Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘Sometimes In Winter’

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Here’s a piece from the past that came to mind this morning. It ran here in a slightly different form almost ten years ago, in late February 2009.

I spent eight winters living in Minneapolis, three of them working downtown amid the unsurprising mix of a few modern skyscrapers, some other glass and steel buildings, and the older brick and stone edifices that had to that point survived the city’s occasional efforts at urban renewal.

While the canyons of downtown Minneapolis are slight shadows of those in the major cities – I think of Chicago and New York, obviously – there still was a wintertime melancholy there that one doesn’t find in smaller cities. Even away from downtown – maybe in the blocks around the trendy Uptown area not far away, or in the far southern reaches of the city, where I lived during my last urban seasons – the city can be a dreary place in the later afternoon of a winter day.

It was downtown Minneapolis on a wet winter day that popped into my head this morning. The RealPlayer was on random as I read the newspaper. One song ended and the next began: a familiar woodwind riff over a bed of muted brass and then some subdued percussion. It was Steve Katz’ evocative song, “Sometimes In Winter,” from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album. And I sang along softly:

Sometimes in winter,
I gaze into the streets
And walk through snow and city sleet
Behind your room.

Sometimes in winter,
Forgotten memories
Remember you behind the trees
With leaves that cried.

By the window once I waited for you;
Laughing slightly you would run.
Trees alone would shield us in the meadow,
Makin’ love in the evening sun.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the lamp posts call your name.
I can hear them
In the spring of frozen rain.

Now you’re gone, girl,
And the time’s slowed down till dawn.
It’s a cold room, and the walls ask
Where you’ve gone.

Sometimes in winter,
I love you when the good times
Seem like mem’ries in the spring
That never came.

Sometimes in winter,
I wish the empty streets
Would fill with laughter from the tears
That ease my pain.

As I sang, I could see the cold afternoon streets, the lights of the stores and the bars reflecting off the damp pavement. I could see the downtown workers huddled and hunched against the wind and snow, seeking the shelter of those stores and bars or maybe the havens of busses to take them home, away from the gray. And some of those who fled, just like some of those who stayed behind, would know well about Katz’ cold room with its questioning walls.

I first heard the song in 1969, when Blood, Sweat & Tears was the first cassette I got for my new tape player, and the song’s gentle grief has always felt right to me. For years, I envisioned Katz or his alter ego wandering the chill streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Today’s vision of Minneapolis doesn’t negate that; it adds to it. For I think all of us – even those in warmer climes – carry our own winter cities with us.

Saturday Single No. 627

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

It was twelve years ago tomorrow, a Saturday, when I wrote:

As I was wandering through my music files, I came upon a single that was – for a few weeks, at least – omnipresent in Denmark during the nine months I spent there many years ago. No matter where my girlfriend of the time and I went that autumn, we heard – sometimes just off in the distance – Lecia & Lucienne singing “Rør Ved Mig” (which translates roughly, I think, into “Stay With Me”).

I now think it’s more likely that “Rør Ved Mig” means “Touch Me” or possibly “Make Love To Me.”

When I got back to the U.S. in the spring of 1974, I was startled to hear coming from my radio the same tune and nearly the same arrangement, but this time with the words in Spanish. I’ve never been able to determine whether Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” was the original song and “Rør Ved Mig” was the second-language copycat, or the other way around. And it could be, I suppose, that there are other versions of the song out there in other languages, although in the more-than-thirty-years since I spent my time in Denmark, I’ve heard none.

In the eleven years since I wrote that, I’ve come across versions in English, Swedish and Norwegian, and the website Second Hand Songs tells me that there are also versions in Finnish, Dutch and Czech. As to which came first, the website shows it was Mocedades’ Spanish version.

A couple years after I came back to the U.S., my Danish brother visited, and during his visit, I mentioned “Rør Ved Mig” to him. After he got home, he mailed me a copy of the single. I don’t suppose I’ve played it often, but I did every once in a while. And then I got online about seven years ago and found an mp3 of the tune on the web. (When I got my USB turntable, I made a file from my own copy.) It pops up on the RealPlayer now and then.

And whenever I hear “Rør Ved Mig,” it has the same effect: For just a few moments, it is the fall of 1973, and I am walking somewhere inside the old portion of the city of Fredericia, maybe heading to have a beer with a buddy, maybe walking with that long-ago girlfriend, or maybe just walking. It’s a golden day in October, and somewhere, not too far away, Lecia & Lucienne are singing “Rør ved mig. Så jeg føler at jeg lever . . .”

And with that Saturday post in 2007 – after a month or so of false starts – I figured out what I wanted to do with this blog: Share the music that has shaped my life and share the tales that brought that music to me. I didn’t title the post “Saturday Single No. 1” – that came a week later – but I should have. In the years since, I’ve shared Lecia & Lucienne’s “Rør Ved Mig” numerous times. This time, as it marks the twelfth anniversary of Echoes In The Wind, it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 625

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Tired, weary, fatigued . . .

I had more energy, I’d go get my thesaurus and look up some more synonyms.

Here’s Jim and Jean’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.” It was first released on their 1966 album Changes, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Missed The Saturday Dance . . .’

Friday, January 18th, 2019

With my mind on things medical these days (for obvious reasons), I checked the digital shelves for tunes related to doctors. I found, among others, “Dr. Robert” (the Beatles), “Dr. Feelgood” (Aretha Franklin), “Dr. Dancer” (the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver), “Dr. Death” (Marketts), “Dr. Jive” (J.J. Cale), “Dr. Livingston, I Presume” (the Moody Blues), “Dr. Pretty” (Toots Thielemans), and “Dr. Stone” (the Leaves).

None of those feel right this morning, so let’s step over to the artists column, where we find, of course, Dr. John. And we’ll stop there.

Here’s the good doctor with an entirely suitable tune for me these days. It’s his cover of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” from Duke Elegant, his tribute to Duke Ellington, released in 2000.

Saturday Single No. 624

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

I am home after one night in the hospital. Sore and tired, yes, but home.

And for the first time in almost two years, my hamstrings do not ache. The doctor said that the surgery went perfectly – his actual word – and the nurses who took care of me from Thursday afternoon into Friday afternoon said they’d never seen someone recover from a fusion so rapidly, in the minimal terms of getting out of bed, walking to the bathroom and taking a walk though the hallways.

But now comes the hard part: Letting the Texas Gal take care of me and the house while I recuperate. I am not a good patient. But I will do my best.

And it’s a Saturday morning. I’ve had my bacon sandwich. I doubt we’ll have a fish fry here tonight, but to cover our bases, here’s Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five with “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” It’s from 1949, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Turning The Corner

Friday, December 21st, 2018

This piece first appeared here ten years ago tomorrow, and I think it’s been reposted at least once before. But it’s here today because it’s one of my favorite pieces from nearly twelve years of blogging. It’s been revised slightly.

We’re about to turn the corner.

Late this afternoon – at 4:23 p.m. – the sun will venture as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the lack of sunlight during this season grim and gloomy. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that I think is a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic and Germanic forebears. The science of our modern life tells us that the days of longer light will return, bringing us to springtime. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, however, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. The sun will reverse its course this afternoon, and after tonight’s full moon sets, tomorrow will bring slightly more daylight than we’ll get today. And the day after that will bring more than will tomorrow. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to turn the corner toward the light.

The solstice also marks the formal start of winter, of course, and I have many “winter” songs on the digital shelves. Here’s one that I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. It’s Sarah McLachlan’s take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night.” It’s on McLachlan’s 2006 album Wintersong.

Saturday Single No. 620

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

We’ve been busy on both of the last two weekends. Two weeks ago, we hosted our first Circle Dinner of the church year for our UU Fellowship. (Because of schedules, it took longer than usual to get organized.) It was a pleasant evening with one other couple and a man whose wife was out of town joining us for King Ranch casserole, cornbread and other victuals.

Then last weekend, we hosted a get-together for our UU musicians, which ended – as one might expect – with homemade music in our music and sewing room downstairs. There were four on guitar with me on keys and two listening and frequently joining in on familiar songs. One of my favorite moments came when I wasn’t playing keys but rather when one of the guitarists, Ted, started in on a familiar riff.

It took a moment to place the riff, but I dug quickly into the pile of music books next to me and pulled out a thick book of songs by Bob Dylan and paged more than halfway into it. One of the other guitarists put down her instrument and stood near my bench as I held the book, and the two of us sang along to Ted’s guitar as he ran through “Buckets Of Rain,” one of my favorite Dylan songs.

So that’s where I’m heading this morning. The original version of the tune – from the 1975 album Blood On The Tracks – is (as expected) not available on YouTube. (Mr. Dylan’s gatekeepers are exceedingly vigilant.) But there are always some covers out there. And on another day, I might dig deeper into the ones I do not know, but it’s Saturday, we’re planning a day of very little, and the aroma of frying bacon is wafting to me from the kitchen.

So here is my favorite cover of “Buckets Of Rain,” a duet between Bette Midler and the Bard of Hibbing himself. I’ve posted it before, but it’s been a long while. The track comes from Midler’s 1976 album Songs For The New Depression, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I Want All The Time . . .’

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I write a fair amount about Bruce Springsteen, I know. And even when I don’t write about him, I often mention him in reference to something I’m writing, or I post some of his music when it fits something I write about. (And of course I ponder his work as I listen to the iPod or the RealPlayer.) As it happens, it’s actually been almost a year since I posted any of his music, but anyway, I’ve posted more of his music than I have anyone else’s in the nearly twelve years I’ve been throwing stuff at the wall here.

And I’ve often wondered as I’ve written about Springsteen which of his hundreds of songs he considered his best. I found the answer last evening near the end of a long piece Michael Hainey wrote for Eqsuire. Hainey writes:

I tell him I’m thinking about “Born to Run,” which contains four words in one line that are the sum of him: sadness, love, madness, and soul. “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness / I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

And Springsteen responds:

“Those are my lines. ‘Born to Run.’ That’s my epitaph, if you wanna know my epitaph. There it is. It still is, probably—I use the song at the end of the show every night as a summary. The idea is that it can contain all that has come before. And I believe that it does.”

Hainey: Sadness, love, madness, soul. I tell him: Those are your four elements.

Springsteen: “The last verse of my greatest song. And that’s where it ought to end every night.” Springsteen pauses. “Twenty-four when I wrote it. Wow. It’s a . . . holds up pretty well. But I . . . that was what I was aiming for in those days—that’s what I was shooting for.”

Who am I to contradict the creator? But I wonder this morning if “Born to Run” is in fact Springsteen’s greatest. His most anthemic, yes. The one that made him a star, yes. Maybe even the one that told us out here most clearly who he was in those uncertain years before 1975.

But his greatest?

If you asked a hundred Springsteen fans . . . well, I don’t think you’d get a hundred different answers, but I think you’d get at least twenty. And I think that those twenty would reflect more than anything how each listener’s life was going at the time he or she first heard the Springsteen song each of them judges the greatest. And the choices might also reflect the times all of those fans really listened to Springsteen’s work for the first time.

It’s that way for me. As I’ve said here before, I resisted digging into Springsteen’s work for a long time, finally deciding to start with Tunnel of Love when it came out while I was living in Minot, North Dakota, in early 1988 and when, not coincidentally, I was inside a relationship that I could see transforming in a way that I adamantly did not want. So when I found among the songs on Tunnel of Love a song about a lasting pairing that also had a clever lyric . . . Well, as have millions before and since, I heard my story – or at least the story I wanted to have – in one of Bruce’s songs:

I got a dollar in my pocket
There ain’t a cloud up above
I got a picture in a locket
That says baby I love you
Well if you didn’t look then boys
Then fellas don’t go lookin’ now
Well here she comes a-walkin’
All that heaven will allow

Say hey there mister bouncer
Now all I want to do is dance
But I swear I left my wallet
Back home in my workin’ pants
C’mon Slim slip me in man
I’ll make it up to you somehow
I can’t be late I got a date
With all that heaven will allow

Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring
So c’mon mister trouble
We’ll make it through you somehow
We’ll fill this house with all the love
All that heaven will allow

Now some may want to die young man
Young and gloriously
Get it straight now mister
Hey buddy that ain’t me
’Cause I got something on my mind
That sets me straight and walkin’ proud
And I want all the time
All that heaven will allow

So what’s the difference between the greatest something and the most important something? I don’t know, right off-hand. Maybe there is none. Springsteen says his greatest is “Born to Run,” and I acknowledge that I still get a thrill from his anthems, from “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” and “Thunder Road” and especially “Born to Run.” And I do appreciate that subtext in “Born to Run” that he mentions in the interview. (And other subtexts besides.)

But the tale of “All That Heaven Will Allow” (minus, of course, the working class details; I have never had to work with my hands for a living) mirrored what I was hoping to have the first time I heard it. That matters to me (and I think it would matter to Springsteen, too, for if the main purpose of art is to create what one needs to create, then I think the next most important purpose of art is to be relevant to one’s audience).

But what do I know? Well, I do know that it took years of listening to “All That Heaven Will Allow” for me to find the place where the song’s narrator lives. And I also know that “All That Heaven Will Allow” is to me the most important of all of Springsteen’s songs.

‘Oh, The Good Life . . .’

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

I ran an errand the other day for the Texas Gal, something so routine that I’ve forgotten what the errand was, but it brought me near the new home of Uff Da Records, St. Cloud’s only real record store. So I spent some time leaning over the CD tables.

Much of what I saw fell into two categories: Stuff I already had and stuff that didn’t interest me. But I persevered, looking for stuff that will fill small gaps. And I filled a couple. I scored What Is Hip, a two-disc Tower of Power anthology, and I found a greatest hits disc by Tony Bennett.

During the Great Vinyl Selloff a couple of years ago, I kept all ten my Tower of Power LPs, and I think I have all of the group’s 1970s work on the digital shelves. On the other side of the equation, I only ever had two Tony Bennett LPs, and they’re no longer here. Nor have I gathered much of his early work for the digital shelves (although I have his 1994 MTV Unplugged and his 2002 Playin’ With My Friends CDs). So the Bennett CD from Uff Da truly filled a gap, bringing me most of his hits from 1951 to 1972.

And I’ve realized over the past week that the sound of Bennett’s voice is one of the sounds of my childhood. Whether it was my interest in the easy listening sounds of the time or whether it was hearing the music in the background from adults’ radios and record players, Bennett’s 1960s work pulls me back; I hear “I Wanna Be Around” or “Who Can I Turn To,” and I feel the tug of years handing me memories and feelings that seem so distant and yet so immediate.

Oddly enough, Bennett’s most famous tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” doesn’t trigger that nostalgia. I guess I’ve heard it too many times in too many places for it to have the kind of weight that many of his other tracks do.

One of those heavier tracks was, for some reason, not on the CD I picked up the other day. The CD, released in 1997, is simply a repackaging of his 1972 two-LP hits album, with the tracks rearranged in chronological order. And it did not include “The Good Life,” which, for whatever reasons, is for me one of the most evocative of Bennett’s singles, as well as one of the more successful: During the summer of 1963, it went to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the chart now called Adult Contemporary. I must have heard it a lot, because it takes me back to the early 1960s, not to a specific moment but to a sense of the times.

And I never really realized until this week, when I saw “The Good Life” was absent from the CD and I found a copy and then listened to the words, how melancholy a song “The Good Life” really is:

Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Mm, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel
You won’t really fall in love for you can’t take the chance
So please be honest with yourself, don’t try to fake romance

It’s the good life to be free and explore the unknown
Like the heartaches when you learn you must face them alone
Please remember I still want you, and in case you wonder why
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye

It’s bittersweet, like so much else that’s attracted me over the years. Either I internalized the words without really knowing it, or else life just hands me these things because I need them. Anyway, here it is:

Locked Inside, Part Two

Friday, November 16th, 2018

A little more than two years ago, I told what I knew of the tale of the man my dad called Uncle Joe, the man who’d fought in World War I before my dad was even born and came back mostly silent and hardly present.

Uncle Joe lived in a little house – not much more than a shack – on a piece of rural property he evidently owned with his sisters, whom my dad called Aunt Ella and Aunt Minnie. The two sisters lived in a slightly larger home about fifty yards from Joe’s, and I assume he took his meals with them. When we visited them, and that happened several times during the early 1960s, all three were quite elderly. In that piece from May 2016, I estimated them all to be in their late seventies and early eighties. I wrote about my interactions with Joe:

Joe was quiet, and everything seemed a bit slower with him, and he seemed – again from the perspective of the child I was – not altogether present.

Dad told me once that Joe was severely afflicted during World War I with what was called “shell shock.” (Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Of course, I knew next to nothing about World War I in, say, 1965. I probably knew that the war had happened, and I imagine I’d seen a television documentary about it at one time or another. (Even at eleven, I was a news junkie and loved documentaries.) But even if I knew anything about Sarajevo, about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about Kaiser Wilhelm, or even about trenches and mustard gas, I really knew nothing about war or what it does to those caught up in it. And I surely didn’t understand what shell shock was.

When we’d go to Ella and Minnie’s, I’d wander down the fifty-yard path to Joe’s house and sit with him. Sometimes – and again, these memories are filtered through more than fifty years gone – he’d talk; sometimes not. I’d greet Uncle Joe, see if he was talking that day, and make some brief conversation if he was. Then I’d make my way back down the path to Ella and Minnie’s little house, to where the old folks were at least present, to where my family was, to where things were mostly the way they were supposed to be.

Looking back this morning, I think I knew somehow that Dad’s Uncle Joe was locked inside. And I guess I knew that there was no key at hand. I guess I also knew that whatever it was that had made Uncle Joe the way he was, it had happened a long time ago and that Dad had never known Uncle Joe to be any other way. And I knew it was sad.

Over the years since, I’ve read histories and memoirs about World War I and many other wars, and I’ve learned from them more about war and what it does. (And I’m thankful that I’ve never had to learn those things from personal experience.) But knowing and understanding are, of course, two different things. And as I write this morning (having followed my thoughts and words into a topic not at all anticipated), I wonder if the only thing I ever needed to know about war was the sad fact that it had forever locked my dad’s Uncle Joe inside himself.

I know a bit more about Joe today. Not much, but a little. One of my cousins emailed a few of the other cousins and my sister this week, remembering Ella and Minnie and Joe and wondering who they really were, how they connected with our family. Knowing that I play around with Ancestry.com, my sister copied me on the email, and I went to work. We knew their last name was Nelson. My dad’s mom, Grandma Jennie, was born a Nelson, so I checked her siblings. No joy.

One of my cousins thought they might have been cousins to my dad’s dad, Grandpa Albert. So I looked up Albert’s father, Otto (from whom my dad got his middle name) and started looking at the offspring of his siblings. That didn’t get me anywhere. I knew I needed to look at Otto’s wife’s family, but I was getting a bit confused as I wandered through the thickets of the website. So I tried something else.

I’d seen a few young women in the late 19th Century named “Louella” and seen that name later shortened to “Ella.” So I searched the massive website for women christened “Louella Nelson” in Minnesota in the latter years of that century. I got very lucky. At the top of the list of possible results was a link to a page at the website Find A Grave that showed a burial in Spring Lake – a city where a lot of our family has been buried over the years – of a Louella Nelson with birth and death dates of 1878 and 1969. There was a very small picture of a headstone.

I clicked on the picture and found that Louella shared a headstone with Minnie (1880-1969). And in the same cemetery was Joseph E. Nelson (1893-1968). Find A Grave told me that their parents had been Lem and Anna Elman Nelson (also buried in the Spring Lake Cemetery). The name “Elman,” Anna’s birth name, was familiar, so I went back to the main page of my family tree. My great-grandfather Otto had married Mary Elman, Anna’s sister. I’d found them.

Ancestry.com helpfully told me that Ella, Minnie and Joe were my second cousins, once removed. I looked at the chart and did my own figuring and concluded that the three Nelsons were my Grandpa Albert’s cousins. Ella and Minnie were the eldest of nine children. Their mother died relatively young, leaving behind four children under the age of twenty, two of them younger than ten. By that time, Ella and Minnie were thirty and twenty-eighty, respectively, and had never married. I assume they just stayed home and helped their father with the children still at home, and they never left.

I went looking for Joe’s story, wondering if anyone in the broad range of Ericksons and Nelsons had ever dug into his tale. He never had children, but at least one of his siblings did and I know many of his cousins did. Given the current vast interest in genealogy – and the general ease with which research can be done these days – I thought that perhaps someone had told Joe’s story.

It seems not. So I did some digging. Born in rural North Branch in 1893, he seemingly stayed there until maybe 1915 or 1916. His draft registration card, filled out on June 5 or 6 of 1917, finds him living in Room 520 of the Y.M.C.A. at 84 East Bethune in Detroit, Michigan. He was making a living, the registration card said, as a driver for the Ford Motor Company. I saw in one of the entries that his brother Oscar, ten years older, lived his whole adult life in Detroit, so it might be reasonable to assume that Joe followed him there.

And then came World War I. And the only tangible thing after that in Uncle Joe’s record at Ancestry.com is a scan of his draft registration card for World War II, which notes that he was a disabled veteran.

I know what happened to Uncle Joe, but I don’t know how or where or when. I’m feeling like it’s very much up to me to find out. I have work to do.

And just like the other time I wrote about Ella and Minnie and Joe, I have no music for this.