Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

Saturday Single No. 674

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Some songs haunt.

As I read the paper this morning, the RealPlayer wandered through 1975: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Albert Hammond, Seals & Crofts, Barry Manilow, and then Janis Ian:

The days are okay
I watch the TV in the afternoons
If I get lonely,
The sound of other voices,
Other rooms are near to me
I’m not afraid . . .

And in the winter,
Extra blankets for the cold
Fix the heater, getting old
I am wiser now, you know
And still as big a fool concerning you . . .

And I was pulled back twenty years, into the winter after I was overexposed to toxic chemicals and was left unable to work, unsure of where I could go safely for more than a few minutes, and uncertain of the future. I was isolated in a new apartment in the southern reaches of Minneapolis, and I was lonely.

Ian’s song “In The Winter” has left me feeling desolate from the first time I heard it during the late summer of 1988. It’s from her 1975 album Between The Lines, the album that contains the remarkable “At Seventeen,” which itself is no joyful romp in the meadow. But the angst in “At Seventeen,” is a look back to youth, and when it came out of speakers everywhere during the late summer and early autumn of 1975, it was a tale of memory. And those of us at The Table at St. Cloud State – all attuned for years to Thoreau’s distant drummer – could listen and agree that our younger days had been confusing and sometimes far less than happy.

But “In The Winter” has no insulation of time gone, being written in the present instead of as a look back. I first heard it, I imagine, in September 1988, when Between The Lines was among a batch of records I brought home from a Saturday excursion to either the flea market or some garage sales. It had been a difficult summer, and in Ian’s dirge of solitude after the end of a relationship, I heard echoes of my life at the time.

And this morning, as it came up, I was back for a moment in another desolate time, January 2000, when I wondering how where my life would go (not knowing, of course, that by mid-February, during my first full week online, my life would take another astounding turn, this one fulfilling). I must have heard it during that winter, but whether I sought it out to underline my depression or forgot it was on the album as I cued it up, I do not know. (I’d like to think it was the latter.)

It’s still a bleak song, but beyond that first twinge, its tale is now memory, like the tale of “At Seventeen” was forty-five years ago. And its appearance this morning during random play is a reminder – one we all sometimes need, I think – that bleakness doesn’t always last. And all of that means that Janis Ian’s “In The Winter” is today’s Saturday Single.

Default Mode

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

I’m hardly here this morning. The head cold I managed to pick up at Urgent Care Saturday is settling in nicely, and I wore myself out with several essential chores yesterday. So I’m going to default to seeking out today’s date – January 23 – in the RealPlayer. We’ll see what we get. (A reminder: I likely have recording dates for maybe five percent of the tracks in the program.)

And our search brings us fourteen tracks. The tunes range temporally from “It’s Moving Day,” recorded by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers on January 23, 1930, to the Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” which was laid down on January 23, 1964.

The other names in the brief list include Lead Belly, Artie Shaw, Howlin’ Wolf, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, Claude King, Ann Cole, Tony Bennett, and a few that are not as recognizable.

And it comes to mind that we don’t often listen to Nat King Cole around here. Nothing wrong with the music; it just tends to get pushed to the back of the shelf by other stuff. So we’ll pull him forward today. Here’s “Can’t I?” with Cole accompanied by Billy May & His Orchestra. It was recorded on this date in 1953, peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard airplay chart (going nearly as high on the sales and juke box charts), and went to No. 7 on the magazine’s R&B jukebox chart (if I’m reading the data correctly).

It’s a nice piece.

‘Doctor, Doctor . . .’

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

You know how it is with plans.

Saturday’s post plans disappeared when I woke up that morning with a case of gout. The word conjures up visions of a bewigged upper-class Englishman seated near a fire with his ailing foot elevated. The reality, I learned when I tried to walk on my left foot that morning, is exceedingly painful.

We spent about four hours at the Urgent Care clinic that day, learning about the ailment and sitting in a waiting room half-filled with parents and children who were no doubt sharing their viral miseries with everyone. I was advised to use steroids and ibuprofen to ease my pain and to consult about further treatment with my regular doctor, Dr. Julie, whom I will see Friday.

I’ve learned a lot already – won’t list the details here – and will learn more later this week, but since late Saturday afternoon, there has been no pain.

But I have picked up another case of plugged head and sniffles, no doubt courtesy of one or more of Saturday morning’s ailing urchins. And this morning, I head out to my clinic so the lab can draw blood ahead of my appointment Friday. It’s a doctor week.

And here’s the garage “Doctor Doctor” by Gary Walker & The Rain. It’s from 1968’s Album No. 1. I’ll be back later this week.

Back Business, One Year Later

Friday, January 10th, 2020

It was a year ago today that I had my back surgery, with Dr. McIver doing some clean-up and installing various pieces of hardware to stabilize things in my lumbar spine and to rid me of the horrendous pain I’d been feeling in my hamstrings for about two years.

Well, it all worked. The pain was gone as soon as I woke from surgery, and the pain from the surgery is greatly diminished, Still, there is some pain in my lower back. Two reasons for that:

First of all, I’m sixty-six. As Dr. McIver said during one of my post-op visits, “We can’t make you twenty again.”

And then, I don’t always get to the exercise room at the Senior Center as often as I should. And when I don’t, things stiffen up back there.

That’s what’s been happening during the past ten days, as the Texas Gal and I have been dealing with some kind of cold/body-ache bug. One day I feel fine and she’s down, the next day, she’s better and I’m not. I can tell early this morning that this is one of my “not” days, so I’m going to have to take it easy. I’ll read, practice some piano in preparation for church this coming Sunday, and putter with some mp3s I need to catalog.

As I started this, I told the RealPlayer to sort the 79,000-some mp3s on the organized shelves for files that have the word “back” in them, whether showing up in the title, the performer, the album title or maybe some appended notes. That brought us 1,442 files. And I’m going to sort those for running time and then click on random as many times as needed to land on something from my 1967-75 sweet spot with “back” in its title

And we find a track from Allen Toussaint’s 1975 album Southern Nights, “Back In Baby’s Arms.” I don’t see a single release listed at my normal reference spots, but the album bubbled under the Billboard 200 at No. 204.

And it’s a sweet bit of mellow New Orleans R&B with a couple of nice sax solos.

Saturday Single No. 671

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

So if I had taken the time during the last weekend of 1969 – smack in the middle of a two-week break from school – to turn on my old RCA radio, what would I have heard?

Well, here’s the top fifteen from the survey that the Twin Cities’ KDWB would release on December 29, 1969, the last Monday of the year, a date that come tomorrow morning will be fifty years in the past:

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
“Fortunate Son/Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
“Cherry Hill Park” by Billy Joe Royal
“Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond
“Heaven Knows” by the Grass Roots
“La La La (If I Had You)” by Bobby Sherman
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night
“Take A Letter Maria” by R. B. Greaves
“Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” by Stevie Wonder
“Come Together/Something” by the Beatles
“Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me” by Crow
“Jam Up Jelly Tight” by Tommy Roe

That’s actually seventeen, of course, given the two double-sided singles, and man, what a great way to end the year! Well, that’s with the exception of the Tommy Roe single, which I never much cared for (although it does have a place on the digital shelves here while the Bobby Sherman single is the only one of those seventeen records that is absent).

Seeing the Supremes’ record in the list reminds me of a moment now thirty years in the past, when 1989 was turning into 1990. I was living in Anoka, Minnesota, just northwest of Minneapolis. A ladyfriend and I had gone through a series of rapid changes in 1989 – a “now we’re good, now we’re not” kind of thing – and sometime around New Year’s Day, after another exasperating conversation, I got into my car to run an errand just across the Mississippi River in the city of Champlin. As I started my car, I played with the idea that the first record I heard on the oldies station would give me a guide to that relationship and 1990.

The next record was, of course, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” That amused and pleased me. Twelve months, three moves and some adventures with pesticide later, I was living alone in Columbia, Missouri, and I concluded that radiomancy was inaccurate. But at least it was hopeful. The first record on the oldies station could have been “Timothy” by the Buoys.

Beyond that, KDWB’s top seventeen at the end of the year when I discovered Top 40 radio brings back the sense of that long-ago time. None of those records spoke to my main personal concern at the time, which was how to turn the friendly attentions of a violin player in the high school orchestra into something more than friendship, but reading that list of titles and performers still reminds me viscerally how my life felt as 1969 was heading rapidly toward 1970.

And, of course, as a nearly life-long practitioner of nostalgia and curator of memories, most of those records are still part of my life today. How much so?

Well, fourteen of those seventeen are among the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod, meaning they’re part of my day-to-day listening. The ones that are absent are those by Bobby Sherman and Tommy Roe (which does not surprise me) and by B.J. Thomas, which kind of does.

And I wonder, as I often do, how much of me still lives in that long-ago time, a time when I was gawky, awkward, pretty much clueless about a lot of things, and artless about many as well. Maybe more than is healthy, though I am far more present in my life these days than I was, say, twenty years ago. But I’m still fairly clueless about a lot of things, sometimes still artless, and sometimes still awkward. I am, however, likely too rotund to be very gawky.

As Paul Simon wrote in one of his versions of “The Boxer,” after “changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.” And I’m never sure if that should be depressing or reassuring.

So what do we listen to from among those records on the last Saturday of the year? Well, a quick search through the archives here tells me – almost unbelievably – that we’ve never featured “Someday We’ll Be Together” in this space.

I recall a discussion of the record, but that came in the comments on a post that featured a record by Johnny Bristol, with a commenter noting that it’s Bristol who supplies the male portion of the call-and-response interplay at the end of the record.

So the record – which probably should have been in my long-ago Ultimate Jukebox but wasn’t – has never been featured here. That neglect ends today, as “Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes* becomes what I would guess will be the last entry in my Jukebox Regrets and becomes as well the final Saturday Single for 2019.

*Yes, I know that the other female voices on the record may not actually have been members of the Supremes, but we’re going to let that concern go this morning.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019

It’s quiet inside and out this morning. The Texas Gal is sleeping in, and the cats are scattered and napping after their breakfast. Outside, our alley is undisturbed, a nearly constant state, especially in the colder months.

And we are almost prepared for the holiday tomorrow. We will be in the kitchen this afternoon, preparing a potato dish, some deviled eggs and a dessert that we will take with us tomorrow when we go to my sister’s home in the Twin Cities’ suburb of Maple Grove, some fifty miles away.

As for our own Christmas celebrations, this evening we will forsake the cold dinner of shrimp and potato salad we’ve had on Christmas Eve for each of the last ten or so years and instead will dine this evening on a ribeye steak we picked up the other day. (Side dishes are yet to be determined.)

And our gift-giving is done. In the waning days of November, we decided that we would each choose a small addition to our individual hobby collections, augmented by an experience that the Texas Gal would choose for us.

Unsurprisingly, she added a tool to her sewing room, an attachment to her machine that enlarges its base, making quilting and other tasks easier. Also unsurprisingly, I chose music, adding to the CD stacks two albums: First, Bob Dylan’s Travelin’ Thru, the most recent of his Bootleg series, this one featuring alternate versions of songs from the sessions for the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and Self Portrait as well as sessions with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs; and second, the fiftieth anniversary release of The Band’s second, self-titled album. Along with the original album, the new release includes alternate versions and out-takes from the sessions as well as the original rough mixes of The Band’s performance at Woodstock. I have yet to thoroughly digest either of the packages.

And there was the experience. With the Texas Gal keeping our destination a secret, we left St. Cloud for Minneapolis the other morning, and met my sister and brother-in-law for lunch at Murray’s, a legendary downtown Minneapolis steakhouse. I’ve heard talk of Murray’s since I was young and had long wanted to dine there. The Texas Gal and I had the lunch portion of the restaurant’s Silver Butter Knife Steak for Two, a twenty-eight ounce strip sirloin that was carved at our table. It was worth the wait (and pricey, though not as much so as it would have been at dinner-time).

And unless the Texas Gal has more surprises planned, that’s our Christmas celebration. Except that, more importantly, we’ll spend time tomorrow with my sister and brother-in-law, my nephew, my niece and her husband and their two young sons.

May you all spend your holidays at a place you can call home with those you love and who love you back.

And here’s the original version of Darlene Love’s “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)” from the 1963 Phil Spector album, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records.

A Date Forever Wrapped In Sorrow

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

As I wrote eight years ago when I ran this piece for the second time, just seeing today’s date has made me feel old and weary and sad. Here’s a piece I wrote this week in 2007:

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom during the brief after-lunch free time when Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough.
From For Emily Whenever I May Find Her (1967).

Revised slightly from earlier postings.

Saturday Single No. 663

Saturday, October 26th, 2019

As of today, we’ve been married twelve years now, the Texas Gal and I. She’s been a Minnesota (or at least a Texan in exile) for nineteen years this month. And in just a few months, we’ll mark twenty years since our avatars popped up on the same day in the listings of a Lycos chat room devoted either to social issues or music. (We think it was the former, but we frequented both, so we’re not entirely sure.)

We thought about those tales of years the other day as we sat on the couch ignoring something on TV, and we agreed that it doesn’t feel like twelve years since we walked out of the Stearns County Courthouse as married folks; nor does it feel like nearly twenty years since we met. That, I guess, proves two truisms: My dad’s long-ago warning that time would go faster and faster the older I got, and the universal warning that time flies when you’re having fun.

Conversely, it seems as if we’ve been in each other’s lives forever (and karmically, we think that’s so for this life and others that have gone on elsewhen).

Here’s what I posted here twelve years ago, as we reached one of those markers noted in today’s first paragraph:

Sometimes the Texas Gal and I look at each other and marvel that we ever met, that our lives took the turns they did to bring us together, first in a small corner of the Internet and then – in a leap that took courage and faith for both of us – in a small corner of Minnesota.

Other times, we smile and acknowledge that, well, where else could we have ended up? As I’ve written before, we find the places and the people we are meant to find, no matter how crooked our paths might have been. And she and I are where we belong.

We’re not young, but there were reasons – ones we’ll never know – that our meeting was delayed until midlife. We find solace in knowing that the lives we led before we met are what made us each who we are. Those lives – we hope – have provided us with some level of wisdom that has guided us during the seven years we’ve known each other and will continue to guide us.

If this sounds solemn, it is. This afternoon, we’re going to go down to the courthouse, where we’ll formalize the marriage that took place long ago in our hearts. It’s something we’ve been planning to do for a while, and it’s time.

So here are some of the songs that have been important to us during the past seven years (with one ringer that I threw in). This is a Baker’s Dozen for the Texas Gal, who from today on will be my wife.

“Loving Arms” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993
“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer from Sixpence None the Richer, 1998
“Rest of My Days” by Indigenous from Circle, 2000
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5614, 1988
“I Knew I Loved You” by Savage Garden from Affirmation, 1999
“If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen from Lucky Town, 1992
“Precious and Few” by Climax, Carousel single 30055, 1971
“Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden from Savage Garden, 1997
“This Kiss” by Faith Hill from Faith, 1998
“Levee Song” by Darden Smith from Little Victories, 1993
“Two of Us” by the Beatles from Let It Be…Naked (recorded 1969)
“Wedding Song” by Tracy Chapman from Telling Stories, 2000
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison from Moondance, 1970

All of those still matter to us, though we hear some of them much less frequently than the others. But it’s Saturday, and we must choose one. It comes down, then, to either the first of that list or the last, perhaps the first two recordings we chose as ours. (I think I introduced her to Darden Smith and “Loving Arms,” and I know she pointed us toward Van Morrison and “Into the Mystic.”)

I think I know what her choice would be, so I’ll defer to that. Here’s Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” today’s Saturday Single.

One Hundred Years Ago

Friday, October 18th, 2019

In October 1919:

President Woodrow Wilson sustained a serious stroke on October 2. He was an invalid until his death in 1924.

The Dutch airline KLM was formed. As of this year, it is the oldest airline flying under its original name.

The Cincinnati Reds won the World Series, five games to three, over the Chicago White Sox. In 1920, it was discovered – confirming long-standing rumors – that eight of the White Sox either took part in or knew of a conspiracy to throw the series. The eight were permanently banned from baseball.

Estonia adopted a radical land reform, nationalizing 97 percent of agrarian lands, most of which belonged to Baltic Germans.

Adolf Hitler gave his first speech for the German Workers’ Party.

The Coronado Vanderbilt Hotel was opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

An election took place in the duchy of Luxembourg; due to constitutional amendments earlier in the year, women were allowed to vote for the first time.

Over President Wilson’s veto, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act, which set out the enforcement terms of Prohibition as called for by the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And on October 18, in North Branch Township of Minnesota’s Isanti County, George Otto Erickson was born. He’s shown here in a 1964 picture taken at Gull Lake, near Nisswa, Minnesota.

George Erickson, Gull Lake near Nisswa, Minnesota, June 13, 1964

Here’s the record that was No. 1 on the day my dad was born: “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” by John Steel:

(Historical data from Wikipedia.)

Gloves

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Walking through the garage as I returned from an errand this morning, I noticed a pair of battered leather gloves on one of the shelves. Gray and dark blue, they have small holes on a couple of fingers, and they fold neatly along creases left by about ten years of yard work.

They’re the gloves I bought not long after we moved into the house on the East Side in September 2008, gloves that I wore for outdoor chores there: raking, clearing snow from the sidewalk, putting in and taking down garden fences, cleaning the gutters, and changing two storm windows for screens during ten springs and reversing the process during ten autumns.

The gloves came along with us when we moved from the house to the condo a little more than a year-and-a-half ago, but I’ve had little need to use them. They went over my everyday gloves a few times in our first few months here when I cleared snow from the front steps, and did so again in the early portions of last winter for the same reason.

After my back surgery in January, the Texas Gal took over the shoveling duties for the rest of the winter, and my blue and gray gloves sat unused on the shelf. When I saw them this morning, the part of my brain that occasionally mixes up time thought, “Oh, yes, I need to change out the windows.”

And then I realized that we’re no longer at the East Side house. We have all-season windows here, and I no longer need to switch one kitchen window and one dining room window as I did for our decade-plus there. (We had central air in the house, but on temperate days, we liked to be able to open the windows for the comfort of natural breezes.)

It’s just as well that I don’t have to mess with any of the windows, as all of them save one – the one nearest my desk in the lower level of the condo – are on the second floor and would require riskier ladder work than the half-story extension required on the East Side. But there was an odd sense that came along with the realization, a recognition that I kind of miss doing the outside work required at the house, a recognition combined with relief that – being eleven years older now than I was when we moved into the house – I no longer have to mess with most of that stuff.

They’re just gloves, tattered and probably due for disposal. But sometimes things are more than just things. Sometimes they are also reminders of the work they’ve done as well as the times during which that work was accomplished. So it is with the blue and gray gloves on the shelf in the garage. When the snow falls in the coming months, I may buy a new pair, but I doubt I’ll truly be able to replace them.

Here’s a song with an apt title: “Workin’,” by Junior Parker and Jimmy McGriff. It’s from their 1971 album Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day.