Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘Sail On, Silver Girl . . .’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

We spent a pleasant evening with Rob and his sister Mary Ellen the other Saturday, taking in a show by a local group called the Fabulous Armadillos. The show, titled “What’s Going On – Songs From The Vietnam War Era,” was remarkable, with the very familiar tunes – starting with the Animal’s “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and ending with Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful” – being performed as closely as possible to the original recordings.

(Interspersed between many of the tunes came memories and commentary from three veterans of the armed forces, two who served in Vietnam and one who served in Iraq, giving the evening a sense of gravitas.)

Performing the songs as closely as possible to the originals means, of course, finding local talent able to perform in a broad range of styles. I would guess the most difficult thing about a band like the Armadillos is finding vocalists. Not to downplay the instrumentalists – especially the guitarist of the group who replicated Jimi Hendrix’ famed Woodstock performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” just before intermission – but somehow vocal matching seems harder.

Which is why I wondered a bit when one of the group’s vocalists took his place in a spotlight during the first half of the show and the keyboard player in the shadows behind him moved into the familiar and beautiful introduction to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s one thing for a keyboard player to master Larry Knechtel’s astounding piano arrangement, and it’s quite another to find a singer who can match Art Garfunkel’s range and purity of tone.

Of course (well, perhaps I shouldn’t be so matter of fact about it, but having seen the Armadillos a couple of times, nothing they do really startles me beyond, occasionally, the choice of material), he nailed it, leading to one of several standing ovations the crowd gave the band during the two-and-a-half hour show.

And since then, in odd moments, I’ve found myself thinking about and assessing Paul Simon’s masterpiece, and not for the first time. Nearly ten years ago, when offering the 228 tracks of my Ultimate Jukebox, I thought about “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” writing:

I suppose there’s little argument about which record was the best thing that Simon & Garfunkel ever did. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is an extraordinary song and record. But as much as I’ve loved it over the years, I found myself uneasy sliding it in among the other records in this mythical jukebox. As well as looking for good records, I guess I was also looking for flow, for a collection of songs that would make interesting combinations and patterns as the tunes played. And I decided as I considered the work of Simon & Garfunkel that “Bridge” just brings a little too much weight along with it, stopping the show.

Well, it did stop the show the other week, at least for a few moments, and it touched a memory for me of a bicycle ride through the streets of Fredericia, Denmark, a ride that took place forty-five years ago this month. I was falling in love, and after spending an evening with the young lady, I was biking sometime after midnight to the home where I lived with my Danish hosts. As I wrote in a memoir a few years ago:

I was so enthralled, so immersed in the joy of falling in love, and one night, as I rode that big black bicycle home to Vejrøvænget, I sang the third verse of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the verse that goes, “Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by. Your time has come to shine – all your dreams are on their way. See how they shine.”

I could not make the young lady in question shine as much as she deserved. And, not quite fifteen years later, when the same verse became a beacon in another chance at love, another woman and I learned that maintaining the luster is hard work, and we failed. Even with all that attached to it, that third verse of the song is still my favorite, and – after truly listening to the song for the first time in a long time – I find myself loving the song again.

Here it is, the title track of Simon & Garfunkel’s brilliant 1970 album:

Saturday Single No. 612

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

The Texas Gal took this week off work, and while we had made no plans for a major trip, we had hoped to spend a couple of days in the car doing some leaf-peeping, perhaps heading from here to Taylor’s Falls at the Wisconsin border or maybe heading northeast toward Duluth.

Alas, it rained Monday through Thursday – nothing torrential, just slow, steady soakings with one minor storm (although Thursday’s storm in Duluth brought ocean-sized waves crashing in along the Lake Superior shoreline; the photos have been amazing). And Friday, yesterday, was cold. So we stayed in. Probably just as well. We did some binge-watching of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale and of the first few episodes of both New Amsterdam and A Million Little Things, ate out a little, ordered in a little, dealt with problems with an overhead fan/light in our entryway (a tale I may tell in full on another day), and got new phones.

On Wednesday, while we were waiting for the phone techs at a big box store to solve a problem with our new phones, I wandered over to the clearance CD bin and dug around for a while. I came out with five discs to fill gaps in the collection, compilations of work by Billie Holiday, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, ABBA, and Buddy Guy.

And here’s a track that came along with one of those five, one whose title, at least, tells how the week felt for us. It’s Buddy Guy – with some help from Bonnie Raitt – with “It Feels Like Rain,” the title track from his 1993 album. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Imprinted

Friday, October 5th, 2018

So last evening, as the small music group from our Unitarian-Universalist fellowship got some music ready for Sunday, our conversations wandered all over our musical landscapes. Three of us are about the same age, and we know pretty much the same songs (although the other two have a better grasp on folk while I know more pop and rock). Our occasional old fogeyness is leavened by our fourth member, who is a graduate student in her twenties.

Anyway, we were working on a couple of tunes to accompany a program on a local social justice initiative. We settled on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and “The Hammer Song (If I Had A Hammer),” written, of course, by Pete Seeger although we’re performing it more in the style of Peter, Paul & Mary. And we came to a quandary as we worked on the latter.

I was running through the chords on the keyboard, playing from memory and by ear while Jane was following along with guitar, using the chord sheet she’d found in her binder. And at one point, we were playing different chords. So I pulled out my phone to jump onto YouTube to give a listen to Peter, Paul & Mary.

“It’s going to be in a different key,” said Tom, who was working out a bass line for the song.

“I’ll still be able to tell if they’re going to the tonic or to the dominant,” I said. (I’m kind of the music theory geek among the bunch.) And we soon found that the chords on Jane’s sheet were right and my ears (and memory) had been in error. And along the way we ran across Trini Lopez’ 1963 version of the Seeger song, a very rapid live version that went to No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100.

I laughed, telling the others that I have the 45, which came to me from my sister. She got it in 1963 from one of those grab bags you could get at record stores, something like twelve records for a buck. And I mentioned that I liked the flip side – Lopez’ take on “Unchain My Heart” a little bit better.

Then we went back to work, getting a handle on the two songs for this coming Sunday. We’re still a little shaky on “Stand By Me,” but we’re okay on “If I Had A Hammer.” As we began to pack away guitars and close up the keyboard, our young friend Cassie headed out for home and sleep – a precious commodity for a grad student.

The rest of us chatted for a few minutes. We talked about our early records: children’s 78s, classical 78s and early 45s. Jane recalled having a copy of Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” (No. 1 for six weeks in 1958), and Tom recalled David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” (No. 1 for three weeks, also in 1958).

And then we three old fogies found ourselves singing “Ooo eee ooo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang! Ooo eee ooo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang!”

And we laughed and marveled at how music imprints itself on us, the marvelous, the mundane, and sometimes, the just plain silly.

Saturday Single No. 610

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

It’s funny how the mind works.

Last evening, just before heading upstairs to take a shower, I watched a few minutes of one sporting event or another. As the camera lingered on the crowd just before I turned the television off, framed in the picture was a pretty young woman with striking red hair.

“Gee,” I thought as I made my way upstairs, “that looked a lot like Anne.” I’ve mentioned her before. Anne was the young woman who was an intern at the Twin Cities television station at the same time I was, the winter of 1975-76. She was in the promotions department and I was in sports.

As I prepared for my shower, I pondered – not for the first time – how completely I’d missed Anne’s signals back then that she wanted to be more than just friends chatting over an occasional cup of coffee in the break room. I should have taken her out for a beer after work and seen where things went from there, I thought.

But no, my train of thought went, that might have been hard to arrange, given that I worked reporter hours several evenings a week and given the not inconsequential distance between the station and her home. And that led me to think of those Saturdays late in my internship when I was responsible for producing the full five-minute sports package for our evening news show, selecting stories, choosing highlights, and all of the other tasks that went into the package.

And I recalled one Saturday when our video highlights included some footage of the hockey game that day in Philadelphia between the National Hockey League’s Flyers and the Soviet Red Army hockey team. The Flyers were then in their Broad Streel Bullies phase, and perhaps the most newsworthy moment was when one of the Flyers laid out one of the Red Army players with a massive check, knocking the Russian groggy if not out cold.

[We move now in these brackets from memory to information from Wikipedia: The great Valeri Kharlamov was the recipient of the check from Ed Van Impe, and the Russian team withdrew from the game in protest. Eventually, the teams resumed the game, but the Russians were obviously cautious the rest of the game and lost 4-1.]

I wrote a bit of copy about the game, using as my lede something like “It wasn’t quite the Eastern Front, but the Russian Army – at least its hockey team – had a rough day today in Philadelphia.” I’m not sure how that reads now, but for a kid of twenty-two who was learning his craft, I think it wasn’t bad. And with that as one of the leading stories, I handed the sports package off that evening to the night’s on-air talent and went home.

But as I showered last evening, I recalled that the following Monday, my boss/adviser ended a meeting with me by telling me the Saturday sports package had been fine, except for one thing: In the story about the hockey game, I had neglected to include the final score. I was startled, and I’ve used that bit of conversation as a guide for every sports story I’ve written since then: Make sure the score is in the story.

The game between the Flyers and the Red Army was one of several exhibitions that winter between NHL teams and top-level teams from the U.S.S.R., and I pondered that for a moment, and then thought about the 1972 series of games between Team Canada and the Soviets, eight games between what were essentially all-star teams. I don’t remember the entire sequence of eight games, but I remember that the Soviets dominated the four games in Canada, and the Canadians did the same in the U.S.S.R., and when the eighth game came around, the series was tied three games apiece with one tie.

But I did remember the outcome of the eighth game, which Canada won after Paul Henderson of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the winning goal with something like thirty-four seconds left in the game.

[Hard data intrusion: According to Wikipedia, Henderson scored the winning goal for Canada in the sixth, seventh and eighth games of what was called the Summit Series. I had forgotten that. But the winning goal in game eight was in fact scored with thirty-four seconds left.]

And I started thinking about time zones and another international hockey game, the 1980 Olympic match between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., the famous “Miracle On Ice” game. I recalled it starting at an odd mid-afternoon time here in the U.S. because to start it any later would mean the game would have taken place long after midnight in Soviet Union.

“So,” I wondered as I finished toweling myself off after my shower, “if it’s four o’clock here” – thinking about the mid-afternoon start of the Miracle On Ice game – “then is it midnight in Moscow?”

Well, during Daylight Savings Time, it is. In the winter, when the game was played, that would not hold true. But anybody who’s waded to this point through the swamp with me knows what’s coming next.

Here are Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen with “Midnight in Moscow.” It went to No. 2 in 1962, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Gather Up The Brokenness . . .’

Friday, September 28th, 2018

I’m feeling pretty bruised today. Yesterday was a hard day; the events in Washington stirred up a whole lot of stuff that I keep on a back shelf in my emotional closet.

Today is a day for healing.

Here’s “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen. It’s from his 2012 album Old Ideas.

O gather up the brokenness
Bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above

Let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim
Come healing of the altar
Come healing of the name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Saturday Single No. 609

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

I am, as I wrote the other week, an autumnal man.

I have always been so, even when I was much younger than I am now. Perhaps that is why, as I live in what is clearly the autumn of my time here, I have finally found peace of mind, comfort of soul, and a degree of happiness that just two decades ago I would have assessed as extraordinarily unlikely, if not actually impossible.

Perhaps the seasonal leavening brought to my life by the springtime outlook of the Texas Gal has brought the balance I’ve seemingly always needed. In any case, her presence in my life these past eighteen-plus years is a major part of the reason my life so satisfies me now. (And I know, with an awareness that warms me, that my presence in her life grants her similar satisfaction.)

I shan’t – to use a word my mom’s mother employed often – go beyond those thoughts today; I’ve dabbled in autumnal musings both in the piece I wrote the other week and in a fair number of pieces here over the years. But, moving from soul searching to reporting, I wanted to note that here in the midsection of the U.S., this year’s autumnal equinox takes place at 8:54 p.m. this evening. The southward bound sun will cross the equator at that moment, and for the next three or so months, each day’s hours of daylight will diminish and the hours of darkness will increase.

Around our place, many of the changes that accompany the season are underway: A very few of the leaves on the flowering crab have turned yellow and fallen. Some of the leaves on the adjacent linden are doing the same. Next to the linden, however, the maple tree has given no indication if its leaves will mirror the yellow of the other two or complement them with red or orange. We will know soon which it will be.

The grass beneath them is still green, awaiting the first overnight frost, which cannot be many nights away.

I observe these changes both through the window of my study and via my forays outside for errands or tasks. And, despite the chronic ails brought about by my leg and back problems and despite the – one hopes – more temporary ails of a late summer sinus infection, I observe those changes happily.

And this evening, autumn will arrive.

This calls for an autumnal tune. Here’s one of my favorites: “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” by The Band. It’s from the group’s self-titled 1969 album, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

2,397,000

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

That’s a hefty number, 2,397,000 is. Where’d it come from?

Well this morning, I looked at the number of pages in the Word file for this blog. Since sometime early this year, I’d been stacking new posts on the top of the file, letting it get longer and longer until editing within it started to get a little unweidly.

The file was sitting at 139 pages with a word count of 58,575. It was time to start a new file. Back in the early days of this blog, I was zipping condensed files of albums to share here and at a couple of boards, so when I began writing blog posts, I called the first file “Zipped & Shared No. 1.”

(The zipping and sharing of files ended early in 2010, when WordPress escorted me from its premises for violations of its policies, just as Blogger had done some time earlier. Being out in the cold of Blogworld, as it were, spurred me to open my own domain, as well as to change the way I offered music: embedding or linking to YouTube videos, some of them my own creation. But I continued to title the Word files I used “Zipped & Shared No. XX.”)

Today, I opened a new file, one titled “Zipped & Shared No. 52.” And I wandered back into the folders that hold the first fifty-one similarly named files, wondering if the lengths of each individual file were about the same. They were, averaging something more than 47,000 words each. The vast majority of those counted words were, in fact, text for this blog, but there were some things counted as words that were detritus, stuff that shouldn’t count toward a blog’s word count.

That detritus included notes to myself about this post or that, lists of links to include in posts and the coding for the embedding of videos. So, in a ham-handed bit of statistical division – my statistics instructor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism would have winced – I took that average of 47,000-plus and sliced it down to 47,000.

Then I multiplied 47,000 times 51 – the number of filled Word files – and came up with 2,397,000. And that’s approximately the number of words I’ve written for this blog since early 2007.

Remember the detritus that includes notes to myself? There’s a little bit of that right at the top of each of the last twenty or so Word files. There’s a note reminding me that the width I use when I embed YouTube videos on the blog is 455 whatevers. That’s also where I keep examples of the three characters in the Danish alphabet that we do not have in the English alphabet – ø, æ, and å – in both lower and upper case. I also keep the entire Danish exclamation “Skål!” so I can post it on Facebook after the Minnesota Vikings win.

And there are four notes about blog posts. One of them reminds me that this year, I am rerunning the 2008 series First Friday – looking at the mad year of 1968 – only this time, it’s as First Wednesday. Another note reminds me that I should consider doing a blog post about the musical (and romantic) duo of Cymbal & Clinger. A third offers the Derek & The Dominos track “Keep On Growing” as a subject for one of my covers posts. And a fourth suggests the song “Guantanamera” as a topic for a similar post.

But I keep looking back at that number: 2,397,000. That’s a lot of words, sentences, paragraphs and posts, many of which were not nearly as good as I’d hoped they’d be.

So where do we go with that? There are about a hundred tracks in the RealPlayer with the word “words” in their titles. And after a quick scan of the titles possible for a tune, I’ve settled on “Encouraging Words” by Billy Preston, the title track from his 1970 album.

Saturday Single No. 607

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

Sleep would not come last night. I dithered and read until about two in the morning, then tried to sleep. No go.

So I puttered online and watched a replay of a college football game until about five, then tried again. As I told the Texas Gal this morning, I must have slept, because the clock changed, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

I’m going to be pretty inert today. Here’s Al Hirt with “Sleepless Hours.” It’s from his 1962 album Trumpet & Strings, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Small Bud

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

I see the signs: A little bit of mist in the morning air. The turning of the sumac along the roadsides. The first leaves falling golden from the flowering crab next to our deck.

Autumn is coming. My time of year.

The Texas Gal and I talked about the seasons the other day as we lazed in the living room. She likes the spring, she said, when everything is green and new and possible. It’s a sweet time, she said.

I told her what she already knew, that to me autumn is bittersweet, and for as long as I can remember, bittersweet has been my default. It’s colored what I read and what I write, what I sing and what I hear, and – for many of the years of my life – what I felt and how I lived.

I no longer feel or live that way, thanks to the Texas Gal’s presence in my life for these past eighteen-plus years. But I still feel the pull of the bittersweet in literature, movies, television and song, sensing that tales of joyous but ultimately failed pairings and of barely missed chances that rarely resolve well are somehow more interesting and more valid to me than easy happy endings.

And I wonder where that sense came from. Was I formed by the art of my youth, when tales – whether in print, on the screen or on the radio – did not always end with smiles? Two examples come to mind quickly: Kirk Douglas’ crucified Spartacus watching his wife and child being taken to safety on the road outside Rome as he was dying. And then there’s the Association’s “Cherish,” a song that’s been mentioned here numerous times. Let’s take a refresher on Terry Kirkman’s lyric:

Cherish is the word I use to describe
All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I had told you
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could hold you
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could
Mold you into someone who could
Cherish me as much as I cherish you

Perish is the word that more than applies
To the hope in my heart each time I realize
That I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams
That I am not gonna be the one to share your schemes
That I am not gonna be the one to share what
Seems to be the life that you could
Cherish as much as I do yours

Oh, I’m beginning to think that man has never found
The words that could make you want me
That have the right amount of letters, just the right sound
That could make you hear, make you see
That you are drivin’ me out of my mind

Oh, I could say I need you but then you’d realize
That I want you just like a thousand other guys
Who’d say they loved you
With all the rest of their lies
When all they wanted was to touch your face, your hands
And gaze into your eyes

Cherish is the word I use to describe
All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I had told you
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could hold you
You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that I could
Mold you into someone who could
Cherish me as much as I cherish you

And I do cherish you
And I do cherish you

Cherish is the word

Anything that potent tends to throw discussion off-track, but anyway, I don’t think I project melancholy to the world. I’m pretty gregarious, quick with a joke (but not to light up your smoke), and all that. So where did that tinge of sorrow – the bitter that leavens the joy – come from? From those books, films and records of my youth? Or did those bits of media somehow validate feelings already present, feelings sown by frequently being the ninth boy at an eight-boy game and by the regretful smiles of a fair number of lovely young women?

I have no firm answers to those questions. How each of our personalities is molded is a riddle. All I know is that an important portion of me is the one that begins to bud right around the end of August and then flowers during the last weeks of September and the first weeks of October

And I feel that small bud forming inside me this week. My time of year is coming.

Here’s “Autumn Brigade” by the English group Jackson Heights. It’s from the group’s 1972 album The Fifth Avenue Bus.

Saturday Single No. 599

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

From the time I was seven – when I started taking piano lessons – to the time I moved from my folks’ house on Kilian Boulevard when I was twenty-two, I had access to a piano almost every day. There was a period of about four years, ending when I was sixteen, when I played rarely, but other than that, I played the piano at home in the evening and – during my college years – in the practice rooms at St. Cloud State’s Performing Arts Center during the day.

Even when I was in Denmark, I could play. My Danish family had a piano, and there was a piano in the lounge at the Pro Pace youth hostel where I lived for most of the last four months of that adventure. (I have vague memories of playing at several youth hostels during my major travels around Western Europe as well.)

Then during the summer of 1976, I moved to the drafty house on the North Side and, nine months later, to the mobile home I rented from Murl. I was still in school most of that time, so I could still play piano on campus, but it wasn’t nearly as convenient as walking into the dining room.

In late 1977, I moved to Monticello and then to other places and I didn’t get to play very often at all. In Monticello, I occasionally went to the Lutheran church the Other Half and I attended and played there. In Columbia, Missouri, I sometimes walked across campus to the University of Missouri’s performing arts building, and I made similar walks when I taught at Minot State in North Dakota and at Stephens College during a later stop in Columbia.

When I was in Jacques’ band during the late 1990s and early 2000s, I got to play a very good electronic keyboard every week. After a while the guys in the band pitched in and bought me a keyboard and sound module for my home, but then I was asked to leave the band, and over time, the touch of the keyboard they gave me deteriorated as did the quality of the module’s sound.

And then we moved to St. Cloud and I hardly ever played. The night before the closing of the sale of the house on Kilian in late 2004, I went over and said goodbye to the old Wegman upright, and from that night until the time I began playing at our church almost five years ago, I didn’t play at all.

I’ve played a lot since then, but it’s still required heading over to our church and making sure that nothing’s been scheduled for the meeting rooms there that my playing either the grand piano in the sanctuary or the Yamaha Clavinova in the office would disturb. So my playing has required scheduling.

That won’t be true any longer. Just this morning, one of these was assembled and installed in my half of the family room:

Korg LP-180

It’s a Korg LP-180, with a full 88 keys and about ten voices. My external speakers will be in on Monday, but even so, its own speakers sounded wonderful when I gave the keys their first whirl about twenty minutes ago. So what did I play?

Well, after noodling a bit to hear the various voices and to get a sense of the keys’ feel, I launched into the first piece of music I was able to pull from the radio and replicate on the Wegman without resorting to sheet music. That happened in the spring of 1972, and it was a major advance in my growth as a musician.

The piece? Jim Gordon’s lovely coda to Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” (I learned to play the first portion of the piece from sheet music shortly thereafter.) And though it’s nowhere near rare, and it’s no doubt been featured in this space more than once, Derek & The Dominos “Layla” from 1970 is today’s Saturday Single.