Whenever I think of Pennsylvania in the United States, I have an image in my mind of peaceful fields, an Amtrak bullet train rushing by, dairy cows grazing, a languid breeze that caresses the top of the meadow creating gentle, swirling patterns. Sometimes, I think of Amish people, farmers - husbands, wives and children strolling across the fields in their quaint clothing as depicted so beguilingly in one of my most favorite films of all time "Witness". Sometimes, I think of Bill Cosby...but I'm spoiling the mood here.
Somerset County, Pennsylvania is probably typical of this image I have, although I can't be sure because, of course, I've never been there.
In the 2000 census, Somerset County's population was listed as 6,762. One of its claims to fame was that it was the stage for the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 - one of the most contentious historical occurrences in U.S. history though I suspect that it's largely forgotten now. During 9/11, United Airlines Flight 93 - the only plane not to have wrought unspeakable destruction - crashed in Shanksville, near Somerset, killing all 45 persons on board. In 2002 nine coal miners were trapped underground for 3 days at Que creek just outside of Somerset attracting global attention.
Somerset is also the childhood home of Keith...
Who is Keith?
Well, that is a hard question to answer because, again, I have never met him. But I hear him speak pretty much every day so in a sense I feel as though I know him very well.
Keith is a dichotomy. Which, I know is a curious description but Keith is perhaps the most individual person I have ever encountered. I'll explain why in a moment.
Keith grew up in Somerset, the son of god fearing folk who brought him up in the strict Christian tenets of the faith. He railed against it, of course, as most kids did back in the day. For all intents and purposes his early life could have been the John Cougar Mellencamp song "Small Town"...except that Keith got out.
His was a strict upbringing. It was, perhaps, an unforgiving upbringing. But it was an upbringing that gave Keith the tools to embark on his own life's' journey and it gave him a strong foundation upon which to develop his own code - moral and practical. He has freely admitted that he doesn’t consider himself a Christian but this should not exclude him, or anyone for that matter, from being regarded as a good human being. It is an irrelevant proposition.
Keith joined the Army, a source for much pride within his parents. He then left the Army a little while later...which was met with an equal amount of disappointment as their previous pride.
Keith got into some trouble a few years back. Though the crime risked no-one and lives were not endangered, he knew the crime was egregious enough to warrant custodial punishment and so he served time and repaid his debt to society.
Keith went to New York and worked as a waiter - a job that, he has indicated, he was not proud of but it paid the bills. He also worked as a clown doing kids parties - a job far removed from the khaki and mud of the military but one, arguably, no less treacherous than a fire fight in enemy territory.
Keith met Chemda, a vivacious and proud Israeli and a person who - I would argue - ranks among the most beautiful people on the planet. They have been together some seven years and they are very much in love. They live in Queens and do an internet radio show together. They are extremely popular and justifiably so.
Five nights a week, for anywhere up to two and a half hours Keith and Chemda host this show whereby no topic you can conceivably think of remains untouched. From politics to popular culture, to relationships and sex, to friends and family and even justice (Keith's justice!) the minutiae of life is picked apart like bad knitting, examined and then put back together (knit 1, pearl 2, slip a stitch and...). It is then handed to their loyal audience in such a way that if you are not rolling on the floor laughing your arse off then you're not really trying.
There is a collection of regular guests who take turns in contributing to the hilarity, the agony and the ecstasy. There's Brother Love - a million watt personality with a million watt shock of raven black hair who, when he's not singing his lungs out to the most kick-arse soul tunes I've heard in a long time, (http://www.brotherloverocks.com) he's manning the drums for an equally kick arse country rock out-fit called HER & Kings County. Brother Love himself is worth an entire article alone but I'll save that for another time. Suffice to say he is dearly loved by Keith and Chemda.
There's Patrice, the gossip queen who rolls up on Thursdays to give the gang the low down on Britney's latest melt-down, Lindsay's latest hoe-down and Paris' latest go-down. Patrice (http://www.hellandheartaches.com) examines celebrity the way legendary boxing commentator Stu Nahan used to examine a boxing bout. It is witty, it is intelligent, it is acerbic.
There's McNally (http://www.keithcourage.com), Keith's spiritual brother from Canada. McNally's a kind of orator on life whose always entertaining sometimes thought provoking and ever illuminating.
There are others who deserve a mention here but this is about Keith so I will keep it about Keith. The show has a compelling quality about it. They fearlessly discuss their subject matter without compromise even if that subject matter treads into personal territory.
In life, the human beings I admire most are the ones who have run the gamut of life's experience and have enhanced themselves because of it. That is to say, they have experienced resounding success as well as crushing failure. They have made choices that have yielded material and emotional wealth and they have made significant mistakes that have momentarily stopped them short.
But - they learn from these mistakes and have used the experience as a tool for learning, for evolving. And, rather than profit from that experience, individually, they choose to share it, perpetuating the potential for that experience to resonate with
others who might then choose to learn from it themselves.
This is Keith's contribution.
The time in my life where I feel the least sure about myself is the time that I reside in now.
My 20's were a breeze in most respects, homage to the conventional. Get a job, meet a girl and get married, buy a house and settle down. Life was a template based upon the experiences of my predecessors - my family and friends.
But in an effort to live up to the expectations of others I found myself constantly falling short. This resulted in increasing sadness, a loss of identity, a loss of self. Sadness led to frustration and depression. Depression led to the dark places - places where most of us do not wish to go.
In my 30's things kind of fell apart. My marriage ended, I was consumed by depression and, despite receiving support people closest to me, there came a point at which I had gone beyond the life experience of my family. They couldn't help me emotionally anymore. This lead to a kind of turning away from me, of sorts, by some. And there was conflict. Conflict born out of misunderstanding.
The darkness didn’t last forever and coming out of a sort of exile, I met someone new, we fell in love and our child was born.
Though it was a happy time, I was still struggling with defining myself. Now I was to be a father too - a new role to integrate into my evolving life canvas. It was then that I realized that I hadn't fully stepped out of the shadows of my parents. In fact I wasn't
sure that I had ever stepped out at all.
I happened upon Keith, Chemda and their show in late 2005. Initially, I could only wonder about it from afar because, for the longest time, I only had dial-up internet and could never listen to it. I could only visit the website (http://www.keithandthegirl.com). I then got ADSL and things changed.
Of the themes that imbue Keith and Chemda's show with such soul, the recurring conversations about relationships are the ones that provide the most compelling radio I think I have ever heard. Keith's relationship with his father in particular is guaranteed to have me dropping everything in order to devote my full attention to.
Keith's father is some kind of minister, of what religion I am not quite certain. Suffice to say it seems as though it is hard core. As I said before Keith freely admits that he's not 'of the faith'.
And that's okay.
We evolve differently as individuals from that of our predecessors and make our own choices in life that will define us - none of the choices are wrong. But not everyone sees it that way.
Keith has talked extensively about the problems in his relationship with his father as exemplified most recently when Keith's father 'disowned' him because he dared share his communion bread with Chemda during church on a recent family visit to Somerset, Pennsylvania.
That Keith would dare to disrespect such a sacrament of the church was unforgivable in his father's eyes. I think the reaction was a little extreme personally.
I saw it as merely a gesture of love towards Chemda who, being Jewish, had not experienced the communion and was open to the idea of experiencing it as a naturally curious human being. To my mind it is something to be lauded rather than derided. Sadly, such is the exclusivity of many churches, that they are more successful at alienating rather than embracing.
But this issue was only part of the problem. It would seem that Keith's father has a problem with many of Keith's lifestyle choices including his show where many of the frailties of both Keith's and his father's relationship are laid bare to a wide audience.
Where Keith's father might see this as irresponsible and a betrayal of confidence I think he underestimates the power and the import of Keith's notoriety and his message.
I have experienced difficulties in my own relationship with my father and though they fall into a different realm than Keith's experience there are many common themes that I can identify in them. Sometimes those difficulties have been deeply troubling, a cause of much anxiety. Sometimes the difficulties have been so significant that I have not known where to turn, who to talk to. It has been very isolating. At what point in life do we emerge from the bosom of our parents and become own individuals? Do we ever step out? Or do we merely step to the side and continue our journey, not fully independent of them? These are the questions I have wrestled with in the difficulties I have experienced.
American author and mythologist, Joseph Campbell in his most celebrated work "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" posed Seventeen Stages of the Mono-myth (or the Hero's Journey) as a way of summarizing the common themes that can be found in many examples of popular and classic literature.
One of these - atonement with the father - states that the hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure. Campbell also talks about the hero as a teacher - an individual who experiences his journey and who returns to share that experience with others so that they may benefit from his wisdom.
Keith, whether he knows it or not, is a hero to many because of these very maxims.
The discussion of the relationship with his father may well be a way of him seeking to understand his father as well as himself. And in discussing the difficulties he has experienced with his father he endears himself to his audience because they can identify many similar, if not exacting, themes within their own paternal relationships. I have found much comfort and guidance from the discussion of Keith's father. When I have felt that I have had nowhere to turn to, no answers to my questions Keith offers up another conversation of his son/father dynamic and everything feels less worrisome, I feel that everything - somehow - will be alright...or maybe they won't...but I know that I am not alone.
Keith is a person I admire because of the personal story he has shared without fear or favor.
Keith's father, in remaining closed off to the achievements of his son, the success of his show and the success of how Keith reaches people all over the world - and helps them, underestimates the success that Keith has attained through his own journey - a journey that continues.
This is Keith's contribution to the human good...