Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘I’ve Seen Trouble . . .’

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

I’m finding it hard to lift my head and get anything done that’s not essential. Why? Most likely a combination of my revulsion at the turns our national life seems to be taking these days and the depressive effects of my own cyclical biochemistry, along with, no doubt, grief.

My goal in the midst of that this morning was to write a bit about the fortieth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, but I found little to say. So I let that go, and that’s okay, for as important as Elvis Presley was to the music that I love, I was never more than a casual fan. Others can testify far better than I.

Instead, I went looking for “sorrow” in the RealPlayer and found – among other titles – sixteen versions of the tune “Man of Constant Sorrow,” some with different titles. Wikipedia tells me that the first version of the song was published in 1913 “by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky” under the title “Farewell Song.”

The first recorded version, according to Second Hand Songs, was a release on Vocalion by Emry Arthur in 1928. The website lists fifty-six additional versions of the tune, ranging from a 1951 cover by the Stanley Brothers with the Clinch Mountain Boys to a 2015 cover by Dwight Yoakam.

In the midst of that bit of digging, I ran a search in this blog’s archives and found that I’ve never featured any version of the tune and have mentioned it just once in passing, in a 2007 meditation on the definition of “folk music.”

So here are Peter, Paul & Mary with my favorite version of that oft-covered tune. It was titled simply “Sorrow” and was on their self-titled debut album in 1962.

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.

Saturday Single No. 552

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

I was reminded this week of one of the briefest jobs I’ve ever had. My pal j.b. asked folks on Facebook about their short-term jobs, and I was one of a few people who responded. And as I thought about the job in question, I realized it was not only the briefest but one of the strangest.

From mid-1996 into the summer of 1998, there was some chatter among folks I knew that some opportunities to play music full-time (and get paid for it) might come my way. So I was temping just to keep my options open, mostly in various offices for a bank that did business from the Midwest on out to the West Coast. It didn’t pay all that well, of course, but it was enough to squeeze by. (I sold a lot of books and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.)

Anyway, by the time the autumn of 1998 came sliding into view, I could see that the music opportunities were not going to be there, and I made my way to a collection agency to become a skip tracer. I got hired but learned that there would be a two-week gap as they found enough new skip tracers and collectors to make up a training class. So I took one final two-week assignment from the temp agency.

I ended up working for the same large bank in its mortgage operations, located in a building in Northeast Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River from downtown. There were about ten of us temps starting on the same Monday, each of us at a desk that was empty except for a pile of file folders. Each thick folder, our supervisor explained, was the paperwork for a pending mortgage. Our job was to go through each file and make certain that all the places that required signatures actually had signatures on them. The supervisor suggested that we should be able to get through about eight of the applications an hour.

I lasted a week and a couple of hours. It wasn’t the dreariness of the work that caused me to leave early (although the work was stupefyingly boring, leafing through files of thirty pages or more to see if fifteen or so signatures were in their proper places). What got to me was my back.

My chair was uncomfortable, my desk was awkwardly sized, and I could not find a good match for the two, so I ended up hunched over my desk to go through the files. By the time I got to Friday, I had a painful knot in my spine just below the shoulder blades. I thought maybe with a weekend of rest, I could get through the next week. After that, I’d be off to the collection agency.

But by the time of our morning break on that following Monday, my back hurt worse than it had when I went home on Friday, so I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t stay. And I left, took four days off, which pinched the budget but eased my pain, and went off to work at the collection agency the next week.

I hadn’t thought much about that six-day gig for a long time, and then j.b.’s question the other day brought it to mind. I certainly never connected that gig to the cascade of mortgage fraud that came to light about eight to ten years later. But I remember looking at the carts full of folders of mortgage applications that we temps were reviewing, and I recall thinking that it was odd for so many mortgages to be flowing through that temps were needed to make sure the papers were signed. And I thought it odd that we temps had what seemed to be a responsibility that would be better handled by permanent staff.

I now suspect that elsewhere in that building were one or more rooms set aside for the wholesale approval of those mortgage applications that we ten were reviewing. The banking corporation was in fact one of the banks that was caught up in the mortgage crisis that set in around 2006. It wasn’t one of the largest offenders, but it was involved. And if my suspicion above is correct, that means that for five days and two hours, I unwittingly played a role in the 2006-2008 meltdown of the American economy.

So what tune do I have for that? Well, I dug around looking for tunes about fraud and thievery and even turning a blind eye. I thought about the 5th Dimension’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Sweet Blindness,” but then my thoughts fell on a different Nyro tune. So here’s Barbra Streisand’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man).’ It’s from Streisand’s 1971 album Stoney End, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 551

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Well, the best-laid plans and all of that. I spent an hour this morning researching the background of a tune that my files said was recorded on July 29, 1925. Along the way, I learned that the resulting 78 was the No. 1 record for 1924, so the year was wrong. That happens, so I kept going, and as I was proofing and checking various things, I learned that the recording in question was actually made on October 12, 1923.

(I got the 1925 date from the Online 78 Discography Project, which is usually pretty accurate, but I found the 1923 date at the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox, and since the record was No. 1 for 1924, I’m pretty sure the LoC is correct. I’ll likely email the folks at the Online 78 Discography Project and let them know of the discrepancy.)

Anyway, I’ve marked the feature for use this October, and I’m left in a jam without much of anything for this morning. Except . . .

The appropriately titled “In A Jam” was recorded by Duke Ellington on this date in 1936 (and that date came from the notes in an Ellington box set). So the Duke’s “In A Jam” is today’s Saturday Single:

Saturday Single No. 550

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

It’s pickling season!

In the past few days, I’ve set up the temporary table in the kitchen. It’s now home to boxes of canning jars with their rings and lids, envelopes of pickling mix, extra kettles, various canning implements, and a stack of fresh kitchen towels. I’ve brought the big canner up from the fruit cellar and wiped it clean of cobwebs and anything else that might have gathered during its off-duty months.

In the past few months, we’ve been giving away the 2016 batches of pickles, clearing the shelf in the fruit cellar as well as we can. There are maybe two pints left of last year’s pickles, as well as the big – two gallons, I think – jar of whole kosher pickles the Texas Gal made for herself last year. She’s still leery of opening it: As big as the cucumbers she chose were, she’s not entirely sure that nearly a year in the jar has pickled them to her taste.

And this morning, the Texas Gal is off to the farmer’s market downtown to bring home a bushel of early cucumbers from a woman who grows them on a farm near Browerville, about seventy miles northwest of here. It looks like our garden will supply plenty of cukes this year, but for the past few years – ever since we had one very poor cucumber season – the Texas Gal has ordered early cucumbers just in case.

So as of today, the Thirteenth Avenue Pickle Factory is open. Varieties this year will be kosher and Polish dill, bread & butter (both regular and zesty), sweet pickle relish, and a new variety of mix the Texas Gal grabbed during one of her preparatory shopping trips, spicy pickles. (I also noted that she’s picked up a mix for pickling okra and other vegetables; we neither grow nor regularly eat okra, so she has something else in mind for that mix, and she also found a package mix for salsa with the spices premeasured, so when we get enough tomatoes, she’ll be doing a couple batches of that.)

As I’ve noted other years, she does most of the work when picking and canning season rolls around, loving it during the early part of the season and maintaining good grace during the later portions of the season when the time spent in the kitchen gets a bit wearisome. I help with chores that require lifting or climbing the stepstool, and I pitch in and slice onions or whatever else needs to be done when required.

And we both get a good measure of satisfaction from all of it, first from the “plink” that each jar of pickles or other canned food makes as its seal sets in and later from the pleasure of giving away (and eating, too) pickles and other delights over the following winter.

To go along with this piece, I looked for a tune with the word “pickles” in its title. I found one, a jaunty little number by Allen Toussaint from 1970 titled simply “Pickles.” It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I searched for the word “kitchen” instead, and got back forty-seven results. Most of them, of course, are versions of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” a song I love but that isn’t quite what I was looking for today.

So here’s “Mama’s In The Kitchen” by Toni Childs. It’s from Childs’ 2008 album Keep The Faith, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

The Locked Door

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

As I’ve dug through boxes of my long-gathered stuff over the past few years, I’ve been finding music notebooks here and there, the kind with staffs in them, some of them dating back to my college days.

There are, I guess, about ten of them, with about half of them half-filled with assignments from five quarters of music theory at St. Cloud State. And in all ten or so are tunes I’ve written over the years, from my earliest efforts during my senior year of high school to my most recent in the mid-1990s.

I wonder sometimes why I haven’t written anything since then, either lyrics or music, and I can come to no conclusion, except that to write the kind of songs I have written over the years, I must open an internal door that has for years been closed and locked. On the other side of that door is my songwriter’s voice.

I have a glimmering this morning of how I might craft a key to that door. In those notebooks, I’ve found a few melodies that have no words. Some of them are lengthy, and some are no more than a few measures. I’m not entirely certain when I wrote them, but I would guess that they’re from the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Now, just finding random melodies wouldn’t encourage me much, but I evidently had some ideas for lyrics as I scribbled down these five tunes (five that I’ve found so far; there very well may be more in the stack of notebooks), because they have titles that give me at least a slight clue as to what I had in mind.

The titles are “Build A House Of Dreams,” “And We Begin Again,” “Catalina, Come Home,” “Anna Lee,” and “Little Darlin’.” My next step is to take those notebooks some afternoon to our church, where I have access to a keyboard, and see if the melodies and their titles say anything to me now.

I’m hoping that one of them might provide the key to that door that’s been locked for so long so that I may find my voice.

Saturday Single No. 549

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Well, I slept most of the morning away – rare for me, as I generally am up by 7 a.m. on weekdays and by 9 on Saturdays and Sundays – and time is flibbering away quickly, as it does these days.

We have no plans other than finding somewhere to grab a nibble this afternoon and then making a stop at the nearby grocery store. I think this evening we’ll invest some time in writing thank you notes, a hand-cramping exercise that’s painful in several ways.

So I find myself sleepy and uncertain, and maybe “thank you” is the way to go. Here’s B.B. King showing some gratitude to his audience with “Thank You For Loving The Blues” It’s from his 1973 album To Know You Is To Love You, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Estate’

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

The week is getting away, what with the holiday Tuesday and a meeting yesterday with Mom’s bank, working through some of the details for settling Mom’s estate. That should all be sorted through in a couple of months, but it’s going to be time-consuming (more for my sister than for me, although she’s asked me to pick up a couple of tasks).

Among my tasks for today is to call the storage place and change the billing for the two units where we have a lot of Mom’s furniture and some other stuff. We’re thinking about an estate sale in October to take care of most of things in the units.

And, since the word “estate” is on my mind, I searched for it among the 95,000-plus mp3s in the RealPlayer this morning, and I came up with eighteen tracks. Ten of them comprise the 1974 album Estate Of Mind by American singer/songwriter Evie Sands. It’s an album that I don’t know well. Perhaps I should give it more attention, since John Bush of AllMusic writes in his review that Estate Of Mind “was one of the better pop/rock albums of the mid-’70s,” adding in a parenthetical note, “It certainly deserved better than its poor sales performance.”

Another seven of the “estate” tracks come from the late Sixties group the Fifth Estate, known solely in most quarters for getting a No. 11 hit in 1967 out of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard Of Oz. Those seven tracks also include a couple of similar follow-ups to the hit, covers of “Heigh-Ho” from the 1937 Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and of “The Mickey Mouse Club Mouse March.” Neither of the follow-ups charted. (As to why I have the other four tracks from The Fifth Estate, I’m not at all sure. Things happen.)

The final track with “estate” in its title is “Estate (Summer)” by the Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias, from her 2008 album Bossa Nova Stories. Her take on the Bruno Martino song is lush and languid and perfect for today. Here’s an English translation of the words that I found at the website of jazz pianist Michael Sattler:

Summer
You are as hot as the kisses that I have lost
You are filled with a love that is over
That my heart would like to erase

Summer
The sun that warmed us every day,
That painted beautiful sunsets,
Now only burns with fury

There will come another winter
Thousands of rose petals will fall
The snow will cover all
And perhaps a little peace will return

Summer
That gave its perfume to every flower
The summer that created our love
To let me now die of pain

Summer

Struggling

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

I’m not doing all that well right now. Understandable, I suppose. I posted at Facebook yesterday:

“My home phone number when I was a kid was BLackburn 1-5557. When exchanges were dropped, it became 251-5557. Mom once told me that they got the number sometime before we moved from our apartment on Riverside Drive to our house on Kilian Boulevard in February 1957. So that was Mom’s phone number for more than sixty years. Sometime this afternoon, it will be disconnected. . . . I’ve been closing accounts and cancelling subscriptions for a week now. This one hurts.”

I’ve got nothing else to say right now, and too many sad tasks ahead of me yet.

Here’s “Samba Triste” – or “Sad Samba” – by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. It’s from their 1962 album Jazz Samba.

‘Weary’

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Well, the ceremonies and formalities are over, and we’ve laid Mom to rest next to Dad in the Lutheran Church cemetery in Dad’s hometown of Cambridge. And we’re slowly getting back into the rhythms of everyday life: laundry, housework, cooking, watering the garden.

There are still some tasks left, things like getting out “thank you” cards, and my sister and I will begin that tomorrow. It won’t take too long. And we’ll have to take care of Mom’s estate, although that should be relatively easy, as Mom and Dad had things pretty well planned years ago.

And someday soon, we’ll pick up the threads of some of the various themes I’ve played with here over the past year and dig deep into some music. But right now, I’m weary, both physically and emotionally, so I’m just going to go out and water the garden and then take care of some household tasks that have been mostly ignored over the last two months.

Here’s the folk duo of Jim & Jean with “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.” It was originally on their 1966 album Changes.