BENICIA >> It has been 20 years since Peter Bray left the corporate world with a song in his heart. It earned him a brush of fame.
Yes, longtime Benizier wrote and recorded a song after being fired from Bechtel. It was titled “Laid Off American Man”. He sent a tape copy to the San Francisco Chronicle’s legendary gossip columnist Herb Caen, who reprinted the texts and called Bray “my hero today.”
“He gave me the top six inches of it,” said Bray, a cheerful craftsman and regular with the Benicia poetry group.
There is more. Within a week, Bray said he had received a postcard from popular New York state folk singer Pete Seeger and said, “I was just reading Herb Caen. How do I get a copy of your song? “I thought,” How cool! “
Two weeks later, Bray received another message in the mail from Seeger asking for a second copy.
“I thought,” OK, he liked it, he’ll send it to Arlo Guthrie, Arlo will record it, and I’m home free! I am rich and fat and famous! “”
Unfortunately, “It didn’t happen,” chuckled Bray. “It’s great fun, but I fix toilets.”
71-year-old Bray still enjoys poetry and songwriting. He’s been around for more than 40 years, filling scraps of paper – and later notebooks – with rhymes about his children and other things that caught his interest. He still performs with open microphones, where he interacts with the audience with humor.
“If you can silence the whole room and get quiet by speaking really softly and bringing it up, you can get the whole collection of 30 people to move with you,” said Bray. Who has published three volumes of poetry since 1972? “And if you slide something funny into it and make the same 30 people laugh, it’s just a kick in the butt!”
Originally from Walnut Creek, Bray earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1966. He worked in the defense industry for several years, designing missiles, before becoming a freelance designer and graphic illustrator. He eventually got a job at Bechtel in San Francisco, where he was a graphics manager. After 10 years he was fired during a major downscaling.
“So I wrote Laid Off American Man,” said Bray, who has been into poetry since the early 1970s. The song starts like this: “I make windows, I make floors, I make hallways, I make doors, I do everything I can, I” Ma Laid Off American Man! ”
“I had a tape, I had a cover, and I sent it to Herb Caen,” said Bray. “And about a week later I called one of my designers (at Bechtel) after I left and said,” Hey, how are you? “He said, ‘PR is on the alert.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You didn’t see Herb Caen this morning? You’d better. “So I went to Raley and got the chronicle, opened it and he put all of my lyrics in.”
The final verses read, “I was vice president for BD, with a mission statement and a cell phone, a company watch, and a company loan. I was vice president for BD. Now I’m a gardener in the promised land, all of my tools are in a one man van, now I make windows, I make floors, I make hallways, I make doors, do everything I can, I’m Laid Off American Man! ”
Not everything Bray writes or performs is funny. “Crying at Starbucks” conveys his pain in the hours following his daughter’s death from Crohn’s disease in February 2012. It begins: “After selling coffee and apples in the house and ten thousand condolences via email, cell phone, cards and letters, it It all comes down to crying over Starbucks while the quiet chatter and the overheard music compete with each other. “
What drives his creativity? “It’s therapeutic to me and it’s entertaining itself,” said Bray. “And maybe … it’s helpful to someone else.”
Contact Tony Burchyns at 707-553-6831.