‘I’ve Seen Trouble . . .’

August 16th, 2017

I’m finding it hard to lift my head and get anything done that’s not essential. Why? Most likely a combination of my revulsion at the turns our national life seems to be taking these days and the depressive effects of my own cyclical biochemistry, along with, no doubt, grief.

My goal in the midst of that this morning was to write a bit about the fortieth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, but I found little to say. So I let that go, and that’s okay, for as important as Elvis Presley was to the music that I love, I was never more than a casual fan. Others can testify far better than I.

Instead, I went looking for “sorrow” in the RealPlayer and found – among other titles – sixteen versions of the tune “Man of Constant Sorrow,” some with different titles. Wikipedia tells me that the first version of the song was published in 1913 “by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky” under the title “Farewell Song.”

The first recorded version, according to Second Hand Songs, was a release on Vocalion by Emry Arthur in 1928. The website lists fifty-six additional versions of the tune, ranging from a 1951 cover by the Stanley Brothers with the Clinch Mountain Boys to a 2015 cover by Dwight Yoakam.

In the midst of that bit of digging, I ran a search in this blog’s archives and found that I’ve never featured any version of the tune and have mentioned it just once in passing, in a 2007 meditation on the definition of “folk music.”

So here are Peter, Paul & Mary with my favorite version of that oft-covered tune. It was titled simply “Sorrow” and was on their self-titled debut album in 1962.

Saturday Single No. 553

August 12th, 2017

As I lay in bed the other evening, waiting for the (legal) drugs to kick in, I paged through a recent edition of Sports Illustrated and read about major league umpire Joe West. He’s an interesting character, and it’s an interesting story (you can find it here). And it got me thinking about the only time I ever officiated in an organized athletic contest.

It was the summer of 1991. I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and one evening and I met my friend Jim – my former editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune – at a park to watch his daughter play softball. We were catching up on our own news as the two teams of girls – ten and eleven years old, I think – warmed up on the field. Then an umpire came over and addressed the crowd of, I suspect, mostly parents.

He said that the second scheduled umpire was unable to get to the game, and then he asked if anybody in the crowd could fill in as the infield umpire. Jim looked at me with his eyebrows raised. I shrugged and nodded, then raised my hand and made my way to the field.

The game went by rapidly, and I think I did well enough. I actually remember only two moments of the game. The first one came at second base: One of the girls tried to advance from first to second on a fly ball to the outfield. The outfielder’s throw got to second base in plenty of time, and the runner skidded to a halt a yard from the bag and waited for the tag.

The second baseman dropped the throw. She picked up the ball with her right hand and then proceeded to tag the runner – now stationary a yard from second base – with the empty glove on her left hand. When I was silent, she looked at me, and I could read her thoughts: “Call her out! I tagged her.”

I looked back blankly, and the second baseman slapped the runner’s shoulder three or four more times with her empty glove. I could hear girls elsewhere – on the field and on the bench – hollering at the second baseman, “Tag her with the ball! With the ball!” At the same time, others were shouting at the runner, “Dive under her glove! Dive under her glove!”

Both girls looked at me, waiting for me to make a call. And then, perhaps hearing the shouts of her teammates or perhaps just thinking things through, the second baseman realized her problem. With an expression on her face worthy of Archimedes, she pivoted and tagged the baserunner with the ball. And I called the runner out.

At another point in the game – earlier or later, I don’t recall – a batter hit a slow roller to shortstop. The shortstop fielded the ball cleanly and made a sharp throw to first. It was, as they say, a bang-bang play. I called the batter out and then immediately realized two things: First, I called the wrong bang; the batter reached first base just before the ball got there. Second, the batter was Jim’s daughter.

She didn’t say a word, just turned and went back to her team’s bench. I glanced at Jim in the stands, cocked my head and wagged my right hand in kind of a comme ci, comme ça manner, and he nodded. I think he and his daughter and I talked about the call after the game, but I’m not sure. And I hope I congratulated her on her classy acceptance of a blown call.

I probably made about thirty calls in that game, and those are the only two I remember, one because it was an odd play and the other because I blew it. That’s kind of like life, I guess: When things go as they’re supposed to go, we sometimes don’t notice, because, well, it’s how we expect life to be. When it gets weird, we notice and remember. When it goes wrong, we notice and remember.

And if we’re lucky, the plays that life calls right far outnumber the weird plays and the blown calls.

So what do we listen to with all that in mind? I have nothing on the digital shelves about umpiring or softball per se, but I have about ten versions of Joe South’s tune “Games People Play,” most by familiar folks like Dolly Parton, King Curtis, Al Hirt, Bettye LaVette, the Ventures and more (including, of course, Joe South himself).

But one version is likely a little less well-known. It’s by Guy Hovis, a native of Mississippi, and David Blaylock, who hailed from Arkansas, and it’s on their 1969 album Guy and David. I don’t know much about either one. From what I can tell, Blaylock released one other album, a mid-Seventies release titled The Other Man In Me. Hovis released a series of thirteen or so gospel and country albums from 1972 to 1982 with a woman named Ralna English, who at some point became Ralna Hovis.

And there’s nothing really different about Guy & David’s take on “Games People Play.” It’s just well-done country. And it’s good enough to be today’s Saturday Single.

‘If You See Your Brother . . .’

August 9th, 2017

So Glen Campbell’s journey has ended. The Arkansas-born musician – and how slender a reed that word seems, given Campbell’s accomplishments! – died Tuesday in Nashville from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.

As happens when someone of Campbell’s stature passes, it’s all over the news, and there seems to be no point in my repeating what others have reported at venues with wider reaches than this one. The New York Times’ coverage is here, and the report from Rolling Stone is here.

And I guess I’ll share here a link to the piece I wrote the day after the Texas Gal and I saw Campbell and his band at the Paramount Theatre here in St. Cloud. The show took place in May 2011, after Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but before that diagnosis was made public. When Campbell and his family made the public aware of his illness the next month, the Texas Gal and I both nodded, recalling moments during the show when Campbell has seemed a little confused.

Beyond the memories of that wonderful evening at the Paramount, I have plenty of Campbell’s music around: A total of 103 tracks on the digital shelves encompassing the four great 1960s albums, Gentle On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston plus his 1968 album of duets with Bobbie Gentry and some other bits and pieces. And rummaging through them this morning, one of them brought me an “Oh, yes,” moment.

I have no idea what Glen Campbell would want for his musical epitaph, maybe something from his last album, Adiós, released earlier this year, or maybe something else from the final cluster of albums released since his condition was made public. But one of the tracks on my digital shelves spoke to me this morning. It went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1969, peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s country chart and was No. 1 for a week on the easy listening chart. Here’s “Try A Little Kindness.”

Saturday Single No. 552

August 5th, 2017

I was reminded this week of one of the briefest jobs I’ve ever had. My pal j.b. asked folks on Facebook about their short-term jobs, and I was one of a few people who responded. And as I thought about the job in question, I realized it was not only the briefest but one of the strangest.

From mid-1996 into the summer of 1998, there was some chatter among folks I knew that some opportunities to play music full-time (and get paid for it) might come my way. So I was temping just to keep my options open, mostly in various offices for a bank that did business from the Midwest on out to the West Coast. It didn’t pay all that well, of course, but it was enough to squeeze by. (I sold a lot of books and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.)

Anyway, by the time the autumn of 1998 came sliding into view, I could see that the music opportunities were not going to be there, and I made my way to a collection agency to become a skip tracer. I got hired but learned that there would be a two-week gap as they found enough new skip tracers and collectors to make up a training class. So I took one final two-week assignment from the temp agency.

I ended up working for the same large bank in its mortgage operations, located in a building in Northeast Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River from downtown. There were about ten of us temps starting on the same Monday, each of us at a desk that was empty except for a pile of file folders. Each thick folder, our supervisor explained, was the paperwork for a pending mortgage. Our job was to go through each file and make certain that all the places that required signatures actually had signatures on them. The supervisor suggested that we should be able to get through about eight of the applications an hour.

I lasted a week and a couple of hours. It wasn’t the dreariness of the work that caused me to leave early (although the work was stupefyingly boring, leafing through files of thirty pages or more to see if fifteen or so signatures were in their proper places). What got to me was my back.

My chair was uncomfortable, my desk was awkwardly sized, and I could not find a good match for the two, so I ended up hunched over my desk to go through the files. By the time I got to Friday, I had a painful knot in my spine just below the shoulder blades. I thought maybe with a weekend of rest, I could get through the next week. After that, I’d be off to the collection agency.

But by the time of our morning break on that following Monday, my back hurt worse than it had when I went home on Friday, so I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t stay. And I left, took four days off, which pinched the budget but eased my pain, and went off to work at the collection agency the next week.

I hadn’t thought much about that six-day gig for a long time, and then j.b.’s question the other day brought it to mind. I certainly never connected that gig to the cascade of mortgage fraud that came to light about eight to ten years later. But I remember looking at the carts full of folders of mortgage applications that we temps were reviewing, and I recall thinking that it was odd for so many mortgages to be flowing through that temps were needed to make sure the papers were signed. And I thought it odd that we temps had what seemed to be a responsibility that would be better handled by permanent staff.

I now suspect that elsewhere in that building were one or more rooms set aside for the wholesale approval of those mortgage applications that we ten were reviewing. The banking corporation was in fact one of the banks that was caught up in the mortgage crisis that set in around 2006. It wasn’t one of the largest offenders, but it was involved. And if my suspicion above is correct, that means that for five days and two hours, I unwittingly played a role in the 2006-2008 meltdown of the American economy.

So what tune do I have for that? Well, I dug around looking for tunes about fraud and thievery and even turning a blind eye. I thought about the 5th Dimension’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Sweet Blindness,” but then my thoughts fell on a different Nyro tune. So here’s Barbra Streisand’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man).’ It’s from Streisand’s 1971 album Stoney End, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Looking Back Fifty

August 3rd, 2017

Here’s what the Top Ten in the Billboard 200 looked like fifty years ago this week:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Headquarters by the Monkees
Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane
Flowers by the Rolling Stones
The Doors
Sounds Like by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You by Aretha Franklin
Born Free by Andy Williams
Revenge by Bill Cosby
Dr. Zhivago original soundtrack

The only one of those that might have been in our basement rec room when it opened for business a few months later – if I recall things correctly, Dad was still working on the paneling and the suspended ceiling as the summer of 1967 began to tip towards autumn – would have been the Jefferson Airplane record.

I don’t know if my sister already had the record when the stereo was moved to the basement during the 1967-68 school year or if she got the record after our basement rec room was up and hosting. I do know that I listened to the record many times between early 1968 and the summer of 1972, when my sister took her records with her to her new home in the Twin Cities.

I also know that only one other record in that Top Ten list ever made its way into the Kilian Boulevard rec room. That was Sgt. Pepper, which I bought sometime during July 1970. Most of the others came along later; the albums by the Monkees, the Doors, the Stones, Aretha Franklin and Andy Williams eventually found places on my shelves, as did the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. And based on a cursory look this morning, the only one of them that survived the Great Vinyl Selloff in the past year was the Beatles’ album.

Looking at the digital shelves, I have two tracks from Sounds Like, one track each from Flowers and the Andy Williams album, and nothing from the Cosby album. The other six are here complete.

As to what shows up from those albums on the iPod, which has about 3,800 tracks on it, well, I’ve included “Within You, Without You” and the ending suite from Sgt. Pepper, “The Crystal Ship” from The Doors, “Respect” and “Dr. Feelgood” from the Aretha album, “Comin’ Back To Me,” “Today,” and “How Do You Feel” from the Jefferson Airplane album (along with single versions of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”), “Casino Royale” from the Tijuana Brass album, and nothing from the other five albums in that long-ago Top Ten.

I’m not really sure if all that winnowing proves anything except that I like Surrealistic Pillow more than I do Sgt. Pepper (and as I’ve thought about it over the years, there are a fair number of other albums I also like more than I do Sgt. Pepper) and that I tend to land on singles from the other 1967 albums. So we’ll listen to a track from Surrealistic Pillow this morning. Here’s the pretty (and echo-laden) “Today.”

Saturday Single No. 551

July 29th, 2017

Well, the best-laid plans and all of that. I spent an hour this morning researching the background of a tune that my files said was recorded on July 29, 1925. Along the way, I learned that the resulting 78 was the No. 1 record for 1924, so the year was wrong. That happens, so I kept going, and as I was proofing and checking various things, I learned that the recording in question was actually made on October 12, 1923.

(I got the 1925 date from the Online 78 Discography Project, which is usually pretty accurate, but I found the 1923 date at the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox, and since the record was No. 1 for 1924, I’m pretty sure the LoC is correct. I’ll likely email the folks at the Online 78 Discography Project and let them know of the discrepancy.)

Anyway, I’ve marked the feature for use this October, and I’m left in a jam without much of anything for this morning. Except . . .

The appropriately titled “In A Jam” was recorded by Duke Ellington on this date in 1936 (and that date came from the notes in an Ellington box set). So the Duke’s “In A Jam” is today’s Saturday Single:

Another Departure . . .

July 27th, 2017

I woke this morning to the news of another musical loss:

Singer/songwriter Michael Johnson, who spent a good share of his performing life in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, died Tuesday at his Minneapolis home. Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offered a look at Johnson’s life and career in today’s paper, and that story is here.

The headline on Bream’s story highlights Johnson’s recording of “Bluer Than Blue,” and it’s true that “Bluer . . .” was Johnson’s greatest chart success, spending three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart during the spring of 1978 while going to No. 12 on the magazine’s Hot 100. And I recall hearing “Bluer Than Blue” on the radio during my days in Monticello, just as I recall hearing Johnson’s 1979 single “This Night Won’t Last Forever,” as it went to No. 5 on what had become the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 19 on the Hot 100.

Both of those were fine singles, and beyond the musical pleasure I got from them, there was a little smidgen of joy as well that the man who made them was based in Minnesota. (Johnson, who was born in Colorado, made his home in Minnesota from 1969 to 1985, then returned here in 2007 after spending the intervening years in Nashville.) But that Minnesota connection is only one of three connections I have to Johnson’s music.

Another connection came through this blog during its early years, when I was exploring the music of Patti Dahlstrom. (Posts about her and her four 1970s albums are here.) During our email exchanges at the time, Patti noted that she and Tom Snow had written “Dialogue,” the title track of Johnson’s 1979 album, and she sent me an mp3 of the demo she and Snow had recorded. Here’s what Johnson did with it:

And then there was the first connection, the most visceral of the three. Johnson’s first album, the 1973 release There Is A Breeze, was one of those that we had on tape at the Pro Pace youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, during my 1973-74 college adventure. It probably didn’t get dropped into the tape player as frequently as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or the Allman Brothers Band’s Brothers & Sisters, but it was there.

And, as I’ve noted about the other music I heard in the lounge during those Danish days and nights, it only takes a few notes of any of the tunes on There Is A Breeze to remind me how those days and nights felt as well as how important they were in making me who I am today.

Of the seven or so mainstay albums were had on tape during our time in Denmark, Johnson’s There Is A Breeze was probably the last one I looked for, and it was difficult to find, though I admit my searching during the years 1974-77 was sporadic. I had other stuff to do and other music to find. My chance came during the autumn of 1977. I was working as a public relations officer at the St. Cloud CETA Center – CETA was a federal jobs program – and a co-worker brought in a box of records he was going to take across the street to Axis, a store that sold new and used records along with leather coats and hats.

And in the box was a copy of There Is A Breeze, which I gladly took home, listening to it that evening in the lake cabin where the Other Half and I were living for a couple months until we found out where my permanent job search would take me. And the first strains of the first track, “Pilot Me,” whisked me a few years back and four thousand miles away.

As I noted above, I remember hearing Michael Johnson’s two most successful singles in 1978 and 1979, but I have to admit I’ve not followed him closely. I had a vinyl copy of Dialogue, his 1979 album, but it did not survive the Great Vinyl Sell-off of last winter. And rummaging through the ’Net a couple of years ago, I found a two-CD repackaging of Johnson’s first three albums, beginning with There Is A Breeze, so I was also able to let my vinyl copy of that album go, too. (It was worn and a little banged, and no longer sounded very good.)

I suppose that if I were writing for a newspaper, I’d have to take into account – as did Jon Bream for the Minneapolis paper – all of Michael Johnson’s career as I write this morning. But what we do here – what Odd and Pop and I try to do – is to consider the music that’s mattered to me over the years. And with a stop at “Dialogue” to salute a distant friend, and acknowledging as well that Michael Johnson made a lot of very good music in his seventy-two years, I have to say . . .

Well, anyone who reads this space regularly knows where that’s going: There Is A Breeze is one of the treasures of my life, and here’s the opening track, “Pilot Me.”

‘A Time For Us . . .’

July 26th, 2017

A quick glance this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from July 26, 1969 – forty-eight years ago today – brought back a treasured memory from the following summer. Perched at No. 10 this week in 1969 was Henry Mancini’s cover of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

During early August of 1970, I spent a week at Boy Scout camp as an instructor for Troop 112, which was sponsored by our church, St. Cloud’s Salem Lutheran. I was also the troop’s bugler, rousing our scouts every morning with a poor version of “Reveille” and easing them into their sleeping bags at night with “Taps,” a tune more suited for my skills.

On one of the evenings we spent in the pines of Camp Clyde (or perhaps Parker Scout Reserve, which became the camp’s name somewhere along the line), the boys in my troop asked me to play some music on my horn as we sat around a campfire. I was pretty good at playing by ear, so I offered them a few tunes we’d all heard on the radio over the past year. After about fifteen minutes, with my fellow scouts pretty attentive for adolescent boys, I decided to close my little show with the “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet,” perhaps better known by that time as “A Time For Us.”

By the summer of 1970, I’d been playing my cornet for about six years, and I’d play for another two or three, but I don’t know if I’ve ever played any better than I did during those three or so minutes when I offered Nino Rota’s melody to my troop members and to those scouts at other campsites within earshot in the pine forest. As the last notes from my horn faded in the fire-lit dark, the scouts from Troop 112 were utterly silent. And a few moments later, over their silence, came faint applause from several directions, as scouts at those other campsites offered their appreciation.

Here’s Mancini’s version:

I can’t remember if I had read William Shakespeare’s play by 1968, when Franco Zeffirelli’s film version came out, the film for which Nino Rota wrote the theme that Mancini covered with his 1969 record. But I was certainly aware by then of the plot of the play; the budding romantic in me would have latched tightly onto the theme of doomed love. And the tune was beautiful, so when Mancini’s version hit the airwaves during the summer of 1969, I was a willing absorber.

Where did I hear Mancini’s record? All over the place, no doubt. The record was No. 1 on KDWB’s “6+30” for the week of June 23, 1969, so I’m sure I heard it as I was hanging around with my friends, even though I was still a few weeks away from bringing my grandfather’s old RCA radio up to my room from the basement to feed my burgeoning interest in Top 40 music. And I certainly heard it elsewhere, too. Not only did Mancini’s record spend the last week of June and the first week of July at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it spent all of June and July on top of the magazine’s Easy Listening chart, which meant I would have heard it on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s WJON and KFAM.

Mancini’s version of the tune was the only one to hit the Top 40, although Johnny Mathis placed a vocal cover – “Love Theme From ‘Romeo And Juliet’ (A Time For Us)” – at No. 8 on the Easy Listening chart. I don’t recall hearing Mathis’ version until I sought it out this morning, and although I’ve generally liked Mathis’ work over the years, I didn’t care for it. I pondered that, and as I did, I took a look at the digital shelves here and got a slight surprise: Of the nineteen versions of the tune here at the EITW studios, seventeen are instrumentals.

The only two vocal versions are by the Lettermen and Bobby Sherman. And even I shake my head at the latter name. The Lettermen, I can understand. Their version of the tune was on the 1969 album Hurt So Bad, an album my sister owned and that I listened to regularly in the basement rec room on Kilian Boulevard. But the Bobby Sherman version of the tune isn’t something I would have sought on its own; all I can figure is that when I looked for Sherman’s version of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” I found it on Sherman’s self-titled album from 1969 and “A Time For Us” came along as collateral damage.

Anyway, as the digital evidence points out, I prefer the Rota tune without the words. And it turns out the words we’ve heard so frequently for almost fifty years weren’t the original ones. The song was originally titled “What Is A Youth,” with lyrics by Eugene Walter. It was performed in Zeffirelli’s film by Glen Weston during the scene that sets up the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet at a party at the Capulet home. (The video of that scene – with the original performance of the original lyrics – cannot be embedded but can be seen here.)

Those lyrics – seemingly well-suited for the film’s setting in Renaissance Italy, have long since been pushed out of mass awareness by the lyrics crafted for the tune by Eddie Snyder and Larry Kusik. According to Second Hand Songs, those lyrics, with the song bearing the title “A Time For Us,” were first recorded in 1968 by Merrill Womach, a forty-one year old undertaker and gospel singer from Spokane, Washington. It was released on his 1968 album A Time For Us.

The first release of “A Time For Us” by a well-known performer followed quickly, according to the list at SHS: Shirley Bassey released her version of the song on her 1968 album This Is My Life, and the Lettermen followed with their version the next year. After that, SHS lists thirty-four more vocal versions.

As to instrumental versions, the first, says SHS, was Rota’s use of his theme in the film’s soundtrack under the title “In Capulet’s Tomb.” The first cover listed there came from Mancini, and the website lists forty-two more recordings under the title of “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet.”

Add a few instrumentals recorded as “A Time For Us” and about fifteen versions listed in Italian, Portuguese and Finnish (!), and there are about a hundred versions of the tune listed at SHS. There are no doubt more out there. My favorite? The Mancini version, although I’m tempted to say that my favorite version is the one that I sent out among the pines one summer night in 1970.

Saturday Single No. 550

July 22nd, 2017

It’s pickling season!

In the past few days, I’ve set up the temporary table in the kitchen. It’s now home to boxes of canning jars with their rings and lids, envelopes of pickling mix, extra kettles, various canning implements, and a stack of fresh kitchen towels. I’ve brought the big canner up from the fruit cellar and wiped it clean of cobwebs and anything else that might have gathered during its off-duty months.

In the past few months, we’ve been giving away the 2016 batches of pickles, clearing the shelf in the fruit cellar as well as we can. There are maybe two pints left of last year’s pickles, as well as the big – two gallons, I think – jar of whole kosher pickles the Texas Gal made for herself last year. She’s still leery of opening it: As big as the cucumbers she chose were, she’s not entirely sure that nearly a year in the jar has pickled them to her taste.

And this morning, the Texas Gal is off to the farmer’s market downtown to bring home a bushel of early cucumbers from a woman who grows them on a farm near Browerville, about seventy miles northwest of here. It looks like our garden will supply plenty of cukes this year, but for the past few years – ever since we had one very poor cucumber season – the Texas Gal has ordered early cucumbers just in case.

So as of today, the Thirteenth Avenue Pickle Factory is open. Varieties this year will be kosher and Polish dill, bread & butter (both regular and zesty), sweet pickle relish, and a new variety of mix the Texas Gal grabbed during one of her preparatory shopping trips, spicy pickles. (I also noted that she’s picked up a mix for pickling okra and other vegetables; we neither grow nor regularly eat okra, so she has something else in mind for that mix, and she also found a package mix for salsa with the spices premeasured, so when we get enough tomatoes, she’ll be doing a couple batches of that.)

As I’ve noted other years, she does most of the work when picking and canning season rolls around, loving it during the early part of the season and maintaining good grace during the later portions of the season when the time spent in the kitchen gets a bit wearisome. I help with chores that require lifting or climbing the stepstool, and I pitch in and slice onions or whatever else needs to be done when required.

And we both get a good measure of satisfaction from all of it, first from the “plink” that each jar of pickles or other canned food makes as its seal sets in and later from the pleasure of giving away (and eating, too) pickles and other delights over the following winter.

To go along with this piece, I looked for a tune with the word “pickles” in its title. I found one, a jaunty little number by Allen Toussaint from 1970 titled simply “Pickles.” It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I searched for the word “kitchen” instead, and got back forty-seven results. Most of them, of course, are versions of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” a song I love but that isn’t quite what I was looking for today.

So here’s “Mama’s In The Kitchen” by Toni Childs. It’s from Childs’ 2008 album Keep The Faith, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Eddie J No More’

July 20th, 2017

Here’s another piece of fiction from the folder in the file cabinet. This one was written in November 1990 in Columbia, Missouri, so as you read it, put yourself in the early 1990s. I likely got some things wrong about the music business, but so it goes when you’re writing to please yourself. Anyway, I hope you like “Eddie J No More.”

My guitar needs a new E string. I found that out last night. When the urge to play a few tunes hit me and I opened the case, I saw that the string – the high one – was loose and curled up like a nylon snake, right at the top of the neck. In my mind, I could hear the sound it made when it broke, kind of an idiot “ping” followed by the whispery sound of the long portion of the string curling up toward the neck, seeking its old circular shape just like water seeks lower ground.

I never heard it when it happened. No reason I should have. I keep the guitar case in a spare room between the box filled with my old music notebooks and the box that holds my old records. I suppose I hadn’t touched the guitar for, oh, three months. Maybe not that long, but it’s been a while since I had the urge to play.

But I wanted to last night. And when I saw the broken string, all I could do was look across the spare room to where my old Stratocaster sits. All its strings were intact, and all I needed to do was plug that baby into the amplifier of the sound system in the living room. A little bit of tuning and one quick flick across the strings for orientation, and I’d jump back on the rails and make that fucker howl!

But no. I haven’t played the Stratocaster for a long, long while. I haven’t wanted to howl since, well, since maybe ’85 or ’86. All I wanted last night . . . well, it’s kind of like something I saw Bruce Springsteen do in a solo acoustic show a few years ago.

When Bruce is out with the E Street Band and they get to “Born To Run,” it’s all guitars and drums roaring and the saxophone wailing as the road goes by and the lonely rider and Wendy aim their motorcycle toward whatever tomorrow will bring them because they know it has to be better or at least no worse than what they have right now and the roar of the imagined cycle gets mixed in with the roar of the crowd at the Boss’s feet and the music pounds and thunders with a noisy momentum that carries the E Street Band and its Boss and the crowd toward some wonderful place, and baby, we were all born to run.

But when Bruce did some solo gigs a few years ago, toward the end of the night, he’d play it slow, just him and an acoustic guitar. It was almost thoughtful and almost sad, and the crowd was quiet and just about ready to go home. And it was right to do it like that: We have what we have, even if it isn’t everything we dreamed of finding out there. And none of us were running anymore.

And that’s what I wanted to do last night, play the music that comes after the running is over, the quiet stuff that can fill the air when you are where you are and you’re not looking for the next turn. I just wanted to strum my acoustic and maybe hum along a little, then maybe sing out and let my voice carry the weight of the song. I haven’t wanted to make the fuckers howl for years. I don’t think I could anymore. And I don’t think I want to, even if I could.

But my E string was broken and curled up, so I closed the guitar case and found something else to do last night. I read a book. And the Stratocaster stayed in the spare room.

You know, it’s funny that I think of Bruce and the way he changed “Born To Run” on that tour when I think about last night. From what my manager always told me, I was supposed to be where Bruce is, be what Bruce is.

I should introduce myself, I suppose. My name is Eddie Jopp. Never heard of me, right? Or if you did, you’ve pretty much forgotten me. Fair enough. I never really believed you’d remember. Maybe if I had, maybe if I’d believed, then I’d be more than a faint whisper in your memory. My manager believed, or at least that what he said. What he really believed, I think, was that anything or anyone can be packaged and sold, and I know he believed in ten percent. Anyway, I’m Eddie Jopp, also known as Eddie J for a while. No period after the “J,” please. Eddie J was the name.

When I say I keep my old records in a box in the spare room, I’m not talking about my high school copy of Saturday Night Fever or my copy of The Wall. I’ve got those – and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Supertramp and all the others – in the living room. No, the records in the spare room are my records: A Free Man In Greenland, Take The Wheel, my favorite Let The Spring . . . and a few others. Those are my records, the ones that Mick Pelzer produced in Kansas City at the start and then in L.A., the ones that were supposed to be on the list of everyone’s essential sounds of the ’80s. Eddie J on guitar, Eddie J on keyboard, Eddie J on vocals, and then it was Eddie J on the remainder racks and eventually Eddie J on the all-time favorite show, “Whatever the fuck happened to . . . ?”

It’s a good question, really. “Whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J?” I’m not sure I know, and I lived it. Oh, I haven’t forgotten it or lost it in some chemically induced paranoid haze. No, I stayed straight, most of the time anyway, but you can figure out how it is when you’re on tour and you’re only twenty-four. And I never got rid of the people who were there at the start only to find out I needed them later. No, the guys who started with me were there when it ended: Parker Stram on drums, Bobby Lippner on bass, Stu Kelsey on rhythm guitar, Jana Hall and Linda Camino on back-up vocals. They were on the first track we laid down in K.C. (“The Baker’s Dozen,” I think), and the last one in L.A. (“Inside Slide”). That’s when it ended, even though we didn’t know that for a while. But they were there.

So whatever the fuck happened to Eddie J? Life, I guess. The way it’s supposed to. Just because I’m not what I was expected to be doesn’t mean I’m not what I’m supposed to be.

It’s funny. I remember, back in the summer of ’81 when it looked like everything in front of us was gold or platinum, we were all sitting in a huge suite in downtown Milwaukee. We’d played a show at the arena there the night before, and we had two days before we had to be in St. Paul, so we were taking a day off. A show must have been canceled somewhere, I guess, but I don’t remember.

Anyway, Cal Mellon, my manager – our manager, really, because Parker, Bobby, Stu, Jana and Linda were just as much a part of Eddie J as I was; I just gave it my name – Cal was talking about what he saw. He was waving a bottle of Heineken in the air, proclaiming that he saw Eddie J as the latest in the line of what he called “authentic American voices.” He had Elvis, and Buddy, and Bob, and then Bruce, of course. And at the end of the line (for the moment, anyway, because someone always tacks another car onto the Mystery Train, right?) came me. Or us. Eddie J, anyway.

Like I said, it’s funny. It’s the modern nobility, kind of the twentieth century version of white rock ’n’ roll knights: Here’s Elvis of Tupelo with “Love Me Tender,” ‘Jailhouse Rock” and so many more. Here’s Buddy of Lubbock with “Rave On” and “Peggy Sue” and the dreams of would’ve been. Here’s Bob of Hibbing with – oh, shit, which ones? The first time I saw him was in Wichita, and he sang for ninety minutes, and an hour’s worth of stuff he didn’t sing would have made the fucking best greatest hits package anyone would want to hear. But just to keep the monologue moving, let’s say “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.” And here’s Bruce of Asbury Park with (same problem here, but what the fuck) “Born To Run” and “The River.”

And then, says Cal, comes Eddie of Olathe with . . . with what? Oh, maybe “Sailor Serenade” and “Let The Real Game Roll.” Never heard of them? Fair enough. Not a lot of people did. Well, more than I figured would on those days back in high school when I started writing songs, but not nearly as many as Cal – and the rest of us, too – had plans for. Never heard of Olathe, either? That’s cool, too. It’s in Kansas, for those who don’t recognize it. But I imagine there are lots of folks who wouldn’t know much about Tupelo or Lubbock or Hibbing or Asbury Park without those other guys being able to connect to some kind of magic that Eddie J never found.

And that’s okay. Even as Cal was waving his beer bottle in the air and declaiming his vision, I didn’t buy it. It was kind of like one of those old intelligence tests. You know, the ones that ask “Which one is different?” Well, when it’s Elvis and Buddy and Bob and Bruce and Eddie, I didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. Neither, as it turned out, did the people who buy the tunes. And after they figured it out, the folks at Kappa Delta records got the word pretty fast. And by 1985, Eddie J was gone.

Oh, I’m still around, and I’m doing okay. And most of the rest of the gang is okay, too. Bobby’s gone. He had a heart attack on the tennis court a few years ago. But Parker and Stu are still in L.A. doing session work. Jana married a guy who worked at the studio in K.C. where we first recorded, and I hear she’s got a kid now and sings jingles in the studio. Linda went back east and got a job as a deejay, and she’s part of the top morning team in Annapolis, I think.

Me? Oh, I’m going to school here in Wichita. I’ve got a teaching degree in mind. Yeah, I’m lots older than most of the others in my classes, and nobody recognizes me. At least if they do, they’ve never said anything. That’s not surprising – they all listen to CDs and none of my stuff ever got there. They don’t even look in the remaindered record racks, which is the only place you’re going to find Eddie J these days.

And Cal? Well, there’s always someone new to promote, someone else to put into that line of voices. He’s got a kid on the road now, a guy named Custer Barnes. The kid’s good – I’ve heard a few of his tracks – and maybe he’ll make Cal’s dreams come real. I couldn’t do it for Cal, but my dreams became real.

Hey, they really did. All I wanted was a chance to play, to get my stuff down on tape and onto vinyl. Now, I suppose that sounds like the kind of noble bullshit that you hear all the faded stars spout, those that survive, anyway. But it’s not. I got what I wanted. I played my music, and for a while, a lot of people listened. My dreams weren’t Cal’s though. He wants more than that, And like I said, he believes in ten percent. But he’s an okay guy anyway.

He called the other day. Wanted to know if I would come out to L.A. and put some stuff on tape with Parker and Stu, see what came out of the headphones. Well, I’ve got some new things – I may not play a lot, but I’ve never really stopped writing – but it’s my stuff, and I’m not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I said so. He said he was sure it would go, and that he’d already booked the studio time. Had he called Parker and Stu? Not yet, he said.

Something wrong with Custer Barnes? “No,” he said, “I just want to get your stuff out where it belongs, with the listeners.” I thought for a minute. Shit, maybe he was right. Maybe it’s worth another shot. But then I figured that if the listeners really wanted to hear me, I wouldn’t need my old agent to tell me so.

I asked him what date he had the studio time reserved. He told me, and I said, “Sorry, I’ve got a mid-term that day.”

Aced the fucker, too. And tomorrow after class, I’m going to get a new E string. Hell, maybe I’ll get a whole new set of strings. Or I could sell the Strat and get a new electric . . . No, a new set of strings for the acoustic will do just fine. Let the words carry the weight as far as I want it to go.

GPE
November 15, 1990
Columbia, Missouri