Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

‘May I Suggest . . .’

Friday, January 27th, 2017

I’m battling another bit of cold/sinus crap, the Texas Gal and I are dealing with some impending changes in our health insurance, and I’m keeping up perhaps a bit too obsessively with the news coming from Washington, D.C.

So I’ve not been in the best frame of mind this week. And that’s why it was pleasant on Wednesday evening to get together with a few of the other musicians from our Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship to plan our musical offerings for the next few weeks.

We try to do that on a regular basis, but things got a bit stretched in December, what with holiday activities, so we were pretty much scrambling week-to-week as we put together the music since January began. So it was good to put a little bit of order in place, and it was good – as it always is – to work on some music for the next few weeks.

One of the tunes we’re planning to do in a couple weeks comes from a folkish trio of women who call themselves Red Molly. The trio – Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter – released five studio albums, a live album and an EP between 2005 and 2014. Since then, they’ve been on what they call a hiatus, working on solo projects.

The tune – “May I Suggest” – might seem out of touch with the way these times seem to be flowing, but I think that along with being concerned about that flow, we also need, more than ever, to be aware of the good things that still fill our lives from day to day. And Red Molly’s “May I Suggest” might help folks do that. I know it does for me.

It’s from the trio’s 2008 album Love and Other Tragedies.

‘The Door Is Open . . .’

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Having dabbled in early 1972 for a Saturday Single last weekend, I began running through my head what I was doing at the time, about midway through my second quarter of classes at St. Cloud State. And I hit a blank spot.

It’s not a huge blank spot, but I do not recall a couple of the courses I took that quarter. I know I took a general ed math class, because I sat next to a guy named Jerry, and sometime in January, he gave me his copy of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

I know I took a one-credit practicum at the college radio station, because I remember a fair amount of stuff from the studios of KVSC-FM. Like other staffers, I’d spend my hours between classes there. We’d laze in the lounge, talking about pretty much anything in the world as we listened to the sounds of album rock coming from Studio B while the station’s signal sent classical music over the air from Studio A.

My duties included airing a five-minute sports break two or three times a week during a thirty-minute evening newscast that ended at 5:30. Two things come back to me from that: First, they were lousy sports breaks, made up entirely of copy pulled from the Associated Press printer. Not once during the quarter did I cover anything done by the various St. Cloud State athletic teams, which tells me that I knew how to read, but I had no idea how to report. And second, I recall heading outside at about 5:35 on those evenings and seeing my dad waiting for me by the back door of Stewart Hall, the exhaust from his beloved 1952 Ford billowing in the winter air.

I know I took the first of an eventual five music theory courses. We’ll get back to that.

And there were two other courses on my schedule, but even a couple days’ worth of pondering has brought me no closer to recalling what they were. “Was it English 162?” I’d think, and then place that course in the spring of 1972 because I showed some of my lyrics to the grad assistant who taught the course, and one of those lyrics – a not particularly good one – was written in April of that year. “Was it Speech Communication?” Well, no, that was the fall quarter of 1972, because that was how I met the girl from Indiana . . .

Having sorted through what I recall of St. Cloud State’s general ed requirements (and not being certain where I might have a transcript), I can only guess that I took a geography course and, well, something else that quarter. Those courses obviously didn’t matter to me at the time.

The music theory course did matter, as I’ve noted before, but as I ransacked the cupboards of my memory this week, I thought of one bit from that class that I’d not thought about for a while: At the end of the quarter, each of us in that theory class was required to perform an original song. I already had a couple of songs in my bag that might have worked, but I wrote a new one, “Sing Your Songs.”

As well as meeting the course requirements, the song was aimed at winning a greater portion of affection from a young lady I’d been seeing. I look at the lyrics now, after decades of writing lyrics and prose, and I wince, but only a little. For a callow eighteen-year old just beginning to learn his craft, they weren’t bad:

The door is open, come on in.
I won’t ask you where you’ve been.
I’ll remember, lose or win
As you sing your songs for me.

Don’t forget, it’s always here,
Sometimes cloudy, sometimes clear,
Standing far or drawing near
As you show your dreams to me.

Your songs need not be long
Not perfect in their rhyme,
All that I am asking
Is to exchange your songs with mine.

When you leave, if you ever do,
Smiling, frowning, false or true,
I’ll remember in green and blue
When you sang your songs for me.

I accompanied myself on guitar, adding an instrumental break on my racked harmonica. My theory classmates liked it. So did the professor. And more importantly, so did the young lady, who thanked me for it after she got the copy I tucked into her dorm mailbox.

About a month later, after she’d decided we were not well-matched, I tucked another lyric into her mailbox. (I won’t share that one; it’s truly dreadful, even for a beginner.) She was not at all touched: She returned the lyric to me without comment via the U.S. Mail.

“Darkness, Darkness . . .’

Friday, January 20th, 2017

I’m not optimistic. I am, frankly, scared.

Here is all I have today: Elliott Murphy & Iain Matthews with their cover of the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” It’s from the 2001 album La Terre Commune.

Saturday Single No. 523

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Well, the great LP purge is finished. Last Saturday, we took another 800 or so LPs down to Cheapo in Minneapolis, and we should get a decent check in the mail today.

When Tony at Cheapo told me the amount over the phone Sunday, I was a bit surprised. It was more than I expected for this particular batch of records.

“Well, you had some interesting stuff in there,” he said.

“What worried me,” I told him, “was all the K-Tel and Ronco stuff.”

“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “You didn’t get much for those.”

Altogether, I estimate that we dropped off about 2,200 LPs in our three trips to Minneapolis. How many of those Cheapo sent to the wastebasket, I don’t know. But we averaged about fifty-six cents per LP, which was nice for our savings account.

I still have about 1,000 LPs, mostly the stuff I love (some of which, like the Beatles and the Dylan collections, would sell well), and about twenty of them are in a basket near my desk where they wait to be ripped on the turntable. And I have a list of stuff I sold that I want to replicate via mp3. I’ve scavenged a few of those out in the wilds of the ’Net in the past weeks, and I’ve got a long list of CDs reserved at the local library.

This week, I was ripping some of the yearly Billboard hits CDs and some of the massive – eight CDs’ worth – history of Atlantic rhythm & blues. That’s meant a few hours each day at the computer, winnowing out old mp3s of lower bitrate or researching catalog numbers and release dates for tunes new to the digital shelves.

With the total of sorted and tagged mp3s loaded into the RealPlayer approaching 90,000, it’s difficult – as I’ve noted here before – to keep track of everything I have. So as I sort things, I’m sometimes surprised. That was the case yesterday as I wandered through my collection of work by the late Ben E. King.

I don’t have a lot of his work – thirteen tracks – but I have the obvious ones – “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and the other hits. And I have a track that I tend to forget about that I found on the 1997 anthology One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.

So here’s Ben E. King’s sweet cover of “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’m Gonna Mess Around . . .’

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

The Texas Gal and I keep trading this funky cold/sinus annoyance back and forth. After a busy weekend that neither of us could avoid – a reserved museum exhibit on Saturday and various obligations at church on Sunday – she spent Monday at home while I did laundry and other essentials.

She was back to work yesterday and I shoveled snow twice. Now it’s Wednesday, there’s more shoveling ahead, and I’m in my chair and not sure I’m moving any further than the medicine cabinet for some pills or the living room to sleep on the couch.

But I dug through the digital stacks and found a tune for the day: “Jackson” by Johnny Cash & June Carter (not yet June Carter Cash), recorded fifty years ago today in Nashville.

And finding the record brought me an extra smile because “Jackson” was one of the tunes we offered in November during Cabaret De Lune, with Heather and I starting it out as a torch song and then shifting to a country dance rhythm toward the end.

Anyway, I’m heading for the medicine cabinet, and here’s “Jackson.”

‘So Long Ago . . .’

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

We talked a bit about 1974 last week, when I told a tale of romance and its aftermath, but the music tied to that post came from a year earlier. This morning, I decided to wander through the Billboard Hot 100 from December 21, 1974, forty-two years ago today, and see what came to mind.

The bulk of the records listed were, without surprise, familiar. I wasn’t actively listening to Top 40 at the time, but stuff drifts in the environment, you know, and becomes familiar whether you really like it or not. In addition, a lot of the stuff in that chart from December 1974 was on the jukebox at the student union, where I still spent a lot of time once I got back to school at the beginning of winter quarter.

And one of the records making its chart debut forty-two years ago today – sitting at No. 68 – is one that I liked a great deal then even though for some reason, I didn’t make any effort to find the record or even learn its title for years. I just heard John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” coming out of the speakers at school, in the car and, I imagine, many of the other places I hung out as the sad year of 1974 began to fade toward 1975 (which turned out to be a far better year). And I heard it a lot, as it went, eerily, to No. 9. And then, as records do, it faded away.

In some ways, I’m surprised that I never thought to find out the record’s title. I obviously knew it was Lennon’s work, but I evidently didn’t need to know more than that. As for buying it, well, I never did buy many singles, and I never gave much thought in those days to picking up Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album.

All I can say is that I wasn’t spending a lot on records in late 1974 and I kept to that in the first months of 1975 (and for a long time after, as far as that goes). And when I did buy, I was focusing on getting the most prominent of the stuff I’d heard during my time in Denmark, including albums by the Allman Brothers Band and the first Duane Allman anthology. So as much as I liked “#9 Dream,” it had to wait to get onto my shelves.

And it was a long wait. Eleven years later, on a January evening in 1986, the Other Half and I did some shopping in Buffalo, the county seat about ten miles south of Monticello. It’s a odd destination, as we rarely shopped in Buffalo; if we didn’t stay in Monti, we’d usually head thirty miles northwest up Interstate 94 to St. Cloud or go the same distance the other way to any number of malls or big box stores in the Twin Cities’ northwestern suburbs.

But we went that Friday evening to Buffalo, and one of the places we went had LPs. I noticed The John Lennon Collection, a recently released anthology of the man’s solo work, and it went home with us. So if I hadn’t ever bothered to learn it before (and I don’t know if I had or hadn’t), I learned by the end of that evening that the track with the haunting refrain “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” was in fact called “#9 Dream.” And I was glad to have it – and the rest of the tracks on the collection – with me.

Saturday Single No. 520

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

The late autumn gods sent us snow yesterday and early this morning. Nothing odd about that in mid-December, but it is still – in technical terms – late autumn. Winter doesn’t truly begin here until the lovely time of 4:44 a.m. this coming Wednesday.

But that’s just a formality. We’ve had three pretty good snowfalls already – by that, I mean four inches or more – and although we got back to bare ground a couple days after the first one, I think we’re set now with snow cover until late February or March. And that’s fine; it’s winter in Minnesota.

And I’m taking it easier on the shoveling this season. This is our ninth winter in the house. During the previous eight, I would take care of all the shoveling in one go: Clear the top of the driveway, swoop a center path on the sidewalk along the edge of the house and from the front steps out to the street, clear the front steps and then trim the sidewalk edges with a upward and forward beveling motion of the shovel combined with a sort of crab-like backward shuffle.

(It’s likely hard to envision that edge-trimming strategy from words; one of these days, I think I’ll have the Texas Gal shoot some video. But there’s something comforting about the beveling and crab shuffle; every time I finish off our brief bit of sidewalk with that technique, I am – just for those few minutes – my father, for I learned that odd bit of sidewalk maintenance from him during the 1960s on the walk that ran along Kilian Boulevard.)

But this winter, when I can, I’m splitting the shoveling task in two: I’ll clear the top of the driveway and scrape a center path down the sidewalk (and clear the front steps while I’m at it), and then leave the beveling crab shuffle for a later trek outside. It’s easier on the body that way, and that’s something I need to keep in mind as I wander between birthdays No. 63 and No. 64. And that’s fine.

The only negative so far in this early portion of the snow season comes from an error by our new plowman. In previous winters, the guys who have snowplowed our drive have pushed the scraped snow into an open area on the west side of the garage. The grass there is pretty sketchy because of the presence of a large Norway pine. When the new fellow did his first run through, I pointed the area out to him, and he nodded.

This morning, about seven o’clock, I watched as he plowed our drive, and – as he had done earlier in the week – he pushed some snow into an area east of the drive, between the house and an oak tree. I thought to myself that he was getting awfully close to the little brick-lined garden buried under the snow near the tree. And as I prepared to head outside – still in the lounging pants and sweatshirt I use as pajamas, but never mind – I saw him push a second load of snow into the area and heard a crunch that could only have come from blade on brick.

I headed out and told him where he needed to put all the snow from now on, and I mentioned that we have a brick-lined garden there, and that he’d plowed into it. “I didn’t hear anything,” he said, shaking his head. I’m sure he didn’t. The truck is loud and the heater fan was on in the cab.

“Well, I did,” I said. “Please put all the snow up by the pine tree.” He nodded, and I went back inside. As I did, I took a quick look at the place where the bricked garden lies. Any damage to the bricks was in the area where we plant annuals because I could still see the taller perennials – lilac, spirea and red something-or-other – poking above the snow. Other than that, we’ll have to wait until the snow melts to see if there’s much damage to our little garden.

In the RealPlayer, there are forty-three tracks that have something to do with the word “brick,” ranging temporally from Fairport Convention’s 1969 album Unhalfbricking to the 2009 track “Brick by Brick” by Train. There is, of course, the Commodores’ “Brick House” as well as several versions of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” And there are four versions of a tune listed once as “(Play Something Sweet) Brickyard Blues” and three times as just “Brickyard Blues.”

We’ll go with a version of that last song by a Scottish singer named Frankie Miller. Oddly enough, on the label for Miller’s 1974 album High Life, the tune is listed as simply “Brickyard Blues,” but on the authorized video at YouTube, the title is listed as “(Play Something Sweet) Brickyard Blues.”

No matter. It’s a decent take on the tune, produced by its writer Allen Toussaint, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A December Tale

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

It’s a weekday evening in December 1974, and I’m hanging around in the rec room in the basement at home, waiting to head out on a coffee date that I’m afraid will be at least a little awkward.

The story started during August of 1973, when most of the St. Cloud State students who would spend the next academic year in Fredericia, Denmark, got together for a picnic at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. During that picnic, a young woman and I had a brief but intriguing conversation at the foot of the falls for which the park is named, talking about a very few people we knew in common and about our hopes for the adventure to come.

Our nascent friendship turned into something else about a month into that adventure. We traveled together a little bit, spending a weekend in the German city of Kiel. We put together a Thanksgiving dinner for my Danish family, scavenging substitutes for American dishes not available in Denmark. We hung out in bars, and in our rooms at our host families’ homes. We fell in love.

One evening, we went with her Danish host sister and that young woman’s boyfriend to visit some friends of his in the nearby city of Vejle. On the brief drive back to Fredericia, my girl and I cuddled in the Volkswagen’s back seat to the sound of the Toys’ 1965 hit, “A Lover’s Concerto.” (Was it an oldies station on the radio? A tape? I don’t remember.) My glasses got in the way, and she reached up and gently took them off.

“I won’t be able to see,” I said.

“I’ll be your eyes,” she murmured.

That’s one of the most tender moments I recall from any of the many loves of my life.

And then, over the course of a couple of months, it fell apart, leaving hard questions. Did we want the same things? Probably not. Did I move too fast, ask for too much? Probably. Were we young and not very wise? Without a doubt. By the time we got to the end of our time in Denmark in May 1974, we weren’t speaking to each other.

With some challenges and joys in my life, I healed a great deal that summer, but I knew there were some words – most of them kind and gentle – I wanted to share with her. I saw her at a party early during the new academic year, but her demeanor told me she wasn’t interested in talking. I thought she might never be. My heart went elsewhere that autumn, renewing an interest long denied. Then there was a traffic accident, and I dropped out of school for a month.

One day during that month, when I was physically strong enough to be away from home for a few hours, I went over to the campus. I filled out some paperwork to drop a chemistry course in which I’d been struggling before the accident, and I visited my friends at The Table in the student union. Then it was time to leave. I headed upstairs and turned the corner toward the door, and there she was.

“How are you?” I managed.

“I’m fine,” she said, shaking her head as if that were unimportant. “But how are you?” And I realized that she had heard about the accident, and she cared.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m okay. Getting better.” And we chatted for a few moments until my mom pulled up outside.

I looked at the young woman. “Can we get together sometime to talk?”

She nodded. “Call me in December, when the new quarter starts.”

I did so, and on a December weeknight, I got ready to see her, with the stereo in the rec room playing Jim Croce’s Life & Times album. A year earlier, when I was in Denmark, the album’s last track, “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” had been a very minor hit, going to No. 64 in Billboard. I’d not heard it then, but that’s what I heard just before I left home that evening:

Snowy nights and Christmas lights
Icy window panes
Make me wish that we could be
Together again
And the windy winter avenues
Just don’t seem the same
And the Christmas carols sound like blues
But the choir is not to blame

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

Crowded stores, the corner Santa Claus
Tinseled afternoons
And the sidewalk bands play their songs
Slightly out of tune
On the windy winter avenues
There walks a lonely man
And if I told you who he is
Well, I think you’d understand

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

But it doesn’t have to be that way
What we had should have never have ended
I’ll be dropping by today
’Cause we could easily get it together tonight
It’s only right

I headed to her dorm, Jim Croce in my head. At the restaurant, we split a piece of strawberry pie and laid some things to rest, offering apologies and soothing – or at least beginning to – some of the hurts. We laughed a little.

Maybe ninety minutes after I picked her up, I dropped her off at her dorm, and as I drove home, I realized Jim Croce was wrong: It did have to be that way.

The Universe Decides

Friday, December 9th, 2016

The winnowing of the vinyl continues. This week, I got back to work, sorting the pop, rock and R&B LPs in a swath that ran from Sade to Warren Zevon, keeping maybe 100 out of the 600 LPs I looked at, putting the rest in crates on the floor. (From there, they’ll go to boxes that we’ll take down to Minneapolis, probably in early January.)

There were some tough decisions: I let go of lots of Neil Young, and lots of stuff by Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, War, the Waterboys, Stevie Wonder, the Who, Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel, and Steeleye Span. Much of that stuff is replicated in the digital stacks; some isn’t.

What did I keep?

Well, all the Bruce Springsteen stays here, as does all the Boz Scaggs. The same goes for Jesse Winchester, Southside Johnny (with and without the Asbury Jukes), Bobby Whitlock, the Sutherland Brothers (with and without Quiver) and Tower of Power.

There were, of course, other albums by lesser-known (and lesser-regarded) performers and groups. Some of those stayed and some were put on the floor to leave. I kept individual albums by, as examples, Huey “Piano” Smith., Tim Weisberg, Floyd Westerman, Paul Williams, Jennifer Warnes and Jimmy Webb. Among those set to leave are individual records by – again as examples – Warren Zevon, Michelle Shocked, the Turtles, Carly Simon, the Three Degrees and Rick Wakeman.

Many of the decisions were hard (the two hardest were letting go of twelve albums by War and six by Steeleye Span, keeping in each case an anthology), and I imagine that if I’d been doing this batch of sorting on another day, some of those decisions would have been different.

So what’s left to sort? Well, about 800 LPs sit on the bricks and boards I wrote about long ago in a tale about dad’s woodworking skills and my use of a saber saw, and I would guess about half of those will stay. That’s where you’ll find Bob Dylan, The Band, the Beatles, the blues collection, my dad’s classical collection, standard pop (including Al Hirt), country, and lots of anthologies.

I would guess that most of the anthologies will go; many of them are K-Tel and Ronco records with truncated versions of hits, and some of the country and standard pop will go. My goal – negotiated with the Texas Gal, whose aim is to trim down all of our belongings for the eventual move to an apartment – is to get to right around 1,000 LPs. And, as I said, some of the decisions are difficult. Some are not: There were no twinges of regret as I put albums by Uriah Heep and Bonnie Tyler, to name two, into the crates on the floor.

And sometimes the universe decides. At one point yesterday morning, I was holding Gold in California, a two-record anthology of the work of the late folk singer Kate Wolf, whose music I love. I’ve mentioned her a very few times over these nearly ten years, and I’ve gathered a bit of her stuff into the digital stacks, including all the tracks on Gold in California. But it was the only album of hers among the vinyl. So I was dithering.

I’d had my iTunes library playing on random as I sorted. And as I pondered what to do with the anthology, iTunes offered me “Carolina Pines,” one of only four Kate Wolf tracks among those 3,700-some selections. I nodded and put the album with the keepers. After all, who am I to argue with the universe?

Here’s “Carolina Pines.” It’s from Wolf’s 1985 album Poet’s Heart.

Saturday Single No. 519

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

I was waiting at a light on Riverside Drive last evening, heading downtown for some Mexican takeout, when a city bus rolled past, its bright interior lights outshining the early December gloom and illuminating its occupants as if they were on a stage. The bus rolled past me, heading – like me – for the bridge across the Mississippi River and downtown. And as it did, it triggered two things in me: memories of several winters riding the bus to and from work in downtown Minneapolis and an accompanying visceral sorrow.

That visceral reaction, a burst of sadness so powerful that I had to take a few deep breaths as I waited for the green light, took me aback. But it probably shouldn’t have. Those three winters when I rode the bus to work downtown – the winters from late 1995 to the spring of 1998 – were among some of the bleakest seasons of my life.

It’s worth noting here that winters in Minnesota can be bleak no matter what else is going on in a person’s life. From November to February, anyone who works a regular shift job – say 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – here in the northland will go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. That’s cause enough for a little gloominess to start with. Then add, for me and many others, the difficulty that’s now called Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the disarmingly appropriate acronym of SAD), in which the absence of light fuels depression.

To that bitter mix, add my own chronic depression (noted here recently), and then add the situational sadness over a life seemingly heading both nowhere and toward any imaginable disaster at the same time, and you have a potent brew. So you find me during those dark winters leaving my cats in the morning and heading to the bus stop to ride to downtown jobs – one supposedly permanent and the others temporary – that were not at all what I ever planned or expected. And you have me riding home in the dark of late afternoon, home to the cats and a dinner alone, home to an evening of table-top baseball, vapid television or sad music on the stereo.

Of course, not all of my music was truly sad then; those were the years – 1995 into 1998 – during which vinyl was my drug of choice, holding at bay an even worse depression than the one I found myself in. (Also helping to hold back that deeper depression were my cats, Aaron and Simmons.) But in the memory that rolled over me as I waited out the traffic light last evening, the music was as doleful as was almost all of my life back then.

So that’s what I felt last evening as I watched the city bus go past with its passengers safe in its haven of light. When I was one of those winter passengers in a much larger city twenty years ago, that bright light was no haven; the darkness of my life felt inescapable, and it seemed as if I’d lost nearly all that had been good about my life. Those long gone but so very familiar feelings rolled over me as I waited out the red light on Riverside Drive, and then they left, leaving a vague residue of uneasiness.

That residue faded as the light changed and I moved on, heading first for the Mexican take-out place and then back to the East Side and eventually up the driveway toward my dual havens, the warm lights of home and the love of my Texas Gal.

So instead of thinking, as I’d originally planned, about a melancholy man, let’s think about a song I no doubt heard during those dark winters on Pleasant Avenue, a track that might have provided some hope and solace to brighten the gloom. It’s the tentatively hopeful “Love Will Come To You,” a 1992 track by the Indigo Girls, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.