Just to show that I’m upright – and to celebrate that there’s a working handle on the door of the Versa – I thought we’d consider Bob Dylan’s “Open The Door, Homer” as covered by Thunderclap Newman.
Best known for the No. 37 hit “Something In The Air,” which was used in the 1969 movie The Magic Christian, Thunderclap Newman was a group assembled by the Who’s Pete Townshend in what Wikipedia says was “a bid to showcase the talents of John ‘Speedy’ Keen, Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman and Jimmy McCulloch.” (Townshend played bass for the group under the name of Bijou Drains.)
“Open The Door, Homer” showed up on the group’s 1970 album Hollywood Dream. I love Newman’s herky-jerky piano solo, similar to the one he supplies on “Something In The Air.” And not being interested in digging even lightly into Dylanology today, I’ll just say that I don’t know why the song title is addressed to Homer when the lyrics address Richard.
When the Texas Gal went to the car – our Nissan Versa – after a business appointment two days ago, she pulled the door handle like she and I have done thousands of times in the nine years we’ve had the car. And the handle came off in her hand.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it looked like. I know, though, what I would have looked like had it happened to me: I would have stood there for a second, looking dumbly from the black handle in my hand to the empty space on the car door. “Huh,” I would have thought, processing.
And then I, like she did, would have thought, “Well, it was going to happen sometime.”
As is the case with many cars these days – with key fobs that carry electronic openers – the driver’s door on the Versa is the only one with a lock that can be opened with the key. And about four to five months ago, the little plastic cowling around the keyhole started to break; it would come out of alignment a little, and we’d push it back in. And the handle was a little loose. We knew we were going to have to deal with it eventually, and we put it our agendas, but it was a littler lower on our lists than maybe it should have been.
This week, however, with the Texas Gal standing in the street in front of a client’s home holding a door handle that was no longer doing its job, it became a whole lot more important to get repairs done. As it happened, our other car, a Chevy Cavalier, was at the nearby tire place that day for an oil change and some minor other work, so when the Texas Gal – who got into the Versa via the passenger door, of course – came home, she and I headed down the street, picked up the Cavalier and dropped off the Versa to wait for parts.
I should hear sometime today that the Versa’s door is fixed, and I’ll walk the half- mile down to the tire place and pick it up. And we can hope that any more automotive ailments will wait a while longer.
A total of thirty-six tracks show up in the RealPlayer when I search for “handle.” Nine of them come from Gene Chandler, with the most famous of those, of course, being 1962’s “Duke of Earl.” There are also tracks from four lesser-known Chandlers: Dillard (“Rain and Snow,” a 1975 track from a 2002 Smithsonian Folkways collection), Howard (“Wampus Cat,” an originally unreleased track from a 1957 Sun session), Len (“Touch Talk,” a Columbia single from 1967) and Wayland (“Little Lover/Playboy” on the 4 Star label from 1958).
That leaves twenty-two tracks with “handle” in their titles, ranging along the time line from 1941’s “Panhandle Shuffle” by the Sons Of The West to Leon Russell’s 2013 version of “Too Hot To Handle.” We’ll stop somewhere near the middle for Tony Joe White’s 1970 cover of “Hard To Handle.”
The song was written by Allen Jones, Alvertis Isbell and Otis Redding and was first recorded by Redding. One of numerous releases that came after Redding’s death in December 1967, “Hard To Handle” was the B-side to “Amen” and, on its own, went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 38 on the magazine’s R&B chart during the summer of 1968. (“Amen” went Nos. 36 and 15, respectively.)
The song’s been covered numerous time – Second Hand Songs lists thirty-five covers – and two other versions charted along the way (at least through 2008, which is the last year in my copy of Top Pop Singles): Patti Drew’s 1968 cover went to No. 93 on the Hot 100 and to No. 40 on the R&B chart, and the Black Crowes released their cover twice, once in the autumn of 1990, when it went to No. 45 and then again during the summer of 1991, when it got to No. 26.
Some of the other covers of the tune have come from Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Brenda Lee, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Toots Hibbert, Gov’t Mule and – always one of my oddball favorites – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Here’s Tony Joe’s version, which was an album track on 1970’s Tony Joe:
The Texas Gal is in the kitchen, sorting a bushel of pickling cucumbers she picked up at the local farmer’s market this morning. Yes, she has cucumbers in her garden in the side yard, but just to make sure she has enough for an early batch of pickles each summer, she orders a bushel from a woman from Browerville, a burg of about 800 folks about sixty-five miles northwest of here.
The vendor called yesterday and said those cucumbers would be available at the farmer’s market today, and the Texas Gal brought them home a little bit ago. By that time, I’d gotten the canner and its accessories and about eighteen quart-sized canning jars up from the fruit cellar. And in a couple of hours or so, the smell of pickling brine will fill the house, and by sometime this afternoon, the first batches of pickles – combining the Browerville cucumbers with the first ones this season from our garden – will come out of the canner to cool.
It’s remarkable to realize that until we moved into the house not quite eight years ago, the Texas Gal had never gardened and never done any canning. She learned quickly, even with some missteps along the way, both in the garden and in the kitchen, and one side of our fruit cellar is almost always pretty well stocked. Well, the shelf space devoted to pickles is pretty empty right now – one lone jar of Hot Texas Mustard Pickles remains from last year – but that’s intentional: Over the winter and into the spring, we gave away everything else we had left on the shelves from the past few years to clear the space for this year’s batches.
It’s not just pickles, of course. Over the past few years, she’s canned green beans, wax beans, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, chili starter and various relishes that are staples here. She’s also tried some things that weren’t as successful, like the sweet and sour curried vegetables from last year. It was an interesting idea, but the reality was a little less tasty than we hoped.
This year’s canning efforts, however, will be mostly devoted to pickles. There will be green beans and wax beans galore from her portion of the community garden, but most of those will go to the Dream Center, a residence for ex-felons on the North Side that we help support through our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The same holds true for a lot of the tomatoes we’ll get, although I imagine she’ll make and freeze some pasta sauce, as the large batch she made and froze two years ago is now gone.
But that will come later in the summer, probably in mid-August at the earliest. Today and tomorrow, it’s pickling time. I’ll contribute where I can, but my role is mostly limited – as I’ve noted here in other summers – to the literal heavy lifting, moving the filled canner from burner to burner and lugging jars of cooled, sealed and labeled pickles to the fruit cellar as the last part of the process.
So with all that, it seemed like a good time to look for a tune with “kitchen” in its title. I dismissed twenty-seven versions of “Come On In My Kitchen” and looked further. And I came upon “Mama’s In The Kitchen” by Toni Childs. It’s from her 2008 album Keep The Faith, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
Last evening, as I made dinner – a classic Midwestern meal of a sauce of cream soups, milk, canned chicken, onions and a few other things over elbow macaroni – the iPod chugged along atop the repurposed bookcase we call Pantry Boy. Among the twenty or so tracks the iPod offered as I chopped, mixed and stirred was Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” from 1968.
As has been my habit for some time now, I shared the lengthy list of tracks – divided this time into two portions – at Facebook last evening, highlighting first Joe Brown’s performance of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” from the 2002 Concert for George and later the Rascals’ 1969 hit, “People Got To Be Free.” The first post got little comment, but there was a lot of positive response to the second set. And then a friend of mine said she’d never gotten “MacArthur Park” and asked for insight.
I responded, perhaps a little pertly, “Surrealism, memory and regret.” She said she got those things from the tone of the music but she didn’t get the lyrics. I think the lyrics as well as the tone of the music carry all of that. So I wrote:
Well, unless I’m mistaken in what I remember this morning, the only part of the lyrics that needs any explication is the part about the cake, and my thought has always – well, since I became an adult – been that the cake represents the love of his life, now gone for reasons beyond their control, with the sweet things melting away in the rain of troubles. Otherwise, I don’t think the lyrics are all that obtuse; they tell a story of simple joys, loss, hope and grief: “After all the loves of my life, I’ll be thinking of you . . . and wondering why.”
And for good measure, I posted the comments I made more than five years ago when I included Harris’ version of the song in my Ultimate Jukebox:
I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.
My friend later thanked me for my comments, said she generally agreed with me about the tunes I list at Facebook, and added that this time, she agreed with my sister.
The exchange got me thinking about the song, of course, and went to the RealPlayer to see how times “MacArthur Park” showed up. Turns out it’s nineteen times. Three of those are from Harris: the original mono mix from the 45 and two copies of the album track, one from Harris’ 1968 release A Tramp Shining and the other from a box set of work by the famed session musicians called the Wrecking Crew.
The rest run the gamut from Ray Conniff & The Singers to Waylon Jennings with the Kimberlys; from Enoch Light to the Three Degrees; from Ferrante & Teicher and the 101 Strings to the Brazilian Tropical Orchestra and the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. One major version missing from the digital stacks is Donna Summer’s cover of the tune, which spent three weeks at No. 1 in Billboard in November 1978. That’s a gap I will remedy soon, even though I’ve never been fond of Summers’ version.
I think over the next week or so, I’ll do some digging and find out what the hell Jimmy Webb was thinking about when he wrote the song. (I noticed a listing for a piece online in which Webb discusses the lyrics, and I’ll have to check that out.) And we’ll dig into some of the covers I have on the shelves. We’ll start that process with the instrumental version offered as an album track in 1970 by the Assembled Multitude, the group of Philadelphia studio musicians whose version of “Overture From Tommy (A Rock Opera)” went to No. 16 in Billboard that summer.
I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Folks who know me well might think that I’m being kept up either by fussing cats or by worries about the future of the Republic. Well, it’s neither of those (although I am concerned, as I indicated last week, with the direction of public affairs and it is true that any of the three cats can contribute minor bits of mayhem at any time).
No, it’s medications. A combination of meds required for the time being limits my sleep and leaves me somewhat zombied during the daytimes. That’s going to go on for another ten days or so, which means it’s tolerable; there is an end point visible to the fuzzy daze in which I frequently find myself.
It’s not utterly disabling: I just need to be a bit more careful and a bit more mindful of things that need to get done during the day. As always, lists help. And I’m off to make another one of those in just moments. Before I do, I’m going to run at random through the 300 or so the tracks on the digital shelves that have the word “sleep” in their titles and see what I find.
And I come across the lovely and very brief – 2:03 – “River Of Sleep” by the group Maggie’s Farm, fronted by the duo of Allison MacLeod and Claudia Russell. The group’s 1992 album, Glory Road, remains one of my faves among the CDs I found on a budget rack at a St. Paul bookstore during the spring of 2000. A few years ago, I noted that Glory Road was the only album released by Maggie’s Farm although MacLeod and Russell have released solo albums since. I said then, “I’ve seen the album classified as Americana, and that fits, I guess, but whatever you call it, it’s just a darned good album.”
“River Of Sleep” was written by McLeod and Mark Lee (who does some vocal work on the album and, I think, contributes the lead here):
Late at night, the world is quiet
It’s cold outside but you’re alright
Nothing can hurt you
Float down the river of sleep
The sun’s behind the trees The nightbirds sing sweet melodies Nothing can hurt you Float down the river of sleep
Close your eyes Dream of peace For nothing can hurt you Float down the river of sleep
Close your eyes Dream of peace For nothing can hurt you Float down a river and sleep
After another harsh week around portions of the world – terror in Nice, a failed coup in Turkey, political craziness here at home and who knows what else in other places – I was looking for something to make me feel better. Music works, more often than not, so I decided to take a look at what I was likely hearing on my radio during this week in 1970.
As I’ve noted before, that year was my one full calendar year of focused Top 40 listening. Until late summer 1969, I hadn’t cared much; come the autumn of 1971, I moved in the direction of albums and progressive rock. So it’s a year I look at as a touchstone. Given that, what did I find looking back at KDWB’s “6+30” from mid-July of 1970?
Well, as the link shows, a lot of familiar stuff, records I’ve heard over and over and over in the years since then. Not that I dislike them; some of the stuff on the survey from the week of July 20, 1970, is among my favorite music. But I don’t know that after nine years of blogging, I have much more to say about those favorites.
And then I spotted a listing of a record I’ve not heard in years. I don’t know that it was among my favorites back then, and I’ve not thought often of it since. It sat at No. 13, heading up from No. 20; it would peak on KDWB at No. 7 where it would spend the next two week: “A Song of Joy” by Miguel Rios. (It did better on KDWB than it did nationally in Billboard, where it peaked at No. 14.)
And the single – with music based on the Fourth Movement of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and words (credited on the record label only to “Orbe”) that echo, if not exactly replicate Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which Beethoven used for the chorale portion of the movement – is worth a listen this morning.
Two years after Rios’ single was a best-seller in much of Europe as well as here, an adaptation of Beethoven’s music was adopted as a European anthem. Given Europe’s travails in the past week – indeed in the past year – it’s an easy choice to make “A Song of Joy” this week’s Saturday Single.
As the Texas Gal and I pulled boxes off shelves and out of piles in the basement the other week, we sorted our finds into three categories: Stuff we could sell at last week’s garage sale, stuff we would either keep or take to antique dealers/collectors, and stuff we could just pitch. And as we pulled and sorted, we caught glimpses of bits of our lives long gone (like the orange backpack).
And one of the boxes in the last pile we tackled brought back memories of the only video game system I’ve ever owned: Mattel’s Intellivision. Though the game console is long gone, the box held the ten games I got to go along with the console back in the early 1980s.
By today’s standards, it was a laughable system, but in 1980, its graphics and the wide variety of games available made it pretty remarkable. The complexity of the games was pretty cool, too. Take the NFL Football game, for instance. With the key pad on the controller – into which one slipped a plastic insert – you could call a run or pass from any of nine formations. The running plays were pretty simple, but for a pass, you had to then choose one of two receivers – there were only five players on each team – and then choose one of nine areas on the field where the pass would be thrown.
The gold disc in the controller was, in effect, the joystick. Only one player on each team would be under your control. On defense, it was, I think, a linebacker. On offense, it would be the running back or the quarterback/receiver combination. You’d control the quarterback until you hit the “pass” button, and then you’d control the receiver, moving him to the zone where the ball was thrown.
What did the other four players on each team do? Well, the other offensive players were programmed to block the defenders, and the defenders were programmed to go to wherever the ball was.
Yes, it was the gaming equivalent of the Model T, but it’s worth recalling that just five years earlier, we’d all been amazed by Pong. Given that Intellivision increased the number of moving parts and the complexity of the games, it was a great system. And as soon as I saw it in at my friend Warren’s house back in 1981 or 1982, I knew I had to have one.
It wasn’t cheap. One web site I checked this morning said the original price in 1980 was $299. I don’t remember mine being quite that expensive; I think I laid down about $200 bucks for mine (the equivalent of about $585 these days). And of course, there was the cost of the games. The console came with a Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack cartridge, which was kind of lame. I eventually bought nine other games:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
I also remember playing baseball and a game called Sub Hunt at Warren’s. Since I didn’t always have someone around to play against – the Other Half was not at all interested in video games – I enjoyed most the games one could play solo: Skiing, Space Battle, Dungeons & Dragons and Utopia. (I could practice football by myself, especially the passing, in kind of a scrimmage mode, and I could play hockey and soccer solo, after a fashion, controlling the offense for one team until the defense got control of the puck or ball and then switching controllers; that was kind of lame, yes, but it gave me practice in passing and shooting.)
My favorite was probably Utopia, which was designed for either one or two players. You’d control the government of an island, investing gold bars to create farms, school, hospitals, forts and other establishments and sending out a fishing fleet to gain food and revenue. On a random basis, rain would cross your farms and your crops would flourish. Random hurricanes also came along, destroying your buildings and crops. Playing solo, the goal was simply to govern well and accumulate points. In a two-person game, trying to outscore your opponent, you could also invest in rebels to attack the other island. (In a solo game, hurricanes or the failure of the crops or fishing fleet could result in rebels popping up on your own island.)
I played the various games – solo and with Warren and a few other folks – for about four or five years. Then one day in early 1985, I hauled my console to a friend’s house in Columbia, Missouri, to share it with him. We plugged in the Skiing game and everything showed up on the screen except the skier. Puzzled, I switched to soccer, and everything was there except the ball. Something in the console’s innards had failed. I put the game back in its box and we watched basketball on TV.
A few years later, no wiser as to what had gone wrong with my Intellivision and aware that it was outdated, I threw the console out. I packed the game cartridges in a box, thinking someone might want them someday. And today, they sit on a table here in the EITW studios. I suppose I could try to sell them on Ebay or a similar site. Or I could just give them to Goodwill and let the folks there puzzle things out.
I found in the mp3 stacks two pieces with the title “Utopia.” One was a 2000 recording from the album Voices Of Life by the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. The other came from a self-titled 1972 album by Mother Night, a Latin funk/rock band from New York City (according to the blog Hippydjkit). Here’s the Mother Night track:
He was almost certainly homeless, dressed in a tattered and stained yellow long-sleeved shirt and what I think were bicycle pants, with the left leg shorter than the right. He carried a scuffed and dirty red athletic bag and a plastic bag from a grocery store, the latter holding at least two bottles of water.
He was heading over to visit a friend, he said, at the River Crest Apartments, a residence for chronic inebriates just down Lincoln Avenue from our place, and he stopped by our garage sale on the way. He looked to be in his forties, and he spoke with the same vagueness, the same lack of focus, that we’ve heard from the folks who live at River Crest since the place opened about six years ago.
He talked about a wife and oddities in their lives, but it was hard to tell as he spoke whether those were things that had happened in the last few years or long ago. Later on, the Texas Gal and I guessed it was the latter.
As he wandered around our small offering of things for sale, he noticed a magnifying glass on a stand with a flexible neck, like a gooseneck lamp. It was priced at five bucks, and he picked it up, and then his gaze fell on an orange backpack. “Oh,” he said, “that looks like a good one.”
It was a good backpack, bought in November 1973 in a sporting goods store in Fredericia, Denmark. When I’d headed to Denmark that September, I’d brought with me a light rucksack, thinking that it would suffice when I headed out hitchhiking or riding trains across Western Europe. One four-day trip to the West German harbor city of Kiel told me it wasn’t big enough or rugged enough, and I told my parents so in a letter.
They responded by sending me $35 – the equivalent of about $190 today – to get a backpack in time for my planned early December travels to Brussels and Amsterdam, and sometime in late November, I went to the store recommended by my Danish host family and bought myself an orange nylon backpack with a silver aluminum frame. That’s what our ragged customer saw offered for sale last week.
It was only a little difficult to put the backpack into the garage sale. I hadn’t used it since 1975, when I took a bus trip from St. Cloud to Kingston, Ontario, to visit a young lady I’d met during my European travels. We didn’t match well on this side of the Atlantic, and I never heard from her again. Nor had I used the backpack. Protected by an old pillowcase, it had sat on a shelf in my parents’ basement until Mom sold the house on Kilian Boulevard in 2004. Since then, it had sat in a closet in our apartment and then on a shelf in our basement. About a week before the sale, the Texas Gal asked what I wanted to do with it. I acknowledged with a sigh that my backpacking days were long gone, and we priced it at five bucks.
As we sat at our small table watching our visitor examine the backpack, the Texas Gal asked me, “Do you want to just give it to him?”
I shook my head. I was willing to sell the backpack, but to just give it away? “No,” I said.
After all, it had been my companion for much of what I’ve called the greatest formative experience of my life. On my December travels, I had carried it and it had carried me as I hitchhiked to Hamburg and Hanover in West Germany and then rode buses and trains to Brussels and Amsterdam and back to Fredericia. In March and April, I traveled more than 11,000 miles on a rail pass, and the backpack rode my shoulders from train stations to hostels and cheap hotels all over Western Europe, as far south as Rome and as far north as Narvik, keeping safe all the things I needed as I traveled.
Our ragged visitor moved on to look at other stuff we had for sale, but I was looking back. By the time one of my trips – the longest one, in March and early April 1974 – had ended, the backpack carried not only my clothing and sundries but four pieces of contraband: a liter mug pilfered from the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, a smaller beer glass lifted from a restaurant in Nuremburg, and two delicate painted tea glasses liberated from an Arabic restaurant in Paris. The mug and the beer glass were late additions to the backpack’s contents, but I still marvel that the two tea glasses – they now sit atop a bookshelf in our dining room – survived more than a month of travel, protected by nothing more than a sweater or other soft garments.
As I looked back, our visitor returned to the backpack. “That sure is a nice one,” he said.
I think I sighed. And I said to the Texas Gal, “Go ahead. Give it to him.”
She did. I had to show him how to work the flap and its ties, and then we loaded his bags into it and helped him slip it on his shoulders. He picked up his new magnifying glass and headed for River Crest. I watched him as he went, the vivid orange of his new backpack easily visible until he went into the building about a half a block away.
“He needed it,” the Texas Gal said.
“I know,” I managed to say. “And it’s gone on a new adventure.”
Here’s the best track I could find among the nineteen tracks in the RealPlayer that had the word “adventure” in their titles. It’s “Adventures On The Way” by the English group Prelude, and it’s from the group’s 1974 album, After The Gold Rush.
It’s been busy here the past few days, and that will continue through Saturday. In our effort to slender down the amount of stuff in the house, we’re having a yard sale tomorrow and Saturday.
We’ve been gathering things from throughout the house for a few weeks now – quilting material and supplies, craft materials, unused dishes and cookware, some games and lots of miscellaneous stuff – and pricing it and letting it sit in the living room and the back room.
Today, my tasks include stops at the bank to get cash for change, a stop somewhere to get yard sale signs, and clearing four portable tables currently in use in the house and getting them out to the garage for use tomorrow.
I’m already weary, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning.
Given our plans, this is my only stop here in the studios this week. I’ll be back Tuesday with a less cluttered house and – we hope – a little more cash in the bank account. Then, the Texas Gal and I can begin to look at some of the items we’ve unearthed in the house that are more suited to an antique dealer’s care than simply being sold in the front yard.
Given the week’s activity, I checked out tunes in the RealPlayer with “sale” in their titles. After some sorting – I have more tracks than I would have guessed with “Jerusalem” in their titles – I came up with three commodities that have frequently been listed for musical sale: Love, a cottage and a broken heart.
I’m going with the cottage. Here’s Frank Sinatra with “A Cottage For Sale.” It’s from his 1959 album No One Cares, an album so bleak that, according to a note at Discogs.com, Sinatra called it a collection of “suicide songs.”
Forty years ago today, I woke up calling a new place “home” for the first time I could remember. The previous day – July 1, 1976 – I’d moved most of the stuff I owned from my folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard to a ramshackle house in a working class neighborhood just a few blocks from the railyard on what I call the Near North Side of the city.
Hadn’t I lived other places? Well, yes, I’d lived in two places in Denmark, but those had been temporary; I knew I was going to back to Kilian Boulevard in the spring. And the same held true for the three months I’d spent in a Twin Cities’ apartment during a television internship. This time, however, I did not see myself heading back to Kilian Boulevard. And I did not remember the only other permanent move in my life, which had come when we left Riverside Drive for Kilian Boulevard in February 1957.
So as I awoke that long-ago July morning – a Friday, which means I’d have had some sort of obligations at St. Cloud State, maybe a class, a workshop or a half-day of work – what was I feeling and thinking?
I likely felt a little out of place. I know, as I wrote a few years ago, that later in the day, “there was the odd feeling that arose . . . when going home in the afternoon took me on a different route, not across the Mississippi to the East Side but west past downtown and the Polish Church and then north to just short of the railroad yard.”
Was I worried about being out on my own? I doubt it. Maybe I should have been, and maybe if the new place had been, oh, fifty miles from Kilian Boulevard instead of just two miles, I would have been. But being twenty-two, not yet knowing much about life and being just across the river from Mom and Dad, I had no major concerns.
What did concern me? Well, I did wonder how I’d get along with the other three guys in the house. Two of them, though, had been in Denmark at the same time as I had, and although we hadn’t been close there, we knew and respected each other well enough. The third guy, I didn’t know at all, but it turned out he was rarely home. He worked for a railroad and often rode the trains. I got along fine with that group, but as guys moved out upon graduation and new guys moved in, I wasn’t all that fond of the other folks in the house, and my stay there was only nine months.
I suppose I was also wondering, as I woke that first morning on the North Side, when my girlfriend would be able to come for a visit. She was working as a housekeeper at a summer theater near Alexandria, seventy miles northwest of St. Cloud. I didn’t have to wonder long; she showed up sometime that first weekend.
And life chugged along. I finished my summer work at St. Cloud State and started and abandoned a graduate program. I started work at a music store in a mall and shortly after that got fired for the only time in my life. I got two cats, and the three of us shivered through the winter in the inadequate heat provided by an oil-burning stove in the living room. I went back to school in the spring in search of a print journalism minor, and midway through that quarter, I moved to a mobile home owned by my friend Murl in the little burg of Sauk Rapids.
The house on the North Side still stands, looking more ramshackle than ever. We had an errand nearby the other day, so as we headed toward home, I drove by. Based on the toys in the tiny front yard, a family lives there now. I know that the place now has central heating, which went in shortly after I left, but I have no idea what else may have happened inside. And I really don’t need to know. It’s not like I loved the place during those nine months.
But the house on the North Side nevertheless has a grip on me that’s – how do describe it? – maybe not horribly tight but still tenacious. It was the first place, after all. And though I did not love it as I have loved other places I have lived over the years – with the most-loved place on that list being our current digs here on the East Side – it was for a time my home.
So, pulled not quite at random from about 1,500 tracks with the word “home” in their titles, here’s Big Maybelle with “Way Back Home” from 1952. The tale it tells has no relation to my musings above, but so what? It’s today’s Saturday Single.