Fan Club

Boyd talking with an old fan

I’ve noticed how many of the celebrities who appear on television or in the movies seen to have an entourage or posse traveling with them whenever they’re not on the screen. It’s almost like they need an audience following them around to cheer, applaud, and approve their every utterance. I don’t have a posse. Of course I’m not a celebrity either. Although I have worked in television most of my life, I don’t even have a fan club to e-mail me their support with comments like, “Really loved the way you got all those blisters on that trek through the Sahara,” or “Loved seeing those leeches on you when you were following the orangutans.”

No, there’s no support group following me around cheering my daily decisions, just an occasional family member saying, “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do that?” Just once I would like to experience the positive 100% adoration of a sycophantic posse, so I tried to enlist some friends to form a temporary entourage. But I couldn’t convince any of my friends to participate in my fantasy and follow me around for the day saying things like, “Boyd, you the man.” I was forced to settle for starting up a temporary fan club. The group could only get together for one meeting but I was there to thank them in person and let their support wash over me like a refreshing breeze.

American Idol: Searching for A Melody

I’ve got to get a life.  Wait, I have a life, one that includes some amazing adventures but I keep interrupting it to watch “American Idol.”  I realize this is an embarrassing confession for a grown man, especially one my age, but I have an excuse.  As I’ve mentioned before I used to cover the music industry for the Today Show and after years of going to concerts and interviewing performers I am now a self appointed expert in judging musical talent.

Let me state up front, I can’t sing, can’t carry a tune, but I also believe I can recognize when others can’t find the melody, thus making me an official couch potato judge of the talent or alleged talent on American Idol.  Which brings me to this experiment.  I called one of my best friends, a professional musician who has played with many big names and who has produced Grammy winning albums.  I asked him to watch last week’s show and then give me his opinions and I’d see if they matched mine because I’ve been disagreeing with the judges on the show.

OK first off, after thinking the contestants this year were, as a whole, better that in previous seasons they let me down last week turning in what I though were the worst performances from top to bottom.  I immediately had to call my friend and apologize for asking his to sit through that. His thoughts in a moment, but first mine.

Steven Tyler, one of this year’s judges, said after an earlier Naima Adedapo performance that she had a sorcerer’s grasp of melody.  He may have meant that as a compliment but I took it a different way, thinking that for her to find the melody and hold onto it would require a strong sorcerer’s magic or some kind of hocus pocus.   He has not always been so lost from the notes of a song, but last week Paul McDonald was, to borrow a National Geographic analogy, the singing explorer heading out into the unknown searching for the source of the melody.  Several others fell into that category as well, but two of the singers deserve special mention, James Durbin and Jacob Lusk.  These guys have gotten consistently high marks from the judges, but the ability to shatter glass with high pitched screams should not be encouraged.

So what did my musician friend think?  First let me say just because he or I think some of these kids are going off the Melody Ranch or that the ones who do sing on key may be boring doesn’t mean that won’t have music career or even successful ones.  Nobody can predict that these days thanks to pitch corrections technology.  But he agreed with my assessment and said they only three he really liked were Scotty McCreery the country singer, Stefano Langone who did an old Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes tune last week and Casey Abrams the singing bass player who took a big risk with Smells Like Teen Spirit.  My friend, I won’t embarrass him by revealing his name, thought just those three had something he liked.  By the way, this was the only time he has ever seen American Idol.  As for James and Jacob the stratosphere singers my friend not only thought they had trouble with pitch but said Jacob’s singing especially reminded him of a Miles Davis story.  At a recording session a musician was showing off playing all kinds of fast notes and runs when Miles stopped him and said something to the effect of, “Go outside and do all that stuff as hard as you can and get it out of your system. Then come back in here and don’t ever do that again.”  Good advice kids.

By the way the video I’ve posted with this is from a story I did with Loretta Lynn & two of her kids in 1983.  From the time she was a teenager it was clear she was a great singer and songwriter.  Talent shines through early with the great one.  As for her kids, one has it, one not so much.  It’s not hard to tell who falls into which category.

Snake Collectors

Bob Clark is a match maker extraordinaire.  His speciality though is not finding true love for lonely hearts, it’s in getting the right snakes to hookup in order to produce beautiful and exotic offspring.  Clark is responsible for creating most of the unusual varities of pythons and boas that snake collectors desire.   For example, he claims that all the albino burmese and albino reticulated pythons in the United States are descendants of his first breeding pair.  I went by his Oklahoma City snake headquarters to see some of his newest creations and check out some of his bigger snakes.

While in Oklahoma I also dropped in on a few of his customers to try and learn what’s so appealing about these reptiles.  Why is it that since the time of Adam and Eve some folks can’t resist the temptation to touch a snake.  And why do some even consider snakes to be the perfect pet.

Whale of A Good Time

Humpback calf circles at the surface with mom asleep below

Five to seven thousand humpback whales migrate to the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic every year between January and April.  Taylor and I joined them on their Caribbean get away last week.    The baby whales, if you can call a 20 foot creature a baby, are still learning to control their bouyancy and breathing.  They have to surface every 4 to 5 minutes to breathe.  Their mother will surface every 15 to 20 minutes.

calf rises for breath of fresh air while mom sleeps

This is one of the few places in the world where people can get in the water with humpbacks and swim with them.  Swimming with them is a bit of an overstatement, since it’s impossible for humans to swim fast enough to keep pace with a whale.  With just the slightest movement of their tail a humpback will suddenly be a body length away, which is lot since an adult can be 45 feet long.  And with a second second push they’re out of sight.  So what we really do is get in the water and snorkel above the resting whales and wait for them to surface for a closeup view.  And as you can see in this photo of Taylor taking a picture of a calf, it’s really close.

Taylor in green striped wetsuit films humpback calf

It was a great week with lots of encounters.  One mom and calf let us hang around in the water with them for about 3 and 1/2 hours.  The only negative was the water was a bit murky for great pictures but with the whales being so big and so close we had no trouble seeing them.

mom and calf head to the surface together

Ocean View

Taylor and I are in Puerto Plata, Domenican Republic trying to acclimatize to the ocean.  We’ve started slowly just watching it from the beach bar at our hotel.  Tomorrow we begin the real emersion when we head out to the Silver Banks to spend a week following and hopefully swimming with humpback whales.  I was here about 15 years ago with a National Geographic crew but we had a couple problems I would prefer to avoid this time around.  First the underwater housing on our expensive Betacam leaked and flooded the camera.  We had to borrow a home video outfit from a tourist to finish the shoot.  The video was less than stellar.  The second problem occurred when a 40 ton male humpback whale rolled over and approached me in the mating position.  I thought an all black wetsuit was supposed to make you look slimmer.

Pork Chops

This week on my radio show we have chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver taking about seafood and pork chops.  To learn why those are related listen to the show.  Barton also promised us his favorite pork chop recipe so here it is if you’re looking for something special and simple to cook up this weekend.

One of the great curiosities of our modern world is why we feed fish to chicken and pigs. I have never in my life seen a pig go fishing, nor have I even heard of such an account. We take perfectly good fish and grind it up to feed to animals that simply should not be eating them. In the case of Menhaden, a fish that humans do not eat, directly at least, they are a major part of the marine ecosystem and are dinner for countless species, which by natural order do eat fish.

When we take sea life from the ocean, we are taking dinner from something else. All marine creatures have two purposes, eat and be eaten.

This indiscriminate use of ocean life is avoidable. When I cook meat, I always look for product that has been fed a vegetarian diet. I also look for products that are free of anti-biotics and growth hormones, but that is a story for another episode.

Chesapeake Style Pork Cops

The predominant flavor of the Chesapeake region is Old Bay Seasoning. It is a secret blend of herbs and spices that was developed in the 1940′s. Used primarily to season crabs, it has become a flavor that to my mind epitomizes the steamy summers and incredible bounty of the region.  It is equally welcome on fresh sliced summer ripe tomatoes, French fries, and meat as it is on seafood. In this recipe I season pork chops with the spice and slowly grill them to seal in the moisture.  Really it is not any more complicated than that.

Pre-heat a charcoal or gas grill and push all of the coals to one side. Season the pork chops with Old Bay seasoning and allow to sit for at least ten minutes for the flavors to be absorbed.  Place the chops directly over the coals and cook for two minutes. Remove the chops to the coolest part of the grill and cover the grill to capture the heat and slowly roast the meat.  While this is cooking I like to grill up some peaches which are a perfect foil for the chops. Cut a few peaches in half and remove the pit. Brush with oil and place over the coals. Cook for about 10 minutes or until they are deeply caramelized and tender, but not falling apart.  The chops should take about 12 minutes to cook per inch of thickness, depending on the heat of you fire.  Serve with your favorite sides such as cole slaw, potato salad, grilled onions…..whatever you like best.

Chairman of the Board

Gil Grosvenor has been with National Geographic for 56 years following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as first editor of the magazine and then president and chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society.  At the beginning of this year he decided that was long enough and announced his retirement.  Gil has been a first hand witness to so much history at National Geographic that I was sure he had some good stories to tell so I had him come on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend to tell some of those stories.  Here’s that interview in two parts.