Archive for the ‘1969’ Category

Saturday Single No. 563

Saturday, November 4th, 2017

Remembered moments and places sometimes swirl and connect in odd ways, filling in a picture of something I hadn’t thought about for years.

I was pondering the autumn of 1969, when the St. Cloud Tech Tigers football team – I was one of the managers – went 6-3 and finished at No. 9 in the state rankings released at season’s end by the Minneapolis Tribune. (A lofty ranking for a team with three losses? Maybe, but the Tigers’ three losses came at the hands of the Minneapolis Washburn Millers, the Austin Packers and the Moorhead Spuds, all undefeated and ranked Nos. 1, 2, and 3 by the Tribune. Tech played a tough schedule.)

By the first Saturday in November, the high school season was over. There were no playoffs. So, I wondered, what did go on during the first weekend of November. Locked into football at the moment, I checked at Pro Football Reference to see what the Minnesota Vikings had done. (Besides win, that is: The Vikings that year lost the first and last games of the season, winning twelve in a row in between.) It turned out that was the week that the Vikings hosted the Cleveland Browns and won 51-3.

I didn’t watch the game. This was the era when pro football games were not telecast in the home markets. Did I listen to it? I don’t think so. I do recall learning the final score while at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. My folks and I were waiting for a flight bringing my sister back from Alabama, where she’d been visiting a friend. I remember being in the airport, being annoyed about something. What it was that annoyed me, I’m not sure. Maybe her flight was late.

Having remembered my sister’s trip to Alabama, I recalled that my folks and I had brought her to the airport on Friday evening. In the midst of what was rush hour traffic back then, we made our way south along Highway 100, which was then the main north-south route on the Twin Cities’ western edge. And here’s where the memories get a little fuzzy.

On the western side of Highway 100 in the suburb of Robbinsdale, there was a restaurant called Vanni’s. Its menu was mostly Italian. I think we’d stopped there once before because I remember looking for it as we made our way south. And if I recall correctly, I thought that there might be a good chance of eating at Vanni’s as we made our way home from the airport that evening.

And so we did. I think. I know we made an evening stop at Vanni’s right about this time during the late autumn of 1969. Maybe it was on the way home after taking my sister to the airport that Friday. It might have been the following Sunday, on the way home after my sister’s return from Alabama. I’m not sure of which evening it was, but it was one of the two.

How am I sure? Because I remember what I had for dinner. On our first visit to Vanni’s sometime in the preceding two or three years, I was puzzled by an item on the menu: chili mac. Having learned that it was chili ladled onto spaghetti – two of my favorites in one dish! – I went for it and enjoyed it greatly. So, on our second visit on this November evening, I didn’t bother to look at the menu. I had chili mac and enjoyed it again.

And as we dined, someone went to the jukebox against the wall not far from where we sat. I recognized the record the instant it began. As I sat in Vanni’s and listened, the record – according to research from this morning – was at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 (having moved up smartly from the previous week’s spot at No. 42). On the KDWB survey that week, it was at No. 31, right where it had been the week before. I may have only heard the record once or twice before, but I recognized it.

Why? Because during the introduction, I heard the unmistakable sound of a football game, and the record’s lyrics played on football lingo. It was, of course, “Backfield In Motion” by Mel & Time. It peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100 and at No. 3 on the R&B chart, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Reader Writes

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Poking through the mailbag over at the archives the other day, I saw a comment I’d intended to put in this space long ago in search of an answer. A reader named C wrote:

I had a weird experience this morning. I was in front of my house when a man stopped. He was in a truck. He asked if I lived in the house. I said that I did and he told me “Pain” by Michael’s Mystics was recorded in my garage. I asked how he knew that. He said he’d lived behind my house for 50 years. He didn’t identify himself as a current neighbor. So, truth or lie? How do I find this out?

Yah Shure? Are you out there?

Just so we all know what we’re talking about, here is “Pain” by the Mystics, a Minnesota band. In mid-August 1969, the record was No. 1 for two weeks on the Twin Cities’ KDWB and topped the survey at rival station WDGY for one week. Nationally, the record bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, peaking at No. 116.

Saturday Single No. 553

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

As I lay in bed the other evening, waiting for the (legal) drugs to kick in, I paged through a recent edition of Sports Illustrated and read about major league umpire Joe West. He’s an interesting character, and it’s an interesting story (you can find it here). And it got me thinking about the only time I ever officiated in an organized athletic contest.

It was the summer of 1991. I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and one evening and I met my friend Jim – my former editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune – at a park to watch his daughter play softball. We were catching up on our own news as the two teams of girls – ten and eleven years old, I think – warmed up on the field. Then an umpire came over and addressed the crowd of, I suspect, mostly parents.

He said that the second scheduled umpire was unable to get to the game, and then he asked if anybody in the crowd could fill in as the infield umpire. Jim looked at me with his eyebrows raised. I shrugged and nodded, then raised my hand and made my way to the field.

The game went by rapidly, and I think I did well enough. I actually remember only two moments of the game. The first one came at second base: One of the girls tried to advance from first to second on a fly ball to the outfield. The outfielder’s throw got to second base in plenty of time, and the runner skidded to a halt a yard from the bag and waited for the tag.

The second baseman dropped the throw. She picked up the ball with her right hand and then proceeded to tag the runner – now stationary a yard from second base – with the empty glove on her left hand. When I was silent, she looked at me, and I could read her thoughts: “Call her out! I tagged her.”

I looked back blankly, and the second baseman slapped the runner’s shoulder three or four more times with her empty glove. I could hear girls elsewhere – on the field and on the bench – hollering at the second baseman, “Tag her with the ball! With the ball!” At the same time, others were shouting at the runner, “Dive under her glove! Dive under her glove!”

Both girls looked at me, waiting for me to make a call. And then, perhaps hearing the shouts of her teammates or perhaps just thinking things through, the second baseman realized her problem. With an expression on her face worthy of Archimedes, she pivoted and tagged the baserunner with the ball. And I called the runner out.

At another point in the game – earlier or later, I don’t recall – a batter hit a slow roller to shortstop. The shortstop fielded the ball cleanly and made a sharp throw to first. It was, as they say, a bang-bang play. I called the batter out and then immediately realized two things: First, I called the wrong bang; the batter reached first base just before the ball got there. Second, the batter was Jim’s daughter.

She didn’t say a word, just turned and went back to her team’s bench. I glanced at Jim in the stands, cocked my head and wagged my right hand in kind of a comme ci, comme ça manner, and he nodded. I think he and his daughter and I talked about the call after the game, but I’m not sure. And I hope I congratulated her on her classy acceptance of a blown call.

I probably made about thirty calls in that game, and those are the only two I remember, one because it was an odd play and the other because I blew it. That’s kind of like life, I guess: When things go as they’re supposed to go, we sometimes don’t notice, because, well, it’s how we expect life to be. When it gets weird, we notice and remember. When it goes wrong, we notice and remember.

And if we’re lucky, the plays that life calls right far outnumber the weird plays and the blown calls.

So what do we listen to with all that in mind? I have nothing on the digital shelves about umpiring or softball per se, but I have about ten versions of Joe South’s tune “Games People Play,” most by familiar folks like Dolly Parton, King Curtis, Al Hirt, Bettye LaVette, the Ventures and more (including, of course, Joe South himself).

But one version is likely a little less well-known. It’s by Guy Hovis, a native of Mississippi, and David Blaylock, who hailed from Arkansas, and it’s on their 1969 album Guy and David. I don’t know much about either one. From what I can tell, Blaylock released one other album, a mid-Seventies release titled The Other Man In Me. Hovis released a series of thirteen or so gospel and country albums from 1972 to 1982 with a woman named Ralna English, who at some point became Ralna Hovis.

And there’s nothing really different about Guy & David’s take on “Games People Play.” It’s just well-done country. And it’s good enough to be today’s Saturday Single.

‘If You See Your Brother . . .’

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

So Glen Campbell’s journey has ended. The Arkansas-born musician – and how slender a reed that word seems, given Campbell’s accomplishments! – died Tuesday in Nashville from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.

As happens when someone of Campbell’s stature passes, it’s all over the news, and there seems to be no point in my repeating what others have reported at venues with wider reaches than this one. The New York Times’ coverage is here, and the report from Rolling Stone is here.

And I guess I’ll share here a link to the piece I wrote the day after the Texas Gal and I saw Campbell and his band at the Paramount Theatre here in St. Cloud. The show took place in May 2011, after Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but before that diagnosis was made public. When Campbell and his family made the public aware of his illness the next month, the Texas Gal and I both nodded, recalling moments during the show when Campbell has seemed a little confused.

Beyond the memories of that wonderful evening at the Paramount, I have plenty of Campbell’s music around: A total of 103 tracks on the digital shelves encompassing the four great 1960s albums, Gentle On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston plus his 1968 album of duets with Bobbie Gentry and some other bits and pieces. And rummaging through them this morning, one of them brought me an “Oh, yes,” moment.

I have no idea what Glen Campbell would want for his musical epitaph, maybe something from his last album, Adiós, released earlier this year, or maybe something else from the final cluster of albums released since his condition was made public. But one of the tracks on my digital shelves spoke to me this morning. It went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1969, peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s country chart and was No. 1 for a week on the easy listening chart. Here’s “Try A Little Kindness.”

‘A Time For Us . . .’

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

A quick glance this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 26, 1969 – forty-eight years ago today – brought back a treasured memory from the following summer. Perched at No. 10 this week in 1969 was Henry Mancini’s cover of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

During early August of 1970, I spent a week at Boy Scout camp as an instructor for Troop 112, which was sponsored by our church, St. Cloud’s Salem Lutheran. I was also the troop’s bugler, rousing our scouts every morning with a poor version of “Reveille” and easing them into their sleeping bags at night with “Taps,” a tune more suited for my skills.

On one of the evenings we spent in the pines of Camp Clyde (or perhaps Parker Scout Reserve, which became the camp’s name somewhere along the line), the boys in my troop asked me to play some music on my horn as we sat around a campfire. I was pretty good at playing by ear, so I offered them a few tunes we’d all heard on the radio over the past year. After about fifteen minutes, with my fellow scouts pretty attentive for adolescent boys, I decided to close my little show with the “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet,” perhaps better known by that time as “A Time For Us.”

By the summer of 1970, I’d been playing my cornet for about six years, and I’d play for another two or three, but I don’t know if I’ve ever played any better than I did during those three or so minutes when I offered Nino Rota’s melody to my troop members and to those scouts at other campsites within earshot in the pine forest. As the last notes from my horn faded in the fire-lit dark, the scouts from Troop 112 were utterly silent. And a few moments later, over their silence, came faint applause from several directions, as scouts at those other campsites offered their appreciation.

Here’s Mancini’s version:

I can’t remember if I had read William Shakespeare’s play by 1968, when Franco Zeffirelli’s film version came out, the film for which Nino Rota wrote the theme that Mancini covered with his 1969 record. But I was certainly aware by then of the plot of the play; the budding romantic in me would have latched tightly onto the theme of doomed love. And the tune was beautiful, so when Mancini’s version hit the airwaves during the summer of 1969, I was a willing absorber.

Where did I hear Mancini’s record? All over the place, no doubt. The record was No. 1 on KDWB’s “6+30” for the week of June 23, 1969, so I’m sure I heard it as I was hanging around with my friends, even though I was still a few weeks away from bringing my grandfather’s old RCA radio up to my room from the basement to feed my burgeoning interest in Top 40 music. And I certainly heard it elsewhere, too. Not only did Mancini’s record spend the last week of June and the first week of July at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it spent all of June and July on top of the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, which meant I would have heard it on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s WJON and KFAM.

Mancini’s version of the tune was the only one to hit the Top 40, although Johnny Mathis placed a vocal cover – “Love Theme From ‘Romeo And Juliet’ (A Time For Us)” – at No. 8 on the Easy Listening chart. I don’t recall hearing Mathis’ version until I sought it out this morning, and although I’ve generally liked Mathis’ work over the years, I didn’t care for it. I pondered that, and as I did, I took a look at the digital shelves here and got a slight surprise: Of the nineteen versions of the tune here at the EITW studios, seventeen are instrumentals.

The only two vocal versions are by the Lettermen and Bobby Sherman. And even I shake my head at the latter name. The Lettermen, I can understand. Their version of the tune was on the 1969 album Hurt So Bad, an album my sister owned and that I listened to regularly in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard. But the Bobby Sherman version of the tune isn’t something I would have sought on its own; all I can figure is that when I looked for Sherman’s version of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” I found it on Sherman’s self-titled album from 1969 and “A Time For Us” came along as collateral damage.

Anyway, as the digital evidence points out, I prefer the Rota tune without the words. And it turns out the words we’ve heard so frequently for almost fifty years weren’t the original ones. The song was originally titled “What Is A Youth,” with lyrics by Eugene Walter. It was performed in Zeffirelli’s film by Glen Weston during the scene that sets up the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet at a party at the Capulet home. (The video of that scene – with the original performance of the original lyrics – cannot be embedded but can be seen here.)

Those lyrics – seemingly well-suited for the film’s setting in Renaissance Italy, have long since been pushed out of mass awareness by the lyrics crafted for the tune by Eddie Snyder and Larry Kusik. According to Second Hand Songs, those lyrics, with the song bearing the title “A Time For Us,” were first recorded in 1968 by Merrill Womach, a forty-one year old undertaker and gospel singer from Spokane, Washington. It was released on his 1968 album A Time For Us.

The first release of “A Time For Us” by a well-known performer followed quickly, according to the list at SHS: Shirley Bassey released her version of the song on her 1968 album This Is My Life, and the Lettermen followed with their version the next year. After that, SHS lists thirty-four more vocal versions.

As to instrumental versions, the first, says SHS, was Rota’s use of his theme in the film’s soundtrack under the title “In Capulet’s Tomb.” The first cover listed there came from Mancini, and the website lists forty-two more recordings under the title of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

Add a few instrumentals recorded as “A Time For Us” and about fifteen versions listed in Italian, Portuguese and Finnish (!), and there are about a hundred versions of the tune listed at SHS. There are no doubt more out there. My favorite? The Mancini version, although I’m tempted to say that my favorite version is the one that I sent out among the pines one summer night in 1970.

‘Like A Summer Thursday’

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Grasping at straws this morning and trying to right my ship, I checked the tracks in the RealPlayer that had the word “Thursday” in their titles. There were three:

“Thursday” by Country Joe & The Fish, from their 1969 album I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die.

“Thursday” by Jim Croce, from his 1973 album I Got A Name.

And “Like A Summer Thursday” by Townes Van Zandt, from his 1969 album Our Mother The Mountain.

I knew the first two well. The Van Zandt, I’d no doubt heard but did not know well, so I let it play. And I was a little startled. From where I listen, much of the late singer/songwriter’s work has melancholy undercurrents. “Like A Summer Thursday,” however, has the melancholy right on the surface:

Her face was crystal
Fair and fine
Her breath was morning
Her lips were wine
Her eyes were laughter
Her touch divine
Her face was crystal
And she was mine

If only she
Could feel my pain
But feelin’ is a burden
She can’t sustain
So like a summer Thursday
I cry for rain
To come and turn
The ground to green again

If only she
Could hear my songs
’Bout the empty difference
’Tween the rights and wrongs
Then I know that I
Could stand alone
As well as they
Now that she’s gone

Her face was crystal
Fair and fine
Her breath was morning
Her lips were wine
Her eyes were laughter
Her touch divine
Her face was crystal
And she was mine

It’s a lovely track:

Gregg Allman, 1947-2017

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

I can’t tell you when I first noticed Gregg Allman’s voice, but I know where I was.

That first moment might have been during the autumn of 1973, but it more likely was early the next year. Either way, it happened in the lounge of the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark. Among the small collection of cassette tapes we St. Cloud State students had pooled in the lounge were the Allman Brothers Band’s Eat A Peach and Brothers & Sisters, as well as the first Duane Allman anthology, which had on its fourth side a few other tracks from the band.

The lounge was the epicenter of life for those of us living at the hostel – a group I joined in late January 1974 after living for about five months with a Danish family – and music from the tape player was one of the constants of time in the lounge. And although I no doubt heard one of the tracks by the Allman Brothers during my brief visits to the hostel in the months before I moved there, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t until I took up residence there that I sat still in the lounge long enough to truly listen to Gregg Allman’s voice in front of the band he and his late brother had assembled.

This matters of course, because Gregg Allman died last Saturday in Savannah, Georgia, from liver cancer. To music fans, his tale is familiar: The Florida childhood, the early recordings with his brother, Duane, as record companies tried to shoehorn the brothers’ talents into boxes, the formation of the Allman Brothers Band and the world success that followed, then addiction, pain, missteps both personal and professional, the resurrection of the ABB (albeit without his late brother and the also deceased original bassist Berry Oakley, and later, original guitarist Dickey Betts), illness and so much more, right to the end.

If anyone wants to write a Southern gothic rock opera, the story is there for the taking.

As interesting as the story is, I’ll leave it to others; here’s Rolling Stone’s piece on Allman’s death and life. To me, what mattered was the music, especially those albums I heard in Denmark and acquired soon after I came home, those and the other early works I soon collected as well. The music I’d heard in the lounge, I knew – and still know – note for note, having been immersed in it nearly every evening for something more than two months. The stuff that was new to me – most of the group’s self-titled 1969 debut, 1970’s Idlewild South and the 1971 Fillmore East album – took longer to work its way into me but it did so eventually. And I have some of Allman’s work – both with the ABB and as a solo artist – from the later years into the 1990s, as well, although I don’t know that music as well.

So, like much of the music I listened during the years from, oh, 1969 into 1975, the Allman Brothers Band’s early work, with Allman’s voice, gruff, bluesy and tender by turns, leading the way, is part of my foundation.

Still, I try not to let the music I love get trapped in time, to let it belong only to one year, one decade, one moment. That’s hard for any music lover, I think, but it seems especially hard for me, given my fascination with how music and memory entwine. I don’t think that Gregg Allman’s work – as the voice of the ABB and on his own – is frozen like that for me, locked in the Pro Pace lounge. “Dreams,” from The Allman Brothers Band, popped up on a CD in the car the other day, and as I drove, I was listening to a song that mattered right then, not just to a memory. I thought about that as I drove and listened, and I was pleased.

And “Dreams,” from 1969, seems to be a good place to close this awkward appreciation of Gregg Allman.

Saturday Single No. 533

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Okay, we’re going to play Games With Numbers this morning and convert today’s date – 3/25/17 – into 45, and then we’re going to dig into six Billboard Hot 100s from the end of March during our sweet spot years and see what was at No. 45. Those six records will give us our options for today’s Saturday Single. As we normally do, we’ll check out the No. 1 records along the way.

We’ll start in 1965 and go forward two years at a time. And in late March of 1965, the No. 45 record in the Hot 100 was “Got To Get You Off My Mind” by Solomon Burke. For some reason, I’ve never paid much attention to Burke’s music, and that’s too bad (and not too wise, either), as he casts a fairly large shadow on the soul and R&B of the 1960s. “Got To Get You Off My Mind” is a pretty mellow piece of work, and Burke’s honeyed voice is, of course, well-suited for a short and somewhat upbeat tune marking the loss of a girlfriend. The record peaked at No. 22, the highest Burke would put a record in the Hot 100, but over on the R&B chart, it was No. 1 for three weeks.

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 for March 27, 1965, was “Stop! In The Name Of Love” by the Supremes.

Moving ahead two years to 1967, we find Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” perched at No. 45. I don’t know much about Conley except for this one hit record, which makes sense as I look at his entry in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: Of the eight other records Conley got into or close to the Hot 100, only 1968’s “Funky Street” hit the Top 20, going to No. 14. (I’ve heard “Funky Street,” but for some reason it’s not on the digital shelves.) As would be expected, the Atlanta-born singer did better on the R&B chart, where “Sweet Soul Music” was No. 2 for five weeks (and “Funky Street” went to No. 5 a year later). But “Sweet Soul Music” is, of course, more than its chart history, with its roll call of the greats of R&B: “Spotlight on Lou Rawls, y’all . . .”

Sitting at No. 1 exactly fifty years ago today – March 25, 1967 – was the Turtles’ “Happy Together.”

During the last week in March of 1969, the No. 45 record was the Meters’ funky instrumental “Sophisticated Cissy.” It was the first record by the New Orleans group to hit the Hot 100, and it peaked at No. 34, making it the Meters’ second-most successful single, behind “Cissy Strut,” which went to No. 23 just a few months later. The Meters put five more records into the Hot 100 between 1969 and 1977, but none of them went higher than No. 50. Oddly, although I have a couple of albums by the Meters on the digital shelves, I do not have “Sophisticated Cissy.” So there’s a hole I have to fill somehow, with probably a few other Meters gaps. The record went to No. 7 on the R&B chart.

The No. 1 record during the last week of March 1969 was “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe.

We head into March 1971 and the beginning of the end of my senior year of high school. During the fourth week of March that year, the No. 45 record was “I Am . . . I Said” by Neil Diamond. In the files I have of the weekly Hot 100, the record is listed at No. 45 as a double-sided single, with “Done Too Soon” on the flip. But according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, “Done Too Soon” peaked at No. 65, while “I Am . . . I Said” went to No. 4 on the pop chart and to No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart. That’s too bad, as I like the B side better, although the A side would be okay if Diamond hadn’t done the deal about the chair not hearing. And, of course, the single – double-sided or not – was just one of what seems like a hundred Neil Diamond records to reach the chart. (The total is actually fifty-six.)

Sitting at No. 1 during that last week of March 1971 was “Me and Bobbie McGee” by Janis Joplin.

Sir Elton John shows up when we jump into March 1973 and take a look at the No. 45 record during the month’s last week. It turns out to be “Crocodile Rock,” which spent three weeks at No. 1 in the Hot 100 and went to No. 11 on the Easy Listening chart. There’s not a lot more to say about Sir Elton except that the first time I heard “Your Song” – his second Hot 100 record and the first thing I heard from him – I would not have guessed that he’d become the most popular artist of the 1970s and the third most popular of all time (as noted in Top Pop Singles). For those wondering, “Border Song” was his first Hot 100 record, going to No. 92 during the summer of 1970, just a few months before “Your Song” went to No. 8.

The No. 1 record during the last week of March 1973 was “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack.

And we end our Saturday jaunt with a look at the Hot 100 from the fourth week of March in 1975, when the No. 45 record was “Living A Little, Laughing A Little” by the Spinners, a record I’m not sure I’ve ever heard until this morning. It fell right into the patch of great records by the group, and my guess is that it never got much play on the jukebox in Atwood Center at St. Cloud State. (My listening elsewhere was more album-oriented.) Maybe the record didn’t get much play on KDWB out of the Twin Cities or St. Cloud’s WJON, both of which got a little (but only a little) attention from me in those days. I don’t know, but listening to the record this morning rang no bells at all. The record went to No. 37 in the Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the R&B chart.

Parked at No. 1 during that fourth week of March 1975 was “Lady Marmalade (Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi)” by LaBelle.

So we’ve got an interesting assortment to choose from today, four bits of R&B and two big hits that lost their freshness long ago. And I think we’ll head back to 1969 and make the Meters’ funky “Sophisticated Cissy” today’s Saturday Single.

‘And It Came To Pass . . .’

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

With a storm moving in for Christmas Day itself, we’ve advanced our plans by one day, making today one of preparation and tomorrow the day that the Texas Gal, my mother and I will go to celebrate the holiday at my sister’s home in the northwestern suburb of Maple Grove.

But before I head out for some final shopping, I wanted to stop by here. As long-time readers know, I don’t really do much Christmas music. But this season, we’ll expand this blog’s Christmas music playlist by one song and then wish all of you and all of yours a joyful and peaceful holiday tomorrow, however you mark the day.

Here’s “Christmas Dinner” by Peter, Paul & Mary. Written by Noel Paul Stookey, it was released on the 1969 album Peter, Paul & Mommy.

And it came to pass on a Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
Outside standing, a lonely boy-child
Cold and shivering in the night

On the street every window
Save but one was gleaming bright
And to this window walked the boy-child
Peeking in, saw candlelight

Through other windows he had looked at turkeys
And ducks and geese and cherry pies
But through this window saw a gray-haired lady
Table bare and tears in her eyes

Into his coat reached the boy-child
Knowing well there was little there
He took from his pocket his own Christmas dinner
A bit of cheese, some bread to share

His outstretched hands held the food
And they trembled, as the door it opened wide
Said he “Would you share with me Christmas Dinner?”
And gently said she, “Come inside”

The gray-haired lady brought forth to the table
Glasses to their last drop of wine
Said she, “Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas
And especially yours and mine”

And it came to pass on that Christmas evening
While all the doors were shuttered tight
That in that town, the happiest Christmas
Was shared by candlelight

Farewell To The Ace

Friday, October 28th, 2016

For the past couple of years, Mom and I – and other customers, too, I assume – have known that the Ace Bar & Grill was in a precarious position.

It’s been about two years since Janice, one of our regular servers there, told us that the restaurant was up for sale. The owner was retiring, she said, and was hoping to sell the property as a restaurant, trying to keep intact the business that’s occupied the corner at Wilson Avenue and East Saint Germain since 1932.

Every once in a while, during our weekly or so stops at the Ace, we’d ask Janice or one of the other servers if there were any news. No matter who it was, she’d shake her head. “Haven’t heard a thing” is something we heard a lot.

Last week, the news came down. The Texas Gal spotted it first from the St. Cloud Times via Facebook. The Ace was closing on October 31. The property had been sold, but there was no indication of what would come next. I mentioned it to Mom Monday. She’d missed the story in the Times. “Oh, no,” she said. We agreed that we’d get there Tuesday after running a few errands.

As I’ve noted here before, since Mom moved into her assisted living center ten years ago, we’ve been regular lunch customers at the Ace. And for years before that, going back into the early 1960s, the Ace was a regular stop for our family after movies and basketball games or sometimes just for a meal out, and on a memorable evening in 1978, the Ace hosted the groom’s dinner for my first marriage. (The eventual failure of that pairing doesn’t negate the good memories that came along the way, and that dinner is one of those memories.)

And I’ve written here several times about the place, called the Ace Bar & Cafe back then and styled as the Ace Bar & Grill in recent years, most likely since the place was rebuilt after a fire in the 1990s. I’ve told how, when I was twelve or so, I got lost in the warren of corridors in the old building and ended up in the smoky bar, surrounded by loud and tall people. I’ve mentioned how I always notice the music coming from the ceiling speakers, chronicling the changes in recent years from a mid-1960s soft sound (think Ferrante & Teicher and Ed Ames) to a mid-1990s sound (think Gin Blossoms and Corrs) and then back to an adult contemporary mix of the late 1960s and early 1970s (think B.J. Thomas and Cat Stevens).

It had been a while since Mom and I had made it to the Ace, given her travails and mine this autumn, but we got there Tuesday and were greeted warmly. “One last time, eh?” our server asked as she led us to our table. I nodded sadly and asked if there were any clues as to what would follow.

“Not a thing,” she said.

I’ve seen rumors online of a Kwik-Trip convenience store, and it’s true that the neighborhood could use a convenience store/gas station, though I think the better site for that would be at the west end of the same block, where a Holiday stationstore recently closed (and where the building that Holiday occupied is the same one that housed Carl’s Market – the source of the best potato sausage I’ve ever had – from before I can remember to sometime in the 1990s). The corner property on which the Ace stands seems too small to accommodate a Kwik-Trip, several of which have opened in the St. Cloud area this year.

So we had our regular lunches: Hash browns with two eggs over easy for Mom and a burger with smoked Gouda cheese, fried onions and bacon – no bun, no pickle – for me, with tater tots and ranch dressing on the side. She had a chardonnay and I had an amber ale, and when we finished, we wished the servers well and made our ways out of the Ace Bar & Grill for likely the last time.*

And as I think about the Ace this morning, I can forget that it’s 2016 and that I’m 63. I can forget that Mom is in her nineties and that Dad has been gone for thirteen years. I can forget that the Ace as it is today was built in the 1990s after the fire that destroyed the old Ace with its warren of corridors that had to confuse more people than just one twelve-year-old boy. In my mind, the Ace Bar & Cafe will forever be somewhere in the years between 1965 and, oh, 1978, with the noise from the bar at the front of the building almost, but not quite, drowning out the easy listening soundtrack coming from the dining room’s overhead speakers.

Again, think Ferrante & Teicher. And the song that starts with the line “Once upon a time there was a tavern . . .”

Here are Ferrante & Teicher with their take on “Those Were The Days.” It’s from their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*The place is open through Monday, and it’s possible the Texas Gal and I might get there over the weekend, but given our weekend busyness, that seems unlikely.