia and no recollection or knowledge of his career or how to play the very instrument that made him successful. Martino says he came out of surgery with complete forgetfulness, learning to focus on the present instead of the past or what may lie ahead. He was forced to learn how to play the guitar from zero. This circumstance is crucial to understand his career and his particular way of thinking. – Wikipedia

Here on Angel Eyes, Pat Martino has the melody and is featured.

There are a few documentaries that follow Pat Martino’s journey. Martino Unstrung is an excellent look into Pat Martino’s musical and medical life and should be fascinating to anyone in the fields of music, psychology, medicine or brain science. I highly recommend this film.

While I have been an avid jazz fan since listening to my dad’s Duke Ellington and Henry Red Allen records in high school, I had not listened to much Pat Martino. I knew his name but did not own any of his music. This is how it worked before the internet.

In 2010, Pat Martino had some gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was playing Kimball’s East. My high school-aged guitar-playing son had just fallen in love with jazz and was a big Pat Martino fan. He had purchased tickets to hear Pat and his friend for some reason could not go. I was invited to go to the concert.  We took the ferry over to Jack London Square and arrived a bit early. Knowing where the back stage entrance was my son seemed determined to shake Pat Martino’s hand. The bouncer at the door called up to see if it was alright if a kid and his dad came up for an autograph. “No problem. Send them up.”

We went to the dressing room and there was Pat and his young piano player hanging out. Pat was eating sushi and what we both remember is that he was drinking a quart carton of whole milk.  Sushi and milk. An odd combination. Pat was gracious and we basically just hung out for about fifteen minutes. He had these very clear alert eyes that often seem to be enlarged because of his thick glasses. He probably signed a CD and then I took this photo.

Pat Martino and Kai Lyons backstage at Kimball's East
Pat Martino and Kai Lyons backstage at Kimball’s East

It is 2021 and people born in the 1940s are starting to pass on a regular basis.  Many of these folks are my heroes. Pat Martino. A beautiful cat. RIP.


If you watch the documentaries about Pat Martino, one of the common themes is how guitarists had a lot of respect and admiration for Pat. There is the story of George Benson. then a young cocky musician, going of to hear Pat Martino for the first time thinking how could this skinny Italian kid from Philly be any good. Needless to say George was blown away and left the show a humbler man. The photo below is of these two amazing musicians and speaks to the diversity in this genre of music the industry calls “jazz.”

George Benson and Pat Martino
George Benson and Pat Martino

For further reading, Pat wrote an autobiography.

Here and Now!: The Autobiography of Pat Martino

This is an excellent book and I highly recommend!





Remembering Robert Altman 1946-2021

Robert Altman, known mostly for his years photographing musicians and counter-culture icons in the late 1960s and early 70s has passed.  He was a staff photographer for Rolling Stone for a bit. I read his obit recently and and was saddened to hear of his passing.

In the late 1990s I took a class that was taught by Robert Altman at San Francisco State College of Extended Learning on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. It was a basic HTML class for this new thing called the World Wide Web and in order to get on board the first thing you had to know was HTML. People made websites mostly one page at a time. Robert Altman was the teacher, and probably the only reason he knew anything about this stuff was that he had built a website to sell prints of his photographs. This was the early days of the internet, when for a brief time the idealism of the 1960s took hold in this new digital era. Perhaps the playing field would level out and artists, writers, photographers and musicians could sell their work directly, cut out the middle-men, control their work and get paid their fair share.

Of course, in many ways this was one big pipe dream as over time the internet became more corporate and the monopolies of our day began to dominate the system, control the politics and narratives and literally write all the rule books. And as Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented about sexism “I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” the same can be said of the stranglehold on smaller players by the big tech monopiles today.

Back when I was taking this HTML class with Robert Altman he was in his mid-fifties and always had his reading glasses at the ready, perched on the top of his head. He was passionate and generous. He dove right into the more advanced aspects of HTML at the time. We started learning tables, rowspans and colspans on day one. This is back in the day when all websites were made with tables and single pixel gifs to lock designs into place. If someone would have spoke of responsive design then you would have gotten a blank stare. People still made phone calls with payphones and your answering machine was perhaps the most important tool for any freelancer. Robert was this middle-age guy – vibrant, fearless, creative and giving. He was like – “look, if I can learn this coding stuff, anyone can do it!” So we all looked on at this new markup language, most everyone there because it was the unavoidable future and eventually it would lead to a decent job and some sort of economic stability.

Now when people are choosing a career in programming, there is this idea that if you do not start young it is not worth the effort. The notion of the child genius creating something miraculous in the digital world is a common theme.  The college dropout who creates an app that disrupts entire industries. If you are in your late twenties, it is too late. However this is silly.

Robert Altman, putting borders on all his tables, creating something beautiful out of nothing is evidence that anything is possible.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle Robert Altman Obituary


Minneapolis to Madison by Bicycle

Remembering Bahia Cabana – 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

In 1992 I played in a band lead by Marcus Lopez called Cubanacan. In this band, on this night,  I was taping the band so as to learn the tunes. The tune is Richard Kermode’s Catalina. and you can hear the solos of Peter Cornell,  Paul Lyons and the late great Richard Kermode –  a great musician with a huge spirit who earlier had worked and recorded with Santana and Janis Joplin. Richard could play a wicked montuno.

Fito Reinoso – Voice
Marcus Lopez – Bass
Louis Romero – Timbales
Geraldo from Cuba – Congas
Richard Kermode – Piano
Peter Cornell – Sax
Paul Lyons – Trombone

Besides unemployment, anxiety and pondering your mortality, the Covid-19 pandemic is a time for cleaning out closets. Going through some old stuff I ran into a postcard from a bygone era. In the 1980’s and 90’s Bahia Cabana in San Francisco was a hopping club on Market Street in San Francisco with a tropical vibe and live music many nights of the week.  The bands were mostly Latin bands playing samba or salsa and it catered to a dance crowd.  The place must have been crazy during San Francisco’s Carnaval.

Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco
Postcard from Bahia Cabana – 1992

Long before the pandemic and before the rise of the internet, there were many clubs and bars like Bahia Cabana employing musicians. It is hard to imagine but in the late 1990’s, five nights a week there were at least five clubs up and down Mission Street that had bands with full horn sections and multiple singers.  Most of these bands were cover bands that played the hits of the day and also the many regional Latin tunes – merengue, rancheras and cumbias. San Francisco is home to a lot of people from Central America where cumbias seem to always be popular.

But that is a bygone era.  For years, live music in clubs has been in decline and Latin clubs are few. When you do hear a live salsa band it was often just a quartet with various people sitting in and the entire band playing for a tip jar.

But back to Bahia Cabana – a place were I could have been electrocuted to death.  Bahia Cabana had this third world vibe down to the electrical system.  I remember playing there in the 1990’s with Julio Bravo and looking at the wiring backstage for the sound system and wondering if everything was legal – wires going every which way like spaghetti. Next thing I know after attempting to plug in an amp, I got an electrical shock unlike anything I have ever received. I stepped back and wondered for a second if I should go to the emergency room only to be reassured by the trumpet player that if may hair was not on fire and there were no visible burns that everything was fine.  It was a strange feeling.

Bahia Cabana –  an electrifying and shockingly happening hot spot long gone.

A few years later Bahia Cabana opened another club in the basement – music by a DJ, lots of flashing lights, drum and bass, loud pounding sounds and surely a smoke machine. I wondered how they got that by the San Francisco fire department and being in the basement was a bit concerned for safety reasons. Sure enough, sometime around 2000 the entire building caught fire and Bahia Cabana closed down for good.  Another victim of using unlicensed, non-union electrical  contractors who do not ground service panels. But Bahia Cabana would have closed soon after with the invasion of the tech industry, increased rents and the changing economics of the San Francisco.

I think I will keep the postcard as a keepsake.

The Virgin Guadalupe and I

The Virgin Guadalupe and I

8/11/2006 9:13:38 AM

It was a rather ordinary August afternoon in San Marcos, Guatemala. The sky was beginning to fill with the usual afternoon clouds that would soon make for scattered showers that are so common this time of year. I  was going about town with Lucia, my seven-year-old daughter, doing some errands – a spool of white thread, socks, stop at the supermarket for the usual. Suddenly I saw her. She saw me. Our eyes met and I knew at that moment I had to have her. Her hands were together as though in prayer, and out from the crowded street, she called my name.

“Pablo, how are you these days? I need to speak with you. The matter is urgent.”

I quickly looked around, wondering whom it was that had spoken, when I suddenly realized it was she – the poster of The Virgin Guadalupe. Among the other tacky posters around, two puppy dogs with some corny slogan in beveled font, Don Johnson next to a Mustang looking so cool, she stood out as something of exquisite beauty and value.

“I am fine Guadalupe. And why do you inquire?”

“In the last five hundred years, after my meeting with Juan, we have built thousands of fine temples, and given peace and joy to the down trodden and suffering.”

“I know, there are many fine churches throughout the land now. They ring their bells early and late. Is this something that you can help me with? It often wakes me early in the morning, especially on the weekends. I believe it is recorded bells too, which I find cheap and disingenuous.”

“I hear you clearly my dear Pablo. I find it strange that the bells never make a mistake as well. If they are recorded, the least they could do is play in tune. I will do what I can.”

“But I am speaking to you now as merely a friend. I need your help. I have listened to the weeping, the sadness, the troubles and miseries of the people of this downtrodden land for five hundred years, and to be perfectly honest, I am a bit tired and depressed. Take me home with you.”

“You seem to be a person of great quality but I have never brought someone of your stature home. I think it would also make my wife a bit uncomfortable… you know another woman in the house and all.”

“My dear friend Pablo, I am a virgin and I intend to stay that way. Your wife should not worry. Besides I promise that I will just blend into the wall as best as I can.”

“But what of that little cherubic kid at your feet? Does he have to come along too?”

“Yes, he is my son. The Son of God. I fear waiting here in the bus station any longer will not be good for his health. You see he is not breathing too well the last few days. The fumes from all the buses are affecting his asthma. To be quite frank, because of all the noise, he has missed his nap all week and has been a real pill. He bugs me constantly for suckers and candy from all the venders who pass by. I do not think I can last much longer. Besides that, this Don Johnson guy next to me is really getting on my nerves. He thinks he’s soooooo cool. What an ego!”

“But I thought you were a virgin? Is your son adopted?”

“No he is not adopted. It is a long story and something that Joe, my former husband and I, have had to try to explain so many times… it is complicated. But do not fear. I am a woman of great quality and believe me, a virgin.”

Lucia and I stood on the narrow sidewalk and were truly captivated by the beauty of Guadalupe. We tried to ignore her pleas and walked away more than once, only to be called back by some sort of magical force. She had cast a spell on us. We had to have her. She seemed to be a work of art, unlike no other, in this culture-starved city.

We asked her master what was her price, thinking that perhaps she was holding our dear Guadalupe hostage, and would suggest an outrageous ransom. “Ten quetzals” she replied. I was astonished. A little over a dollar and I could free my new friend and her child from their misery.

As we walked home with Guadalupe rolled up, she continued to speak to me. “Pablo, thank you so much. I promise to look after you and your family. You know that nasty stomach infection you had. It was the water. Always brush your teeth with the bottled stuff. I promise, it won’t happen again.”

When we got home, we let Guadalupe have some space by herself at the end of the hall. She now looks after us daily. Her little kid who always hangs out at her feet no longer whines and is reading Mark Twain for a change. We all feel the arrangement is just grand.

From The Pelican Café Essays from Guatemala

The Pelican Café Essays
from Guatemala

By Paul Lyons
Available as Paperback for $10.00