Archive for the ‘1989’ Category

What’s At No. 100? (August 1977)

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Thinking, as we did a week ago, of years that we don’t often dabble in, we’re going to take a look at 1977 today. It’s a year we’ve featured only fifty times since setting up our own website ten years ago.

What was going on in mid-August of 1977? I was renting a small mobile home in the little burg of Sauk Rapids (just north of St. Cloud) finishing a minor in print journalism at St. Cloud State, thinking about newspaper employment, and reconnecting with the young woman who would in a year become the Other Half, as we’d taken an eight-week break from each other that summer.

So where was I getting my music? My bedroom radio was tuned to a Sauk Rapids FM station called WHMH, which I guess was programmed as adult contemporary; the radio in the kitchen was tuned to WJON, which I listened to mostly in the late evenings. I’d brought a few of my albums from Kilian Boulevard and borrowed Mom and Dad’s portable stereo and had it sitting on top of the refrigerator. And in the offices of the University Chronicle, where I was the arts editor, the radio was most often tuned to KCLD, a St. Cloud Top 40 station.

That means the Billboard Top Ten from August 13, 1977, should not be unfamiliar. We’ll start there and then drop down and check out No. 100.

“I Just Want To Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb
“I’m In You” by Peter Frampton
“Best Of My Love” by the Emotions
“(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher” by Rita Coolidge
“Do You Wanna Make Love” by Peter McCann
“My Heart Belongs To Me” by Barbra Streisand
“Easy” by the Commodores
“Whatcha Gonna Do?” by Pablo Cruise
“You & Me” by Alice Cooper
“You Made Me Believe In Magic” by the Bay City Rollers

I recall, without prompting, hearing seven of those during that distant summer, all except the McCann, Streisand and Bay City Rollers singles. I know I’ve heard the McCann since, and don’t much care for it. For the other two, a trip to YouTube may help. And it took only a few seconds for me to remember the Streisand record, and I think I like it more than I did then. The Bay City Rollers record, well, it’s not bad as I listen forty-three years later, but I don’t remember it.

Of the seven I do recall, the only ones I truly liked in 1977 were “Easy” and “Whatcha Gonna Do?” The Andy Gibb and Emotions records were fine and still are, but the Frampton, the Coolidge and the Cooper didn’t grab me then, and of those, only the Coolidge record, I’d guess, might catch my attention now.

So how many records from that Top Ten are in my current listening? A look at the iPod’s contents finds the tracks by Andy Gibb, the Commodores and Pablo Cruise. The records by the Emotions and Streisand may join them.

And now, on to our other business of the day, checking out the No. 100 record in that Billboard chart from forty-three years ago. And it turns out to be the Eagles’ “Life In The Fast Lane,” falling fast from No. 60 the previous week. It had peaked at No. 11.

The Eagles, for some reason, have hardly been mentioned in this space. “Tequila Sunrise” showed up in a random game in 2013, and “Take It To The Limit” was included in the Ultimate Jukebox in 2010. Why so little attention? I have no idea. I like the band’s work, for the most part, and there’s nothing in their catalog that makes me skip to the next track. And nine of their records are in the iPod. It’s a mystery, I guess.

And here’s another mystery: The Eagles’ studio version of “Life In The Fast Lane” is not available at YouTube. So here’s Joe Walsh’s performance of it as a member of Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in 1989. Joining Ringo and Joe onstage were Levon Helm, Dr. John, Rick Danko, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons and Jim Keltner. (Zak Starr also played in this concert when his dad was at center stage.)

All At One Time

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Sometime way back (likely about ten years ago, but I’m not going to go dig), I wrote that one of the benefits of the digital age was getting away from the album format and being able to structure a playlist of separate tracks.

Back in the LP days, if there was a horrendous track right in the middle of Side One of a generally great album (friends of mine in those days might have nominated “Octopus’ Garden” on Abbey Road), one had to either endure the track or go to the turntable and actually lift the tone arm to set it down at the start of the next track.

As I explored that idea back then, I wrote something (maybe) about being freed from vinyl tyranny.

About six months ago, as I puttered here in my corner of our downstairs room. I thought, “Y’know, it might be nice to listen to Abbey Road all in order.” (Or it might have been Blood On The Tracks or maybe A Question Of Balance.) I had two ways to do that. There’s a large CD player on the other side of my desk, but I’d have to pull the CD from its spot in the stacks and walk around the desk and the keyboard.

Or I could have the search function in the RealPlayer find the tracks that made up the album and place them in running order and then listen.

And then I wondered: Does my new CD ripper allows me to rip an entire CD into one mp3? For years, I’d used a freeware program that allowed me to do that. I’d not done entire albums but I’d done large mp3s of suites, like the medleys on Side Two of (again) Abbey Road. And maybe five years ago, when I got a new computer, that freeware program and Windows 10 didn’t like each other. So for a few years, I used RealPlayer to rip mp3s, and as much as I like most of what that program does, its ripping function is clunky and slow.

But about eighteen months ago – six months before this inner conversation took place – I’d invested in a new suite of mp3 management tools, including an mp3 ripper. I’d not dug into it very much, as I was still trying to catch up on replacing the single mp3 rips lost in my external drive crash the autumn before we moved. Maybe it had a function to rip whole CDs as one mp3.

Well, as readers might expect (or there would be no point to telling the story), it does, and at odd times over the last six months, I’ve been doing just that.

There are currently eighty-seven tracks tagged “Full Album” on the digital shelves. The selection is heavy with the Moody Blues (part of the long-delayed project here reviewing all of their albums), Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. None of that is a surprise, I’m certain. Those are my mainstays, along with the Beatles, who will soon have many more albums in the section than they do now.

What I find more interesting are some of the other artists whose works have come to mind and wound up in the “Full Albums” section: Three Counting Crows albums from the 1990s; two from 1969 and 1970 by Brewer & Shipley; Jim Croce’s three major label releases from the early 1970s; three by Dan Fogelberg from the 1970s (one of those with flautist Tim Weisberg); two from the 1970s British folkie Shelagh McDonald; Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis; Steve Winwood’s Arc Of A Diver; and David Gray’s 200 album Babylon, just to mention a few.

I let the albums play on random as I read news or putter or play tabletop baseball. I don’t always listen purposefully, but I hear the music roll by (just like it used to in the rec room back home on Kilian Boulevard), and I’m learning some things: I don’t really like Roxy Music’s Avalon beyond “More Than This” and the title track. The Fogelbergs wear thin after a few listens. August And Everything After by Counting Crows is a far better album than I recall. So, too, is The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby & The Range. And Steely Dan’s Aja remains a sonic masterpiece.

It’s a long-range project, adding three or four a week. Where will it end? I dunno. Right now, I still have more than two terabytes free on the external hard drive. Will I get rid of the CDs and LPs if I get them all ripped as albums? Hell, no.

Here’s a full album from 1989 I posted at YouTube almost three years ago that will soon be in the “Full Album” folder on the digital shelves: Evidence by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith, one of my favorite obscurities.

A Random Six-Pack

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

There are currently 79,000-plus tracks in the RealPlayer, most of them music. (I have about thirty familiar lines from movies in the stacks and some bits of interviews, too.) And today, we’re going to take a six-stop random tour through the stacks. We’ll sort the tracks by length; the shortest is 1.4 seconds of broadcaster Al Shaver exulting over a goal by the long-departed Minnesota North Stars – “He shoots, he scores!” – and the longest is the full album with bonus tracks of Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, clocking in at an hour and eighteen minutes.

We’re going to put the cursor in the middle of the stack and click six times and see what we get.

We land first on a track by Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers: “Memphis Queen” from the group’s 1989 album Rock & Real. At All Music, William Ruhlman notes, “Grushecky’s songs of tough urban life are made all the more compelling by his rough voice and the aggressive playing of his band.” The track in question, “Memphis Queen,” tells the tale of a Pittsburgh boy headed to New Orleans on the titular riverboat, stopping in St. Louis to search for the “brown-eyed handsome man” and meeting a girl named Little Marie, whose daddy is “down in the penitentiary.” I found the album at a blog somewhere when I was going through a Grushecky phase a few years ago. It’s a good way to start.

We jump from 1989 back to 1972 and a track from Mylon Lefevre. “He’s Not Just A Soldier” comes from Lefevre’s Over The Influence album. Originally recorded in 1961 by Little Richard, who wrote the song with William Pitt, the song reads on Lefevre’s album as an artifact from the Vietnam era, declaring that a young man in military service “is not just a soldier in a brown uniform, he’s one of God’s sons.” And there’s a surprise along the way, as Lefevre is joined on vocals by Little Richard himself. There’s also a great saxophone solo, but I don’t know by whom. (I saw a note on Wikipedia that said the album was a live performance, but I doubt that’s the case.)

Next up is a cover of a piece of movie music: “Lolita Ya-Ya” by the Ventures. The tune originated in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita. Penned by Nelson Riddle, the song is source music from a radio the first time that the movie’s protagonist, Humbert Humbert, sees the title character who will become his obsession. Sue Lyon, the actress who played Lolita, provided the vocals for the film version of the tune. The Ventures’ cover of the tune was released as a single, but got only to No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100.

From there, we head to 1968 and Al Wilson’s first album, Searching For The Dolphins, recorded for Johnny Rivers’ Soul City Label. “I Stand Accused” was the fourth single from the album aimed at the Hot 100; the most successful of the four was “The Snake,” which went to No. 27. “I Stand Accused,” a good soul workout, bubbled under at No. 106. As usual with Rivers’ productions, the backing musicians were spectacular: Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, Jim Horn and James Burton. (A 2008 reissue of the album provided as bonus tracks eleven singles and B-sides recorded around the same time for the Soul City, Bell and Carousel labels.)

Lou Christie’s fame (and his appeal), as I see it, rests on five singles: “The Gypsy Cried” (1963), “Two Faces Have I” (1963), “Lightning Strikes” (1965), “Rhapsody In The Rain” (1966), and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” (1970). He shows up here today with “Wood Child,” a track from his 1971 album Paint America Love, released under his (almost) real name, Lou Christie Sacco. (He was born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, according to discogs.com.) I’m not sure what the song is about, except that its lyrics are evocative and include the recurring choruses, “You’ve got to save the wood child” and “Take a ticket and get on this boat.”

(A 2015 appreciation of the album by Bob Stanley for The Guardian said: “Yet another side of Christie emerged in 1971 when he cut his masterpiece, Paint America Love, a Polish/Italian/American take on What’s Going On. Orchestrated state-of-the-nation pieces (‘Look Out the Window,’ the extraordinary ‘Wood Child’) compete with majestic instrumentals (‘Campus Rest’) and childhood reminiscences (‘Chuckie Wagon,’ the Sesame Street-soundtracking ‘Paper Song’) in a gently lysergic whole. Online reviews compare it to Richard Ford and John Steinbeck: fans of Jimmy Webb are urged to seek it out.”)

I’m not sure where I got the album, probably a long-lost blog, but I suppose I should take Stanley’s advice and listen to it more closely.

And our six-pack this morning ends with “Long Line” from Peter Wolf, one-time member of the J. Geils Band. The title track from his 1996 album, the tune shifts from straight-ahead tasteful rock to a spoken interlude and back. It sounds a lot more like 1972 than 1996, with some nifty piano fills, which makes it a nice way to end our trek.

Phones & Springs

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

It started with the phones Friday evening. We were about to head across town to get new phones. The Texas Gal – whose new job will require her to be out visiting clients at times – needed one for work, and I tagged along to see what adding a second phone would cost. So we fired up the Versa and headed down Lincoln Avenue.

But not very far. The left front tire was flat. We were on a mission, though, so we put the Versa back in the driveway and took off in the Cavalier, leaving the tire for Saturday morning. About three hours later, having been utterly unaware that buying a phone would take that much time, we headed back to the East Side and spent the rest of the evening playing with our new gadgets – we each got a Samsung Galaxy 7 – and wondering what happened to the tire, as I’d not driven the car for two days. I must have run over something sharp and had a slow leak, I assumed.

As I churned out a post on Saturday morning, the Texas Gal called the tire place just down the road to let the folks there know we were coming in, and then she called a towing place, which sent a truck out. The driver aired up the tire and judged that it would stay inflated long enough to get up the hill and down the frontage road to the tire place. It did, and a couple hours later, the fellow from the tire place called and said the tire – in which they’d found a sharp screw – was fixed, and the cost was twenty-eight dollars.

All good and well, except . . .

He told us that while his mechanics had been doing their regular check on the Versa, they noticed that the right front spring was broken. There were a couple other things that would need to be addressed in time – some fluids, the rear shock absorbers – but the broken spring was a major concern. And as replacing one spring required replacing the other, we were looking at a cost somewhere around $1,400. The Texas Gal thanked the fellow, hung up and told me the news.

We each took a deep breath and began to discuss numbers, pondering bank account balances and credit cards. After a few phone calls and a few more deep breaths, we thought we had a solution. I headed off to the library as she called the tire place and told them to go ahead and order the parts to do the repairs come Monday. She looked as stressed as I felt.

An hour later, I got home with my book bag filled with works by authors I’d not read before, and the Texas Gal was looking considerably more relaxed. She told me that she’d wondered if the estimate we’d been quoted by the local tire place – and we’ve had lots of work done by the folks there and have found them reliable – was in line with the cost of similar work done elsewhere, and she’d googled something like “2007 Versa front springs replacement.”

That was how she’d learned that Nissan had recalled Versas in certain states to replace the front springs. Because Nissan’s supplier used an inferior coating on those springs, they’re prone to breaking in areas where there is a lot of moisture, salt and (I think she said) cold. Not surprisingly, given driving conditions here, Minnesota is one of the included states. She told me I had an early appointment Monday (yesterday) at the local Nissan dealership.

So we got the damage repaired for free, which is always a good thing. (And we’re wondering how we missed the notice about the recall or perhaps never got one.) The folks at the dealership noted a few things that will eventually need to be addressed – the same things that the folks at the tire place down the road had mentioned – and we were good to go. And it’s kind of fitting that – except for some test calls back and forth between the Texas Gal and me – the first phone call I got on my new Galaxy 7 was the one from the Nissan dealership telling me the work was just about done and that a driver was heading my way to get me back to the dealership.

So now we can, if we want, do what Dion sang about on his 1989 album Yo Frankie! Here’s “Drive All Night.”

Saturday Single No. 502

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

Every once in a while around this joint, I like to look back at what I was listening to at a particular time, say, the week before I graduated from high school or the week when I was packing to go to Denmark. Generally, that means a look at a Billboard Hot 100, a radio survey – usually from the Twin Cities’ KDWB – or a glance at the LP log to see what the recent purchases were.

But this morning, as I thought about late Junes over the years, I pondered the June of 1989, when I was sorting and packing in Minot, North Dakota, preparing to leave the prairie for Anoka, Minnesota, a city nestled in the northern portion of the Twin Cities’ metro area. What was I listening to? I’m not immediately certain, and I’ll have to work to reconstruct my set list.

Billboard and whatever surveys that might be available are no help because I manifestly was not listening to Top 40 at home at the time; I’d heard a fair amount of it during my two years advising the student newspaper at Minot State University, as my office adjoined the newsroom, but the students’ station of choice was not mine at home. I kept my radios tuned to an AM station at home for two reasons: Every morning, the station aired a trivia contest that offered free dinners, and I was lucky enough to win a few meals during those two years, and the station was also a member of the Minnesota Twins’ radio network, and I frequently listened to the Twins that season.

Nor is a look at the LP log enlightening. I’d been buying vinyl at a rapid rate during my two years on the prairie – not as rapidly as I would during my seven years in South Minneapolis still to come, but still, between August 1, 1987, and June 30, 1989, my collection had burgeoned from 204 LPs to a total of 586, meaning I’d far more than doubled the shelf space needed since I’d arrived in North Dakota.

So I’m not certain at all what I was listening to as I packed during the last days of June in 1989. The last albums I’d added to the collection were varied: Watermark by Enya, Frampton Comes Alive, James Taylor’s In The Pocket, a hits album by the Cars, and Stevie Nicks’ The Other Side Of The Mirror. Among the numerous LPs I’d purchased in May were Crowded House’s self-titled 1986 album, Boz Scaggs’ self-titled 1969 debut, Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now from 1974, and 1970’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton. A number of those were likely on the turntable during that last week of June 1989, at least until I packed the records and the stereo the day before I picked up the rental truck.

One album that I know I did not listen to that week was the Peter Frampton live double album. It got stuck into a box for later listening, and – sad to say – never came out of that box from the time I bought it in the summer of 1989 to the day this month that I packed it in a box and sold it at Cheapo in Minneapolis. (I long ago found a digital copy of the album, and – not being entirely blown away by it – decided that mp3s were all the Frampton I needed. Still I wish I’d dropped the album on the turntable at least once, but life – and an overstock of records to hear – got in the way.)

Do I specifically recall hearing any of that music in my Minot apartment? Well, yes. I remember putting the Enya album on the stereo, and the same holds for the albums by Stevie Nicks, Van Morrison and Crowded House. Do any of the tracks I remember hold any emotional punch from those days, when I felt as if I were retreating from a series of battles lost?

Again, yes. Although I’d heard the song before – most notably as Johnny Cash’s 1958 original and Linda Ronstadt’s 1972 cover – Stevie Nick’s version of “I Still Miss Someone (Blue Eyes)” touched a tender spot in me during that summer of 1989 (even though her eyes were not blue). So, as I recall packing my apartment in Minot and remembering as I packed the moments “when all the love was there,” I have to make Stevie Nicks’ “I Still Miss Someone (Blue Eyes)” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Closer To Fine’

Friday, April 8th, 2016

The Texas Gal is still not feeling well, and I’m a little distracted. I seem to have avoided the worst of our shared respiratory ailment, but I’m not counting poultry yet. And I have extra laundry to do and errands to run today.

I also have to work on transposing the Indigo Girls’ tune “Closer To Fine” into a key more suitable for one of the musicians at our Unitarian Universalist fellowship. It’s not all that hard, but it takes some concentration, and that seems to be in short supply here this morning.

As I thought about “Closer To Fine,” I also thought about how I found the Indigo Girls, who are one of my favorite groups that arose in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I have copies of pretty much everything they’ve ever released – I have yet to get hold of last year’s One Lost Day – a couple on vinyl and most on CD.

I told the tale here in early 2008 of how I came to find the Indigo Girls and their music:

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

And since the tune is on my mind today, both as a music project and as a hope for the health of the Texas Gal, here’s the Indigo Girls’ video for their 1989 track, “Closer To Fine.”

Saturday Single No. 488

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

A while back, I wrote about the numbers of places I’d lived as an adult, and noted that I’ve lived here in the little white house off Lincoln Avenue longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I also said that the odds were likely that there’d be another place in that list eventually and that the Texas Gal and I were going to start trimming down in order to fit into what would be a smaller space.

Well, for a few weeks, we actually planned to move from here back into the apartment complex across the back yard, the same place we lived for not quite six years when we moved to St. Cloud. And I began to sort LPs in the EITW studios. My goal is to trim the LPs from about 3,000 down to around 1,000.

There are some, of course, that automatically go on the list of those that will stay: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Havens, some single albums from many performers, the blues collection, and so on. For many of the others, I’ll make certain I have the music in digital format. Some of those I might find at the public library, but I think I will spend a fair amount of time with my turntable.

And some of the vinyl on my shelf will not be replaced digitally. It showed up – generally during the hard years on Pleasant Avenue during the 1990s – and was played once, and it will be considered non-essential as I trim the library. (The most recent of those pulled from the shelf were albums by Dan Hill and by the Holy Modal Rounders.)

As it happened, though, we’re not moving. A couple of shifts in the universe have left us here on Lincoln for the foreseeable future. But we’re still going to downsize. And we’ve been trying to figure out exactly what to do with the albums. We’re going to try to sell them, of course. Many of the LPs I’ll pull from the shelves are good work that might actually be in demand now that vinyl seems to be the hip thing among certain demographic groups in our culture. But there is no vinyl retailer in St. Cloud anymore.

That means going to Minneapolis and to Cheapo Records, the business where I got maybe two-thirds of the 1,500 albums I bought during my seven-plus years on Pleasant Avenue. But I know from direct observation that it takes some time for the record folks at Cheapo to sort through a box of albums offered for sale. If we brought in ten liquor boxes of records, how long would we have to cool our heels while waiting for the records to be sorted and graded?

It seemed impractical. But I finally called Cheapo, which has moved its main location (but is still close enough to my old digs that I know the area), and asked about the best way to accomplish the sale. The fellow on the phone said that we could at any time drop off all the boxes of records we could bring, leave our name, address and telephone number, and they’d send out a check when they were done and then dispose of the records they did not want.

That’s going to work. Now, we need to find a place to store about thirty liquor boxes full of records. (I learned long ago that liquor boxes are the most practical to use for transporting LPs.) The Texas Gal questioned the total of thirty boxes, but the math works out: I can get about 65 LPs into a liquor box, and I need to trim from the collection about 2,000 records, and the math gives me a result of not quite thirty-one boxes.

I’m not sure we’ll be able to get thirty boxes of records into the Versa at one time, but we’ll open that gate when we get to it. In the meantime, we need a place to store boxes of records that leaves me room to work. (The 800 or so records I’ve already culled – and many of those required some hard resolve – are cluttered on the floor and set aside in the stacks.) We have some room in the loft, but lugging records upstairs just to lug them down again seemed impractical.

So the Texas Gal made a decision: She’s going to move her quilting operations upstairs again. That will require some work, but it will give her some more space to work, space that’s available now that we’ve given the treadmill and the pink beanbag chair to a friend. That will allow her some room to sort out the many yards of fabric she has in her current sewing room, and it will grant me space to stack boxes of records that will eventually make their ways to Minneapolis.

I imagine we’ll start that shifting operation in the next week or so and sometime this summer, about 2,000 LPs will head out of here and re-enter circulation. But I’m finding that deciding whether some records go or stay is hard.

How hard?

Well, I did some digging this morning and found out that fifty-two years ago today, Dion recorded a cover of “Don’t Start Me Talkin’,” a blues tune written and first recorded in 1955 by Sonny Boy Williamson II. The cover was unreleased at the time and eventually came out on a 1991 box set of Dion’s work. It’s not a bad track, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So I idly went to the page about Dion at Wikipedia. And I noticed that in 1989, he released a single from his Yo Frankie album that got to No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 16 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.

I listened to the single at YouTube and heard something that I just hadn’t noticed in November 1999, when I bought the album and played it in my new apartment further south in Minneapolis. The move put me about six miles away from Cheapo’s, but I still did business there as well as at the Cheapo’s in St. Paul, which might have been marginally closer to my new digs: My copy of Yo Frankie still has the Cheapo’s price sticker on it.

My copy of Yo Frankie was also in the stack of records to be sold. But having listened this morning to Dion’s charting single from 1989 and having learned that the saxophone solo on the track is from Jim Horn (mentioned here in fandom many, many times over the years), I moved Yo Frankie back to the “keep” shelf.

And all of that is how Dion’s “And The Night Stood Still” became today’s Saturday Single.

‘Ain’t No Use Jiving . . .’

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

I drove the Texas Gal to work this morning, something I do maybe one day a week, maybe because of the weather or maybe just so we each get an extra half-hour of sleep. I cleared maybe a half-inch of wet snow from the windows and hood of the car, then got inside and adjusted the wipers.

And as I did, I thought about my 1977 Chevette, which had one of the strangest bits of auto design I’ve run across in the dozen vehicles I’ve owned and/or driven over the years: As is standard, the turn signal stalk was on the left side of the steering column: flip it up for a right turn and flip it down for a left turn.

As has also become standard, the signal stalk also controlled the headlight beams: push it forward for high beams, pull it back for low beams. (I’m old enough, of course, to remember when high/low beams were controlled by a large push-button on the floor.)

Where the Chevette differed from any other car I’ve had is that the windshield wiper and washer were also controlled by the signal stalk: Twist the knob on the end of the stalk a little bit forward, and the wipers went into slow action. Another twist forward put them into fast mode. A twist backward provided one sweep cycle of the wipers. I don’t recall what I had to do to wash the windshield, maybe twist the knob further back or maybe push the knob on the end of the stalk toward the steering column.

That was a lot of tasks assigned to one thin stalk of metal.

And for a few years, it was no problem. I got the Chevette – a brown two-door that I called McQueeg after its license plate, which began with the letters MQG (and I have forgotten the three numerals that followed) – in 1984. The Toyota I was driving while in graduate school in Missouri broke down irreparably while I was visiting Monticello, where the Other Half stayed when I was in graduate school.

We got the Chevette for a good price from the local Chevrolet dealer (whom I had known while I was at the Monticello Times); whoever had traded it in had tampered with the catalytic converter so the car could not be resold at retail without a lot of costly repair. We paid the dealer what he’d given for the car in trade, and each of us had a problem solved.

And then came a Saturday night during the summer of 1987. I was living in St. Cloud and heading to Minot State in North Dakota in a couple of weeks. The financing for a much newer Toyota station wagon was in the works when I drove into the Twin Cities’ northern exurbs to spend a day with Rob before I headed off northwest.

I left Rob’s about nine o’clock that summer evening and had the high beams on as I drove along a township road approaching a highway, where I would turn left. As I got closer to the highway, it began to rain, and then a car turned from the highway and came my way. I needed to switch from high beams to low beams, signal my left turn and turn on the windshield wipers, all functions controlled by the single stalk to the left of the steering column. I reached up and evidently tried to do all three things at once . . . and I snapped the stalk right off the steering column.

The oncoming car whooshed past, its driver blinking his high beams in irritation. I stopped at the end of the township road, looking at the signal stalk in my hand. I was baffled, bemused, nonplussed and a whole lot of other adjectives. Eventually, I turned on the interior light and placed the stalk into the socket from which it had broken. I could still signal turns. I could still switch from high beam to low beam and back. I could not use the windshield wipers, but luckily, the slight bit of rain that had started moments ago had stopped.

I shrugged, headed toward St. Cloud without further incident, picked up my Toyota the next day, sold the Chevette with full disclosure to a former student of mine, and in about ten days, I headed to Minot.

And here’s a track that I sometimes think of when I recall that moment on the township road as I held that metal stalk in my hands and wondered what would work. It’s Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken,” and it’s from his 1989 album Oh Mercy.

Video deleted. [Note added February 8, 2017.]

Saturday Single No. 475

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Well, morning came and morning went . . .

I spent the early hours today at the annual Santa Lucia celebration at Salem Lutheran Church, just as I did when I was a youngster and later when I was in Luther League, twice reading the story of St. Knut to those gathered for the celebration.

And just like last year, I wore a red carnation and was recognized during the early morning service as one of those named Salem’s St. Knut over the years. As I noted a year ago, however, when I was in Luther League, I was only listed in the programs for 1969 and 1970 as the fellow reading the story of St. Knut; it wasn’t until years later that the story-reader was actually given the title of that year’s St. Knut and the readers from previous years were named St. Knuts long after the fact. But being named a saint after the fact is, I submit, better than not being named a saint at all. And being the only two-time St. Knut (because there were no senior boys available the year I was a high school junior) is kind of nifty.

I wasn’t the only family member recognized this morning. My sister also wore a red carnation, having been Santa Lucia in 1966. And during the breakfast following the service, plenty of folks came over to talk to my mother, who doesn’t get to church often anymore. Add in plenty of coffee, some Swedish cookies and pastries and some very good potato sausage, and it was a very nice – if early –way to start the day.

Then came the more mundane Saturday chore of an hour at the grocery story with the Texas Gal. And all of that means that I was either going to leave this space empty today or offer a tune on a sort of ad hoc basis, finding something interesting that can pretty much stand in its own.

Well, yesterday at Facebook, an acquaintance of mine shared a cover of Double’s “The Captain Of Her Heart” by a jazz singer named Randy Crawford. I’d not heard much of her stuff, although I had a couple of tracks that had come to me by way of some Warner Brothers samplers. Intrigued by the Double cover, I did some digging and came up with some other stuff by Crawford, including another cover that I found interesting.

Here, with assists from saxophonist David Sanborn and Eric Clapton, is Crawford’s take on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” from her 1989 album Rich and Poor. The sax parts are a little overbearing in a very Eighties way, but I’m still going to call it today’s Saturday Single.

Not Ready Yet

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

I was waiting for Mom to return to our table at the Ace yesterday, sipping a beer and looking forward to lunch. As I sat, I idly cataloged the music coming from the speakers in the ceiling: The last chunky chords of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Then Macca faded away, a Van Morrison tune came and went, and then came a wash of synth, joined soon enough by some rhythmic backing and then the vocals:

Every generation blames the one before . . .

I knew it immediately, of course: “In The Living Years” by Mike & The Mechanics. And the sound of it put me in my apartment in Anoka, Minnesota, the place I went to after two mostly difficult years on the North Dakota prairie. My place there was one of the nicer places I’ve lived, certainly it was the roomiest apartment I’ve ever had. The huge kitchen had a pleasant dining area that I doubt I ever used, preferring instead to take my meals at a table in the equally huge living room.

At least at the table in the living room, I could hear the stereo at the other end of the room without turning the volume up so high that my landlady and her kids would hear it in their place one floor up.

Having been infected with the collecting bug during my years in Minot, I brought lots of records to Anoka, some by groups new to me (or at least relatively so). Among those relatively new groups were Mike & The Mechanics. I’d heard their hit singles, of course, from the time they emerged in 1985: “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground),” “All I Need Is A Miracle,” and “Taken In.” And then, sometime in the first weeks of 1989, I’d heard “The Living Years” and went out and bought the similarly titled album.

That purchase took place was while I was in Minot, but the strains of the tune yesterday put me in mind of my apartment in Anoka some months later. I must have played the album more then, probably quite often as background music during weekly dinners with a ladyfriend. But somewhere between Anoka in 1989 and St. Cloud in 2015, I quit playing the album and pretty much forgot about Mike & The Mechanics. (The group has been mentioned only three times in this blog over the course of eight-plus years and some 1,800 posts.)

Back in 1989, I thought “The Living Years,” with its themes of father and son and of generational differences and regret, was a fine track, perhaps a bit over-written and a bit over-produced. Good, but nothing that grabbed me very hard. But back then, my father was still alive. As I heard its opening strains from the ceiling at the Ace yesterday, and as my mom returned to our table no more than ten seconds later, I thought to myself that perhaps I should listen to the track again sometime soon and find out how much I’ve changed.

I miss my dad. Later this month, Mom and I will note quietly the day that would have been his ninety-sixth birthday. I’m not sure I can listen to “The Living Years” without lots of tears, so I haven’t done so yet. But here it is, and I’m sure that sometime in the next few days, I’ll take a deep breath and click the “play” arrow and then weep.