7 min read


Not my garage but surely my metaphor for "the process". Photo credit: hanoverstorage.ca


  • The Tape
  • Why I Left The Music Business
  • A Twist
  • My Mistake
  • Why?


Oh lookie what I found while cleaning my garage! It was in amongst a hodgepodge of old motivational tapes, Kenny G, Kids’ Songs, etc.

Side B appears to contain some songs of Viet Dzung and me. This would be circa 1980-1982.

Minor problem though!  Gonna have to dust off my old manual tape splicing skills before we can hear what’s on it. I’ve long since jettisoned the little machine I had for this job.  Oh, and I better purchase a decent cassette tape player too.  Oh the details!

Welp more to come on that, hopefully sooner that later. I only have three or four  recordings of Viet Dzung singing in English. So it will be an adventure to hear what's lain here unheard for these many decades!

While I get the tape repaired and purchase something to play it on, I guess I’ll tell you the story about how I came to jump ship from a promising career in music.



I met Viet Dzung, formally Nguyen Ngoc Hung Dung, in 1976 when we were Juniors in high school. Dzung had fled Vietnam with “the boat people” on April 30, 1975 as US forces pulled out and Saigon fell behind them to the North Vietnamese Communist army. By way of refugee camps in the Philippines, then a stay in Missouri, Viet Dzung (we called him ”Young”then — easier for plains-states ‘mer'cans to pronounce) eventually rejoined his family in Wood River, Nebraska.

Don’t recall how we were introduced but it soon became evident that we shared a love for music. In addition, his boisterous joviality and extremely broken, but daily improving English were an excellent compliment to my brooding teenage, quasi-hippy, non-conformist, excentric artist persona. We were instant friends.

I’m told that later as his notoriety in media interviews, he credited me with teaching him English and ”American Country Music”.  I was just a kid from the Plains who’d listened to everything from Willie Nelson (when his hair was still short and he was playing golf) to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to Guantana Merra to the Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and The Eagles…  I  just thought we were having an extremely great time, exploring what I would have called folk-rock music together. I know I sure was!

Young was unable to drive without special equipment and consequently his uncle drove him many places, to jobs, to gigs around the Heartland we were now booking, etc.  This lead to a lifelong friendship between the uncle, Quang and me as well.

The Friend and The Studio

Quang had a friend named Phil who lived in Holdrege, NE. Phil was a music and sound enthusiast and quite interestingly, had a seriously pro studio in his parents’ basement. I mean seriously pro! 8 track, 3/4 inch multitrack tape machines, Sennheiser mic’s,  a freaking Moog synthesizer! I mean I was only reading about this level equipment in the  musicians’ mag’s that I’d occasionally read.

Well, we were introduced to Phil, who promptly said ”let’s go” and first thing you know, we’re in studio cutting some early original songs. We would go hang in the studio, make some music, sleep on the floor, get up and make more music.


During a break, I was at home and started thinking about stuff. Meaningful stuff. “What is your life purpose” level stuff. It came really clear to me that I was not put on this ball of mud to 1. play some music, 2. get some notoriety and 3. spend the rest of my life chasing the next big song. I had a vision of myself with long stringy hair, smoked out, drunk out, maybe drugged out, riding around in the back of a tour bus. You see I not only studied the music itself, I also knew the lifestyle of unsuccessful and successful musicians. And I was about to sign up for that. The decision before me was abundantly clear. It took about 15 seconds to make. This was may be the only decision in my life which I did not question, did not second guess and never had to make a second time. This is all thanks to my privilege of watching the life of a dad who left home at 16, never to look back, scrambling to make a living and grow a business, and a mom who backed his every play. A mom who’s clarity on life, her faith and her prayers for my sister and me are still evident today! Thanks Mom and Dad!

OK, so making the decision for myself is one thing. Telling Young and Quang and Phil is yet something else to brace for. Interestingly Young and Quang understood instantly. I think Quang had his own dreams to chase and frankly Young just knew from the jump that he was in it for the long haul, with or without me. His “in it” turned out to be something quite different than mine. You see he would inexorably move toward the international human rights activist and advocate for displaced peoples that would reach literally millions of ears and hearts. His music, although amazing, was ancillary to his cause, to his life’s work.

Bit of a Shock

When I called Phil, he listened patiently, paused for a bit, then said something like “I respect that. But before you make your decision final, hear me out. I’ve shared your rough studio tracks with a friend at a big record label and they’re “intrigued”. Intrigued as in - we (Phil, Young and Verlen) make your first album and they want to make your second, third and possibly more…”

Well in the ears of a 19 year old kid who’s first love was music, that was something remarkable to hear!

After a few gulps and breaths without air, I croaked something like “ Phil, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. It is what everyone who’s ever aspired to anything in the music world dreams of. But this is a decision of the heart, a decision not lightly made and one that I know impacts the rest of my life. Phil, being a spiritual man himself acquiesced, gave his best wishes and the next time we talked was 40+ years later.


I knew at 19 years old I needed to go cold turkey. Music was a bit like a drug. In the place that I was, I couldn’t risk a relaps by dabbling in it, playing for my own enjoyment, etc.  So I walked away physically, mentally, spiritually.  Coincidentally I kept my guitars (two at the time), perhaps as souvenirs I suppose. Or perhaps part of me hoped I’d get to a place where I could partake recreationally.

I did play them occasionally, often six months or even a year would pass. I'd play a bit, be frustrated with my fumbling and put them back in the case. You see even after the cold turkey shock tremors I was stuck in this place without definition.  Kind of a "can't go back, no idea what forward is" kind of place.


The mistake I made (hindsight is always 20/20) was that what I was saying no to was not music, not my first real love, but rather the music business.  I suppose the breakup was hard enough that I put it in a box, stuck in time.  It wasn’t until I lay on the grass, among the flowers,  beside the grave of my friend on a beautiful Southern California day in 2016 that I begin to open the box. I said to my friend, "I will write some new music and pay my own small tribute to you and your life’s work." It’s been seven years (interesting number). I’ve written  seven songs.

During these seven years I have taken an unhurried (my inner voice might say “lazy”) approach to unpacking this stuff. I continue to learn things that I didn’t know. About me, about my spiritual journey, my relationship with God, with others and my self. Part of me weeps for lost time, but my heart also leaps now at the freedom outside the box.

Socrates said: ”The unexamined life is not worth living.” This has had a progressively rich meaning to me during this time!

Photo credit: SermonQuotes.com


In part, telling you gets it out of my head and out where I can more examine and articulate it.  The scary thing is - I haven’t even really looked at it myself yet and showing you is way more transparent than I’m comfortable with. But an under-current of my motivation is to encourage you to embrace your own “remains of the day” exercises and the beauty, peace and fresh air they can bring. Also discomfort is kind of just fear. And fear is evil! I am (albeit slowly) learning to battle fear with love, which is the opposite of evil!

Y’all I’m pretty much out of gas on this for the moment. If you are still reading, I pray that my meanderings provide insights for your own exploration, courage to go explore, and encouragement to rest when you feel the need. If any of this resonates for you, feel free to comment here or message me privately. I’m on Facebook, Insta, LinkedIn email and I’ve recently discovered that the small pane of glass in my hand can also be used to actually talk, sing, cry and laugh, in real time, with other humans! Mind blown!

Be good to your self and each other. Love y’all.