Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘Maintain’

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Long ago, about midway through my 1973-74 stay in Denmark, the American girl I’d been seeing became very unhappy with me for very legitimate reasons. I sought counsel from my friend Gus, who was a few years older and much more experienced than I at the dance of relations between men and women.

“I messed up, Gus,” I told him, more or less. “How can I fix it? What am I gonna do?”

And Gus looked at me and said, “Maintain.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Just maintain.”

Okay. Well, it was the early Seventies, after all, a time of seemingly weighty catch-phrases. And Gus was a vet, so maybe that pithy bit of advice came from his time in the service. Looking for any life preserver to cling to, I tried to internalize “maintain.”

Sometime in the next few days, I spent a few minutes making a small sign to tape to the cabinet that overlooked the study table in the small room I shared with a guy named Roger. It read “Maintain,” of course, in three different colored inks. It was pretty badly done. But I stuck it on the cabinet, and it brought me some comfort as the days crawled by and repairs to what had been my first serious relationship seemed less and less likely.

As the next weekend approached, I decided to get out of town. A couple of the St. Cloud State students in our program were doing their student teaching at an American school in Copenhagen that quarter, so I hitch-hiked the 120 miles to Copenhagen for a four-day weekend of Carlsberg beer, Chinese take-out, piano-led singalongs and some intense conversation.

Late on the first Monday afternoon of February, returning from Copenhagen, I opened the door to the small room I shared with Roger and stopped. Taped to the cabinet in the spot where my admittedly ugly “Maintain” sign had been was a delightfully designed sign in red marker that read “C’est La Vie!” Fuming, I unloaded my backpack, and when Roger came in, I let him have it. He had, I told him firmly (and likely loudly), no right to remove my sign. Yeah, I said, it was a crappy piece of work, but it was mine.

And I left the room, no doubt slamming the door as I went. Some time later, calmed by a cup of coffee from the vending machine in the hostel lobby, I returned to the room, ready to apologize to Roger. I opened the door to Room 8 and started to laugh. Roger had put up a new sign on the cabinet.

Again in red marker, it read “Main-Fuckin’-Tain!”

I still have both of the signs Roger made for me, tucked away in a box full of memories from that year. And as public life has become stranger and more stressful in this awful year, I have on occasion posted my own sign of encouragement at Facebook:

Maintain1

A search through the digital stacks found one track with the title “Maintain,” a 1967 record on the Dunhill label by Jim Valley, a one-time member of Paul Revere & The Raiders. An earlier record, “Try, Try, Try,” had bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 106, but “Maintain” didn’t chart, and Valley’s journey went in new directions, as chronicled at his website. (The single came my way via the massive Lost Jukebox collection that was posted online some years ago.)

Maybe Gus knew the record, maybe not. But as terse and cryptic as his advice was, it was valuable. Here’s “Maintain.”

Saturday Single No. 706

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

The trees around the condo are doing their autumnal things. From where I write, I can see some lower branches of our flowering crab; about a tenth of its leaves are yellow, and some have fallen, while the remainder are yet green (though not at all a becoming shade of green). Down the alley, the leaves on one of the maples in front of a nearby unit are turning a vivid red.

Also near that unit, another tree – this one closer to us – has only a sparse collection of yellow leaves remaining in its branches. I do not know what type of tree it is, but its part in the autumn symphony, my favorite among nature’s performances, is almost over.

I find, though, that as October approaches, bringing the midpoint of my six favorite weeks of the year, that I am not nearly as pleased this year by nature’s displays as I have been during most of the sixty-plus autumns I can remember. As I’ve noted before, the events of the world have left me unsettled.

We try here to maintain, though. We spent an enjoyable Thursday evening in the parking lot of a local dining and drinking establishment with about a hundred other folks – all groups sensibly distanced and some, at least, masked when appropriate – listening to the country band Mason Dixon Line. Two of the band’s members are acquaintances of ours, and they and their two mates did nice work on a program of covers.

It was a pleasantly cool evening, and I sat with my attention shifting from the band and a few dancers in front of me to the sky, where the moon was in its waxing quarter phase (more commonly called a half-moon) with a planet in attendance to its east. I learned later that it was Jupiter, with Saturn only a little bit farther east.

That was our first evening out since sometime in maybe early February, and given reports of a rapidly rising infection rate in Minnesota in recent weeks, likely the last for some time to come. And as I sat there in my lawn chair alternating my gaze between the stage and the sky, there was a song that kept popping into my mind, even as Mason Dixon Line offered tunes by Alabama and Alan Jackson. “Half moon,” I kept hearing. “Nighttime sky . . .”

That’s why Janis Joplin’s “Half Moon,” from her 1971 album Pearl, is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 705

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

We had a busy day yesterday, the Texas Gal and I: We did a grocery run in the morning, then spent the afternoon preparing the house for company for the first time since March. Tom, a friend from our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, had offered to come over and help us with a household problem, and we in turn had offered him dinner.

The problem was basically pretty simple. The light bulbs in the ceiling fixture over the landing had finally died. The fixture hangs from the main floor ceiling and can only be reached from the landing a story-and-a-half below. Not long after we moved here, we bought a twelve-foot step ladder, but we soon learned we were uncomfortable – both of us being a bit wobbly – near the top of the ladder.

Tom isn’t. Soon after he arrived, he was checking out the light fixture, tightening screws on the fan blades and installing light bulbs. Not long after that, he and I were quaffing Oktoberfest brews while the Texas Gal put finishing touches on dinner, and then all three of us were dining on chicken breasts with an apple-onion-raisin curry sauce and roasted sweet potatoes.

It was good to have company again. And yes, it’s good to have lights over the landing again, but we would have been pleased with the company even without the household assistance. As I’m sure many folks out there agree, the last six months have been fairly isolating, and a taste of safe normality – we’ve known Tom long enough that we trust him and he trusts us in all matters, not just those related to the corona virus – was good for all three of us.

But I’m tired today. So I’m not doing a whole lot here this morning. I just dipped back into the Billboard Hot 100 we looked at yesterday – released on September 19, 1970, fifty years ago today – and looked for something interesting in its lower reaches.

And I found a cover I’d never heard before, a take on Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66. Fifty years ago today, it was bubbling under at No. 101, and that’s as high as it ever went, although it went to No. 10 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. I do wonder why Mendes thought 1970 was a good time to cover the tune, which the Buffalo Springfield originally released in 1967. Whatever the reason. it’s today’s Saturday Single.

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago (September 1970)

Friday, September 18th, 2020

As promised earlier this week, we’re playing Symmetry, looking back fifty years to whatever record was sitting at No. 50 in the Billboard Hot 100 at this point in September 1970. First, though, we’re going to take a look at the Top Five released fifty years ago tomorrow:

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“War” by Edwin Starr
“Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See The Light” by CCR
“Patches” by Clarence Carter
“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman

This is not a particularly great five (or six) from where I listened long ago. There are some nice moments here, especially the intro to the Diana Ross single (although the spoken word portion of the record tamps that down a bit for me), and “War” is always going to get one’s attention. I like the CCR B-side, and the Bobby Sherman single always reminds me that there was a young lady named Julie during that long-ago season who was – clearly in retrospect but not evident to my seventeen-year-old self – interested in me.

As to the CCR A-side and the Clarence Carter single, I’ve never been interested, though I could no doubt sing along without errors as each of them played.

The four I dealt with two paragraphs above are in fact in the iPod and thus are part of my current listening, but if I were forced to trim, say, a hundred tracks from the device, three of them would likely be among those culled. Julie would stay.

And what do we find when we drop halfway down the Hot 100? We chance on one of the great singer-songwriter singles, one that’s been, I think, devalued and set aside somewhat as a result of its prominence, its ubiquity, and its status as one of the foundations of the decade’s singer-songwriter movement: James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain.”

I don’t remember the first time I heard the record, but I do know that as I heard it frequently during the autumn of 1970, its personal and confessional lyrics touched something in me. I’d guess – not for the first time – that the record was part of what moved me to begin writing my own stuff later that school year. (The other part, of course, was an unrequited affection for a sophomore girl, the tale of which I told in 2009 and revisited some years later in a post found here.)

If one tries to listen to the record with fresh ears – an almost impossible task after so many years and so many hearings – it remains a remarkable piece of work, one that went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

‘Everything Is Everything . . .’

Friday, September 11th, 2020

I remember, as does nearly everyone, I guess, what a beautiful morning it was – in Minnesota, it was mildly cool with a sky as clear and blue as I’ve ever seen – nineteen years ago today. I was driving the Texas Gal to work in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie from our home in the suburb of Plymouth, normally about a forty-minute drive. About five minutes into that drive, we began hearing news reports from New York City, the first one indicating that a plane had accidentally flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The accidental part wasn’t true, of course, and we learned that sixteen minutes later, as we heard reporters’ shock at seeing a second plane hit the South Tower. Both of us shaken, I dropped her off at her office and headed back home, hearing on the way about the attack on the Pentagon. As I neared home, I heard reporters tell me about the collapse of the South Tower.

And less than half an hour later, amid early reports of a fourth plane having crashed in rural Pennsylvania, I watched on television as the North Tower came down. What stands out to me, after nineteen years of pondering the events of September 11, 2001, is the horrifying speed at which things happened. From the time the first plane hit the North Tower to the time that tower joined its twin in collapsing, only an hour and forty-two minutes elapsed.*

And those one-hundred-and two minutes changed us and continue to do so, socially, geopolitically, and – for thousands – in intimately personal ways.

That’s all I’m going to say about that day nineteen years ago. We all know what happened and where we were. Instead, I’m going to think about the response that came from Bruce Springsteen. The story goes that a day or two after the attacks, Springsteen was in Rumson, New Jersey, when an unidentified driver yelled at him, “Bruce, we need you now.” The following July, Springsteen released the album The Rising, a meditation on loss, courage, faith, and grief and on finding one’s way through to acceptance and eventual peace and even more eventual joy.

I listen to The Rising occasionally, and of course, its tracks pop up on random sometimes. The track that affects me the most is “You’re Missing,” with its details of ordinary life left with a gaping hole. Here it is:

*That elapsed time is based on the timeline published this week at the website of Newsweek.

Whence Goes Quinn?

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Among the more interesting things that have happened during this summer of face masks and cultural squabbles (and neither of those things will go away anytime soon) were the decisions by the professional football teams based in Washington, D.C., and Edmonton, Alberta, to drop their nicknames of long standing.

Both teams will eventually select new nicknames, but until then on will compete, respectively, as the Washington Football Team and the Edmonton Football Team (or EE Football Team).

I applaud the changes. I’ve been advocating quietly in my personal sphere for such changes since the Minnesota Twins faced the baseball team from Atlanta in the 1991 World Series, and the American Indian Movement – based in Minneapolis – made known its opposition to the Atlanta baseball team’s nickname (and corollary opposition to the nicknames of several other athletic entities, the Washington football team among them).

When the subject arose this summer and the Washington team announced it would change its name, I figured it wouldn’t be long until the team that plays in Edmonton would do the same in response to complaints that the team’s long-standing nickname trivialized the native Inuit culture. So the second move did not surprise me.

And those decisions, and other events in the past few months, now make me wonder – on what may be a truly trivial track – what does a music fan do now with “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo),” written by Bob Dylan and first recorded with The Band (in 1967 during the Basement Tapes era) and recorded since by many.

(I’ve had similar discussions with myself over the years regarding the title of, and the war whoops in, the Cowsills’ 1968 hit “Indian Lake” and the performer’s name and title of the 1969 hit “Keem-O-Sabe” by Electric Indian. I’ve also pondered the place in my listening and in the larger cultural milieu of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” There are likely other tunes that spark such thoughts, but they do not come to mind immediately.)

The genesis of “The Mighty Quinn,” at least according to some sources, was Dylan’s having seen Anthony Quinn’s performance as an Eskimo in the 1960 movie The Savage Innocents. Dylan, says Wikipedia, “has also been quoted as saying that the song was nothing more than a ‘simple nursery rhyme’.”

The song, according to the website Second Hand Songs, has been recorded at least eighty-one times since Dylan and The Band created it in 1967. That first recorded version wasn’t released until six years ago, when it was part of The Basement Tapes Complete – The Bootleg Series Vol. 11. The version by Dylan that most folks likely know comes from his 1969 performance at the Isle of Wight festival, released in 1970 on Self Portrait and two years later on his second greatest hits collection.

The first cover versions came from Manfred Mann in January 1968, from a group of British studio musicians for an album titled Hits ’68 in May of that year, and in August of that year from a performer calling himself Uncle Bill for an album titled Uncle Bill Socks It To Ya. (From what I can tell, “Uncle Bill” was a man named Burt Wilson, and the album was a collection of songs recorded as if performed by the long-dead W.C. Fields.)

The covers have continued – they were sparse in the 1980s – with the most recent one listed at SHS coming last year on an album titled Strictly Dylan Vol. 3 by a group called the Clarksdale Brothers. (The album is also of interest as it’s home to one of only three covers listed at SHS of Dylan’s 1971 song “George Jackson.”)

There are eleven different versions of the song (and a few duplicates) on the digital shelves here, three of them by Dylan and The Band. Other performers whose covers are in my collection are Brewer & Shipley, the Brothers & Sisters Of Los Angeles (for an album titled Dylan’s Gospel), Kris Kristofferson, the Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia, Julie London, Hugo Montenegro, and Klaus Voorman & Friends, featuring the Manfreds. (The Manfreds, according to Wikipedia, are former members of the group Manfred Mann but did not include Mann himself. Voorman was a member of the band during the late 1960s.)

So, do I include a version of the song with this post? I will, but I might not ever again. I have to think about it. But in the meantime, here’s the version from the 1969 album Dylan’s Gospel by the Brothers & Sisters Of Los Angeles (a credit shortened to just the Brothers & Sisters in re-release).

Saturday Single No. 702

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

Yesterday, as I looked at the popularity of Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” at the various radio stations that made up my listening in 1970, I asked long-time reader and Top 40 expert Yah Shure if St. Cloud’s WJON had released surveys during that era.

He replied:

I have no idea whether or not WJON published a weekly survey in 1970. Only a stray earlier chart or two from the mid ’70s turned up after I started working there in 1977.

Then he commented on the source WJON used for Benton’s hit during his days at the station:

By that time, the Cotillion 45 had been retired from the WJON library, so we played Brooks’ “Rainy Night In Georgia” off of a 1973 Atlantic Records 25th anniversary double-LP, The Soul Years.

He went on to note an interesting thing about that album, one that made me stop and think:

Although it was, in all likelihood, a result of pulling the wrong tape during the production process, this various artists compilation is notable for a rocked-up re-recording Ruth Brown did of her 1953 hit, “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” The recording date of the remake wasn’t listed – probably mid-to-late ’50s – but boy, does it smoke!

I headed to my LP database, and yes, I found a listing for The Soul Years. But did it survive the Great Vinyl Sell-Off a few years back? I thought that it did but wasn’t entirely sure, so I grabbed a flashlight and headed for the stacks. And yes, there it was.

And this morning, I fired up Audacity and after lots of difficulties getting the program to work – it was the first time I’ve used it on my new desktop – I got the track ripped. I made – with again, some difficulty – a video and put it on my YouTube page.

So here’s Ruth Brown’s remake, likely from the mid- to late 1950s, of her 1953 hit “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Yah Shure is right, it smokes! And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Hoverin’ By My Suitcase . . .’

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Brook Benton’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” popped up on iTunes the other day, but the volume of the song was low compared to the tracks that had come before. I did some checking, and the mp3 of the tune (the source of the iTunes file) also had a lower volume than most of the other mp3s on the digital shelves.

Blame the source, which I think was a borrowed CD.

So I found another source for another mp3 and replaced all the files. Now, when the track pops up on random, the opening guitar figure can grab my attention the way it did back in the early months of 1970, when I heard the record on KDWB, where it peaked at No. 17; WLS, where it peaked at No. 4; and WJON, which, as far as I know, did not offer surveys. (Am I right, Yah Shure?)

Nationally, the record peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went to No. 2 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart.

I’ve got a few other versions of the song, but Benton’s take on it remains my favorite, partly because it’s the first version I heard but mostly because its hushed sound and that opening guitar riff remind me of evenings in my room with my old RCA radio during my first Top 40 winter.

There are quite a few covers of the song out there; Second Hand Songs lists eighty-five versions, including White’s and Benton’s, and there are likely others not listed. I see versions listed there by Tennessee Ernie Ford, B.J. Thomas, Johnny Rivers, Chuck Jackson, Boz Scaggs, and Ray Charles, a duet by Sam Moore and Conway Twitty (from a 1994 album titled Rhythm Country and Blues), and instrumental takes by Al Hirt, Cornell Dupree, Boots Randolph, and more.

But we’ll close today with the original version of the song by Tony Joe White. It’s from his 1969 album . . . Continued.

‘Eyesight . . .’

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

I went to a new eye doctor yesterday to get checked out. I brought with me the results of my last exam, in November.

After that November exam, I’d waited – for insurance purposes – until the dawn of 2020 to get new glasses, then dallied my way through January and February, and then . . . well, ya’ll know what happened then. And since that November exam, the blurry spot in my left eye had become a bit more blurry – and the glasses I’m wearing were now somewhere between three and four years old – so I thought I’d have my vision checked again before I got new glasses.

As I expected, the previously discovered cataract in my left eye has gotten a little bit worse since November. One seems to be forming in my right eye as well, although it’s still minimal. I will have to have lens replacement surgery sometime, certainly on the left eye and perhaps on the right.

The doctor said yesterday that if it were 2019, he’d have me get the left eye done now. But it’s 2020, with all that entails, and he said another year will be okay, as my right eye is still fine and the left eye blur – was there ever a band called Left Eye Blur? There should have been – will be no more than an annoyance.

He said that if the left eye gets rapidly worse, I should call him and we’ll get the surgery done. Then he increased the strength of my bifocals a bit and that was that.

I chose a pair of frames roughly the same shape as my current glasses, gunmetal instead of bronze, and we were done. My new specs should be here in two weeks.

Not a lot of tracks on the digital shelves have the word “sight” in their titles. One of them is “Eyesight To The Blind,” written by Sonny Boy Williamson II (according to Second Hand Songs). There are a couple of versions he recorded that are floating around dated as 1951.

The video here is one of them, and it matches one of those in my collection. The notes – from an anthology I borrowed somewhere – say that it was recorded in Jackson, Mississippi, on March 12, 1951, and was released as Trumpet 129. I’m not sure if that’s entirely correct, but it’s nevertheless a fine, raw Sonny Boy track.

A Lost Week

Friday, July 31st, 2020

Sinus infections. Summer allergies. Sleep difficulties. Gardening tasks.

You can add to that list some health care concerns as the local clinic where we’ve been patients for nearly twenty years is closing at the end of the month. So it’s been a lost week around here, both of us dragging through the days and spending more time than we want during the nighttime hours reading or playing video games.

And the world continues to go mad, which I think is getting to all of us: me, the Texas Gal and all over my readers out in blogworld.

So all I’m going to do today is offer a little hopefulness. Here’s Jorma Kaukonen – the one-time member of the Jefferson Airplane – with a cover of Rev. Gary Davis’ “There’s A Bright Side Somewhere.” The track come from Kaukonen’s 2009 album River Of Time.

See you tomorrow.