|December, 2007 - Lots of good memories, but the weird one that comes to mind is when I
went to Google and entered "Les Mills + Denton, TX". The first (and only really relevant)
article that pops up is a page from the November, 2007, Machine's Pump by Carl Finch. If
you haven't read it, go there ASAP by clicking here: Carl Finch on Les Mills . He describes the
man, the studio, and the music with such accuracy and so much humor that you will almost
feel that you have been there and done that.
I worked for Les Mills in the seventies, probably not too long after the "4:00 pm organ
concerts" had become history. He was a self-made man who had come to Denton after high
school with only the shirt on his back. He earned a degree in music from what was then North
Texas State Teachers College by working for local funeral homes, who also provided him
housing (on site). I find it not unusual that, when he was one day able to design and build his
own place, it became very much like a funeral home.
Les established himself as a good business man by organizing a studio of local piano and
organ teachers. For several years they were at the forefront of private music instruction in
Denton. Their students included children of many local professors and Denton's two Miss
America's. He established himself as a salesman by outfitting both universities with Baldwin
pianos - in the days when the Baldwin name was still well-respected in musical circles. He
purchased the fine old home at the southwest corner of College and North Locust, and his
studios were located there and in a home just to the west.
In the seventies he had two homes, cash in the bank, and inherited property in Mesquite that
was estimated to be worth two million dollars. On the basis of this success local banks had no
problem loaning him money to build his dream studio on the site of the second home. Les
had developed a taste for nice things, so he hired the best architect to oversee the new
project. He dreamed of owning a facility that would bring big city elegance to Denton - a place
where the rich and famous would have weddings, receptions, and even organ concerts. The
budget for decorating was unlimited, the old home south of his was torn down to create a
parking lot, and when it was all done, the banks had loaned him much more than he was
At first this new venture met with some limited success. While I was there the facility hosted a
wedding reception for Doc Severinsen's daughter and another reception for Bob Hope when
he performed in Denton. In the meantime Les had given up his teaching studio, and Baldwin
sales plummeted when the company changed hands and quality became an afterthought. He
was faced with overwhelming debt and limited cash flow. Too proud to declare bankruptcy, he
was eventually forced to leave his properties when the banks and creditors foreclosed. He
sold organs and pianos in Ft. Worth for awhile and then moved to California. And now you
know - the rest of the story.
|December, 1979 - About this time some famous person made the headlines after paying
thirty-five thousand dollars for a new bed. It was not Les Mills (although it could have been),
but this act of monumental stupidity and greed prompted the lines below:
RHYME FOR OUR TIME
If I were just a farmer workin' in the soil,
I'd want a truck and tractor and lots of gas and oil.
I'd want a sturdy house and barn and a place to lay my head,
but one thing I'd have no use for - is a thirty-five thousand dollar bed.
If I were a famous movie star livin' off my looks,
I'd rather have some fancy clothes than shelves and shelves of books.
I'd want a boat and limousine, but you wouldn't catch me dead
in a thing as gross and TACKY as a thirty-five thousand dollar bed.
If I were poor and struggling, hopin' for a break,
I'd want my kids to have new shoes before I thought of steak.
I'd hope that somehow I could keep the roof above my head,
and scratch my brow in disbelief at a thirty-five thousand dollar bed.
If I were God Almighty lookin' down at earth,
I'd see that love for fellow man is what gives life its worth.
How could someone ignore the cries of need, and then, instead,
try to get a good night's sleep on a thirty-five thousand dollar bed.