Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘Winter Winds’

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

I looked out the window first thing this morning, and I heard Boz Scaggs’ voice in my head, with the faux Boz changing one word:

“And now the snow begins, and it may never end . . .”

This week’s edition of the snow to end all snows crept into southern and southwestern Minnesota around midnight and is slowly making its way northeast across the state. It’s before eight in the morning as I write, and we’ve gotten a dusting so far, less than an inch, I’d guess.

Before it’s all over sometime this evening, we’re supposed to get anywhere from four to eight inches of new snow. That’s less than they’ll get in the Twin Cities, which is more near the center of the storm track, and unless the storm veers suddenly, I’m guessing our total will be right around six inches.

Still, that will be the largest snowfall of the season, and it will – I believe – make this February the snowiest February ever recorded in St. Cloud.

And we’ve had plenty of warning, what with weather folk on television tracking the major systems across the country for the past week. As we watched television last evening, the lists of school districts closed for the day scrolled past, and the Texas Gal commented on them. Being a Minnesota native, I told her that schools had in the past closed for the following day when a storm was bearing down, adding that announcing the closings the evening before gave working parents time to plan for themselves and their kids.

Of course, the three- to four-day warning of a major storm allowing such planning is a relatively new phenomenon, the product of the late satellite age. That was the case about eight years ago when we had three-day warning of a Christmas-time blizzard that stranded us in our house on the East Side for a couple of days. But this morning I’m thinking back to two of the major winter storms I recall, and there wasn’t nearly as much warning for them.

In October 1991, Minnesotans were still celebrating the baseball Twins’ victory in the World Series on Sunday when the weather indicators showed by mid-week a storm coming in Thursday night or Friday morning. I was new at the Eden Prairie News, located in a second-ring suburb in the southwest corner of the Twin Cities, and as I saw the winds whipping around on Thursday afternoon, October 31, I called over to the high school to see if the volleyball match I’d planned to shoot that evening was still scheduled.

“Yes,” said the activities secretary. Then she asked if I were new to Minnesota, wondering if I’d just moved from some less snowy place.

“No,” I told her. “I was born here, and I just have a sense about this one.”

I shot the volleyball game, and drove home in heavy snow, one of the few cars on the Interstate highway that evening. The snow continued falling through Friday, with most of Minnesota shut down, through Saturday and into Sunday. Wikipedia tells me that the Twin Cities received 28.4 inches of snow, which set a record for a single storm in the Metro area.

I hunkered down in my apartment in the northwestern suburbs, venturing out only on Saturday to walk to the hardware store in the adjacent block to replace my coffee maker, which had helpfully given up the ghost on Friday evening. No one went anywhere on Monday, and on Tuesday traffic crawled through the morning rush hour and life went on.

I don’t think we had even three days of warning in January 1975 (or perhaps I, a college student at the time, was oblivious to the warnings), when the snow – whipped around by wind – began to fall around noon on a Thursday. Wikipedia says the snow began on Friday, but I know darned well that the St. Cloud State campus was closed on Thursday afternoon and that the snow was so heavy by then that my friend Larry, who lived in Elk River – thirty-five miles away – turned around on the edge of St. Cloud and stayed with us until Tuesday.

We got about eighteen inches of snow in that one, but the wind created drifts as high as six feet in the street just north of us and much larger than that out in the country. We stayed in most of the time, though Larry and I did venture out during a lull Saturday, walking through deep snow to the nearby Dew Drop Inn for a pitcher of beer – the owners lived in a house attached to the back of the tavern – and then stopping by Rick’s house, where a few of his school friends had gathered. After a few spirited rounds of the card game Pit, Larry and I trudged back across Kilian Boulevard.

Snow came in again Sunday, and we stayed in, spending three dismal hours of the day watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in the Super Bowl. On Monday, I walked the windy mile or so to school to man the circulation desk at the St. Cloud State library. Even with the chilly walk, I got the better of the deal, as Larry ended up helping Dad shovel the walks and paths and clear snow from the roof of the house.

And on Tuesday Larry happily headed home, and once again, life slowly lurched back to normal.

I doubt that this week’s storm will be as disruptive, but if I were one of those who were out on work or errands today, I’d be keeping an eye on the weather and planning to cut short my time away from home. That’s what the Texas Gal is likely to do today: She has some flex hours available, so she’s probably coming home during the midafternoon. And if we’re snowed in tomorrow, well, we’ve got some television shows to binge-watch.(And a quick look out the window tells me that the snow has become appreciably heavier in just the forty minutes it took me to put this post together.)

Here’s the British folk-rock band Fotheringay with a suitable tune for today. The band, Sandy Denny’s project after she left Fairport Convention, released a single self-titled album in 1970. Though brief, the evocative “Winter Winds” is one of my favorites on the album.

‘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: