Archive for the ‘Repeat Post’ Category

I Heard It Somewhere

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Tuesday used to be a day devoted to cover versions here at EITW, a notion that I think will return, starting with this post. It’s a recobbling of a post from 2008 – augmented now with more information – that I shared this week at Consortium Of Seven, where I blog weekly.

The image of a young folks’ hangout, a place of Cokes and laughter and a jukebox, is a central icon of American mythology, a scene generally based in the 1950s. One thinks of Arnold’s in the faux Fifties of television’s Happy Days or of the less bubbly but more realistic teen hangout – if it had a name, I don’t recall it – in John Farris’ disturbing 1959 novel, Harrison High. (Never heard of it? It seems to be forgotten these days. It’s worth a look.)

The only place I ever spent a great deal of time where there was a jukebox was Atwood Center at St. Cloud State. One of the main rooms in the snack bar area downstairs had one of the machines against the wall, and that happened to be the room in which we gathered, those twenty or so of us who made up The Table, to spend those portions of the day not devoted to the classroom. The jukebox wasn’t in constant play, but often enough, someone would wander over and drop in a quarter or two.

Accordingly, there are some songs and voices that are tied to Atwood Center and its jukebox, sounds I either heard for the first time there or else heard so frequently there that they became meshed with my memories of the place. Every once in a while, the radio, the computer or the iPod offers a song whose first notes whirl me nearly fifty years back and a couple miles southeast of here, and in my mind, I’m once more in a place of coffee cups and notebooks, the occasional romance, and plenty of laughter for jests both silly and ribald.

What records put me there?

Shawn Phillips’ “We” – discussed here more than once – is one of them, a record on which the Texas singer lets loose his amazing falsetto; I fed the jukebox frequently for that one, and I recall one of my tablemates shaking her head in admiration and murmuring, “He just soars, doesn’t he?” I also spent a few quarters to hear Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello,” the flipside to his single, “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Another B side that got a fair amount of play in Atwood was the live performance of “I Saw Her Standing There” by John Lennon and Elton John, the flipside to Elton’s hit single, “Philadelphia Freedom.” There was Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” a weeper that eased my way through the first major break-up of my life. We all rolled our eyes at the silliness of Reunion’s novelty, “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” with its rapid-fire selected history of rock & roll: “B. B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers . . .” But we kept playing it.

And as I finished my college days in 1977, it was occasionally to the accompaniment of “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” the single hit from the Sanford/Townsend Band.

Then there was Phoebe Snow. Her 1975 hit “Poetry Man” was a favorite down in the snack bar (and not only with those of us at The Table; that was a record that was frequently in play from other folks’ quarters, too). Her voice propelled “Gone At Last,” a Paul Simon record on which she shared billing later in 1975.

And I swear I heard Snow’s brilliant 1976 version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” come from the jukebox. Now, according to everything I can find on the ’Net or in my library, I am in error, as the track was never released on a 45: The website 45cat shows no U.S. release of the track as a single, and the site discogs shows a single release of the track only in Greece.

So, my memory of hearing it on the jukebox must be wrong, but I know I heard it somewhere long before I had the LP It Looks Like Snow, where it nestles as an album track. Maybe I heard it on the college radio station back in those days. I don’t know.

Snow is ten years gone now, having died in April 2011 following a cerebral hemorrhage in early 2010. And every time her version of “Don’t Let Me Down” pops up on my computer or my iPod, I wonder for an instant. Then I just listen to Snow’s brilliant cover of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I know that all that matters is that I heard it long ago and can hear it again these days.

‘They’s Winners & They’s Losers . . .’

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Last November, I was invited by a Facebook friend to join a group of writers who each post once a week at a blog called Consortium of Seven. The other six folks post about TV and movie delights, about art, about trawling thrift stores, about life. I write about music. Some of the posts I’ve offered there are original to the day; others are revisions of things I’ve offered here during the past fourteen years, The other Monday, I revamped an older post from here, writing about The Band and a moment of serendipity, and I thought I’d share the result here.

My list of musical “must-have” groups and performers is fairly short. By that I mean performers and groups whose official releases I always acquire. When Bruce Springsteen releases a new CD or box set, I buy it. When the Tedeschi Trucks Band comes out with something new, I buy it. And there are three or four others.

Some groups and performers have fallen off that list: I bought everything the Indigo Girls did for more than a decade, then stopped, either because their newer stuff had lost the shining edge they’d displayed during the late 1980s and through the 1990s or because I’d lost the listening ear to hear that edge. I used to buy everything Eric Clapton brought out, but I didn’t enjoy the last few CDs of his that came my way. (And as his behavior during the pandemic has revealed, he’s kind of a dick, which would blunt at least a little my enjoyment of his new work.)

One group that remains on the must-have list is The Band, originally a collection of four Canadians – Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson – and Arkansan Levon Helm, who released several superb albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s (and a few others that had at least flashes of brilliance through 1977, with a live, guest-studded, farewell album in 1978). The group, without Robertson, resumed touring in the 1980s and lost Manuel to suicide.

In the 1990s, the remaining trio – Danko, Hudson and Helm – recruited new players and reassumed the mantle of The Band, releasing three CDs. The albums weren’t as good as the group’s best work from the early years – the lack of Robertson’s often-brilliant songwriting hurt – but they were good sturdy work, nestled in what is now called Americana, the genre that I will always contend was established by the group’s work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I came across that 1990s resurrection by accident, a year or two after the first of those three efforts – Jericho – was released in 1993. I was driving through the suburbs north of Minneapolis, heading toward my home in the southern portion of the city with the radio likely turned to Minneapolis’ KTCZ, which then and now bills itself as Cities 97. And then from the speaker came the strum of a mandolin followed by the unmistakable voice of Levon Helm, singing the immediately recognized words of “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen:

Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night
And they blew up his house, too
Down on the boardwalk, they’re ready for a fight
Gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now, there’s trouble busin’ in from outta state
And the D.A. can’t get no relief
Gonna be a rumble on the promenade
And the gamblin’ comissioner’s hangin’ on by the skin of his teeth

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well, I got a job and I put my money away
But I got the kind of debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew out what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold
But with you forever I’ll stay
We’ll be goin’ out where the sand turns to gold
But put your stockings on, ’cause it might get cold

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Now, I’ve been a-lookin’ for a job, but it’s hard to find
They’s winners and they’s losers and I’m south of the line
Well, I’m tired of getting’ caught out on the losin’ end
But I talked to a man last night, gonna do a little favor for him

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact

But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Oh, meet me tonight in Atlantic City

The track faced away in a swirl of accordion, which by that time I recognized came from the fingers of Garth Hudson, and as I neared home, I made a mental note to visit a nearby music store and get the cassette of what had to be a new album by The Band. (A blogging friend of mine insisted to the day he left this earth that without Robertson, the group could not be The Band, but I’m a little less literal on that.)

And as the 1990s passed and the new century came, I got a CD player and began to collect the works of The Band – and the other must-haves – in that format. Though new releases ended when Danko and Helm followed Manuel to wherever we go when our work here is done, reissues continue: I recently acquired fiftieth anniversary packages – both expanded with previously unreleased material – of the 1968 album Music From Big Pink and the 1971 album Stage Fright.

Those will be fine listening, I’m certain. But I’m also certain that no smile is going to break on my face as wide as the one that came during that mid-1990s drive when I realized that The Band – in whatever form – was back and I heard the group’s take on “Atlantic City” for the first time:

‘Roads To Moscow’

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

Here’s a piece I shared here fourteen years ago this week. It’s been updated and edited slightly.

Being a history buff, I am fascinated by certain historical periods in specific places. I find myself drawn, for example, to the time and place of the Vikings: Scandinavia in the years from, oh, 800 to 1066. The Civil War era and the opening of the Great Plains that followed it fascinate me too, as does life in rural Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s.

But the first historical era – events in a certain time and place – that I really examined to any great degree was World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. Triggered mostly, I imagine, by having seen some of the locales where those events took place and by knowing people who lived through them, I read about the war and the Holocaust voraciously in the mid- to late 1970s.

I still pick up a new volume about those events now and then. One of the two books that spurred this post, one I read in 2007, is 1945: The War That Never Ended. Author Gregor Dallas takes the reader through the final year of World War II in Europe and postulates that the events of World War II continued to resound in world history and politics longer after the end of hostilities than anyone realized. I can’t disagree with him.

More recently, I finished Andrew Nagorski’s 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War, which catalogs in detail the events of that pivotal year, which began – to simplify things considerably – with Germany waging an air war on an isolated Britain and ended with Germany declaring war on the United States soon after Pearl Harbor, while German soldiers were freezing and dying within twelve miles of the Kremlin.

And I happened to glance at the calendar this morning and realized that today is the eightieth anniversary of one of the major events of the year that Nagorski chronicled, the anniversary of one of the truly world-changing events of the Twentieth Century. It was on June 22, 1941, that Adolf Hitler sent the Wehrmacht, the German army, across the line that separated the territory occupied by Germany from that occupied by the Soviet Union. The invasion – which took place along a front about nine hundred miles wide – caught the Soviets off-guard.

(Why it did is one of the fascinating questions about the war; prevailing theory seems to be that Soviet leader Josef Stalin wanted so badly to avoid war with Germany that he ignored a multitude of signs that the invasion was imminent. And in a nation ruled by one cruel and vicious man, if the leader does not believe a specific thing will take place, no one else is allowed to prepare for that event.)

The invasion, which the Germans called “Operation Barbarossa” after an early German king, triggered one of the world’s great tragedies inside the greater tragedy of World War II. During the war, the Soviet Union had its most populous areas conquered and occupied, and more than twenty million Soviet citizens died, the majority of them civilians. (That total likely includes the more than two million Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union who were murdered in the Holocaust.)

The death and destruction the Nazis caused in the Soviet Union would be enough, but that’s only part of what I had in mind when I called the German invasion “world-changing.” I used that term because long before reading Nagorski’s book, I’ve thought that the invasion of the Soviet-held territory that started eighty years ago today ensured the downfall of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi henchmen and thus helped create the shape of today’s world.

We rarely think of World War II today. Maybe we pass a memorial in a city park or see a bit of a Veteran’s Day ceremony on television, but when we do think of it, we see it as an organic whole, albeit in several acts: The Japanese started it in Asia, the Germans started it in Europe, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we sent troops to England and the Pacific, we and the British invaded Europe and knocked down Hitler with the help of the Russians, and then we dropped two A-bombs on Japan. Final Curtain.

But as it was going on, for those who lived during those times, it was not nearly that simple. For many long years there was no guarantee of victory for those opposing Hitler and Germany. For most of 1940 and half of 1941, Britain stood alone, preparing for a German invasion across the English Channel. Why Hitler did not invade Britain is a question that has been discussed, parsed, chopped and sprinkled for the past eighty years. I imagine there’s a reason somewhere in the archives, but that’s not important today.

My point here is that the instant Hitler turned away from Britain and invaded Soviet-held territory, he lost the war. That didn’t happen right away, of course, but the failed invasion doomed the Nazis. Eventually, with the Allied invasion of France, Hitler was fighting on two fronts and the Germans’ own mistakes began to catch up to them. The Soviets – despite all the mistakes of their own leadership – eventually stopped the Germans and began what one book I read called “the long walk to Berlin.”

Again, that’s a bare bones outline, with an ending that was not at all visible until long after the fighting started. And it’s difficult to sort through the tales of armies and commanders and arrows on maps to find the individual soldiers. Some movies and books have done a good job of that: Saving Private Ryan on the screen and Band Of Brothers as a book and an HBO series come to mind.

But one of the most moving accounts of a front-line soldier in the war in Europe was a little-noticed song on Al Stewart’s 1974 album Past, Present and Future. That song, “Roads to Moscow,” tells in first person the tale of a Soviet soldier, a Russian who lived through the German invasion and made that “long walk to Berlin” only to be sent at the end to a Soviet labor camp because he had the bad luck to have been captured by the Germans for a day. (That was the fate of almost any Soviet soldier who was ever captured; those who somehow survived German prison camps were almost all sent to Soviet labor camps after the war. A pretty good analysis of Stewart’s historical allusions is available here.)

Stewart’s song wanders hauntingly through the soldier’s narrative. It draws the listener in and allows him or her to feel not only the horror of war but the difficulty of accepting events that make no sense – for war makes as little sense as does the remanding of one’s own people to labor camps – and the numbness that comes when events of that type pile on top of each other time after time. Here it is:

Saturday Single No. 735

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

The Texas Gal and I took an overnight trip last weekend to the harbor city of Duluth, Minnesota, at the western tip of Lake Superior, and seeing the big lake and its freighters reminded me of a piece I posted here years ago pondering, among other things, the definition of folk song. So, I thought I’d share that – edited somewhat – again today.

A number of years ago, during a driving tour around Lake Superior, the Other Half and I stopped at a maritime museum on an old ship in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at the eastern end of the big lake. We wandered through displays about the shipping industry on the Great Lakes, seeing this old logbook and that old uniform, likely learning more than we had expected but being – at least in my case – curiously unmoved by what we were seeing.

There was nothing there that communicated to me the power and romance of the lakes, especially Superior, a body of water so large that it’s really not a lake but an inland sea.

And then we went back on deck and saw a battered lifeboat. Perhaps thirty feet long and made of thick steel, the boat sat malformed on the deck of the museum ship, twisted and bent, mute testimony to the power of the lake where its parent vessel had plied its trade. The name of the parent ship stenciled onto the lifeboat? The Edmund Fitzgerald.

It’s been almost forty-six years since a November storm sent the Edmund Fitzgerald to the bottom of Lake Superior. To those of us in the Northland, certainly in the states that share Superior’s shores, the sinking remains vivid in memory, a marker in time. I have a sense, though, that for those from elsewhere in the U.S. (and certainly elsewhere in the world), the boat’s sinking would be a dim memory today were it not for Gordon Lightfoot. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a single taken off his Summertime Dream album in 1976, provides an indelible and haunting reminder of the events of November 10, 1975.

All-Music Guide, in its review of Summertime Dream, notes: “As for ‘Edmund Fitzgerald,’ its continued popularity . . . attests to the power of a well-told tale and a tasty guitar lick.” I think the popularity of the song is more complex than that, however. To me, one of the main reasons for the song’s enduring vitality is that, in 1976, it brought to popular culture, for one of the few times in many years, a true example of folk music.

Folk music, as it’s been defined since about 1965, is music with primarily acoustic instrumentation. (When electric instrumentation is added, one finds folk’s cousin, folk rock.) That’s a pretty sparse and broad definition, but it has to be to bring into the fold of folk music all the performers who have been described since the mid-Sixties as folk artists, as the genre evolved into singer/songwriter music.

A more narrow and purist definition would call folk music only that music that has been passed on via an oral tradition. The practicality of requiring an oral tradition, however, long ago went by the wayside, most likely in 1952 with the release of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music on Folkways Records, a collection that brought to multitudes of singers both inspiration and material, according to the testimony of Bob Dylan and many other folkies of the 1960s.

Requiring folk music today to have an oral source rather than a recorded source would mean that any musician who performs, say, “Man of Constant Sorrow” after hearing it on Dylan’s first album or after hearing any of the many other versions of the song released over the past seventy years, is singing a song that is no longer folk music, and that constraint, to me, is silly.

So I think that worrying about the source of the music isn’t the place to look when talking about folk music. I think we’re better off looking at content: What is the song about?

And in much of the music that was considered classic, traditional folk – the music contained in the Smith anthology and more – commemoration of and commentary on the events of the day was central. Cultural memory was preserved in live song in those years before everyone saw the news on CNN and before everyone could listen to the song on a record player or a CD player or an iPod. Answering the question of “What happened when?” is a central part of much classic, traditional folk music.

I think it’s likely that a wide audience truly began to ponder the impact of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald only after hearing Lightfoot’s song. Here in the Northland, the recording was more a reminder than anything. But for both audiences – those who already knew a great deal about the Edmund Fitzgerald and those who learned more about it through the song – Gordon Lightfoot’s song provides a commemoration of the event, and to me, that is the core function of folk music, to provide common memory of the events that form and transform our communities:

Dragons (And Music) Live Forever

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

It was eight years ago today that the Texas Gal and I took my mother to see Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. I posted this piece two days later.

“If you ask me who I am,” mused Peter Yarrow for a moment Sunday evening, “well . . .” And he paused as he looked out at the audience in St. Cloud’s Pioneer Place. “As I always have been, I’m the one who carries forward the tradition of Peter, Paul & Mary.”

And then, with his son Christopher playing a wash-tub bass and supplying vocal harmony, he launched himself into another song recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary. It might have been “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Lemon Tree.” It could have been “All My Trials” or “Jesus Met The Woman.” It could have been the final pair of the evening: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I don’t remember which tune it was that followed Yarrow’s statement. I wasn’t taking notes. Rather, I was sitting in the front row, flanked by my mother and the Texas Gal. We were just to the right of center stage, as close as I’ve ever been for a performance by a legend. I watched Yarrow’s left hand play with his picks as he talked between songs. I saw his eyes get a little misty as he talked about his family – many of whom live in Willmar, Minnesota, just seventy miles away (and many of whom, along with other friends from that Central Minnesota city, were at the performance). I saw the slight tremors in his seventy-three-year-old legs as he moved to sit on a stool instead of stand several times during the performance.

But mostly, I just watched and listened as a giant of folk music worked the room and turned what I expected to be a concert into a three-hour sing-along. From the opening tune, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words” through the two closing songs mentioned above, Yarrow encouraged the two hundred or so folks at Pioneer Place to join in.

After all, he said, as he introduced his second tune – “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” performed in memory of his long-time friend and partner, Mary Travers, who passed on in 2009 – “You’ll sing along anyway, or at least mouth the words, so you may as well sing.” And sing we did, sometimes pretty confidently – as on the medley of “This Little Light Of Mine,” “Down By The Riverside” and “This Land Is Your Land” – and sometimes a little more tentatively, as in the case of “Stewball” and “Have You Been To Jail For Justice?”

And sometimes, we just listened, as we did when Yarrow sang his potent anti-war song “The Great Mandala.”

Yarrow remains unabashedly liberal and spoke a few times about the causes he supports. He mentioned his marching at Selma, Alabama, during the early 1960s civil rights movement and talked about the performance by Peter, Paul & Mary at the 1963 rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Yarrow noted that he and his children – Christopher and Bethany – have visited and performed at several of the Occupy sites in the past year.

He also talked about his current project, Operation Respect, an educational program aimed at “creating compassionate, safe and respectful environments.” The theme song for Operation Respect is “Don’t Laugh At Me,” a song that first showed up on PP&M’s final studio album, 2003’s In These Times:

When Yarrow introduced the tune Sunday evening, he said, “You’ll all know some of the people in this song. You might have been some of them. And some of you will weep.” He was right. And the performance – during which, of course, we sang along on the chorus – earned Yarrow a mid-concert standing ovation.

I’ve listened to Yarrow’s music – the massive catalog of PP&M and his own, more slender catalog – for years, but I’ve never dug very deeply into the history and lore of the group and its three members, so I was intrigued to learn Sunday evening that Yarrow’s ex-wife, Mary Beth, was the niece of Eugene McCarthy, the late U.S. Senator from Minnesota. The two met during McCarthy’s 1968 campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. And I was even more intrigued when Yarrow told us that not only was Noel Paul Stookey – “Paul” of PP&M – Yarrow’s best man when he and Mary Beth were married but that Stookey sang during the ceremony a song written specifically for the wedding.

It took a lot of talking, Yarrow said, to persuade Stookey to record and release “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which turned out to be a No. 24 hit and was, Yarrow said, the No. 1 sheet music seller for ten years. And as Yarrow then sang “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” the rest of us joined in on the choruses.

Yarrow’s most famous song is likely “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Addressing the myth of the song’s reference to drugs, Yarrow told us Sunday evening that he and co-writer Leonard Lipton never had any thought besides writing a song about the loss of childhood. And he called up to the stage the younger folks in the audience – which meant, Sunday evening, those under thirty-five – and those folks (many of whom, I presume, were friends and family from Willmar) helped Yarrow and the rest of us sing that great song.

As he led us through the song, there were a few changes: The line “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” is now “A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys.” And the final chorus is now sung in present tense: “Puff the magic dragon lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist in a land called Hona-Lee.”

Puff lives forever. So will Yarrow’s music. Here’s “Puff” in its original 1963 form:

Edited slightly on reposting.

Saturday Single No. 678

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

Here’s a piece I ran in this space ten years ago today. It’s been edited slightly.

One of the classic small-town fund-raisers is the fish fry. During the years I lived in Monticello, the Other Half and I would occasionally make our way to the American Legion club at the west edge of town and join our friends and neighbors at long tables. The menu was always deep-fried fish – probably haddock, maybe cod – with french fries and cole slaw.

We’d nibble on our dinners, sip coffee and chat with whoever ended up sitting nearby. Occasionally, I’d field questions or complaints about something the newspaper had published that week. Otherwise, we’d maybe talk about the city’s plans to redevelop downtown, the upcoming school board election or the prospects for the high school’s teams – still called, amazingly enough, the Redmen – in the coming winter tournaments.

But as we sat at the tables for the Rotary Club’s annual fish fry forty years ago this evening, we talked about none of that. All anybody wanted to talk about was a bunch of college kids, kids with names like Broten, Johnson and Eruzione; Callahan, Craig and Pavelich; Morrow, Verchota and Suter and eleven more. And we talked about Herb Brooks, the hockey coach who’d molded those twenty American college kids into a hockey team that had defeated the legendary team from the Soviet Union 4 to 3 in an Olympic medal-round game late that afternoon.

I’ve never asked anyone, but I’ve always wondered how sparse the crowd was for the first hour or so of the fish fry that evening. The hockey game began at four o’clock Central Time – officials for the ABC network, which was broadcasting the Olympics from Lake Placid, N.Y., tried to have the game switched to seven o’clock, but Soviet officials refused – and was likely over a little after six o’clock. That’s when we made our way to the Legion club for dinner, as I’d been listening to the game on a distant radio station, struggling to make sense of the play-by-play through a forest of static.

I imagine that many others had done the same, as it seems in memory that we were among a large group of diners who showed up about the same time. Those already dining were already talking about hockey or related topics, like why ABC – which planned to air a tape of the game that evening – didn’t show the game live at four o’clock. And there were grumbles at the Soviet officials who refused to allow the game to be moved from late afternoon to the evening. (Wikipedia notes that such a shift would have meant a four a.m. start for the game in Moscow.)

But most of the time, it seems – in the soft light of a memory now forty years old – we were shaking our heads and marveling at what those twenty American kids and their coaches had done that afternoon. After all, the Soviet team had won five of the six gold medals in hockey since 1956 (with the U.S. winning in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif.). Since those 1960 games, the Soviets had gone 32-1-1 over the next four Olympic tournaments and the preliminary round at Lake Placid. Games between the Soviet teams and the professionals of the National Hockey League had started in 1972, and during the two most recent series, the Soviets were 7-4-1 against the NHL’s best. In addition, in the last exhibition game for the U.S. Olympic team before the competition at Lake Placid, the Soviets had defeated the U.S. team in New York City by a 10-3 score.

So I don’t recall talking to anyone during the preceding days who thought that the U.S. boys – who’d won four and tied one of their preliminary round games – could beat the Soviets. Watching the five earlier games had cued us – hockey fans and those who were only vaguely familiar with the sport alike – that the U.S. team might be something special. And it was, advancing to the medal round with what seemed like a good chance for silver or at least bronze.

But those American kids surprised everyone: the experts in the sporting world who’d conceded the gold medal to the Soviet team from the start; the delirious crowd in the Lake Placid arena that afternoon; and those of us all across the country who would sit in their living rooms and watch the taped game that evening. The kids probably even surprised their own coach, Herb Brooks. And there’s no doubt that they surprised the supremely talented members of the Soviet Union’s Olympic hockey team.

There were overtones to the hockey game, of course: The general sense of unease in the U.S. at the time and the international rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – heightened by the Soviets’ 1979 invasion of Afghanistan – all made the U.S team’s victory a template for something more than a hockey game. But even as only a hockey game, it was enough. And that’s what we chewed on that evening at the Rotary fish fry, forty years ago tonight.

And here’s a video of the last minute of the game and the celebration that followed.

Saturday Single No. 675

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

It was about this time thirteen years ago that I figured out what I wanted to do with this blog. I’d spent about a month ripping records from my collection to mp3s, then posting them at the blog’s first location, first without much commentary at all, and then, pulling comments from places like All-Music Guide.

After a few weeks, I began writing my own commentary, but it was limited. And then, right around February 1, 2007, I began to write about how I got my records over the years, how it felt when listening to them, and also about the life I’d lived while hearing the music and how the music had affected that life.

And I was off, doing finally what I’d hoped to do when I set up housekeeping on the Web. Over these thirteen years, the tales have dwindled and become generally less interesting (one runs out of tales eventually and does not want to be Old Uncle Walter, who tells the same war stories every time you see him at a family reunion). Thus, my posts have become more reliant than I might like on record charts and radio station surveys and the shelves full of books that this hobby has led me to collect.

I’m sure there are more stories inside that will interest me if no one else, and there’s always the music, so this blog – to quote Bob Dylan – ain’t goin’ nowhere. I just hope that the folks who stop by here for whatever entertainment they may gain continue to do so.

So another year starts. Thanks for stopping by through the years gone by.

With that, I offer (with some minor revisions) a piece I first posted here almost thirteen years ago as Saturday Single No. 1, accompanied by a video of one of the first tracks I ripped from vinyl:

All Music Guide makes a trenchant observation in its overview of Cris Williamson and her music: It notes that trying to assess Williamson and her place in popular music is like trying to assess those athletes who played Negro League baseball before Jackie Robinson began the integration of major league baseball in 1947: We can never really know what might have been.

That’s because Williamson was one of the first – possibly the first – musician to state clearly that she was gay. And she did it in the early 1970s, when doing so scared away major labels that otherwise would likely have scooped her up in the hubbub of the singer-songwriter boom and happily mass-marketed her literate, thoughtful and often lovely music.

Even as her music has never reached as wide an audience as it deserves, Williamson – born in Deadwood, S.D., in, oddly enough, the Jackie Robinson year of 1947 – has made the proverbial lemonade: She, along with a few other pioneers like Meg Christian and Margie Adam (and Holly Near, who should have been mentioned in the original post), created through their recordings and performances the genre of music that became known as Women’s Music (which, if it originated today, would likely be clustered in with folk music, which is the category in record stores where I’ve found the Williamson albums I own). Recording on Olivia Records – which released thirteen of her albums, including The Changer and the Changed, quite likely her best and most influential record – and then on her own Wolf Moon label, Williamson has been a consistently good, sometimes great and always listenable musician.

AMG wonders, and I do too: What would her career have been like had she come along twenty years later, at a time when top-rank performers like the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge could openly proclaim their orientations without losing their mass audiences? We can’t answer that, of course. As a friend of mine once told me during a conversation about roads not taken, we’ll never know what didn’t happen.

But there is the music, a body of excellent work (on nearly thirty albums) that deserves more notice than it gets. In that body of work is today’s Saturday Single, the song “Like An Island Rising” from Williamson’s 1982 release, Blue Rider.

Like any listener, I have songs that move me in various ways, including a whole box-set’s-worth of tunes that move me to tears. Some of those are linked to people and times now gone; others touch me simply because they do. “Like An Island Rising” is one of the latter. Whenever I hear it, from the first time after a garage sale purchase in 1998 through my listening to it again this morning, it dives deeply into me. And I find myself pondering once more the line that seems to me to be at the song’s heart:

“Sweet miracles can come between the cradle and the grave.”

Yes, they can. Just listen.

Saturday Single No. 670

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

Here, updated with a few minor changes, is a post that ran here eleven years ago.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

The December Solstice is upon us. At 10:19 this evening (Central Standard Time) the sun will go as far south in the sky as it goes, and it will begin to make the slow trek north toward spring and summer.

That’s good news for those of us who find the winter grim and gloomy. I’m certain I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder. When the shortness of the days becomes truly noticeable in November, I find a melancholy surrounding me. My awareness of its source means that the melancholy need not be debilitating, but there is a touch of sadness that lingers from then into February.

Lingering, too, is just a hint of dread, a sensation that – as I’ve mentioned here before – is likely a remnant passed down through generations from my Nordic forebears. We know about the tilt of the Earth, we know how that brings the solstices and the seasons, and we know that the daytime light will now increase bit by bit every day, leading us toward springtime and then summer. In the dark forests of northern Europe a couple of thousand years ago, there was no such assurance, and as each day brought less light than the one before it, there must have been dread every year that this year would be the time when the light continued to diminish, leading eventually to permanent darkness leavened only by the faint stars and the pale moon.

We know that will not happen. Tomorrow will bring us slightly more daylight than we had today, and the next day and all the next days until June will do the same. Eventually, we will sit once more in a warm, bright evening with the sun lingering late, and the winter’s gloom will be, if not forgotten, at least set aside.

We’re about to come out of the darkness.

Here are the Traveling Wilburys with “Heading Toward The Light.” It’s from their first album, Volume One, released in 1988. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Just Like The Wind Will . . .’

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

We got about six inches of snow here yesterday morning, and this morning, the temperature is eight degrees below zero. Winter is here, and the weather reminded me of youthful fun at Riverside Park on the East Side, a large space wedged between Kilian Boulevard and Riverside Drive. The park has one of St. Cloud’s best sliding hills, a place that came to mind when I wrote this post in January 2009. I’ve revised it just a bit.

There are, as I’ve discussed before, many songs that take me back to a specific time and place, or remind me of a specific person, or both. That’s true, I’d guess, for anyone who loves music: some records trigger memories. Among such recordings for me are Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them,” which sets me down in the lounge of a youth hostel in Denmark; Orleans’ “Dance With Me,” which puts me in the 1975 version of Atwood Center at St. Cloud State; and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” which tugs me back to my duplex in Minot, North Dakota, on a winter’s night.

There are, I’m certain, hundreds of such songs, and every once in a while, one of them pops up on the radio, the stereo, the RealPlayer, or the iPod, and it triggers one of those long-ago associations for a moment or two. One happened when I was driving to the grocery store the other day.

I was listening, once again, to Kool 108 in the Twin Cities. The station, as it does every year, had played holiday music from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Even if one loves holiday music – and as I’ve noted here, I generally don’t – that’s way too much of a good thing. So I was hungry for oldies on the car radio this week, hungry enough that I even listened to “Help Me, Rhonda” all the way through instead of pushing the button for another station. And I’m glad I hung in there with the Beach Boys, for the following song took me back:

Holly holy eyes, dream of only me
Where I am, what I am, what I believe in
Holly holy
Holly holy dream, wanting only you
And she comes, and I run just like the wind will
Holly holy

Sing a song
Sing a song of songs . . .

It was early 1970, and Rick and I were at the sledding hill at Riverside Park, no more than a mile from our homes. We had a couple of new saucer sleds and were testing them out on the long hill, enjoying the times we wiped out as much as we enjoyed those times we made it upright to the bottom of the hill.

It was a cloudy Sunday, and the light that penetrated the cloud cover was fading; evening was approaching as we hauled ourselves up the hill for the last time that day. And as we got to the top of the hill, from somewhere came the sound of a radio for just a few seconds: Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy.”

I’m not sure where the sound came from. In the parking lot at the top of the hill, a car with its radio on might have had a door open for just a moment, perhaps to admit tired sledders about to head home. That seems likely. But however it happened, we both heard the song as we went up the hill.

“Good song,” I said. It was okay, said Rick, not one of his favorites.

And almost thirty-nine years later, as I drove to the store, the strains of “Holly Holy” put me back there again: On that long hill in Riverside Park, cheeks red, glasses splashed with snowflakes, feet cold inside my boots, taking the first steps on the way to home and hot chocolate.

It’s now been fifty years since “Holly Holy” was on the charts. It slipped into the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1969, and by mid-December, it was at No. 13, heading to No. 6 (and to No. 5 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart).

And next month, it will have been fifty years since Rick and I trudged up the hill and caught just a snippet of the Neil Diamond record. I don’t know that we ever went sledding at Riverside again, but I’ve heard “Holly Holy” many times since (five times in the past year on the iPod alone, according to the device’s stats), and it remains one of my favorite Diamond records ever, another reminder that the music of 1969-70 – my junior year in high school – was one of the richest musical veins I’ve ever mined.

A Date Forever Wrapped In Sorrow

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

As I wrote eight years ago when I ran this piece for the second time, just seeing today’s date has made me feel old and weary and sad. Here’s a piece I wrote this week in 2007:

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom during the brief after-lunch free time when Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

“Crucifixion” by Glenn Yarbrough.
From For Emily Whenever I May Find Her (1967).

Revised slightly from earlier postings.