Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

Weary

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Well, life happens.

Two days ago, my sister and I learned that Mom would have to be moved to a smaller apartment, almost an efficiency, in a facility adjacent to her assisted living center where she can get a greater level of care.

That means packing, moving, downsizing, renting another storage unit and all the stuff that goes with that. I’ve spent most of the past two days running errands and making phone calls as well as trying to keep things running smoothly here at home. Sorting and packing starts tomorrow, and the move is set for a week from today, April 12.

Add some sleep issues, and I’m already weary. I’ve got most of today to refresh – although there are some lingering domestic duties – so I’m going to go do that.

In the meantime, here are Jim and Jean Glover, the musicians who recorded during the 1960s as Jim & Jean, with their version of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” from their 1966 album Changes. (Dylan’s version of the song, recorded in 1963 for his album The Times They Are a-Changin’, was eventually released in 1985 as part of the Biograph box set.)

Meeting The Maestro

Friday, March 24th, 2017

A while back – four years ago – I wrote about the Civic Music concerts my sister and I attended with my mom for maybe five years during the mid-1960s: About five times during each school year, we’d put on our Sunday clothes – nice dresses for Mom and my sister and dress shirt and pants with a sport coat and (clip-on) tie for me – and head over to St. Cloud Tech High School for a classical performance.

Those performances were almost always concerts, though once or twice the Civic Music organization offered a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to end the season. Several times the last concert of the season was by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). And as I wrote four years ago, I recall the piano duo of Stecher & Horowitz and the Robert Shaw Chorale, and there are a few other performers whose names do not come immediately to mind but whose programs are tucked into my old scrapbook.

(In that piece four years ago, however, I ascribed performances by pianist Van Cliburn and by the Vienna Boys Choir to Civic Music; after some thought and some digging, I’ve decided those two concerts likely took place at St. Cloud State.)

I’ve noted several times in various posts here that among the performers who came through St. Cloud was Mantovani, who brought his orchestra to Tech High sometime during the 1965-1966 season, when I was twelve. I don’t have the program from that concert, but I do have an autographed postcard, one that I found a while back as I dug through that scrapbook. As was customary after the concert, Mantovani spent some time onstage while a cluster of urchins and some older folks gathered to talk and to get autographs. Mantovani, ca. 1965 As you can see, the maestro was not at all concerned with legibility. That was okay, though. I have a very clear memory of the man – his full name was Annunzio Paolo Mantovani – standing in his tuxedo near the piano, sweat beading his face as he smiled, chatted and scrawled his name on card after card.

I doubt if Mantovani said anything to me as I got to the front of the cluster of folks at the piano. From what I remember, he was smiling as he chatted with others in that cluster. (Performers weren’t always genial during meet ’n’ greet sessions after Civic Music concerts; I recall a few who seemed downright surly as they dealt with after-concert duties.) But I do not remember that I got any particular attention from Mantovani other than a smile as he handed me the signed postcard.

Even though I’ve always been a fan of easy listening music from the 1960s and 1970s, Mantovani and his cascading strings have never been among my favorites. Ray Conniff and Paul Mauriat were my easy listening guys, more or less, when I was buying vinyl. (I’m not certain if Al Hirt and Herb Alpert fall into easy listening or not, but there was a lot of their stuff on the shelves, too.) Since the advent of digital music, I’ve added Percy Faith, Enoch Light, Larry Page, Franck Pourcel and a lot of others to the list of folks whose music I seek out and whose music I listen to when I need to remember how the Sixties often sounded on Kilian Boulevard.

I have collected a little bit of Mantovani’s stuff, too, but just a bit: fifty-five tracks out of the 91,000 that now clutter the RealPlayer. It’s not that hard to find, and I imagine I’ll get some CDs from the public library and see if I want to add any more. But as I noted above, the cascading strings – Mantovani’s signature sound – isn’t my favorite.

Every once in a while, thought, it’s a nice change of pace. One of the pieces I like most among the Mantovani tracks I have in the collection is one that we very likely might have heard that evening more than fifty years ago. The concert was, if I recall correctly, mostly classical pieces as filtered through Mantovani’s arrangements, and his take on Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance No. 2” would have fit right in. It was first released, I think, on the 1963 album Classical Encores.

Chart Digging: March 22, 1975

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Here’s the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 forty-two years ago today, March 22, 1975:

“My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli
“Lady Marmalade (Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi)” by LaBelle
“Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton
“Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers
“Have You Never Been Mellow” by Olivia Newton-John
“Express” by B.T. Express
“You Are So Beautiful/It’s A Sin When You Love Somebody” by Joe Cocker
“Poetry Man” by Phoebe Snow
“No No Song/Snookeroo” by Ringo Starr
“Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” by Sugarloaf/Jerry Corbetta

Almost all of those were coming out of the jukebox in the Atwood Center snack bar at St. Cloud State around that time. I don’t recall ever hearing either of the listed B-sides, nor – having listened to it this morning – do I recall ever hearing “Express.” But the rest of those records were a good portion of the soundtrack of my life as 1975 – one of the best years of my youth – approached its second quarter.

Sometime during the six weeks just past, one of my friends at The Table had given me some hard-to-hear but essential advice. He said I had to quit obsessing about the accident I’d been in at the end of October 1974. He was right, so I quit skipping my classes, I quit skipping my work shifts at the library’s periodicals counter, and I got to work on finishing three courses from fall quarter in which I’d taken incomplete grades.

In other words, I got busy being a student, and it was good for me. And most of the music listed above and plenty more from the rest of the chart came along with me as we headed into spring quarter.

Still, as always, there was music out there that never got to my ears, usually because it stayed for a brief time in the lower level of the Hot 100. Here are four records that caught my eye and my ear this morning:

“You’re A Part Of Me” by Susan Jacks was sitting at No. 90. The single, from the female voice of the Poppy Family (with then-husband Terry Jacks), was okay, based on some listening at YouTube. I never thought her voice was big enough to carry a career, though I likely would not have put it in those terms back when the Poppy Family stuff was coming out of the speakers. “You’re A Part Of Me” was intended for an album titled Dreams, but the folks at Russ & Gary’s “The Best Years of Music” say in a 2013 post that the album “was kept from market by Ray Pettinger, her husband’s former business associate at Goldfish Records.” I’m not sure about that: Discogs lists the LP as having been released in Canada. Either way, the album is available at YouTube, and – based on admittedly brief listening this morning – it sounds like the work of a limited singer trying to figure out which Seventies niche to land in. “You’re A Part Of Me” went no higher than No. 90 during its five weeks in the Hot 100.

Sitting at the very bottom of the Hot 100 forty-two years ago today was “Where Have They Gone” by Jimmy Beaumont & The Skyliners. Billed simply as simply the Skyliners, the group had offered the classic “Since I Don’t Have You” in 1959. And although the group had released a cluster of records that had gotten some airplay in the early 1960s – the best-performing being 1960’s “Pennies From Heaven,” which went to No. 24 – there’d been nothing in the charts since 1965. Even in the context of the big tent that Top 40 was in 1975, the string-laden “Where Have They Gone” sounds like a record out of its time, which I kind of like. I was intrigued to see that it had been written by Doc Pomus and Ken Hirsh, and it turns out there’s an interesting note at Wikipedia, where Pomus categorizes the songs he wrote in the 1970s – with Hirsh and others – as being for “those people stumbling around in the night out there, uncertain or not always so certain of exactly where they fit in and where they were headed.” Not to be cruel, but I suppose that could fit Beaumont and the Skyliners after ten years with no records in the charts. And “Where Have They Gone” was itself gone after this one week in the Hot 100.

Heading into the Bubbling Under portion of the Billboard chart, I ran across a group name that I found irresistible: Ecstasy, Passion & Pain. Tagged as an R&B/dance group by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, the group had seen three records in or near the Hot 100 since early 1974, with the best-performing of them being “Ask Me,” which went to No. 52 in November 1974. Their next try was “One Beautiful Day,” which was bubbling under at No. 103 in that chart from forty-two years ago today. To my ears, there’s nothing there that maybe twenty other groups weren’t doing more compellingly at the time. “One Beautiful Day” would eventually peak at No. 48 (No. 14 on the Billboard R&B chart) and would be the biggest mark Ecstasy, Passion & Pain ever made on the charts.

Maybe the biggest surprise this morning was finding a record from Steppenwolf parked at No. 110, the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section. For me, John Kay’s group occupies the last few years of the 1960s, the years of “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride.” I somehow tend to forget that more than half of Steppenwolf’s charting records came in the 1970s. None of them flew as high as the two singles just mentioned, but the ’Wolf put six records into the middle to lower portions of the Hot 100 in 1970 and 1971. After an absence of three years came “Straight Shootin’ Woman,” which went to No. 29 in 1974, followed in 1975 by “Smokey Factory Blues,” which was sitting at No. 110 forty-two years ago today. It doesn’t really sound like Steppenwolf until about ninety seconds in, but then the chorus takes off, and when one listens to the story Kay and the rest of the band are telling, it’s a fitting coda to the band’s story: “Smokey Factory Blues” is what happens when you quit running and riding and living wild.

Saturday Single No. 531

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

We’re gonna do the fifty years ago thing this morning because it’s fun and because the Airheads Radio Survey Archive just happens to have in its files the “The Big 6+30” from the Twin Cities’ KDWB from March 11, 1967, fifty years ago today.

And to find our Saturday Single, we’ll play Games With Numbers with today’s date – 3/11/17 – and check out the records that were at No. 11, No. 17 and No. 28 in “The Big 6+30” from that long ago date.

But first, let’s think about March of 1967 from the view of a 13-year-old whiteray. He was making his way through the thickets of eighth grade, dealing well enough with a basic curriculum of geometry, geography, English, Earth science, industrial arts and phy. ed. (Looking back fifty years this morning, I’m surprised that I don’t recall any art classes from that year; perhaps the junior high powers had observed my efforts during seventh grade and had wisely decided there was no point in investing any more tempera paint or India ink into my decidedly mediocre work.)

He’d had his tonsils out in February, and his throat was still a little tender. His heartfelt overtures to a cute blonde contemporary had been rebuffed sometime that winter, and his feelings were still a little tender. And he’d been kept after school sometime over the winter for defacing, literally, a magazine cover.

One thing he wasn’t doing – as I’ve noted here many times over more than ten years – was paying any attention to KDWB and its Top 40 music. He heard the station’s output at home when his sister listened and at friends’ homes, so much of what was on “The Big 6+30” fifty years ago would have been familiar if not favored. Here’s the station’s Top Five from that week:

“Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones
“The Beat Goes On” by Sonny & Cher
“My Cup Runneth Over With Love” by Ed Ames
“Kind Of A Drag” by the Buckinghams
“I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by the Electric Prunes

Of those five, the only one I knew well was Ames’ single, and being even then an utter romantic, I adored it. Could I have told you why? Not then. (I could now, I think, but there’s no point in my trying after reading my pal jb’s tender assessment of the record in a post from five years ago at And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.) And I would have heard Ames’ single more frequently on the Twin Cities’ WCCO or St. Cloud’s KFAM, as the record topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart (now called Adult Contemporary) for four weeks that winter.

Three of the other four in that top five are vague portions of the soundtrack of those times. The only one of KDWB’s Top Five that doesn’t ring old bells is the single by the Electric Prunes. But what about our three targets for this morning’s exercise?

Sitting at No. 11 in KDWB-Land was “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group. The No. 17 slot was occupied by “So You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star” by the Byrds. And the No. 28 record in “The Big 6+30” was “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by the Casino.”

I don’t recall the Byrds’ single from my life in 1967. The other two records ring those old bells: “Gimme Some Lovin’” because its unmistakable intro would have ingrained itself into the head of any kid whether he liked rock music or not, and the Casinos’ record because it was pretty and romantic, qualities that spoke to the awkward and lonely lad that I was. It was also fairly pragmatic, given the repeated line, “If it don’t work out,” a subtle virtue I did not grasp then and would not grasp in music or romance for many years to come.

By this time fifty years ago, the Casinos’ record had already peaked at No. 14 on KDWB and was on its way down. In the Billboard Hot 100 fifty years ago this week, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” was peaking at No. 6. (Given that the record was so clearly out of step with nearly every trend in pop music at the time, sounding like it belonged to, say, 1961 instead of 1967, I was startled to see this morning that it made no dent in the Easy Listening chart.)

So, it’s pretty, romantic and pragmatic; it’s only been mentioned twice here in more than ten years (once in 2007 and once earlier this winter); and it reminds me of a thirteen-year-old whiteray anxiously awaiting the day when he’d understand both girls and love (and of course, he still doesn’t fully understand either). Because of all that, the Casinos” “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 530

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Forty-three years ago today, I spent some time in Paris’ Montmartre district, touring the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and then walking to Place du Tertre, where painters gather to ensnare the tourists. Many years later, I looked back at that walk and wrote this:

The basilica’s neighborhood – including Place du Tertre – seemed almost too French, a little too close to what one thinks of when one imagines a Parisian neighborhood: Nattily dressed men, arms waving as they argue on the sidewalk; a student in tattered jeans sipping café au lait at a sidewalk table, jotting his thoughts into a journal and peering through the smoke of his Gauloise at the girls passing by; an older woman trudging to work or to the bakery past a row of parked Citroën autos; two priests walking rapidly with their heads down and with their cassocks flowing in the breeze made by their rapid passage down the sidewalk and into a side street; and the artists with their easels and their palettes and their berets, eyeing their own works critically and their neighbors’ works enviously.

It felt a little like a movie set or a collection of clichés, and it took a few moments of reflection for me to realize that it’s not often that life so perfectly mimics a stereotype. As I wandered from the basilica and into Place du Tertre, the image of Paris that I carried around inside me from books, movies and music was superimposed on the reality of Paris that was in front of me, and for a few brief and sweet moments, the two were congruent: I had found the Paris I had imagined I would find.

Of course, moments like that aren’t at all durable. In a few minutes, maybe a garbage truck came by from a nearby alley, or two backpacking travelers began laughing loudly at something that only they found humorous, or a group of Japanese tourists clustered around their flag-toting guide to hear what she had to say about the square, and that small corner of Paris was still Paris, but it was no longer as nearly perfect as it had been.

And as I look back, it seems to me that for those few moments of near-perfection, the only thing missing was the sound of an Edith Piaf song playing in the background: “No, je ne regrette rien . . . .”

So here, forty-three years later, is Edith Piaf’s “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien,” recorded in Paris on November 20, 1960. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

There’s A House . . .

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

There’s a house. If it’s real, it’s in an older neighborhood, one that was home to factory workers about a hundred years ago. When I stand on the wooden back steps and look at the sidewalk at the end of the plain dirt driveway, I sense the footprints of tired men walking home.

The house is tan, the window frames dark brown, and the paint is flaking badly. I turn to the back door and enter the kitchen. The old linoleum crackles under my tread. I know this place, can sense the faint aromas of hundreds of meals: chicken, maybe chops, and almost certainly some favorites from an old country left behind.

A plain table with two chairs is on my left as I enter, next to the window that overlooks the driveway, and I turn toward it. The kitchen appliances are somewhere to my right. They’re indistinct, but I know that like the paint outside and the linoleum underfoot, they are old.

There is a doorway beyond the table, and there is light in the room beyond the doorway. I hear the murmur of voices, perhaps conversation or maybe a radio. Through the doorway, I see the shape of a chair, perhaps a sofa, and just beyond, there is a flicker of movement and maybe the sound of footsteps.

And I see no more. The dream, one I’ve had dozens of times over the years, ends there as I stand by the table in the kitchen, looking into the next room with its yellowish light and its murmurs and its shadows. If that house exists, I do not know where it is, and yet, I’ve been there time and again.

Here’s “Theme From A Dream” by the Larry Page Orchestra. It’s a tune written and first recorded by Chet Atkins. Page’s version was first released on his orchestra’s 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Saturday Single No. 528

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Among the trees we have gracing our acre-plus of yard are three Norway pines, perhaps my favorites with their graceful conical shapes and their clusters of long needles. One of the three is not far from the house and has been the starting point over the years for the seating for our summer picnics. All three are tall and, if you’ll excuse the personification, noble.

But I’m a little worried. All three of them have been shedding branches – some quite large – this winter. The yard is strewn with maybe thirty of them, ranging from a foot to perhaps four feet long. And that seems odd. We’ve had some high winds so far this winter, but nothing more fierce than we’ve had in winters past. (In fact, this has been a fairly mild winter: not that much snow and only one stretch of sub-zero temperatures although there is some chatter about a major storm heading our way at the end of next week.)

So I don’t know why the Norway pines are shedding so many branches this winter when they’ve not done so in winters past. I’m uncertain if the falling branches are harbingers of something wrong with the three Norway pines or if they’re just coincidence. I’d like to think it’s the latter.

The branches also bother me because they’re unsightly. As the snow cover has melted and the temperatures have risen in the past week or so, the Texas Gal and I have talked about getting outside and picking up the branches. I think we’ll be doing that today or tomorrow afternoon, as the temperature is supposed to get into the mid-50s.

That won’t tell us why the Norways are shedding branches, but at least it will make the yard a little more tidy.

And here’s an appropriate tune, a cover of a song originally done by The Band in 1969. Here’s “Whispering Pines” as performed by Boz Scaggs and Lucinda Williams. It’s from Scaggs’ 2015 album A Fool To Care, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘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.