Archive for the ‘1974’ Category

Saturday Single No. 605

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Well, as I opened my Word file this morning and typed in today’s date, I noticed that August 18, 2018 scans out to 8-18-18, and if there were ever a date begging for Games With Numbers, today’s is one of them.

So we’re going to take those numbers and turn them into Nos. 8, 18, 26, 36 and 44 and then visit a Billboard Hot 100 to see what treasures or dross we might find. The question is, what year? I think we’ll take the largest of those numbers and head back forty-four years to August of 1974. I spent that month working halftime in the cataloging department of the St. Cloud State Learning Resources Center and killing time, hanging around with my friends at The Table and waiting for school to resume and for my friends from the Denmark program to come back to St. Cloud. So what do we find as we dip into the Hot 100 from the third week of August 1974?

Heading to our lowest searching point first, we find Mac Davis singing about “One Hell Of A Woman.” The record, heading to a peak at No. 11, would be Davis’ first Top 40 hit since 1972, when “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” spent three weeks at No. 1. I’ve evidently not thought much about “One Hell Of A Woman,” as it’s not on the digital shelves (though couple of other Davis tracks are), but listening to it this morning, it’s a decent piece of Seventies pop, better musically than lyrically. As I look at that Hot 100 from August of 1974, I notice that by the time Davis’ record got to No. 44, it had already been in the chart for twenty-two weeks. That seems like a long time to get to that point. (The only other record that had been in the Hot 100 longer that week was the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” which, in its twenty-three weeks on the chart, had spent two weeks at No. 2 and was at No. 93, slowly making its way out of the chart.)

We move up eight spots to No. 36, where we find Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” making its way to a peak of No. 8. Some years ago, I wrote:

I don’t have a lot to say about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” except to note two things about the record that went to No. 8 in 1974: First, the ambiguous second verse that seems to have defended Alabama Governor George Wallace doesn’t actually do so, according to a 1975 interview with the late Ronnie Van Zant, co-writer of the song. Second, I think the current Alabama license plate is just perfect:


I’m not entirely certain, but it appears, sadly, as if that plate is no longer available.

We jump ten spots to No. 26, where Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin,” buoyed by doo-wop vocals from the Jackson 5, is heading toward No. 1. The record, says Wikipedia, “was one of [Wonder’s] angriest political statements and was aimed squarely at President Richard Nixon, who resigned two days after the record’s release.” Although there were numerous criminal and political reasons for Nixon’s resignation, it’s fun to indulge in a revisionist fantasy that has Nixon combing the AM band late at night, hearing Wonder’s thumping and funky put-down coming through the ether, and realizing, “Damn, if I’ve lost Stevie Wonder, I’ve lost the nation. I’d better call it quits.”

Speaking of thumping, moving up to No. 18, we find “Wild Thing” as offered by the English group Fancy. The record wasn’t a major departure from the Troggs’ original version, which went to No. 1 in 1966. Well, the breathy vocals of Helen Caunt and that twee little synth solo were different. Otherwise, the record plodded along as it headed toward a peak at No. 14. It was one of two U.S. hits for Fancy; “Touch Me” went to No. 19 during the first week of December 1974. (As I dug into Fancy’s work at YouTube, I noticed with some amusement that one video poster called Fancy a “[b]argain bin band that still had some talent on board.”)

Our last stop as we climb up the Hot 100 from August 24, 1974, is No. 8, where we find Donny and Marie Osmond covering Dale and Grace’s No. 1 hit from 1963, “I’m Leaving It Up To You,” though the Osmonds adjusted the title, making it “I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You.” The record, inoffensive and bland, was heading to a peak at No. 4. It was the first of six Top 40 hits for the brother-and-sister duo; Donny, of course, had a bushel of hits on his own and with his brothers, some of which were pretty decent.

Just because we do this, I should note that the No. 1 record in that August 24, 1974, Hot 100 was the execrable “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates.

So we’ve listened to a wide range of stuff this morning, but only one record really grabs me. From its funk and its “Doo-da-wop!” chant to its message, Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin” resonates, and that’s why it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Four At Random

Friday, July 27th, 2018

We’re going to let iTunes do the work today, pulling four tunes at random from the 3,900-some I keep in the program. (I only pull as many tunes into the program as it takes to fill my iPod Nano; I’m pondering increasing the memory in the iPod, but for now, the 3,900-odd tunes – ten days’ worth of music, says iTunes – do me fine.)

The tunes in the program run alphabetically from 1970’s “ABC” by the Jackson 5 to “Zou Bisou Bisou,” a French release by Gillian Hills from 1962. There are nearly forty tracks loaded into the program with titles that start with numerals, and iTunes sorts those tracks at the end of its listings, which seems odd. Those tracks start with three different versions of “007,” the James Bond action theme that John Barry wrote for the 1962 Bond film From Russia With Love, and end with “99 Red Balloons,” the English language version of Nena’s 1984 hit.

Traced in history, the 3,900-some tracks in iTunes span 229 years. They start with the First Movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (K. 550), which the intemperate genius (if one is inclined to believe Peter Shaffer’s play and the ensuing film Amadeus) composed in 1788, and end with “The Observatory,” a track from Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, a 2017 album from the White Buffalo.

In terms of length, the tracks run from two seconds – Roy Scheider’s utterance, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” from the 1975 movie Jaws – to the thirty-three-plus minutes the Allman Brothers Band invested in “Mountain Jam” during a concert at the Fillmore East in March of 1971.

So here are four from iTunes (excluding tunes we’ve written about during, oh, the last year):

During the first month or so of this blog’s existence – in February 2007 – I described the music of Jimmie Spheeris as having a “California post-hippie singer-songwriter vibe.” Nothing I’ve heard from the late singer-songwriter – he was killed in a 1984 traffic accident – has changed that view. On all four albums he released during his lifetime, and on the tracks I’ve heard from the posthumous Spheeris (recorded in 1984 and released in 2000), we get wandering, mellow tracks, leavened by the occasional tune that’s (a little) more up-tempo.

This morning, we hear “Long Way From China” from Jimmie’s 1973 album The Original Tap Dancing Kid. And, as always happens, Spheeris’ music reminds me at least a little of some of Shawn Phillips’ stuff. Spheeris, as I wrote in 2007, offers “odd misty melodies topped with poetic and sometimes cryptic lyrics adding up to a lush romanticism that one almost never hears anymore.” It’s a fine way to start the day.

“Starin’ at the sun. Been stoned since half-past none,” sings Bob Darin to start out our second track. The tune is “Jive” from Darin’s 1969 album Commitment.

How many versions were there of the man we know most often as Bobby Darin? There was the novelty singer who took “Splish Splash” to No. 3 in 1958, and the Rat Pack-ish singer who topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks in 1959 with “Mack the Knife.” There was the folkie whose version of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” went to No. 8 in 1966.

And this morning’s Darin calls himself “Bob,” as if to say, “Serious artist at work here, folks,” or perhaps to distance himself from his other work and fit into the ethos of 1969. And “Jive” certainly fits into those hippie-ish times in both its attitude and its vagueness:

I got a cloudy-day woman to make my bed and cook for me
When I’m gone a year too long she knows not to look for me
Coz I’ll be back when evenin’ comes
Sleepin’ through them crashin’ drums
Jive’s alive from nine to five my main man.

My favorite Darin track is “Mack the Knife,” but I do truly love “Jive” and the other stuff on Commitment.

And here comes some mid-Seventies sadness, courtesy of Dorothy Moore and her 1976 hit “Misty Blue.” The record went to No. 3 for four weeks on the Hot 100, No. 2 for two weeks on the magazine’s R&B chart and to No. 14 on the Easy Listening chart. (I honestly thought it would be much higher on that last chart.) But chart performance isn’t why “Misty Blue” matters around here. I mean, we’ve all been where Moore is here:

Ooh baby, I should forget you
Heaven knows I tried

Baby, when I say that I’m glad we’re through
Deep in my heart I know I’ve lied I’ve lied, I’ve lied

From the opening piano cascades and Moore’s first “Ooooooooh” through the last “My whole world turns misty blue” three-and-a-half minutes later, this record reminds anyone who hears it exactly how it was, at least once, maybe twice, maybe three times in a lifetime. Anyone who’s truly lived has been in that misty blue world. And it’s a good thing to be reminded of that once in a while.

Our last stop today kicks off with a buoyant banjo riff, joined after a moment by bass and percussion, and then by the vocals:

Well, I’m on my way
To the city lights,
To the pretty face
That shines her light on the city nights
And I gotta catch a noon train, I gotta be there on time.
Oh, it feels so good to know she waits at the end of the line.

The record is, of course, “Sweet City Woman” by the Stampeders, and for three-and-a-half minutes, we’re just fine, hearing the tale of a man whose woman can “make a man feel shiny and new” as she feeds him “love and tenderness and macaroons.”

The Stampeders were from Calgary, Alberta, and their 1971 hit went to No. 8 on the Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the Easy Listening chart. And even after forty-seven years, it’s a record that can still make me smile.

‘We Have Lost The Time . . .’

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Well, it worked pretty well on Wednesday, so we’re going to glance this morning at a Billboard Hot 100 from May 18, selecting this time the one from 1974 that was released just as I was planning my return to Minnesota after almost nine months in Denmark. That’s forty-four years ago now, and it feels like, well, not quite like yesterday but certainly a lot more recent than forty-four years.

Anyway, playing Games With Numbers with that Hot 100 turns today’s date – 5/18/18 – to forty-one, so let’s take a look at the record that was sitting at No. 41 in that long-ago chart. It turns out to be Anne Murray’s take on the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me,” heading toward a peak at No. 8 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart).

I recall the single well, and I recall as well than I didn’t think much of it then. And I still don’t. The production has always sounded heavy-handed to me, with, well, a thickness to it that didn’t suit Murray’s voice well.

The fact is, very little of Murray’s work has ever appealed to me, so when her cover of “You Won’t See Me” hit the speakers back then, I either changed the radio station or ignored the jukebox for four minutes. And not a single track of hers is among the 72,000 files on the digital shelves here. Her stuff is not awful; it’s just not my deal.

But that’s the way it goes with Games With Numbers. Sometimes you hit a great one; sometimes you get something very foul; and sometimes, like today, it doesn’t really matter. But anyway, here’s Murray’s record:

Six at Random

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

My iPod currently holds a total of 3,930 tracks, which – as iTunes helpfully tells me – is enough for ten days of listening. We’ll not run that type of marathon here; instead, we’re going to let iTunes supply us with six random tracks of music this morning, and we’ll see what we know and think about those six tracks.

First up is a lilting clarinet tune by Mr. Acker Bilk that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1962. “Stranger on the Shore” was originally titled “Jenny” but was renamed for the BBC television show that used it as a theme. I have vague memories of hearing the tune in 1962: I would have been eight, and it’s the type of record that would have found a good home on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s local stations. I’ve heard it (and liked it) so many times over the years since that it’s impossible to say if I heard it back then, but I do know that when I started during the late 1980s to dig into the music of the early 1960s, “Stranger on the Shore” was familiar.

Our second stop is a track I first heard across the street at Rick’s house in early 1971. “Two Years On” by the Bee Gees was the title track to the album that was home to their No. 3 hit “Lonely Days.” The album was also the first since Robin Gibb had reunited with his brothers after a spat of two or so years, and we speculated that the title track was a reference to that time. It’s a good track, one that reminds me of the pleasant hours I spent across the street listening to albums, playing pool and pinball, and generally cementing a friendship that remains a vital part of my life after more than sixty years. (I also recall the bemused smile I got from Rick maybe a dozen years ago when he discovered Two Years On among my CDs.)

And we stay in that era, listening to a record that puts me in my own room with the sound of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” coming from my old RCA radio. It’s probably an evening in early 1970 – the record went to No. 7 that March – and I’m holed up in my room after surviving another day of my junior year of high school. It’s a good record (despite the mournful intro) and not a bad memory, and I know it instantly, as I do most Top 40 hits from that season. But the record wasn’t a big deal to me then and it’s not now. Having come across it this morning, I’m likely going to pull it from iTunes and the iPod and replace it with a record that means something to me.

While restocking the iPod after last autumn’s external drive crash, I tried to include records from a wider time frame than I previously had. Since I’ve tended to slight the 1980s over the years, I consciously dropped more tracks from that decade into the playlist this time around. And this morning we fall on “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, a one-hit wonder* that went to No. 8 in 1982. So I look at the other tracks in the iPod from 1982 and think that including the mechanical-sounding cover of Sharon Jones’ 1964 record was a mistake. And I realize that having to stop and think about the tracks as they come up, rather than just letting them roll by in the background as I cook dinner or do some other task, makes me a great deal more critical. There might have been a time when I liked the Soft Cell track, but that time is past.

And iTunes offers us the sharp and somewhat dissonant intro to “Home At Last” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album, Aja. Last September, noting the death of the Dan’s Walter Becker, I selected “Home At Last” as my salute to his passing: “I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last.” And my friend jb – who blogs at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and understands more about Steely Dan than I ever will – left a trenchant comment:

“Home at Last” seems like a good choice for him, as it’s not so much about finding an idealized home with Mom and chocolate chip cookies as it is getting past the place with the monsters that want to kill you and into a somewhat safer harbor. And if you’re not as free as you’d like to be (“still I remain tied to the mast”), who is?

And we end with one of the records of my life, one of those whose introductions make me take a sharp, short breath as memories instantly cascade. With some of those – and there may be hundreds in that category of “Records of My Life” – it’s the record alone; there is no tale from my years attached to them. Most, though, have a connection with my times, with my joys or sorrows, my roads and my homes. Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky” is one of the latter. The title track of his 1974 album, the song depicts a pairing once filled with hope gone hopelessly awry, a scene sadly familiar to me (as it no doubt has been to most of the folks who’ve listened to that tune and the other sad songs the album offers). Even as I live now in a better and sweeter time, the memories of those other times are potent, and I sometimes need those memories to remind myself how far the grace of my life has brought me.

‘So Long Ago . . .’

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Single No. 520

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart Digging: October 12

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

It’s time for some Games With Numbers. We’re going to take today’s date – 10-12-16 – and turn it into 38, and then we’ve going to see what was at No. 38 on some Billboard Hot 100 charts on October 12 from the years we like best around here, the 1960s and 1970s.

Because of the way the calendar works, we have only three charts to work with, those from 1963, 1968 and 1974. But that’s okay, because those three years are parked in very clear and different eras. Along the way, as well as listening to No. 38 from those three specific charts, we’ll check out the No. 1 singles from those weeks.

First up: October 12, 1963, a little less than four months before Beatlemania and the first British Invasion. So what was at No. 38 in that long-ago week? We find “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” by the Raindrops. And it turns out that the Raindrops were only the song-writing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (who were married at the time). Their credits include “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep-Mountain High” and many, many more as a team and as individuals. Sadly, “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” isn’t a classic. It was, however, the best-performing of the six records the Raindrops got into or near the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17. (Oddly, the record covers shown on the official videos for the Raindrops at YouTube show three members; I don’t know who the second woman is, and she’s not mentioned at Wikipedia or in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles.)

The No. 1 record in the Hot 100 for October 12, 1963, was “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs.

Moving ahead to 1968, we find “Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash parked at No. 38. And that’s coincidental, as last evening, I was reviewing some long-ago posts and came across the 2008 post titled “First Friday: November 1968,” looking at the news and music of that month. The post had included a look at the Top 15 as the month began, and I had noted that Nash’s single – sitting at No. 8 by that time – was one I did not remember ever hearing. It’s still not all that familiar; it doesn’t say “1968” to me. But it’s a sweet reggae-influenced record, and it peaked at No. 5, making it the second-most successful single of Nash’s long career. (He placed twenty-three records in or near the Hot 100 over a span of nearly twenty years, from 1957 to 1976.) His most successful record, of course, was “I Can See Clearly Now,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 in November 1972.

Topping the Hot 100 during the second week of October 1968 was the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” in the third of its eventual nine weeks at No. 1.

Lastly, we look at the Hot 100 from October 12, 1974. The No. 38 record that week was one of my favorites from the year, “Everlasting Love” by Carl Carlton. The Detroit native had first reached the charts in 1968 when he was 15 and “Competition Ain’t Nothin’” went to No. 75 (No. 36 on the R&B chart). “Everlasting Love” was by far the best-performing of Carlton’s singles, peaking at No. 6 (No. 11, R&B), and it’s one of those records that say “1974” to me, bringing back a welter of memories from that tumultuous autumn. I like it so much, in fact, that I’m tempted to resurrect the category of Jukebox Regrets and stuff it into the overcrowded Ultimate Jukebox I constructed back in 2010. But no; I’ll just make sure it’s in the iPod so it can show up sometime during one of my Dishwashing Music posts on Facebook.

The No. 1 record during this week in 1974 was Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You.”

Plenty

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

At about 7 a.m. Sunday, I thought we were in deep trouble: The sky was gray, rain was falling, and the Texas Gal and I were expecting as many as sixty people for our biennial End of Summer Picnic in five hours. As cozy as our house is, we would not get sixty folks into the kitchen, dining room, living room and back hallway.

That was especially true because much of the space in the dining room and living room was already taken up by tables on which we would place the food brought by our guests.

So I did what I could do inside to prepare for the picnic and then sat at my computer, refreshing the weather radar every few minutes.

The Texas Gal soon joined me downstairs and began culinary preparations: getting the shredded beef brisket and the barbecued chicken into the oven and the calico beans into the crockpot. The cats were sequestered upstairs. Tablecloths went on the tables, followed by utensils, pickles and condiments.

And then we waited and checked the weather, she on her phone, I at my computer. Around ten o’clock, a weather program I consult occasionally said that the rain would end in about thirty minutes. And it did. When I went out about forty minutes later to place lawn chairs, the rain was over, although the trees were still shedding water from their leaves.

Soon after that, I made a run for ice, got the various beverages in coolers under a Norway pine and we waited. And our biennial picnic was a great success. The sun came out, the grass dried, and although the day became fairly warm, the heat was never oppressive.

We had about sixty people join us: My mom, my sister and a few of my cousins; members of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; the Texas Gal’s co-workers, both former and current; and friends from all eras of our lives, including a cluster of about eight folks from the days of The Table at St. Cloud State, three of whom I had not seen for close to forty years.

Finally, there was Yah Shure, constant reader and frequent commenter here. His regular contribution to our picnics has moved over the years into legend. I greeted him and sent him on into the house with his famed white plastic bucket (and a clutch of custom-burned CDs he was delivering), and as I moved back to the rapidly growing throng, four or five of our regular guests asked me, “Is that the Fudgy Bonbon man?”

“Yep,” I told them, guessing that by the end of the day, Yah Shure’s chocolatey treats would be gone and his white bucket, which he always makes certain to take back to St. Paul with him, would be empty. (I didn’t check as he left, but as the bucket made the rounds where the last eight or nine of us were chatting in the late afternoon, there were very few bonbons left.)

Beyond the Fudgy Bonbons, the bounty offered on our tables by our guests was astounding in its variety and quantity: the salads included potato, pasta, cole slaw, and a wonderful concoction of watermelon and feta cheese under a savory dressing (I’m going to get the recipe for that one very soon); there were chips, crackers, dips and salsas; kabobs with veggies, fruit and sausage; and desserts galore, including apple pie, apple cobbler, bars and cakes, and an ice box cake from our new friend Lucille, one made from her grandmother’s recipe. (It combines chocolate and vanilla puddings, graham crackers and bananas, and I’m making quick work of the leftovers.)

If anything was in short supply Sunday, it was time enough for the Texas Gal and me to spend with all of our guests as we hosted. There were some with whom we hardly spoke, but I’m sure they understood. Other than that, it was a day of plenty: Plenty to eat on the tables, plenty to drink in the coolers; plenty of good company; and plenty to talk about.

And to mark that day of plenty, here are the Pointer Sisters combining the jazz standard “That’s A Plenty” with the silliness of a tune called “Surfeit, U.S.A.” from their 1974 album That’s A Plenty.

‘Manifest Destiny’

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

The current book on the reading table is Measuring America, Andro Linklater’s account of how surveyors, land agents, speculators, squatters and others moved west across North America from the late 1700s onward.

The tale of what Linklater calls “the greatest land sale in history” covers the long development of tools of measurement, looking at how a pound became a pound, an acre became an acre, and so on; the development of the idea of private citizens, rather than the Crown, owning land; the creation, in most of the United States, of the grid system that anchors many states, cities and individual lots of property; and the long sad tale of the dispossession of North America’s native cultures.

It was during Linklater’s discussion of the outcome of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 that I came across the two words that reminded me of sixth grade social studies at Lincoln Elementary School just down a couple streets from here: “manifest destiny.” I learned the words during that sixth grade school year of 1964-65, and we in my class – every one of us Caucasian – learned that those words were somehow tied to the expansion of the United States from an Atlantic seaboard nation to a trans-continental empire.

I don’t know if any of us grasped what the words really meant or what they implied. I was a smart kid, and I think I had a handle on “destiny,” meaning something foreordained, but I don’t think I really knew what the word “manifest” meant, and I don’t recall that our teacher, Miss Hulteen, ever defined it for us. Google tells me this morning that the word means “clear or obvious to the eye or mind.”

In Measuring America, Linklater notes that the two-word phrase came from John L. O’Sullivan, who said that it was the United States’ “manifest destiny to overspread the continent.” As Wikipedia notes, O’Sullivan first used the words in the July-August 1845 edition of his magazine Democratic Review during the discussion over the potential annexation of Texas. The two-word phrase came to wider attention when O’Sullivan used it in a column in the December 27, 1845, edition of the New York Morning News. In that piece, O’Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with Great Britain in what was called the Oregon Country:

And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.

Okay, so I didn’t need all of that in sixth grade, but it would have been helpful if our teacher had interpreted the words for us, helping us understand that they reflected the mid-Nineteenth Century belief that the nation was clearly meant to stretch from Atlantic to Pacific. And it would have been even better, of course, had she told us that the implementation of that idea, the expansion of the United States across the continent from the already settled eastern portions, would continue the dispossession and destruction of native cultures that began soon after Caucasians first came ashore.

We didn’t get any of that, not even a clarifying definition. And of course, relatively few people in 1964-65 were thinking about imperialism or the fate of Native American cultures, and certainly none of them were in the classrooms of Lincoln Elementary School. I have a sense that the story of the westward expansion of the United States is told at least a little differently in schools these days. And that’s good.

Here’s “The Indian Prayer” by Richie Havens. Written by Roland Vargas Moussaa and Tom Pacheco, it’s from Havens’ 1974 album Mixed Bag II. Knowing at least a little bit about Havens’ and Pacheco’s world-views, I would guess that the song’s purpose was to offer respect to the Native Americans whose similar prayers in previous centuries were not answered in any affirmative way.

‘A New Adventure’

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

He was almost certainly homeless, dressed in a tattered and stained yellow long-sleeved shirt and what I think were bicycle pants, with the left leg shorter than the right. He carried a scuffed and dirty red athletic bag and a plastic bag from a grocery store, the latter holding at least two bottles of water.

He was heading over to visit a friend, he said, at the River Crest Apartments, a residence for chronic inebriates just down Lincoln Avenue from our place, and he stopped by our garage sale on the way. He looked to be in his forties, and he spoke with the same vagueness, the same lack of focus, that we’ve heard from the folks who live at River Crest since the place opened about six years ago.

He talked about a wife and oddities in their lives, but it was hard to tell as he spoke whether those were things that had happened in the last few years or long ago. Later on, the Texas Gal and I guessed it was the latter.

As he wandered around our small offering of things for sale, he noticed a magnifying glass on a stand with a flexible neck, like a gooseneck lamp. It was priced at five bucks, and he picked it up, and then his gaze fell on an orange backpack. “Oh,” he said, “that looks like a good one.”

It was a good backpack, bought in November 1973 in a sporting goods store in Fredericia, Denmark. When I’d headed to Denmark that September, I’d brought with me a light rucksack, thinking that it would suffice when I headed out hitchhiking or riding trains across Western Europe. One four-day trip to the West German harbor city of Kiel told me it wasn’t big enough or rugged enough, and I told my parents so in a letter.

They responded by sending me $35 – the equivalent of about $190 today – to get a backpack in time for my planned early December travels to Brussels and Amsterdam, and sometime in late November, I went to the store recommended by my Danish host family and bought myself an orange nylon backpack with a silver aluminum frame. That’s what our ragged customer saw offered for sale last week.

It was only a little difficult to put the backpack into the garage sale. I hadn’t used it since 1975, when I took a bus trip from St. Cloud to Kingston, Ontario, to visit a young lady I’d met during my European travels. We didn’t match well on this side of the Atlantic, and I never heard from her again. Nor had I used the backpack. Protected by an old pillowcase, it had sat on a shelf in my parents’ basement until Mom sold the house on Kilian Boulevard in 2004. Since then, it had sat in a closet in our apartment and then on a shelf in our basement. About a week before the sale, the Texas Gal asked what I wanted to do with it. I acknowledged with a sigh that my backpacking days were long gone, and we priced it at five bucks.

As we sat at our small table watching our visitor examine the backpack, the Texas Gal asked me, “Do you want to just give it to him?”

I shook my head. I was willing to sell the backpack, but to just give it away? “No,” I said.

After all, it had been my companion for much of what I’ve called the greatest formative experience of my life. On my December travels, I had carried it and it had carried me as I hitchhiked to Hamburg and Hanover in West Germany and then rode buses and trains to Brussels and Amsterdam and back to Fredericia. In March and April, I traveled more than 11,000 miles on a rail pass, and the backpack rode my shoulders from train stations to hostels and cheap hotels all over Western Europe, as far south as Rome and as far north as Narvik, keeping safe all the things I needed as I traveled.

Our ragged visitor moved on to look at other stuff we had for sale, but I was looking back. By the time one of my trips – the longest one, in March and early April 1974 – had ended, the backpack carried not only my clothing and sundries but four pieces of contraband: a liter mug pilfered from the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, a smaller beer glass lifted from a restaurant in Nuremburg, and two delicate painted tea glasses liberated from an Arabic restaurant in Paris. The mug and the beer glass were late additions to the backpack’s contents, but I still marvel that the two tea glasses – they now sit atop a bookshelf in our dining room – survived more than a month of travel, protected by nothing more than a sweater or other soft garments.

As I looked back, our visitor returned to the backpack. “That sure is a nice one,” he said.

I think I sighed. And I said to the Texas Gal, “Go ahead. Give it to him.”

She did. I had to show him how to work the flap and its ties, and then we loaded his bags into it and helped him slip it on his shoulders. He picked up his new magnifying glass and headed for River Crest. I watched him as he went, the vivid orange of his new backpack easily visible until he went into the building about a half a block away.

“He needed it,” the Texas Gal said.

“I know,” I managed to say. “And it’s gone on a new adventure.”

Here’s the best track I could find among the nineteen tracks in the RealPlayer that had the word “adventure” in their titles. It’s “Adventures On The Way” by the English group Prelude, and it’s from the group’s 1974 album, After The Gold Rush.