Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

Taking Time

Friday, May 10th, 2019

I haven’t been entirely lazy during the last week. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been scanning old family pictures that my sister and I have found in various boxes, spending a couple hours each day at the desk sorting out the in-focus shots from those more fuzzy.

Along with that, I’ve been attaching the occasional scanned photo to the pages of appropriate relatives at my family tree at Ancestry.com, where I’ve been digging for a while.

The one thing I have not done this week is anything regarding blogging, whether about music or anything else. I general write early in the morning, but this week I’ve been sleeping in, perhaps because I still need down time. After all, the doctors did say when I had my surgery in January that, although I could resume normal activities in April, it would be about a year before I’d be fully recovered. And I do tire easily.

So I took a week for me. And in the past few days, I’ve been thinking about what I might write about when I come back to this space. I’ve got no major plans for today. I have an idea for tomorrow’s Saturday Single. And I think that next week, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson will be featured here at least once, as I don’t think I’ve ever written much about them.

But for today, I’m just happy to open the file and put down some words. As for music, I took a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty years ago today – May 10, 1969 – and found at No. 100 a record I featured here a little more than eight years ago, which is an eternity in blog time. Here’s Wilson Pickett’s not-entirely-successful cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” which peaked at No. 64.

‘And they’re off!’

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

DerbyI’m not sure when I got the game. I might have been twelve. But at some store – Woolworth’s? Kresge’s? I don’t remember – I saw the Kentucky Derby Racing Game and wanted it enough to either wheedle its price out of one of my parents or pay for it with my own limited funds. (More likely the former.)

It really wasn’t much of a game, as a glance at the photo above reveals. The winner was the horse whose number came up on the spinner fifteen times. No favorites, no dark horses, no upsets. Just spins of a plastic arrow. I played it frequently for a while, then sporadically for a longer while, then not at all.

Eventually, it sat in a closet at the house on Kilian Boulevard waiting for its now-adult owner to deal with it. I think it was among the toys I took to a dealer at an antique mall out by the freeway a year or so after Dad died.

What did intrigue me about the game were the names of the seven horses: Swaps, Needles, Iron Liege, Tim Tam, Tomy Lee, Venetian Way, and Carry Back. Those, I learned after some time playing the game, were the winners of the Kentucky Derby from 1955 through 1961. Earlier versions of the game – and it seems to date back at least to the 1930s – seem to have had only five horses (based on listings at Ebay) and, of course, differing rosters of horses, including Citation, Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, Gallant Fox and likely more.

And I became fascinated for a time with the act of naming thoroughbred horses. The names seemed so odd and random. And since I was also deeply into naming sports teams (and designing their logos) in those days – a hobby I’ve mentioned before – I began compiling a short list of horse names. That list is long gone, and I recall only one of the names: Walter’s Warrior. (Even at 14 or so, I was a major fan of alliteration.)

I still find the breeding and naming of thoroughbreds interesting. I spent some time the other evening digging into the breeding line of this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite, Omaha Beach. (The horse was scratched from the race – and the other two Triple Crown races – yesterday because of a throat ailment.)

And I’m currently reading Christopher McGrath’s book Mr. Darley’s Arabian, which details the long lineage of a horse brought to England from Aleppo (in today’s Syria) in the early 1700s, a horse that McGrath says is the ancestor of nearly every thoroughbred raced today in England, North American and Australia. (Two other Arabians were also in the genetic mix early, but those lines, McGrath says, have nearly faded away.)

Beyond my general curiosity about a wide range of things, I know that one of the things that got me interested in thoroughbred racing, lineage and names was discovering the names of those seven horses in my Kentucky Derby Racing Game years ago. (The saga of Secretariat when I was nineteen did not hurt, either.) I don’t know if newer versions exist of the game (either as a board game or digital doodad), but it’s nice to think that some urchin somewhere will someday open a racing game that features Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, Always Dreaming, and Justify along with the winner of tomorrow’s 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Keeping to the topic (in terms of the title, at least), here’s Little Richard with “Last Year’s Race Horse (Can’t Run In This Year’s Race).” It was originally intended for the unreleased 1972 album Southern Child and showed up on the 2005 release King of Rock & Roll: Complete Reprise Recordings.

Saturday Single No. 638

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

As I’ve mentioned before, my sister and I have many boxes of stuff taken from the house at Kilian Boulevard to sort through. Most of those are at my sister’s home: In the months after Dad died and before she moved out to a patio home in Waite Park, Mom would send box after box with my sister to the Twin Cities’ suburb of Maple Grove to sort through someday.

Once the Texas Gal and I were living in the house on the East Side and Mom was in assisted living, she and I would go out to her storage units and she’d send boxes with me. By the time Mom was gone there was a pile of about fifteen boxes – mostly full of photos and genealogical materials – in my storage spaces, as well.

For numerous reasons, my sister and I hadn’t done much sorting over the winter. But the other day, she came up from Maple Grove, and we went through a couple of boxes. We found lots of photos, some shot by my dad, and others mailed over the years to Mom and Dad. We kept those of people we know, and I’m scanning them, with plans to make CD’s for our cousins.

We found some interesting things that might matter to the right audience. For instance, we found a high school annual-sized book detailing the history of the small town of Lamberton, Minnesota, where my grandparents lived – first on a farm and then in town – for forty years. I made a call this week to the Redwood County Historical Society, and the fellow I talked to said he knows about the book, but the only copy the group has is kind of beaten up. I told him I had a near-mint copy for him. He said that when I send it, I should include a page or two detailing my connection to the book and to Lamberton and include as detailed a list of ancestors as I can.

And then there was Dad’s stuff related to his college career, both as a student and a faculty member: his diplomas for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, several of his annual contracts, magazines with pieces he’d written about audio-visual education. I took it over to St. Cloud State’s archivist and spent most of an hour going through it. A lot of it will go into the file they keep there for Dad; some of it will go elsewhere in the archives as appropriate, and some, he said, they might not need.

And come Monday, after a week that didn’t quite go as expected. I’ll get back to sorting and scanning photos and then tying those photos to the appropriate pages at Ancestry.com as I dig further and further into my history (and that of the Texas Gal, too).

So I’ve been dealing – and will continue to do to box-by-box for some time – with history. That’s one of musician Al Stewart’s favorite topics, too, and he approaches it in a different way in his song “Tasting History.” It’s from his 2000 album Down In The Cellar, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Preparation Time

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve become more active, I’ve been running more and more errands, resuming one of my roles that was transferred to the Texas Gal in the weeks after my January surgery, And as has long been my habit, as I drive around town, I listen to full CDs by favorite performers. And the focus for the past couple weeks has been the music of the Freddy Jones Band.

A note here: Those duties have been temporarily interrupted by an early Wednesday morning visit to the Emergency Room. What I feared was a serious problem turned out to be a much-less-major concern, but the medical tests to determine that have left me fatigued and in some pain (compounded by the ongoing recovery from January’s back surgery). Still, I feel much better today than I did yesterday, and I assume that by the beginning of next week, I’ll be back on the errand trail with the Freddy Jones Band keeping me company.

As I noted once before here, I am likely one of the few people with a complete set of albums by the Freddy Jones Band. (Eight CDs from 1993 through 2015, one of them a compilation. There may be a stand-alone single or two that I do not have.) Why? Well, for a couple simple reasons: I like the band’s rootsy and generally happy sound. And that sound takes me back to the 1990s, the bulk of which I spent on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.

My main radio station during those years was Minneapolis’ Cities 97, playing an eclectic mix of mainstream rock, and several early tracks by the Freddy Jones Band came through my stereo speakers on quiet evenings: “Hold On To Midnight,” “In A Daydream,” “One World” and likely a few more.

Some of the music that pulls me back to those years from 1992 into 1999, tunes from other performers, is a little moody and reminds me of the less happy times I spent there. But the tunes of the Freddy Jones band remind me of the good things, the joys I found living in an urban environment: The butcher shop and barbershop I frequented on Thirty-Sixth Street and the nearby Vietnamese restaurant; Mojo’s coffeehouse on Grand Avenue, just a block away; and five blocks north (for the first few of those seven years, then a little bit farther away), Cheapo’s, the used record store where I spent inordinate amounts of time and money during those seven years.

And since one of the purposes of music in my life is to cement my memories in place, it’s been a little reaffirming to be reminded that the years I spent on Pleasant Avenue were not all lost time. I sometimes look back at those years and grieve for what I see as time spent trying – with only a little success – to figure out where I fit into the world. And then I think about a line I wrote in a song for a friend in the past year or so: “Time away is not time lost, and seasons always turn.”

So when I hear the Freddy Jones Band as I go about my errands, I realize that those years were better than I sometimes remember, and, if nothing else, they were preparation for the sweet years I’ve lived since. And that makes the Freddy Jones Band even more important to me.

Here’s “One World” from the band’s 1993 album Waiting For The Night, written by the group’s Marty Lloyd.

On the gypsies avenue tonight
Hundred lairs seem like a thousand candle lights
I do not read what the signs they have to say
In my soul there are riches locked away

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

If you lost all of your obsessions
Could you part or would you cling to be your possessions?
I do believe in a sweet imagination
An open road paved by inspiration

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

So many thorns wrapped around your ankles
Pretty gold that is taken by the banker
But I believe in a sweeter than sensation
An open path that’s not choking with temptation

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away
One world within, afraid of the gold
Unlock the doors in anger with the keys you hold

One world within, afraid to be sold

And the thorns around your ankle
Makes you bleed and bleed and bleed in gold

One world within, one heart is beating still today
An open road, one love can carry you away

Saturday Single No. 637

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Last evening we attended a local production of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first production written years ago by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It was lively, fun, well-done, and a good time. And it got us home relatively early as these things go, about 10. That gave us time enough to stay up late.

So after settling in, we watched a couple episodes of Season Six of Game of Thrones in advance of the premiere of Season Eight tomorrow evening. We watched a couple more this morning before beginning our Saturday chores. We might finish Season Six before tomorrow evening, but we won’t have time for Season Seven. That’s okay, as it’s still relatively fresh in our memories, I think.

Anyway, along with frittering away our time on fantasy, we’ve been keeping the household running. I’m doing more these days than I have since early January, although there are some tasks I cannot yet resume. I keep trying to remind myself as I sit at the computer or sit on the couch that healing of any kind – physical or emotional – takes time. I’d kind of forgotten that.

So, three paragraphs, all mentioning time. That’s a cue. The RealPlayer has more than 2,800-tracks that come up in a search for “time.” As usual, some go by the wayside, like all of Ronnie Aldrich’s All-Time Piano Hits and Big Maybelle’s Saga of the Good Life & Hard Times as well as everything but the title track from Anne Briggs’ The Time Has Come and many more.

Still, as one might expect, there’s a lot to work with. And I run across an easy listening version of “It’s Going To Take Some Time” by the Button-Down Brass (featuring the “funky trumpet” of Ray Davies). The song, written by Carole King and Toni Stern and first released in 1971 on King’s album Music, showed up here eight years ago when I waded through King’s work in the wake of my Ultimate Jukebox. Other than that, it’s been ignored.

Along with those two versions, the RealPlayer also offers the Carpenters’ cover of the tune, which went to No. 12 in 1972, the only version of the song ever to reach the Billboard Hot 100. (The Carpenters’ record also went to No. 2 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.)

Now, I once referred to the Carpenters as sitting on the softest end of the pop-rock couch or something similar, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like their work, or at least some of it. And Karen Carpenter’s voice was a thing of beauty. So for all of the above reasons, here’s “It’s Going To Take Some Time,” today’s Saturday Single.

X’s & O’s

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Watching the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four this past weekend reminded me of the one time in my life I was a basketball scout. (The Final Four took place in Minneapolis, seventy miles away, but I watched from my study, not tempted one minute to be in the midst of the activity. Had I been thirty years younger, things might have been different.)

The weekend’s games brought to mind a weekend in early 1979: The Other Half and I were heading northwest from Monticello about 125 miles to visit her family, who lived between the two small towns of Eagle Bend and Parkers Prairie, going up Saturday morning and coming back Sunday afternoon.

On my newspaper rounds that Friday, I mentioned our plans to the boys’ basketball coach at Big Lake High School. “Really?” he said. “I noticed that Swanville is playing at Eagle Bend Saturday night. They’re supposed to be good, but nobody I know has had a chance to look at them.”

That wasn’t surprising. The basketball district included about twelve schools – smaller ones tagged as Class A by the state high school league – all within about forty-five miles of St. Cloud. Big Lake was at the southeastern corner of the district, and Swanville, a burg of about 300, was in the northwestern corner of the district.

The coach looked at me, and I knew what was coming: “What are you doing Saturday night?”

I had no plans other than being in the farmhouse halfway between Eagle Bend and Parkers Prairie with the Other Half, her parents and her nine siblings. Based on previous visits, it wasn’t like we all did things together around the huge kitchen table. The Other Half would be catching up with her mom and her sisters, and I’d likely be on my own.

“I’ll see if I can get into town,” I told the coach. “But you know that I’m not an X’s and O’s guy. I’m not that good.” After all, I’d only been covering basketball for a little more than a year.

He dismissed that concern with a wave of his hand. “You’ve learned more than you think,” he said. “You can tell zone from man-to-man, you can tell when a team likes to press or to run fast off rebounds. You can see a team’s tendencies in the half-court game.”

He shrugged. “And even if you couldn’t see all of that, you might see one thing that gives us some insight if we end up playing them in the tournament.”

So after dinner Saturday evening, I drove our Toyota from the farm to Eagle Bend High School to watch the Eagles host the Swans. As it happened, my father-in-law was on duty that evening as a custodian at the high school, so I stopped in at his workroom for a few minutes, then headed into the gym with my notebook.

I don’t recall if the Swans played man or zone. I don’t remember if they won the game although I think so, as they had a far better record coming in than did the Eagles. I do remember one thing about their half-court offense: From the top of the key, the Swans would pass the ball to the side about halfway between mid-court and the baseline. From there would come a pass to a player in the corner, and he would attempt to drive along the baseline and shoot. If the shot wasn’t there, he’d retreat to the corner, passing the ball back to the top of the key for a shot or more rarely, a pass to the halfway point on the other side of the court, followed by another attempt at baseline penetration.

I’d watched a lot of high school basketball games in the previous year and a half, and I’d never seen anything like what the Swans were doing. It looked odd and inefficient.

At halftime, the fellow I’d noticed doing radio play-by-play of the game approached me. If I recall this correctly, a decal on his equipment or a patch on his jacket told me he was from a station in Wadena, a larger town a little bit north of Eagle Bend. He asked if I was a reporter, and I said I was but that I was playing the role of scout for the Big Lake coach. He invited me to join him on the air to talk about the teams in the southern portion of the district, and I shared what I knew and what I thought for a few minutes.

He asked me who I thought might reach the district title game, and I said that based on what I’d read and seen, it would be the teams from Big Lake and from Albany, which is just a little northwest of St. Cloud. (I was right: In the title game, Albany’s tough defense shut down Big Lake’s running game and outside shooting, ending the Hornets’ season for the second year in a row; a year earlier, the loss had come in the quarterfinals.)

The Swans beat the Eagles, and I headed via country roads to the farmhouse and – a day later – back to Monticello. On Monday, when I made my regular stop at Big Lake High School, I handed in my scouting report. When tournament time came, the bracket put Swanville up against the Bulldogs from Becker, eight miles northwest of Big Lake, and – without my knowing it – the Big Lake coach passed my notes onto the coach from Becker, a close friend.

And on another Monday, the Big Lake coach told me he’d talked to the Becker coach over the weekend, following Becker’s victory over Swanville. “He said that Swanville did exactly what you said they’d do,” the Big Lake coach told me. “From the key to the side, down to the baseline and back to the key with a few outside shots added. Becker shut down the baseline, challenged the outside shooters and frustrated ’em all night long.”

I’ve never been called on to scout another game. Why should I? I’m 1-0.

I have one track on the digital shelves that has the word “basketball” in its title. (I expected at least two, but I tend to forget that I lost my copy of “Basketball Jones” in the hard drive crash a couple of years back and haven’t replaced it.) Here’s “I Never Play Basketball Now” by Prefab Sprout. It’s from the English band’s 1984 debut album Swoon.

Saturday Single No. 635

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

I didn’t sleep well, unaided by cats who demanded breakfast at 7 a.m., and my back hurts this morning, more than it has for some time.

I’m in a cranky mood. None of the 77,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer have the word “cranky” either in their titles, their album titles or their notes. This increases the cranky quotient.

The word “back,” however, brings up more than 1,400 results. Some of them – as is usual with a RealPlayer search – must be discarded, as they contain the word “backing” in their listing or they link to an album, like the Bible’s Walking The Ghost Back Home (1986). Stuff like that.

In addition, many of the titles in the search results refer to “go back” or “come back” or similar usages, not to “back” as a body part. But there are a few tracks I can pull to offer something back-related to listen to this morning.

And we find a track from an album I discovered in 1998, during my last year on Pleasant Avenue in South Minneapolis. “Get Off My Back” is on the self-titled 1975 album by a group called High Cotton. The information at discogs.com categorizes the band as Southern Rock and seems to indicate that the band never released another album. (A single, “Going Up To Get Down,” was pulled from the album; it was the group’s only released single.)

I recall having high hopes for the album and being vaguely disappointed with it, but twenty-plus years later, “Get Off My Back” sounds pretty good. Not world-beating, but good enough for a Saturday morning.

That’s why “Get Off My Back” from High Cotton’s 1975 self-titled album is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 633

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

I’ll be spending a good portion of today at my other keyboard – the musical one – getting ready to return tomorrow to my role as one of the musicians at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Along with the standard offertory and the song we sing as the children head toward their classes, I’ll be playing two other pieces: I’ll lead the fellowship in a chant titled “Be Ye Lamps Unto Yourselves” at the close of the service.

And during the middle of the service, I’ll be playing as I sing Don McLean’s “Crossroads,” a meditation on life from his 1971 American Pie album. My compatriot Tom will sit in on bass, but I don’t know if I will have any other vocal support. No matter. I’ll do the best I can.

I’ve shared the tune here once before, about five years ago, but I thought that this time, I’d share the lyrics:

I’ve got nothing on my mind, nothing to remember
Nothing to forget and I’ve got nothing to regret
But I’m all tied up on the inside. No one knows quite what I’ve got
And I know that on the outside what I used to be I’m not. Anymore.

You know I’ve heard about people like me but I never made the connection
They walk one road to set them free and find they’ve gone the wrong direction
But there’s no need for turning back, ’cause all roads lead to where I stand;
And I believe I’ll walk them all, no matter what I may have planned

Can you remember who I was? Can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain? Can you heal it?
Then lay your hands upon me now and cast this darkness from my soul
You alone can light my way, you alone can make me whole . . . once again

We’ve walked both sides of every street, through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat as long as we could walk together
So there’s no need for turning back, ’cause all roads lead to where we stand;
And I believe we’ll walk them all, no matter what we may have planned

“Crossroads” is a piece that’s sustained me through any of numbers of turns in my life over the past thirty-some years, reminding me that no matter which roads I walk, I will find myself where I am supposed to be. For that reason, and because it’s going to be in my head today, Don McLean’s “Crossroads” is today’s Saturday Single.

‘I’ll Try To Carry On . . .’

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

As the Texas Gal and I were waiting for something to start on television the other week, we wandered up and down the music channels our cable provider offers, roaming from current hits to blues classics with a lot of stops in between. During one of our trips through the offerings, we chanced upon the channel devoted to Top 40 from the Sixties, which was playing “Rag Doll” by the 4 Seasons.

“That was one of my favorites when I was a little girl,” she said. “I loved to sing along with it.” The record, the fourth of five eventual No. 1 hits for the group from Jersey, hit the charts in 1964, when the Texas Gal was less than ten years old, but with sisters five and ten years older than she, the music of the early 1960s has always been familiar to her.

As it was to me, four-and-a-half years older and a thousand miles away. I didn’t always pay attention, but – as I’ve noted before – the music that my sister, my peers and their siblings listened to was always around me, even when I was more content listening to Al Hirt and John Barry. So when I gathered in a 4 Seasons collection on vinyl in the early 1990s, the music was familiar from years of radio play.

But I’ve not written much about the group or its music or about the music released by group leader Frankie Valli as a solo artist. The bulk of that music goes into a file of “stuff I heard when I was a kid but I learned about and appreciated later,” like “Rag Doll,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man” and quite a few more. But the stuff from the comeback years in the 1970s – the 4 Seasons’ “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” and Valli’s solo hits “Swearin’ To God” and “My Eyes Adored You” – is all vivid from my Atwood Center hours at St. Cloud State.

One of those later hits, “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night),” was one of the two-hundred-some records I selected for my Ultimate Jukebox nine years ago. I wrote at the time:

I was sitting at The Table at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center in early 1976 when the 4 Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” came on the jukebox. My friend Stu shook his head. “Man,” he said, “what a great bass line. One of the best ever.” I took that judgment under advisement, and over the years, I’ve polished it to the point where I credit the 4 Seasons’ hit – it was No. 1 for three weeks – with having the best pop music bass line ever. And it is the bass line that moves the song along as it tells its tale of a one-night stand.

And beyond a brief comment about the Jersey boys’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tambourine Man,” that’s about all I ever said about the group, except to note that in Billboard, the group “had thirty Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1976 (with a dance remix of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” going to No. 14 in 1994 for a thirty-first hit).”

I’m not going to take off on a major tour of the group’s hit presence here (except to note that along with the Top 40 charting, some of their 1960s work reached the magazine’s R&B Top 40 and some of the 1970s records did well on the Adult Contemporary Top 40).

But Valli and the 4 Seasons have been getting some play here recently. As I did some simple work to get the Texas Gal a copy of “Rag Doll,” I dug more deeply than before into the Valli and 4 Seasons catalogs from both the 1960s and 1970s. The Seventies stuff remains favored because those tunes were part of the soundtrack of my college days. But there’s plenty, of course, to enjoy from the 1960s records. And the one I recall most vividly hearing and generally liking, no doubt at friends’ homes and quite possibly during an eighth grade dance at South Junior High is “Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ’Bout Me).”

Did I dance to it back in 1966? Very unlikely, as I was mostly a wallflower in those days. But, as I said, I would have heard it around me as it went to No. 13. And its story of noble acceptance of a lover’s departure is still worth a listen today:

Saturday Single No. 632

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

So, I slept late. Watched as the Texas Gal moved our new furniture into its approved places (I could not help because of limitatons from my surgery), ate lunch and am now watching the Class A – generally the smaller schools – final of the state high school hockey tournament. (After two periods, St. Cloud Cathedral, where Rick, Rob and their siblings went to high school, leads Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin from up on the Iron Range by a score of 4-2.)

Obviously not much will get done in this space today.

So here, just because it’s Saturday, is “Dancing On A Saturday Night” by Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids. It went to No. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.