‘Creep Down The Alleyway . . .’

November 27th, 2015

The iPod reminded the other evening me of something I’d forgotten.

It chugged along as I did dishes, providing me another random set list of dishwashing music for a Facebook post, and along the way, it stopped on a Simon & Garfunkel tune: “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

As the tale of a young man going on the run unfolded, I was reminded again of my first cassette player, the Panasonic model I bought in the summer of 1969 with the cash I’d earned working at the state trap shoot just outside of St. Cloud. I’ve noted before that the first cassettes I listened to were Blood, Sweat & Tears’ self-titled 1969 release and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.

But I forgot about Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album, Sounds Of Silence.

Unlike the other two album, I never owned the factory cassette, and I didn’t put the LP into my collection for some years. But sometime in the late summer or autumn of 1969, I heard the album across the street at Rick’s and borrowed it to tape it.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my taping system in those days was brutal: I’d place the tape recorder in the middle of the basement rec room floor and play the record on the stereo about six feet away. The resulting recordings, while not great, were at least good enough for casual listening (and to be honest, the small speaker on the Panasonic was probably an audiophile’s nightmare).

I listened to the album a lot during my junior year of high school, 1969-70. I was just beginning to dabble in lyrics, and Simon’s work was among my inspirations: From the enigma of “The Sound Of Silence” through the lovely “Kathy’s Song” and the aforementioned “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” to the stoic “I Am A Rock,” the album’s lyrics made me think, not just about Simon’s evident themes of disaffection and isolation but about how one went about writing a lyric.

Along the way, I carefully copied out the lyrics to “A Most Peculiar Man,” another tale of social isolation:

He was a most peculiar man
That’s what Mrs. Riordon says, and she should know
She lived upstairs from him
She said he was a most peculiar man

He was a most peculiar man
He lived all alone
Within a house, within a room, within himself
A most peculiar man

He had no friends, he seldom spoke
And no one in turn ever spoke to him
’Cause he wasn’t friendly and he didn’t care
And he wasn’t like them
Oh no, he was a most peculiar man

He died last Saturday
He turned on the gas and he went to sleep
With the windows closed so he’d never wake up
To his silent world and his tiny room
And Mrs. Riordan says he has a brother somewhere
Who should be notified soon

And all the people said
“What a shame that he’s dead
But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?”

Admiring the lyric, I showed it to my English teacher, Mr. Dolan, and to my horror, he thought I had written it. I quickly corrected his misapprehension (which, of course, stemmed from my error of not having jotted Simon’s name down as I jotted down the lyrics), and in response, he suggested I try my hand at writing my own lyric. I didn’t tell him I was heading that direction already.

Eventually, the tape of Sounds Of Silence made its way out of my musical rotation. The LP came my way in the autumn of 1974 when Rick cleared his shelves of a number of albums and brought them across the street to me. I probably played it a little then, but it was no longer among my favorites.

So when the iPod offered me “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” the other day, I truly thought about the track and the entire album for the first time in a long while. (I didn’t think about it when I loaded the track onto the iPod? Not really. I was opening folders and clicking titles, and I may have thought, “Boy, I haven’t heard that in a long time,” but thinking that was a long way from actually hearing the track and responding to it.) And having been reminded of the album, I guess I’m going to have to purposefully listen to it from start to finish very soon.

Will I admire it as much as I once did? I don’t know. I might report back.

Here’s “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me.”

‘Underneath This Sky Of Blue . . .’

November 24th, 2015

So as I thought the other day about how the sweet autumn of 1975 ended, I also wondered – as I tend to do – what I was listening to as it did.

Well, it was pretty much the same stuff I was listening to earlier that year, a list we explored in August: A couple of radio stations, the (very good) jukebox in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, and a slowly growing collection of LP’s in the basement rec room at home. How slowly? During the entire year of 1975, I added six albums to the cardboard box where I kept my LPs.

Well, I was a student, and there was very little cash for records. And I had other priorities: My classes and work at the library, my friends at The Table, my new friend Murl, my newly acquired taste for writing, and – beginning in late October – a growing (and marvelously mutual) attraction to the young lady who in a few years would become the Other Half.

There were two new albums in the basement in November of 1975, though. One of them, bought used from a fellow student if I recall things correctly, was getting a little bit of play: Mood Indigo, a two-record collection of Duke Ellington’s greatest work. I bought it mostly because I happened upon it, but I also knew (from reading if not from listening) that Ellington was one of the great musicians in American history, and if I wanted to understand American music (and I was beginning to realize that I wanted to do so), I had to know Duke Ellington.

The other new album was heard more frequently in the rec room: Bob Dylan’s New Morning from 1970. I was already a bit familiar with the album. When I’d been in Denmark two years earlier and living with my Danish family, I’d occasionally checked out cassettes from the public library, and New Morning had been one of them. I was still learning about Dylan’s work at the time – the only album of his I owned was his second greatest hits collection – and as I sorted through the display bins at the Fredericia library, the sepia-toned portrait of Dylan on the album’s cover was familiar compared to the Danish offerings that made up most of the cassettes available.

What I didn’t know, of course, as I listened to New Morning in my room in Fredericia that autumn and as I listened to it again in the basement on Kilian Boulevard two years later, was that New Morning was seen as Dylan’s hurried response to the critical disaster of Self Portrait earlier in 1970. And it was received as a decent if not great album with several very good songs and a few clinkers. (Chief among those last, I would guess, was the spoken word/jazz piece “If Dogs Run Free,” which I’ve always kind of liked.)

Among the better-received tracks, I think, were “If Not For You” (covered later that year by George Harrison on All Things Must Pass), “Day Of The Locusts” (interpreted as Dylan’s reaction to receiving an honorary degree from Princeton University; according to one account I’ve seen, cicadas were buzzing as the ceremony took place), the Elvis Presley tale “Went To See The Gypsy,” and “Sign On The Window” (covered by Melanie a year later on her Good Book album and covered perhaps more memorably in 1979 by Jennifer Warnes on her Shot Through The Heart album).

I liked all of those, and they and the rest of the tracks on the album slowly wove their way into my ears and memory as I entertained friends, read or otherwise whiled away time in the rec room in late 1975. Here’s the title track:

Saturday Single No. 472

November 21st, 2015

It was about this time forty years ago – as November was entering its fourth week – that the brilliant autumn of 1975 shifted into the cold.

I can’t be sure of the date, but I know we went deep into November that year with sunny days and unseasonably warm temperatures being the norm. As is the case for any man who cherishes a time long gone, I will insist for the rest of my life that during the autumn of 1975, the sun shone brighter, the golden leaves stayed on the trees longer, the laughter was louder, the girls were prettier and the music was better.

About that last, there is no question.

The end of 1975 is, as I comb through the archives and reference books, the ending of my musical sweet spot. It’s not that I loved all of the music I heard as I wandered through my youth from the autumn of 1969 to the autumn of 1975. There were great records and there were bad records, just like there were rewarding times and there were difficult times. But the music I heard was the music of my most formative years, and thus it’s in my bones in a way that no other music from any other era can be. And that sweet spot’s last autumn – autumn was my favorite season even then – was one of the best seasons I’ve had in all my years. So even if the music of the autumn of 1975 wasn’t quite as stellar as, say, the music of the autumn of 1970 – and it wasn’t – it was still more than good enough to still matter today.

That brilliant autumn of 1975 came to an abrupt ending sometime during the fourth week of November. One day we were basking on the lawns at St. Cloud State, relishing the treasure of another unseasonably warm day, and the next, we were waking to maybe six inches of snow on the ground with more falling. It was one of the most memorable transitions from season to season of my life, made more memorable because it ended that sweet autumn.

I could offer here many tunes that bring that sweet season back to my heart, but many of them we’ve heard here before. Let’s listen instead – for the first time in eight years in this space – to another record from that season whose title expresses the impossible wish that sometimes rises in me when I think about that lovely autumn of 1975. “Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers is today’s Saturday Single.

What’s Being Watched?

November 20th, 2015

It’s been just more than four and a half years since I started putting my own videos up on YouTube. I started making my own videos because either the tunes I wanted to share here weren’t available at YouTube or because I didn’t care for the visuals that were available. And I decided to keep my stuff simple. As the audio is the point, my visual content is either a record jacket or label or a static visual I’ve created to illustrate the track.

(Most of the videos I make and upload to YouTube are for this blog. Every once in a while, there will be some back-and-forth on Facebook and I’ll make a video to throw into the conversation, but that’s happened maybe ten or fifteen times.)

It’s been interesting over these four-plus years to see which of my 346 videos attract the most interest. By a wide margin, the most-played piece I’ve put up at YouTube is “Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters, which as of this morning has been viewed 544,647 times. A total of 2,403 of those viewers have given the video/track a “thumbs up” and 72 folks have given it a “thumbs down.”

After that, the views drop off considerably, but the numbers are still pretty large. Here are the next ten:

“Love Has No Pride” by Bonnie Raitt, 99,661 views (426 thumbs up and 14 down)
“Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne, 95,321 (282 and 9)
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry, 81,674 (547 and 14)
“Tangerine” by Eliane Elias, 79,843 (335 and 5)
“The Windmills Of Your Mind” by Michel Legrand, 78,556 (218 and 8)
“Misty” by Groove Holmes, 70,808 (181 and 2)
“Anything For Love” by Gordon Lightfoot, 68,557 (262 and 2)
“Ballad Of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn, 65,602 (277 and 3)
“Banana Boat (Day-O)” by Stan Freberg, 63,668 (437 and 2)
“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Michel Legrand, 60,926 (321 and 9)

It’s interesting that two of those top eleven are from Michel Legrand. And the presence of Stan Freberg in the top ten kinda tickles me.

I’ve put up as well a few long-form pieces and full albums. The most popular of those is the live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, which ranks thirteenth overall with 58,180 views (324 and 6) in the year-and-a-half it’s been up.

As in all counting statistics, longevity has its rewards. Most of those videos are from 2011 and 2012. The highest-ranked video from 2013 is Long John Baldry’s classic track (and I find it hard to believe there are fourteen folks who disliked it enough to give it a thumbs down). The highest ranked from 2014 is the Roger McGuinn track. The most-viewed video from this year is Billy Preston’s live version from The Concert For Bangla Desh of “That’s The Way God Planned It,” which ranks 33rd, having garnered 13,561 views (87 and 3) since it went up last March.

And we’ll close this with one of the videos I originally made to share on Facebook: Ray Conniff’s cover of Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” from Conniff’s 1976 album If You Leave Me Now. When I posted it at Facebook last March, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted that the similarities between Conniff’s instrumental track and Boz Scaggs’ original were a little bit disturbing. As of this morning, it’s had 166 views (1 and 0).

Order & Routine

November 18th, 2015

Order and routine are my friends. When they’re not around, I’m at best unsettled. I’ve been known to get flustered and cranky. Very cranky.

Our furnace went bad toward the end of last week. It would turn on and kick out heat, but only to a point. Andy, the furnace guy, stopped by Thursday. He said that we could use the furnace over the weekend if we let it cool significantly after each use. And he said he could put a new one in on Tuesday.

We ran the furnace a little bit on Friday and then once a day on Sunday and Monday. Otherwise, we relied on the space heater, shifting it as needed from the living room to the bathroom to the loft where we sleep. It wasn’t that cold out, pretty much typical November weather: mid-50s during the day, low 40s at night, so things weren’t nearly as chilly as they were last January, when the furnace was out of commission for a couple of days. The temperature in the living room was about 65 degrees during the daytime when we had the space heater on and about 60 degrees when we got up in the morning. We bundled up and coped, but I was unsettled.

Monday is usually my laundry day, but the Texas Gal had a doctor’s appointment Monday morning, so she took the day off, and after her visit with Dr. Julie – routine stuff – we ran some errands. The plan before the furnace went out had been to shift laundry to Tuesday. But Tuesday morning, Andy installed a new furnace right next to the washer and dryer, and fumes from glue and oil – offered by the new furnace during its initial use – lingered in the air that afternoon; they were not something I wanted in my lungs or on my clothing.

So I didn’t get to the laundry until this morning, and my schedule is entirely out of alignment. Add into that the restrictive diet I’ve been on since Monday in preparation for a (fairly routine) medical procedure tomorrow morning, and my friends order and routine are nowhere to be found. I’m not cranky, but I’m not far from it.

The only remedy is time, and by tomorrow afternoon, at worst by Friday morning, things should have returned to something approaching normal around here. I’ll be relieved.

And as long as we’re talking about a remedy, here’s “Remedy” from the album Jericho by the 1990s version of The Band, with Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell joining Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The horn work is by Bobby Strickland and Dave Douglas.

Saturday Single No. 471

November 14th, 2015

As I write, the Texas Gal is in the living room, watching television coverage of yesterday’s carnage in Paris. After I finish here, I will likely read what the Minneapolis Star Tribune brought to my doorstep this morning and later, I will probably read more up-to-date accounts online, maybe at the sites of the New York Times or Washington Post.

It was as I wrote that opening paragraph that I realized what is bothering me this morning. First, of course, is that carnage in Paris, with more than a hundred dead and scores more injured in the service of an ideology I have no chance of understanding. As I said above, when I am done here, I will likely go learn as much as I can about what is actually known about what happened yesterday evening in a city I visited long ago and loved.

But there’s another thing bothering me this morning.

The Texas Gal and I first heard of the attacks in Paris from Scott Pelley on his evening broadcast on CBS. The reporting was sober and the analysis was careful, and the topic took up most of the program’s allotted half-hour. After that, we watched a few things we had recorded, and then I took my leave and watched a football game in my study. The Texas Gal switched to CNN to continue gathering information.

And on my occasional trips through the living room what I heard from CNN sounded shrill and breathless and sensational. I have no doubt that the same would hold true for the coverage of other twenty-four-hour news networks, Fox News and MSNBC. And that annoys and bothers me. After a massive event like yesterday’s, the truth about what actually happened, as well as the truth about who was responsible and why, rises from the chaos in its own time.

Time, however, is the enemy of any television station running live coverage of an event. When the facts available take, oh, fifteen minutes of air time and there are forty-five minutes left in the hour, then “What do we know?” is replaced by “What do we think we know?” Then comes “What do we think might have happened?” The answers to those three questions can easily become woven into a fabric of suppositions, and when that fabric is stretched to cover the time that needs to be filled, then the truth of what actually went down in Paris yesterday might be stretched as well.

There are, I’m certain, no malign conspiracies among those who work at those news networks (well, maybe except for Fox News), but reporting can be a messy and tedious business, and trying to do it live on the air and make it look polished is a risky thing. The result, as I noted above, is coverage that can sound – and does to my ears – breathless, sensational and shrill.

And those are not qualities I want in my news.

Having wandered far afield from what we usually do here on a Saturday morning, I’m in need of a little bit of mellowness. Here’s a suitable track that I heard on the CD player in the car yesterday evening as I waited for the Texas Gal to leave work. It’s Fairport Convention’s cover of “The Ballad Of Easy Rider” with Sandy Denny on lead vocal. It was recorded in October 1968 during the sessions for Fairport’s 1969 album Liege & Lief, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.


November 13th, 2015

It’s Friday the Thirteenth, and the only reasonable thing to do is to look for tracks on the digital shelves with either “thirteen” or “13” in their titles. The take turns out to be slender: four tracks.

We could expand the search into albums. A numeral search would bring us Lee Hazlewood’s 13 from 1972 or Blue Magic’s 13 Blue Magic Lane from 1975, and a word search would call up Laura Nyro’s 1968 album, Eli And The Thirteenth Confession. And if we wanted, we could look into a couple of albums from Thirteen Senses, a current British group whose own website describes its sound as “indie/melodic.”

But we’ll stay with our four titles.

First up, alphabetically, is “Thirteen” by Big Star, the legendary power pop group of the early 1970s fronted by Alex Chilton. The track is from the group’s 1972 debut album, No. 1 Record, and describes the reactions of Chilton and fellow band member Chris Bell to witnessing a performance by the Beatles at the age of thirteen. In its listing of the 500 greatest songs of all time, Rolling Stone ranked “Thirteen” at No. 406. Big Star, like a lot of other groups and performers, is something I missed (both in the 1970s and during the band’s brief reunion in the 1990s). Listening now, I wish I hadn’t. But there was only so much time and money, and at least I got to No. 1 Record and all the rest eventually.

There are three albums on the digital shelves by the British group Charlie – No Second Chance, Lines and Fight Dirty, from 1977, 1978 and 1979 respectively – and none of them really stand out. All three are pleasant, they’re competently played, and they sound as much like Southern California work of the time as anything British (except for the occasional Brit accent or bit of slang). I remember seeing the group’s albums in the store – noted as they were for the pretty young women on their covers – but I was never tempted, and listening occasionally nearly forty years later, I’m not sure I missed much. But “Thirteen” from No Second Chance is melancholy and affecting, the tale of a girl grown up too quickly:

When she fell in love with her first boy, she was only just thirteen
She never had another look, this one could buy her dreams
So she signed away her life at sixteen

When you cue up a J.J. Cale track, you know pretty much what you’re gonna get: A relaxed, shuffling tune with some tasty guitar fills, no matter what he’s singing about. And that holds true for “Thirteen Days” from his 1979 album 5, which turns out to be a salute to life on the road:

Thirteen days on gig down south
We got enough dope to keep us all high
We got two girls dancing to pick up the crowd
Sound man to mix us, make us sound loud

Sometimes we make money
Sometimes we don’t know
Thirteen days with life to go

Having listened several times to Steve Forbert’s “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” while following along with the lyrics, I have no idea what the song is about. He sings:

Hang your hopes on sun but the ships don’t sail
Storm clouds rule everything
Sailors pack both bars and Marlene works hard
More cheap engagement rings

Thirteen blood red rosebuds
Five weird weekend crimes
Sixteen sincere smiles while
Nobody’s lyin’

But that’s okay. It’s Steve Forbert. The track carries echoes of his 1979 hit, “Romeo’s Tune,” which I like a lot. “Thirteen Blood Red Rosebuds” is from his 2010 album, Mission Of The Crossroad Palms.

‘Coffee’s In The Kitchen . . .’

November 11th, 2015

I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday lifting an old copying machine.

About eight weeks ago, the copying machine at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship across town wheezed and died. Long-time members told me that its demise wasn’t a surprise. That’s pretty much what the service tech told me when he and I met at the fellowship a couple days later.

The copier, he said, needed a circuit board that hasn’t been in production for at least five years. “I’ve been telling you folks that the day would come when the machine can’t be saved,” he told me.

Okay, I said, and over the next few weeks, our Communications Committee – I’m the chairman – and our Technology Subcommittee looked at some options and made a recommendation to the Fellowship Board, and we got a new, and much smaller, copier/printer. That left the question of what to do with the old copier, now shoved aside in the office.

Well, I met yesterday morning with a rep from the firm that maintained the old copier. We discussed some business regarding the (now unnecessary) service contract, and he pushed the old dinosaur out of the office and the building and down the sidewalk to his van. There, he stopped, and without much thought, I took hold of the grips on one side of the machine and helped him lift it into the van.

As I did, something gave way in my back about halfway between my left hip and my ribcage. He apologized as I arched my back and winced. I said I was okay, and he took off. I closed up the building and then limped through a few other morning errands and went home and took some aspirin.

By the time the Texas Gal got home about at half past five, I was in pretty sad shape, staying put on the couch as much as possible and lurching unevenly when I had to move. She offered me some stronger medication and encouraged me to call in my regrets for an evening meeting at church. So I stayed on the couch, ate pizza and watched television.

My back is better this morning, but moving too quickly in the wrong direction gives me a twinge, so I’m going to take it easy today and then get through a scheduled task at church this evening.

So it’s a lazy morning. And here’s “Lazy Morning” by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s from his 1972 release, Old Dan’s Records.

Saturday Single No. 470

November 7th, 2015

Autumn chores – as alluded to yesterday, some remain undone in the gardens; others not mentioned remain to be finished elsewhere as well – are on today’s agenda. Once the coffee is ready and we’ve both had breakfast, we’re headed outside.

On top of the agenda is changing the two screens to storms; weather and health have so far conspired to keep us from getting that done. As I may have noted earlier, I could – and have, in the past – done it on my own, but these days, I prefer to have the Texas Gal around if for no other reason than to have someone available to call the ambulance should the ladder and I not get along.

And while we have the ladder out, we’re going to inspect and likely clean the nearby gutter where weeds grew this summer in what must be a nice patch of compost that’s no doubt the result of a couple years of ignored leaf clutter.

So, windows and gutters and a few other less worrisome chores. I was reminded as I cooked dinner this week that it’s past time, given the temperatures outside these days. As I ran the dishwasher and boiled pasta on the stove, the window at the kitchen table – exposed to the outside temperature by its screen – was steamed over completely, making the view of the two cars and the garage look like an Impressionist painting.

Here’s a suitably titled track from Shemekia Copeland, though she has far different reasons for being unable to see through the windows. From her 2000 album Wicked, here’s “Steamy Windows,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Darker Days Are Drawing Near . . .’

November 6th, 2015

In September and October, the moment when daytime ends and dusk begins comes a bit earlier each evening. Day by day, in increments of minutes, it gets darker earlier, a gradual shift that’s part of nature’s eternal ritual. Still, most days in those months this year ended with the sun still shining on the brown, gold, orange and red remnants of summer. It was, in these parts, a beautiful autumn.

And then, as it does every November, the heavy curtain fell.

The ending of October brings the end of Daylight Saving Time, so we set our clocks back, and the dark of, say, seven o’clock in the evening becomes the dark of six instead. The artificial transfer of an hour of daylight to the morning hours doesn’t much matter; sunrise moves from about eight o’clock to seven here in the north, but that hour is occupied by preparations for the day and the additional light goes pretty much unnoticed. Sunrise will continue to be later and later for another seven or so weeks, so very soon, those in the workaday world will be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. For those without windows at work, sunlight will be a rumor.

With the days frequently filled with clouds, and with darkness continuing to squeeze away daylight at each end of the waking day, this time of year can be gloomy. Unlike summer, in the case of the Texas Gal, or early autumn in my own, the last half of autumn is a hard season to embrace.

There are, of course, blessings to find in this time of transition into the chill austerity of winter: Home seems cozier. With most garden tasks completed – some clean-up does remain here in the house of procrastination – there will be more time for reading, for quilting, for experimenting with new recipes. Our fruit cellar’s shelves are filled with pickles and beans and relishes, and our internal scrapbooks are filled with memories of time spent in the sun, much of it with friends; all of that will provide nourishment for the body and the soul as we head into the colder months.

One of the better autumnal records for years has been “Forever Autumn” by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Hayward’s recording of the tune first surfaced, if I have things right, in a 1978 concept album titled Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, a retelling in music and text of H.G. Wells’ tale. But “Forever Autumn” predated that production.

Paul Vigrass and Gary Osborne were a singer/songwriter duo from the United Kingdom, releasing two albums: Queues in 1972 and Steppin’ Out in 1974. “Forever Autumn” was on Queues. Vigrass and Osborne wrote the lyrics while Jeff Wayne, their producer, wrote the music for the piece, which ended up as the B-side to one of the duo’s singles. Their recording of “Forever Autumn” isn’t as melancholy as Hayward’s, but it’s a nice piece: