Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘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.

Dylan All Around Me

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

“I woke up this morning, there were tears on my face,” begins one of Bob Dylan’s more forgotten songs, the 1971 single “George Jackson.”

As I wrote in 2008:

George Jackson . . . was an inmate in a California state prison who became a self-educated leader and political figure during his incarceration. He wound up dead in prison during the summer of 1971 in what some called an assassination, while others seemed to think that his death was simply the unsurprising end of a life of violence and crime. Folk hero or thug? I don’t know, and the page on Jackson at Wikipedia doesn’t really resolve anything. I recall the first time I heard the record: I was sitting . . . somewhere with Rick and a radio one day, and we listened intently, as we did in those days to anything Dylan did. I don’t know if the deejay was asleep at the switch or making a statement, but the radio station didn’t bleep the line, “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” and Rick and I looked at each other, startled. “Bob Dylan lays it on the line,” said Rick, laughing. In any case, the record – which never made it to an LP back then and, as far as I know, has since been included only on three relatively obscure Dylan CD anthologies – is an audio artifact of the tail end of the odd and bitter time we now call the Sixties. I sometimes wonder if Dylan ever regrets recording and releasing the song, but I figure not: I don’t think – at least as far as his music goes – Dylan has much time for regrets.

Anyway, as I woke up this morning, there were no tears on my face, but for some reason the line “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” embedded itself in my brain not long after I wandered down the hall intent on brushing my teeth. I recognized the source of the line immediately, of course, and as I cleaned my teeth and went on into the morning, I wondered how often Dylan pops up, unsought, in my life.

Quite regularly, I would guess. Two examples come to mind from recent weeks. (I could, of course, hold off on this idea for a month and keep track of any other examples that come to mind, making this idea more flesh than bare bones, but hey, I’m not a scientist. And I’m already this far into the post . . .)

Standing in front of my music bookshelf and looking for something to browse through the other day, I grabbed The Band FAQ, a lengthy and somewhat oddly organized volume by Peter Aaron, and although Dylan is not mentioned on every page or even in every section, he of course shows up a fair amount in portions of the book and otherwise flits around the margins, as he does with almost anything written about The Band.

And the other day, Facebook offered up – as one of my memories from years past – my scan of a post card of Rome’s Colosseum. I’d sent the postcard to Rick when I was in the Eternal City long ago, and he’d given it back to me – along with other cards and letters I’d sent to him – when I returned home. So where’s Dylan in that?

Well, I began my message on the back of the postcard: “Oh, the hours that I’ve spent inside the Colosseum, dodging lions and wasting time . . .” Those are, of course, the opening words to Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” My choosing to open my message to Rick with those words wasn’t random, but Facebook offering my scan of the card as an “On this date . . .” certainly felt so.

So do bits of thought about Dylan pop up more frequently than bits of thought about other performers? Does Dylan permeate my life more than, say, Springsteen, the Beatles, The Band or Richie Havens? It’s an odd thing to ponder, but I’d have to say yes. There’s more music by Dylan on the shelves here than there is from any other performer or group. In my early songwriting days, Dylan was the major influence on my lyrics (with Lennon & McCartney being the greatest influence on song construction). And bits and reminders of Dylan likely pop up regularly.

So yeah, whether I always realize it, I’d have to say that Dylan is all around me. And here’s the acoustic version of “George Jackson,” the track that sparked this odd post. Interestingly enough, it’s found – as one can see below – on the 2012 album Listen, Whitey! The Sounds Of Black Power 1967-1974, and it’s the version that went to No. 33 around the time 1971 turned into 1972. (The flip side was the same song with a backing band.)

A Quick Look at No. 100 (July 1970)

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

Having been sidetracked by household duties this morning, I was going to let things slide here, but I nevertheless took a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the first week of July 1970, fifty years ago.

And, as I do, I took a quick look at No. 100, and I was startled to see “Eve Of Destruction” by the Turtles. Really? In 1970?

I mean, the world wasn’t puppies and roses in 1970 by any measure, but Barry McGuire’s No. 1 hit with the song came in 1965, and five years in pop music and radio terms is an eternity. And things got even more strange when I looked at versions of the song at Second Hand Songs because the Turtles were among the first to record the song in 1965.

The website lists songs by release and lists McGuire’s version as the first released in August 1965. Then comes P.F. Sloan in September, and in October, the Turtles’ version came out on their It Ain’t Me, Babe album (as did a version by a Danish group called Sir Henry & His Butlers).

So the question hangs in the air: Why release an album track from 1965 as a single in 1970, especially of such a topical (and idiosyncratic) song? Whatever the reason was, it didn’t work, as the record spent two weeks at No. 100 and then sank from sight. (It was the Turtles’ last record to hit the Hot 100. In November 1970, “Me About You” bubbled under for three weeks, peaking at No. 105).

Here’s the Turtles’ “Eve Of Destruction.”

And I’m going to offer here the heavily accented cover from 1965 by Sir Henry & His Butlers. I’m especially amused by the enunciation of the letter “v” with a “w” sound (“wiolence” and “woting” instead of “violence” and “voting”). It reminds me of life with my host family in Denmark; during the autumn of 1973, my host mother Oda would see me reading the International Herald-Tribune on Tuesdays and – knowing of my interest in Minnesota’s professional football team – would ask me, “How did the Wikings do this week?”

‘Happy’

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

The madness out there, it seems, increases every minute. I could list all the things in just the past few days that have enraged me, made me shake my head or made me drop my jaw, but what’s the point? In another ten minutes, or so it seems, another outrage or example of idiocy will come along.

And I haven’t been sleeping well the past few weeks, which leaves my tolerance for all that stuff low. I need something happy.

So here’s one of the few Rolling Stones’ tracks on which Keith Richard sang the lead vocal: “Happy” from 1972. I recall hearing it on the radio a bit that summer (it went to No. 22 in the Billboard Hot 100), so by the time I got my copy of Exile On Main St. a year later, I was already accustomed to the pinched, thin vocal.

Instrumentally, it fits right into the raw and mostly weary aesthetic of Exile, which I think I’ve marked here before as one of the contenders for best rock album of all time (a judgment I came to only in the 1990s after years of listening).

And that’ll have to do it for today.

Saturday Single No. 694

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

So what do I think of when I see No. 694? Well, I think of the Twin Cities’ Interstate Highway 694, the half-loop that crosses the Twin Cities’ northern and eastern suburbs, providing a way for drivers to avoid I-94’s route through the downtowns of both St. Paul and Minneapolis.

I’ve driven portions of 694 probably hundreds of times, and I lived near it twice, first during the winter of 1975-76, when I was a sports intern for an independent television station in the suburb of Golden Valley, and then during the autumn and winter of 1991-92, when I was beginning my work at the Eden Prairie News, a paper – as I noted not long ago – that no longer exists.

Musically, the earlier time period is more interesting, but of course, it’s not winter right now. We are in the early days of summer, the early days of one of most confounding, confusing and worrisome summers I can ever remember. It’s quite a contrast to the summer of ’75, my last undergraduate summer, when I was twenty-one, knew what I was doing, knew where I was going, and thought I knew what I would find there when I arrived.

Hah!

So let’s twist this up and take a look at the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 for the fourth week of June 1975, when – except for having a steady girl – absolute certainty ruled my life:

“Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille
“When Will I Be Loved/It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Linda Ronstadt
“Wildfire” by Michael (Martin) Murphey
“I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter
“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris
“The Hustle” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony
“Listen To What The Man Said” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor)” by Joe Simon
“Magic” by Pilot
“Cut The Cake” by the Average White Band

Boy, those first eight singles are imprinted musically and with memories, the Ronstadt double-sided single a little less than the other six. They remind me of working with my pal Murl and the rest of the inventory crew, cruising through my four physical education courses and my last general eds, hanging around The Table with a slightly changed cast (summer sessions were different), sipping coffee at the Country Kitchen with a variety of young women . . .

It was one of the great summers of my life, now forty-five years in the past.

As to the last three of that Top Ten, I remember the records by Pilot (currently adapted to sell a pharmaceutical) and the Average White Band, but they never meant much to me. And I had to go to YouTube this morning to verify that I don’t recall the Joe Simon single. My listening those days was mostly WJON and WCCO-FM on the radio, and the jukebox at the student union, and I don’t think those three gave the Simon a lot of play.

So, how many of those seven records are on my day-to-day playlist forty-five years later? Let’s look at the iPod (still a work in progress after firing up the new computer). Turns out that only the Jessi Colter single got into the device during the early sessions. But by the end of the morning, five more of those in that Top Ten – the rest of the top seven except the Ronstadts – will be in the device.

Our final business this morning, as long as we’re here, will be to look at the bottom rung of that long-ago Hot 100 and see what we find. And I’m reminded that no matter how long I’ve dug into music, there will always be something new to find. The No. 100 record forty-five years ago this week was “What Time Of Day” by Billy Thunderkloud & The Chieftones.

Thunderkloud and his band were a country group made up of First Nations musicians from British Columbia, and they were backed on the single – obviously – by a children’s chorus. It’s a pleasant little tune but no more than that, and it peaked at only No. 92 on the Hot 100. It did better than that on the other charts, getting to No. 32 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart and to No. 16 on the country chart. (Later in the year, the group hit No. 37 on the country chart with “Pledging My Love,” a cover of the 1955 hit for both Johnny Ace and Theresa Brewer.)

Here’s “What Time Of Day.”

All At One Time

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Sometime way back (likely about ten years ago, but I’m not going to go dig), I wrote that one of the benefits of the digital age was getting away from the album format and being able to structure a playlist of separate tracks.

Back in the LP days, if there was a horrendous track right in the middle of Side One of a generally great album (friends of mine in those days might have nominated “Octopus’ Garden” on Abbey Road), one had to either endure the track or go to the turntable and actually lift the tone arm to set it down at the start of the next track.

As I explored that idea back then, I wrote something (maybe) about being freed from vinyl tyranny.

About six months ago, as I puttered here in my corner of our downstairs room. I thought, “Y’know, it might be nice to listen to Abbey Road all in order.” (Or it might have been Blood On The Tracks or maybe A Question Of Balance.) I had two ways to do that. There’s a large CD player on the other side of my desk, but I’d have to pull the CD from its spot in the stacks and walk around the desk and the keyboard.

Or I could have the search function in the RealPlayer find the tracks that made up the album and place them in running order and then listen.

And then I wondered: Does my new CD ripper allows me to rip an entire CD into one mp3? For years, I’d used a freeware program that allowed me to do that. I’d not done entire albums but I’d done large mp3s of suites, like the medleys on Side Two of (again) Abbey Road. And maybe five years ago, when I got a new computer, that freeware program and Windows 10 didn’t like each other. So for a few years, I used RealPlayer to rip mp3s, and as much as I like most of what that program does, its ripping function is clunky and slow.

But about eighteen months ago – six months before this inner conversation took place – I’d invested in a new suite of mp3 management tools, including an mp3 ripper. I’d not dug into it very much, as I was still trying to catch up on replacing the single mp3 rips lost in my external drive crash the autumn before we moved. Maybe it had a function to rip whole CDs as one mp3.

Well, as readers might expect (or there would be no point to telling the story), it does, and at odd times over the last six months, I’ve been doing just that.

There are currently eighty-seven tracks tagged “Full Album” on the digital shelves. The selection is heavy with the Moody Blues (part of the long-delayed project here reviewing all of their albums), Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. None of that is a surprise, I’m certain. Those are my mainstays, along with the Beatles, who will soon have many more albums in the section than they do now.

What I find more interesting are some of the other artists whose works have come to mind and wound up in the “Full Albums” section: Three Counting Crows albums from the 1990s; two from 1969 and 1970 by Brewer & Shipley; Jim Croce’s three major label releases from the early 1970s; three by Dan Fogelberg from the 1970s (one of those with flautist Tim Weisberg); two from the 1970s British folkie Shelagh McDonald; Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis; Steve Winwood’s Arc Of A Diver; and David Gray’s 200 album Babylon, just to mention a few.

I let the albums play on random as I read news or putter or play tabletop baseball. I don’t always listen purposefully, but I hear the music roll by (just like it used to in the rec room back home on Kilian Boulevard), and I’m learning some things: I don’t really like Roxy Music’s Avalon beyond “More Than This” and the title track. The Fogelbergs wear thin after a few listens. August And Everything After by Counting Crows is a far better album than I recall. So, too, is The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby & The Range. And Steely Dan’s Aja remains a sonic masterpiece.

It’s a long-range project, adding three or four a week. Where will it end? I dunno. Right now, I still have more than two terabytes free on the external hard drive. Will I get rid of the CDs and LPs if I get them all ripped as albums? Hell, no.

Here’s a full album from 1989 I posted at YouTube almost three years ago that will soon be in the “Full Album” folder on the digital shelves: Evidence by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith, one of my favorite obscurities.

Saturday Single No. 693

Saturday, June 20th, 2020

In a world that seems off-kilter, I’m a little off-kilter myself, not quite centered.

The whirlwind of events in recent months and weeks is a major part of that, but I’d also have to put the death this week of my Danish host mother in the mix. Add to that the fact that I’ve not been sleeping well for about a month (and when I do sleep, I have vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams).

And then, I have a few physical aches and pains, and it all means that I’m not in great shape. But I’m going to take this weekend to try to refresh myself, try to mend my body and get myself in as good a frame of mind as I can.

Noting that today and tomorrow are a weekend is part of that; numerous times in the past twelve or so weeks, the Texas Gal and I have found it hard to keep track of time. “What day of the week is it?” has been a common question around our home. Today, I know, is Saturday, and one small thing will help it feel like a Saturday: The Belmont Stakes will be run today. Yes, it’s disorienting that this year, the Belmont is the first Triple Crown race to take place, but its running still provides a small bit of normality.

Another bit of normality that’s made me feel better is that my regular barber shop, Barbers On Germain, has opened for appointments. I made my way there yesterday and had Russ take care of the thin thatch on my head and the unruly, almost Karl Marxian foliage on my face. I feel better for it.

So that’s one small bit of better.

And sorting through the digital shelves, I was reminded of a 1971 track that showed up among the extras on the 40th anniversary edition of Derek & The Dominos’ album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs: “Got To Get Better In A Little While.” Here it is, today’s Saturday Single.

Farvel

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Some sad news came from Denmark the other week: Ejvind, my host brother during my long-ago college year there, let me know that his mother, Oda, was in very ill health and her journey would end soon.

I wept a little as I absorbed the news, and I wept more yesterday, after Ejvind told me that Oda’s journey had in fact come to an end about 5 a.m. Danish time (about 10 p.m. Central Time Wednesday).

Oda and her husband Kristen were my host parents for almost five months during my 1973-74 stay in Fredericia – I spent the final months of the year either on the road or living in the youth hostel St. Cloud State rented for the year – and they were, well, an essential part of my life. Being parents of college-age children themselves at the time – Ejvind was attending a university in the city of Århus, about sixty miles away, and his sister Birgit was taking what we now call a gap year in the U.S. – they were well equipped for the enthusiasms and occasional turbulence of living with a young man away from home for the first time.

Their advice, their caring, and their occasional firm direction were all major parts of that time for me, a time that was – as I’ve said here before – the single greatest formative experience of my life. Being part of that experience made Oda and Kristen among the most important people I’ve known in my life.

Kristen died during the 1990s, when I was pretty much out of touch with everyone, and thus I never had an opportunity to either grieve his passing or extend my condolences to Oda, Ejvind and Birgit (the last of whom I have never actually met, as she was in the U.S while I lived in Fredericia). I’ve been messaging some with Ejvind and Birgit in the past day, and they know how I feel about Oda’s passing.

As I grieve, I remember things. I recall the tradition of evening tea, when Oda would brew herself and me some Earl Grey and make a small cup of very strong coffee for Kristen. We’d sit in the living room, share some pastry – Oda worked downtown near a bakery and made sure we had fresh treats every evening – and talk about whatever came to mind. A lot of what I know about Danish culture and living came from those evening chats.

Oda offered motherly wisdom at several points during my months in their home as I struggled with both a first romance and homesickness. She and Kristen opened their home to my friends, helping me and my St. Cloud State girlfriend host a Thanksgiving dinner for them and several of our friends, and they regularly invited my friends in for other dinners and evening gatherings.

tableclothRecalling those gatherings yesterday reminded me of Oda’s tablecloth. When guests visited for the first time, they were invited to sign their names in pencil on the white tablecloth. Later, Oda would embroider their signatures into the cloth. In the picture here, you can see Oda – on the left – watching as my friends Dewey (center) and Matt sign their names on the tablecloth.

My signature is on that tablecloth, as are the signatures of maybe eight of my friends – including Dewey and Matt – who came visiting during the months I lived with Kristen and Oda. I sent the picture to Ejvind yesterday, and he told me that his daughter Marie has the tablecloth and that it’s still in use. (He, a year or two older than I, noted that some of the signatures on it predate his birth.)

The last time I saw Oda – or Kristen – was on my last evening in Fredericia in May 1974. I had dinner at their home, and they drove me back to the youth hostel at about 9 that evening. Before they left, Oda embraced me and said “Det er ikke farvel. Vi ses igen.”

“This is not goodbye. We will see each other again.”

Sadly, life did not allow that to come true. In another turn around the wheel, perhaps.

Until then, farvel.

Minor correcton made June 20, 2020.

The Last ‘Time’

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

Somewhere around the beginning of 1965, my dad subscribed to Time magazine. I seem to recall President Lyndon Johnson on one of the first covers that we saw. And I imagine that I – then eleven years old – poked through each of the magazine’s weekly editions a little bit as they came through the mail slot.

Dad read each week’s edition carefully, a few pages each evening before bedtime. And a lot of what he – and I, when I took advantage – read was something we found nowhere else: coverage that supplemented the St. Cloud and Minneapolis newspapers with a wider variety of national and international news. (That news came, I now know, with a great helping of Timesnark, the right-wing and elite attitudes fostered in the weekly by founder Henry Luce just forty years earlier.)

(Some of that coverage we might have been able to get from any of the evening news shows, but watching television news was not part of our evening routines. The only broadcast news we absorbed on Kilian Boulevard during the 1960s and early 1970s was the CBS News morning report on WCCO radio, generally running in the background as we had breakfast and prepared for school and work.)

As I grew into a news junkie, I read the magazine more and more frequently. Once I started college, I added regular reading of Newsweek at the St. Cloud State library, and a few years later, when I left home for the world of work, that’s the magazine I subscribed to, seeing it as less snarky and slightly more hip to pop culture.

Still, at Kilian Boulevard, Time fell through the mail slot every week. Sometimes Dad would pass them on to me; during my college year in Denmark, he clipped stories he thought would interest me and packaged them weekly with clippings from the daily newspapers and Sports Illustrated to keep me entertained and at least a little up-to-date. (Those thick envelopes, probably about thirty of them, are still with me, tucked away in a box full of other stuff I brought back from my adventure in Denmark.)

And week after week, month after month, year after year, the magazine kept coming to Kilian Boulevard. When Dad died in 2003, I helped Mom change the account into her name. And the magazine would eventually come to her at her Waite Park home, at her Ridgeview Place assisted living apartment, and finally, at Prairie Ridge, the facility’s memory care unit.

Somewhere during the last years of her life, Mom had renewed her subscription to Time into mid-2020, when she would be 98 years old. (I think she got stung by one of those companies that offers to renew a subscription and then charges an additional $50 or so for the renewal.) Anyway, after Mom died, I just switched the subscription into my name, and Time kept coming to the East Side and, most recently, to the North Side.

When Dad first subscribed during the mid-1960s, a news consumer’s options beyond daily newspapers were limited. There was some radio news, three national television broadcasts at dinnertime and the three main newsmagazines, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. And Dad read his editions of Time from cover to cover.

Now, in 2020, the information that Time brings me is dated. I have twenty-four-hour news from multiple sources on my TV and my computer. I glance at the first few pages of each edition, but almost always, it gets set aside and sits on my end table until the next weekly edition arrives. There’s nothing wrong with the magazine’s coverage – it quit being snarky (for the most part) years ago – but in general, the magazine offers nothing I can’t get elsewhere for a cheaper price. So I haven’t renewed the subscription.

That’s why the edition of Time that came late last week will be – I think – the last one. (I maybe wrong, and one more may come my way, but no more than that, I’m sure.)

After Mom died in 2017, we sold her things, closed accounts at her bank and elsewhere, disconnected her telephone and took care of other, similar, tasks. I think the subscription to Time is the last bit left of Mom and Dad’s life on Kilian Boulevard. And after more than fifty-five years and about 2,880 weekly editions, that’s ending this month.

Here are the Pozo-Seco Singers and their 1966 track “Time.” (I thought about the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” but I’ve never really liked the record.)