Saturday Single No. 519

December 3rd, 2016

I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.

That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.

It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.

To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.

Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.

So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.

That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.

So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

First Days On The Job

November 30th, 2016

Even after more than forty years pondering memory and time as an adult and almost ten years writing here about the two (along with music), sometimes the blurring and blending of my days, months and years holds me still for a moment or two. This week, it was this photo.

edit-for-echoes

That, of course, is me, in a photo taken thirty-nine years ago this week during my first day of work at the Monticello Times. I started there on Monday, November 28, 1977, and the first edition with my byline in it was dated Thursday, December 1. And I remember a few things about that first day:

I rode with our photographer, a fellow named Bruce, to the crossroads hamlet of Hasty – about nine miles up Interstate 94 from Monti – to interview the owners of a newly opened cheese shop based in an old creamery. The Milky Whey, as they called it, was in a decent location on a county road that intersected the freeway, not far from from the exit. I’m not sure when the shop closed, but by the time I left Monticello for grad school not quite six years later, the creamery was once again boarded and shuttered.

My boss, DQ, took me over to the high school, where a lot of my newsgathering would take place over those nearly six years. He introduced me to some of the administration and then we ate lunch in the faculty lounge, which had long been his habit on Mondays. I did the same for several of the following Mondays, but I felt like an interloper. Those folks didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them (although I would get to know some of them well as the years went by). So by February of 1978 or so, I had developed my own schedule for getting news at the high school on Mondays, and my lunch hour found me in another place.

That afternoon, Bruce took the photo above and another one, more of a portrait shot, for use in that week’s paper. It was the portrait that ran, along with a brief bit of copy I wrote, introducing our readers to the new guy at the paper.

And that evening, I think I covered a girls basketball game at Monticello; if I did, it was the first time I’d covered girls athletics. This was only a few years after girls began to play interscholastic sports, and the game was a bit ragged, not the fluid, well-played game that one saw on occasion then and sees these days from high school on up.

And after that day – a long one that was capped, no doubt, with some television and a frozen dinner – the rest of the first publication week moved rapidly. Tuesday, I wrote most of the day, learning more and more about my slate of responsibilities, and that evening, I covered a wrestling match, writing the story early on Wednesday, just hours before the paper went to press.

That evening, I looked at the paper’s front page and my first professional byline. I remember staring at it, wondering if I would be able to stick, to do the job well enough. And, with a few missteps here and there, I did stick, and that byline – one I can still see in my head – turned out to be the first of probably a few thousand over the years.

So, is there any music attached to those first few days? Not really. I can’t think of anything that I heard either driving from place to place or at home in the evenings. But on Thursday that week – technically our publication day, but a light day at the office – I drove the thirty miles to St. Cloud and had dinner with my girlfriend and my parents (it was Mom’s birthday) and took time out to do some record shopping downtown, buying one album, Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus.

After dinner, I headed back to Monti, and before driving to the mobile home park just south of town, I stopped at one of the few places in that small town that sold LPs and bought two more records, Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.

I remember playing the Moody Blues’ 1972 album that evening in my half of a mobile home duplex. I’d had a busy few days: the rush of moving during the weekend before, my first days at the paper, my first byline, my excursion to St. Cloud. I recall sitting there as the music played, thinking that my job was in Monticello, but my girlfriend and my family and all the rest of my life, all of that was still in St. Cloud.

And I don’t know if I felt as melancholy as the album’s last track sounds (even though the song proclaims love, it always has and always will sound more like a plaint to me), but looking back at those combined feelings of accomplishment and dislocation, it seems somehow appropriate that the last music I likely heard on that first publication day was the Moodys’ “Nights In White Satin” and the album’s closing bit of verse.

‘Thumb’

November 25th, 2016

We keep too much food in our freezer in the basement, and it’s not well organized. When we pull out, say, a bag of frozen corn, we have to be careful that we don’t have a bratwurst or a chicken breast avalanche. So Wednesday evening, when I had to dig into the back recesses of the freezer for a large tub of turkey stock, it became an adventure.

I found the turkey stock without moving too many things around. But because of their size and shape, two items were hard to replace in the freezer: a rack of pork ribs and a frozen pizza. As tried to find a place for the ribs, something else came sliding along the shelf toward me, and I thrust my left hand forward to stop it.

And I caught my thumbnail on something, either the edge of a hard frozen box or the end of the one of the metal rods that make up the shelf. The thumbnail cracked at the top of its arc and the right-hand portion of the nail bent backwards, tearing off of the quick for maybe a quarter of an inch. As cold as my thumb was at the moment, it didn’t hurt much and it didn’t bleed much, so I finished reorganizing the freezer and headed upstairs, where I expected the warmth to bring blood and pain.

And that was the case. Eventually, I got a Band-Aid over the thumb, and also eventually, the bleeding and most of the pain stopped. I kept the bandage on overnight and then went through the day yesterday without a bandage on it, as I will do today. But the thumb isn’t of much use right now, and when I forget and try to do something simple that requires pressure from that thumb, well, I change plans pretty quickly.

Even typing seems to go slowly. Even though my left thumb does no work at the keyboard, I have to be careful not to bump it, and that makes the work more halting than normal. (My typing style is idiosyncratic. Letter keys are the province of the forefingers and middle fingers alone. I shift only with my left pinky and space only with my right thumb; the ring fingers and the right pinky – like the left thumb – are just along for the ride.) So we won’t spend a lot of time here right now, and we’ll be skipping tomorrow’s Saturday Single, too. (I’d planned to get up early and get something done before we head out to our delayed celebration, but that’s not going to happen now.)

So we’re going to look for thumb music this morning. A search for the word in the RealPlayer brings us forty-five tracks. Some of them get dismissed early, like a 1976 album by Michael Dinner titled Tom Thumb the Dreamer. It’s a singer-songwriter thing, and seems to be a decent piece, based on a quick listen to a few tracks this morning. I have no idea how it came to be in the files.

We’ll also dismiss anything on the Blue Thumb label, which takes care of one Ike & Tina Turner single, two Pointer Sisters singles, and the Pointers’ 1975 album, Steppin’. And we also drop a version of “Witchi Tai To” by a performer using the name of Tom Thumb.

That leaves twenty-seven tracks, with that total made up almost entirely of versions of three tunes: Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” and “Ridin’ Thumb,” a tune originally recorded by Seals & Crofts. The one outlier is a Jackie Lomax track, “Thumbin’ A Ride.”

The original version of “Ridin’ Thumb” isn’t in the stacks, but we have versions from King Curtis (1971), Three Dog Night (1973) and It’s A Beautiful Day (also 1973). King Curtis also supplies us with a track called “Ridin’ Thumb Jam” (also 1971).

Intrigued by those tracks, I decided to go find the original version by Seals & Crofts. It was on the duo’s second album, Down Home, released in 1970 on the T-A label. There was also a single release, but it didn’t make the charts. And we’ll see you next week.

‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ . . .’

November 23rd, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving week, and although we’re not celebrating the holiday until Saturday at my sister’s place, it’s still busy around here, and my time is not entirely my own. (The holiday delay arose because my Chicago-based niece and her family won’t arrive in Minnesota until Thursday morning, and no one saw the need to squeeze their arrival and a big family dinner into one day, so we went with Saturday.)

With time at a premium, I did a little digging in the digital files this morning, looking for something that fit today at least a little bit, and I found myself in San Antonio eighty years ago today. That was when – in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel* – Robert Johnson laid down two versions each of eight songs. Seven of those tracks would be released on Vocalion and alternate versions of six of those tracks were included in the 1990 box set The Complete Recordings.

(The alternate takes of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues” have never been found, according to everything I’ve seen.)

That was Johnson’s first session; he would record for two more days in San Antonio and then spend two days recording in Dallas the next June. So, to mark the eighty-year anniversary of that first day of recording in San Antonio, here’s the alternate version of “Come On In My Kitchen.”

(Counting the two versions Johnson recorded in San Antonio, I have twenty-seven versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” It’s been a few years since I dug into covers of the tune, and I imagine I’ve added a few since then, so I may look again in the next few weeks at all the ways one can be invited into the kitchen.)

*When I was in San Antonio nine years ago, the clerk at the desk in the Gunter Hotel said with an air of resignation that the number of the room in which Johnson recorded was lost to history. This morning, I saw that Wikipedia lists Room 414 as the location for the recordings. I don’t know if that’s something that’s been unearthed in the last nine years, or if it was known earlier but the clerk was unaware of it, or if the clerk knew but the hotel simply doesn’t want blues and history buffs wandering around the fourth floor taking photographs and perhaps other things as well. If I had to choose, I’d opt for the latter.

Saturday Single No. 518

November 19th, 2016

Damn, but 2016 is getting to be greedy. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, and then yesterday, Sharon Jones.

Now, none of that – and this holds true for many of the deaths of prominent musicians this year – was a surprise. Cohen and Russell were known to be in ill health and were getting up there in years, and Jones’ travails with pancreatic cancer were well known. (As most likely know, that’s a particularly nasty cancer, hard to diagnose and to counter; it took the Texas Gal’s father about a dozen years ago.)

But still, as the musicians of one’s life regularly exit stage sinister, one pauses. As I wrote last January, when David Bowie died:

[W]hen the folks who provided the music of our formative years leave us, part of the background of our lives is taken away, too. And we begin to feel like an actor on a stage would likely feel if the scenery, the props and the furniture began to disappear one item at a time: confused, unmoored and maybe a little bit alone.

The “formative years” part doesn’t truly fit for Sharon Jones, of course, as her recordings all were released this century, but it feels as if it does, and I think that’s because the music that she and the Dap-Kings laid down sounded and – more importantly – felt like the soul and R&B music that I heard from the radios of my youth. As to Cohen, many of his songs, if not his own performances, came out of nearby speakers during my high school and college days, offered by voices as disparate as those of Joe Cocker and Judy Collins.

Then there was Leon Russell: His joyous barroom piano stylings, his idiosyncratic voice and delivery, his shepherding of the Tulsa Sound, and his sardonic persona all made him one of my favorites during my college days. That favorites room was a crowded place even then, but after hearing his work with Joe Cocker, with Bob Dylan and especially with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh, I wedged him in.

My regard for the three is evident on the shelves, both physical and digital: I have, I think, all of Sharon Jones’ CDs; all of my Leon Russell LPs will survive the ongoing winnowing, and I have much more of his music in mp3 form; there’s less of Leonard Cohen’s music here – a few albums in digital form, one CD and one LP – but most of the time, I’d rather hear other folks doing his songs, and there are a lot of Cohen covers available here.

Of the three deaths, I guess Russell’s hits me hardest, but given the seemingly continuous series of blows this year, every one of them hurts. And the metaphoric stage setting I mentioned above just got a little more spare this week, as it has on a seemingly regular basis all year long.

I managed to throw a brief tribute to Russell into Cabaret De Lune last Sunday: During an interlude that called for about forty seconds of piano, I tossed in about twelve bars of “Superstar,” the tune Russell co-wrote with Bonnie Bramlett. And tomorrow, at our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, we musicians will be performing Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (and leading the congregation in the chorus). I’ll be adding harmonica to the mix.

As for Sharon Jones, all I can do is salute her in this inadequate space. Here’s the aptly titled “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” It’s from Jones and the Dap-Kings’ 2014 album Give The People What They Want, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Another Shipment’

November 18th, 2016

One of the things I didn’t mention earlier this week about last weekend’s cabaret performances was my voice: As Friday and early Saturday passed, I had a persistent frog in my throat. The only thing that seemed to keep it at bay was a decongestant, and even then, my voice felt rough.

As showtime approached Saturday, my voice was raspy, and a new package of decongestant – a different brand than my usual – wasn’t working well. So on my way to StudioJeff, I stopped at the nearby grocery store and wandered over to the cough drops. I was looking for the store brand to save a few dimes, but every package of the store brand contained menthol, which I dislike at least a little.

So I went to the brand names, and there were the Luden’s wild cherry flavored drops. I bought a bag, and in the car, I popped one of the drops in my mouth. And the flavor took me back more than fifty years.

At Lincoln Elementary School in the mid-1960s, neither chewing gum nor candy was allowed in class. (The same would hold true when we headed off to South Junior High, although at St. Cloud Tech High School, students could chew gum. I have no idea what’s restricted or allowed these days.) There were, however, what one could call medical exceptions. A student with a sore throat was allowed to chew Aspergum, an orange-flavored gum that contained aspirin and actually did soothe the soreness. It wasn’t much of a treat, however, as the orange flavor did not last long, and the gum quickly became a grainy glob in one’s mouth. Another exception was cough drops; whether cough drops had any medicinal value, I don’t know, but they did tend to soothe raspy throats.

And some of them tasted pretty good. Cherry was the preferred flavor among the twenty or so students in my sixth grade class during the 1964-65 school year, but there was some dispute about brand preference: Some of the kids preferred the Smith Brothers brand, while others held to Luden’s. One of the Luden’s fans in my class was a kid named Mike.

And one morning when he had a nagging cough from a cold, Mike ran out of cough drops. Knowing that I walked home for lunch each day and knowing as well that my five-block route took me right past the little grocery store on Fifth Avenue Southeast, Mike asked if I could pick up a box of cough drops for him on the way. The drops cost fifteen cents, or about a penny each, if I recall correctly (as opposed to the $2.50 or so I paid for a bag of thirty last weekend), and Mike gave me a quarter. He said I could keep the dime.

And from then on for about a month, I was Mike’s cough drop runner. Two or three times a week, he’d hand me a quarter during morning recess and say, “I need another shipment,” and shortly before one o’clock that afternoon, I’d hand him a box of Luden’s cherry cough drops. It didn’t take long before Miss Hulteen – our sixth grade teacher and the principal of Lincoln Elementary – figured out that Mike’s cold and resulting cough had gone away and he no longer needed his cough drops. And after a little further observation on her part, we were busted.

I don’t think the disciplinary outcomes were too severe. I imagine our parents were called, but I truly don’t remember, which tells me that there were no major penalties. I just stopped buying cough drops for Mike. And I had to quit buying whatever it was that I bought with the ten cents I’d netted from each shipment (most likely Sour Grapes bubble gum, one of my favorites of the time).

And just to throw some music out there that has a temporal (and flavorful) connection to my tale, here’s “Up Cherry Street” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It’s from the 1964 album South of the Border, and it wound up as the B-side of the “South of the Border” single in 1965. The single didn’t hit the Billboard charts, but the album went to No. 6.

On Stage

November 16th, 2016

Well, I was correct last week when I guessed that the butterflies in my stomach would settle down Saturday evening as soon as my friends Lucille and Heather and I began our show Cabaret De Lune. As soon as I walked up the aisle toward the piano for the first of our three performances, I was no longer nervous; I was, however, energized in a way that I haven’t been for years, since I left Jake’s band about fifteen years ago.

But the weekend’s feeling – we did two shows Saturday evening and one Sunday afternoon – was even more potent than I remembered the band’s house parties to be. While many folks paid close attention to our music at those parties, a lot of other people didn’t. This past weekend, though, the audiences’ attention was on the three of us alone. It’s heady stuff.

StudioJeff (located above a bagel shop downtown) has room for about forty spectators, and that space was filled for two of the three performances. And when I spoke, read and sang, the sight and the sense of audience members reacting to (and, as it turned out, generally approving of) words and music I’d crafted thrilled me and amped me up a fair amount. I had a hard time unwinding both days, and Saturday evening I had a hard time getting to sleep.

A few posts back, I hinted vaguely that I’d be talking during our show about the contrast between the autumns of 1971 and 1972. That contrast provided me a focal point for my opening monologue, during which I outlined the main themes of the show: how do we find our identity and our place and how do we sometimes lose our ways?

We’d played some music as the as the audience settled in, and one of the tracks we played and then included in an edited montage as the show began was “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina. It followed excerpts from tunes like Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” Frank Sinatra’s “None But The Lonely Heart,” Graham Nash’s “Be Yourself,” and Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.”

And the audiences nodded in agreement when I noted that the Loggins & Messina tune was out of place in a mix of tracks focused on self-doubt and self-realization. And then I explained why it belonged:

As freshman year began at St. Cloud State in September of 1971, I began hanging out with a bunch of guys I’d met during an overnight orientation. I’ve detailed some of our adventures here over the years; they were familiar ones that included football and basketball games, keggers, and long bull sessions in dorm rooms that covered topics including music, girls and Vietnam. And when the spring of 1972 arrived and my buddies dispersed to their home towns for the summer, I figured that when September rolled around, we’d all get together again and have more great times.

But when the fall quarter of 1972 began, things were different. I didn’t feel as tight with the guys as I had the previous year, and the cast of guys was slightly different. I still spent time with the group on occasion, but I was more and more puzzled as to why it didn’t quite seem right. And then, one Friday evening toward the end of the quarter – mid- to late November, if I recall correctly – I went over to one of the dorms to hang around with a couple of guys named Dave.

The Daves were just hanging around with no specific intent, and the radio was playing Top 40. I sat down and we talked for a while, and after maybe twenty minutes, I suddenly realized I didn’t belong there. So I said my goodbyes and as I left the room and headed down the corridor, the radio was playing “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” And, as I told our audiences over the weekend, for more than forty years that record has reminded me of the moment when I knew I no longer fit in and when I knew as well that I had no idea where I belonged.

And last weekend we took off from there and explored our theme in song, in words, and in dance (because, as I told the audience at the end of my monologue, sometimes your mama does dance). One of the songs that Heather sang (with me on the piano) wasn’t exactly new to me, but I doubt that I’d really listened to it before, and I’m going to go ahead and drop it here (because it would be too easy to share the Loggins & Messina tune). It’s “Sad Old Red” by Simply Red, from the group’s 1985 album Picture Book.

Saturday Single No. 517

November 12th, 2016

Well, today is opening day for Cabaret De Lune, the three-person show that my friends Lucille and Heather and I have been putting together since mid-summer. It’s just after 8 a.m., almost nine hours until we begin the first of our two shows today, and the butterflies are already busy in my gut.

If my performing past is any guide, they’ll stay that way until right about 5 p.m., when a little bit of recorded music stops and I noodle a few notes at the piano and then get up and begin the opening monologue. Once the show gets underway, I should be fine, finding the groove and just doing smoothly and naturally what the three of us have been doing every Saturday for the past couple of months.

There are really only two portions of the show that worry me. The first is a very brief selection of classical music that’s been added in the past week. How brief? Six to eight bars, and it’s a piece I’ve heard thousands of times. And it’s not all that difficult, but it is new, and it requires the precision of a classical pianist, which I am not.

(I took piano lessons for six years when I was in elementary school, then quit playing for four years to concentrate on horn and – for two of those school years – go out for wrestling. When I was a junior in high school, I heard “Let It Be” and decided to resume playing. In college as I’ve noted in another post here, I took five quarters of theory and began to focus my playing on chord charts instead of actually reading the notation. I acknowledged to my sister over lunch the other day that I am far from comfortable sight-reading musical notation, something she does very well, having taken piano lessons from the time she was seven or eight well into college. “Isn’t it interesting that we came up with such different skill sets,” she said. It is, I said, adding, “Just tell me ‘Blues in G,’ and I’m home free.” She shook her head. “No,” she said.)

The other portion of the show that worries me a little is a sixteen-bar section of our closer, a well-known tune that in its middle modulates from A minor, which no flats or sharps, to B-flat minor, which has five flats. That’s a lot of black keys to keep track of. Thankfully, after those sixteen bars, the tune modulates up another half-step to B minor, where I am much more at home.

Beyond those two spots, I’m feeling pretty good about the show, but then . . .

“How are you feeling about this?” Heather asked me one afternoon in late summer when the show was coming together in bits and pieces.

“Oh, boy,” I said. “I’m enjoying putting the bits together and then stitching them into a show, but the thought of actually performing is real scary. I just want to sit in a corner.”

“That’s the Virgo in you,” she said.

“I know,” I said, having done a little digging into my horoscope a few years ago (and finding that a lot of it fits whether I believe in it or not). “And I have the moon and about three or four other things in Leo.” Leos love being the center of attention as much as Virgos avoid it.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, my god,” she said. “You love performing. I can tell. But I bet it’s terrifying.”

I nodded. And she added, “But I also bet that once we get going, you’ll be fine.”

I think that’s true, and we’ll find out later this afternoon.

Given all that, only one song fits in this space today. Here’s “Stage Fright,” the title track to The Band’s 1970 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Eyes On The Prize’

November 10th, 2016

All day yesterday, it felt as if I were making my way through a fog, my path unclear and my intentions hard to remember. From the mundane chore of making my morning coffee through the equally mundane chores of washing and drying quilts, blankets and throws in preparation for the winter, I struggled to be present. The day seemed gray, and I struggled with a nearly unique admixture of emotions: sorrow, anger, and fear.

I could remember only two other occasions in my life when I’d felt that combination of emotions: September 11, 2001, when the terrorists of Al Qaida attacked the United States, and a weekday in the spring of 1988, the day after I’d learned that a love interest had decided not to leave a distant city and join me and my life in Minot, North Dakota. (That latter day’s stew of emotions was made up primarily of grief although anger and fear were present.)

My malaise was sparked, of course, by the results of Tuesday’s election. I sat that evening watching the news roll in with increasing dismay, wondering both how could the polls and poll compilers have so badly interpreted the data they’d collected and how nearly sixty millions of my fellow citizens could have such a vastly different view than I do of the man they have chosen to be our president.

I expect to find the answer to the first question relatively soon. I imagine it has something to do with a perfect storm of unanticipated voters and margins of error. (I have seen speculation by friends that other, far less benign reasons, such as foreign intervention, exist; if that speculation ever leads to hard data, that would seem to me to be prima facie evidence of an act of war.)

As to the second question that plagued me as I switched my television from network to network Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, I have come no closer in the last thirty-six hours to understanding how, to repeat my own words, “nearly sixty millions of my fellow citizens could have such a vastly different view than I do of the man they have chosen to be our president.” I am not certain today that I will ever understand.

So I have grave concerns about the direction our nation will take come next January. I fear for those who are poor, for those who are disabled, for immigrants, for children, and for all those who live in the margins of this culture and thus lead lives far different than those of the people who will be making decisions about those lives. I fear for the hard-won rights of women, of the LGBTQ community, of people of color, and of people of those faiths that have become targets for discrimination and violence. I fear what I perceive in those who will govern us as an eagerness for more and larger wars. And I fear that the country that I love will become changed beyond recognition by those who will next govern it and their supporters.

In the meantime, as more than one of my friends on Facebook noted yesterday, we have lives to lead, family and friends to attend to, and tasks at hand. Once the winter covers were washed, dried and folded (the neat piles of warm laundry, stacked on the window seat in the dining room and on the bed upstairs, unsurprisingly became sleeping spots for all three cats), and once the Texas Gal was home from work, I had a dinner to cook.

“I already know,” I wrote on Facebook, “what the playlist is going to be: Bruce and nothing but Bruce. The Boss and the E Street Band (and the Seeger Sessions Band, too) help me get centered like almost nothing else.”

And although it did not come up during the forty or so minutes when the iPod kept me company in the kitchen last night, one track from Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band seems appropriate for this space this morning, given the massive challenges I see arising from the results of Tuesday’s election. Here, from the 2006 album We Shall Overcome, is “Eyes On The Prize.”

Twelve Presidential Votes

November 8th, 2016

It’s still early here on the East Side, and the fellow heading up the polling place at the city public works building says he expects a busy day. The Texas Gal and I got there about ten minutes after the doors opened at seven o’clock, and there were about ten people ahead of us. We checked in and marked our ballots, and I cast vote No. 15 in the precinct. Hers was either No. 16 or No. 17. (I didn’t notice; I was waiting in the lobby, chatting with the greeter.)

This is the twelfth presidential election in which I’ve cast a vote. In the previous eleven elections, I’ve voted for the winner five times. And yes, I’m a Democrat. Actually, here in Minnesota, I’m a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, a name that reminds us of a 1944 merger between Minnesota’s Democrats and the state’s Farmer-Labor party. That bit of historical resonance pleases me.

(As Wikipedia notes, Minnesota’s DFL is one of only two state Democratic party affiliates that has a different name; the other one is the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. I wasn’t active in the DNPL when I lived in Minot, but I voted for its candidates in 1988.)

That 1988 election was the fifth presidential election I voted in, and my fifth voting location. As I’ve noted here other times, I’ve moved around a lot over the years. Here’s a synopsis of my residences for the twelve presidential elections in which I’ve voted.

1972: Folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard, St. Cloud
1976: Drafty house on St. Cloud’s North Side
1980: Mobile home just outside Monticello, Minn.
1984: Mobile home on south edge of Columbia, Mo.
1988: Apartment near downtown Minot, N.D.
1992: Apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.
1996: Apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.
2000: Apartment on Bossen Terrace in south Minneapolis.
2004: Apartment on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2008: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2012: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2016: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.

I’m not certain that listing proves anything except that my life has become far more stable since a certain February evening in 2000, when I met the Texas Gal. And the first half of that list reminds me of a remark my pal Rob made not long ago while we were sipping beers at the Lincoln Depot just down the road from here. We’d struck up conversations with a couple of other music fans, and I’d noted that until I’d moved back to St. Cloud in 2002, my life had been “somewhat nomadic.”

Rob snorted. “Take out the adjective,” he said. “You were just nomadic.”

I was. And this morning, I look back at that first presidential election, when I was a sophomore in college, before I did any of that wandering. I cast my ballot for George McGovern at the Faith Lutheran Church, about five blocks away from home, drove over to school for an afternoon class and came home looking forward to an evening of watching election returns.

There wasn’t much suspense, of course, although in my youthful optimism, I’d hoped for a competitive race. McGovern, as you might recall, carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, and Richard Nixon was elected to a second term as president (a term he did not complete). After a brief time, I turned off the television and went elsewhere for diversion, probably up to my room and the radio, an AM/FM model Mom had won in a drawing – something I’d not recalled until writing this sentence – that I had recently claimed as my own.

I probably had the radio tuned that evening to KVSC-FM, St. Cloud State’s student-run station. What did I hear? I have no idea. But during the evening of that quintessential American day, it might very well have been the odd and disturbing title track from David Ackles’ third album, American Gothic, released that summer on the equally quintessential American day of July 4:

Mrs. Molly Jenkins sells her wares in town
Saturdays in the evening when the farmhands come around
And she sews all their names in her gown
Ah, but is she happy?
No no no
She wants a better home and a better kind of life
But how is she going to get the things she wants,
The things she needs as some poor wretch of a farmer’s wife?
He trades the milk for booze
And Molly wants new shoes
And as she snuggles down
With a stranger in some back of the barroom bed
It’s much too dark to the see the stranger
So she thinks of shoes instead

Old Man Horace Jenkins stays at home to tend his schemes
Sends for pictures of black stockings on paper legs with paper seams
And he drinks ’til he drowns in his dreams
Ah, but is he happy?
No, no, no
He wants to be reborn to lead the pious life
But how’s he going to shed his boozy dreams
When he has to bear the cross of a wicked wife?
She claims to visit shows
And he pretends that’s where she goes
And as he snuggles down to his reading in a half-filled marriage bed
He’s so ashamed of what he’s reading that he gets blind drunk instead

Sunday breakfast with the Jenkins
They break the bread and cannot speak
She reads the rustling of his paper
He reads the way her new shoes squeak
And pray God to survive one more week
Ah, but are they happy?
You’d be surprised between the bed and the booze and the shoes
They suffer least who suffer what they choose