Archive for the ‘Life As She Is’ Category

My Eyes

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

This – like so many other posts recently – will be brief for a very practical reason. I can no longer see very well. Even the white of the word processing program’s page has smudges on it that I cannot see through very well, the product of cataracts in both eyes, and that makes writing very much a headache-producing struggle.

That should change this week and the next. Tomorrow I will have the lens in my right eye replaced, and a week later, the same will happen with my left eye. I know the surgeries are now very common: My mom and the Texas Gal both had their lenses replaced during the life of this blog, and there were no complications.

Still, I have some anxieties about the surgeries, which I think is understandable. I’ve been trying in the past weeks simply to acknowledge them and then let them go. That’s not easy, but I think I’m doing all right.

This has been coming for a while, maybe three years for the cataract in my left eye and two for the one in my right eye, but the growth of the two has accelerated greatly in the last year, causing the vision experts to say that it’s time. And in just the month or so that the surgeries have been contemplated and scheduled, I’ve noticed an even more rapid degradation of my vision.

I assume things will go well tomorrow and the following Wednesday. I’m not sure how awkward things will be during the week between the two surgeries, with one eye corrected and the other still impaired. So, I do not know how often I will be posting here. A one-week absence is possible. So I’ll (metaphorically) see you – more clearly, I assume – on the far side.

Anyway, here’s one of my favorite tunes with “eyes” in the title: “Dark Eyes” by Bob Dylan. It’s from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. The notes to the recently released Bootleg Series No. 16 – titled Springtime in New York, 1980-85 – say that the album’s co-producer, Arthur Baker, one day suggested adding an acoustic song to the album, and the next day, Dylan brought in “Dark Eyes,” written the night before:

Oh, the gentlemen are talking, and the midnight moon is on the riverside,
They’re drinking up and walking and it is time for me to slide.
I live in another world where life and death are memorized,
Where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls and all I see are dark eyes.

A cock is crowing far away and another soldier’s deep in prayer,
Some mother’s child has gone astray, she can’t find him anywhere.
But I can hear another drum beating for the dead that rise,
Whom nature’s beast fears as they come and all I see are dark eyes.

They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,
They tell me revenge is sweet and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.
But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,
All I feel is heat and flame and all I see are dark eyes.

Oh, the French girl, she’s in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel,
Hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel.
Oh, time is short, and the days are sweet, and passion rules the arrow that flies,
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes.

Depression, Take 2

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

I’ve written before about the deep ditch of depression I sometimes fall into, finding myself there for no particular reason except my own biochemistry (and sometimes – but only sometimes – my having neglected to take my meds).

I’m there again, and I have been for a few days. I’m not looking for sympathy, just letting those of you who still do show up here why this place might look a little ragged around the edges, needing a little attention.

I’ll be back Friday, and we’ll see how things are then. In the meantime, I sorted among 83,000-some mp3s for things related to “September,” and I found Richie Havens’ cover of David Blue’s song “23 Days in September. (Blue actually titled it “These 23 Days in September; for some reason, the word “The” was trimmed from the title when Havens released it.)

Havens’ version of the song is on his 1973 album Portfolio.

Saturday Single No. 752

Saturday, September 11th, 2021

It’s been a challenging week around here. Neither of us has felt very well.

There’s been 9/11 almost 24/7, leaving a residue of remembered emotion behind.

And last evening was the first of two reunion events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1971 at St. Cloud Tech. So, I’m dealing with memories, thoughts and feelings that last night’s gathering brought up, and I know tonight will do the same. It’s not all bad; some of the memories and feelings are very good. But if you know me, you know that I have to let that stuff settle when it will.

So I’m taking the easy was out this morning. Here’s Reunion with “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me),” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 751

Saturday, September 4th, 2021

I’m going to turn 68 tomorrow. And today is September 4, which means that forty-eight years ago this evening, I boarded a Finnair jet and headed off to Denmark for a college year that I can only describe – after years of thought – as the single greatest formative experience of my life.

The confluence of those things can put me in a pensive, nostalgic mood, one that can prod me to fill this space with ideas I’ve offered here before (perhaps too many times), a mood that can nudge me into messy binges of memories.

And to add to the perils a writer with an occasional lack of discipline must face, it’s beginning to feel a little bit like autumn around here: a little bit cooler, a little less humid, with high school and college football underway.

So, I’ll just mention the best meal I’ve had in some time, courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law yesterday at Krewe, a Cajun restaurant in the nearby burg of St. Joseph. The tradition of my sister taking me out for lunch around the time of my birthday arose in the early 1990s, when I’d quit my Midwest wanderings and was living in South Minneapolis. I don’t think we’ve missed a year since then.

Now, of course, the lunches include the Texas Gal and – when he’s not working at the golf course – my brother-in-law.

We’ve eaten at basic burger joints, an upscale steak place or two, an Ethiopian place in south Minneapolis, and other places I cannot recall. My sister said friends of her had recommended Krewe.

The food was good: muffuletta for my sister and the Texas Gal, a chicken sandwich with spicy coleslaw on the side for my brother-in-law, a bowl of gumbo without rice for me – too much white rice can give me unpleasant after-effects – and a plate of maque choux – a creole-seasoned corn dish that we augmented with some andouille – for all of us to share.

And, because the waiter noticed my sister handing me a birthday card, I got the free dessert that goes to birthday folks: I chose the bourbon caramel bread pudding. It’s waiting for me in the refrigerator, and I’ll have to eat it over the course of a few days, as white flour has the same effect on me as white rice. But I’ll bet it’s going to be tasty.

Anyway, I got through a September 4 post without being maudlin, which is good. And here’s an appropriately titled swampy tune: “Hippy Gumbo” by Marsha Hunt. It was written by Marc Bolan in his pre-T. Rex days; his version was released as a single in the U.K. in December 1966. It did not chart.

Hunt’s version was recorded in late 1969 after she and Bolan began a relationship; it came out as the B-side to her “Desdemona” single in the U.K. and a few other places. It doesn’t seem to have charted either (though I cannot be sure). It’s a little strange, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Turn, Turn Any Corner . . .’

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Thirty-some years ago, as part of a summer I spent in St. Cloud in between things and places and people, my ladyfriend and I decided to put on a Sixties party. Our friends filled the place I was renting – the lower level of a house, usually home to probably ten to twelve students – as we laughed, drew pictures on the tagboard designated a graffiti wall, and took part in a Sixties trivia contest.

There was music, of course. My lady and I spent hours the week before the party creating mix tapes. I borrowed records from the St. Cloud State radio station’s library to supplement my own pretty good collection. (This was in the late 1980s; I had about 250 albums, nothing near what I would eventually have filling the shelves.)

She insisted that the first track of the first tape played be the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In.” Okay. And then, she said, should come Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Woodstock.” 

Well. I told her – and fifty-seven years after the Summer of Love, I don’t know who would argue – that along with the shininess of Sixties’ utopianism, there was always a shadow side, and if we were setting up a sense of the decade for our guests, that shadow had to be reflected in the first parts of the music.

I persuaded her, so the second track on our first mixtape for that evening was “Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Written, it is said, by Crosby upon the death of Robert F. Kennedy, it’s a song of portent, and the first time I heard it – not long after the trio’s first album was released in May of 1969, it spooked me out (and it did so again the other day when it popped up on the radio in the car).

And today, as I sat down to check email and so on first thing this morning (after a series of unsettling early morning dreams), it popped up in iTunes, this time in the cover version recorded and released by Ruthie Foster in 2012, accompanied by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

With nothing else to say this morning, here’s that cover:

‘Walkin’ In My Sleep . . .’

Friday, August 20th, 2021

An appreciation of Nanci Griffith, who died last week, will show up here eventually. I’ve been listening to her music while trying to sort out a bunch of stuff that’s getting in my way. In the meantime, here’s Griffith doing a sweet cover of Kate Wolf’s “Across The Great Divide.”

It was the opening track on Griffith’s 1993 album of covers, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and I’m feeling its first verse potently these days:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ’stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

Here’s the song:

Tempted

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Days like this come around every once in a while, days when I’m tempted to post something like:

And after a while the echoes died out, and all that was left was silence.

But not today. As I often do, I’ll lean on tomorrow, this time on “All Our Tomorrows” by Joe Cocker. It’s from his 1987 album Unchain My Heart, and its chorus offers something that feels like hope:

All our tomorrows find their own ways
And hear the sound of a distant thunder fading away
Well, every lonely night we’ll make our own brand of delight
And take all the comfort we may

Here is is:

‘What Good’s A Metronome . . .?’

Friday, July 30th, 2021

I’ve been thinking about my high school pal Mike recently. He’s living in Arizona now – he moved there from Northern Minnesota a few years ago – and he’s been dealing with extremely high temperatures, drought and the impact of flash flooding in his area (though thankfully the floods seem not to have come too close to Casa Mike.) And he’s said that he’ll be unable to get back to Minnesota for the fifty-year reunion of the St. Cloud Tech and Apollo high school classes of 1971 this autumn. So he, and this piece from 2008 came to mind this week. I’ve altered it just a bit.

One of my companions as I began my exploration of the world of Top 40 during the 1969-70 school year was a fellow named Mike, someone who’s shown up in this space rarely. (He’s not to be confused with Janitor Mike, with whom I scrubbed floors at St. Cloud State during the summer of 1971.) Mike lived on the north side of St. Cloud – within a few blocks of where the Texas Gal and I now live – and had gone to a different junior high school; we met when we were sophomores at St. Cloud Tech, and for two years were pretty good friends, sharing our love of music and working together as managers for the football team as juniors.

One Saturday in 1970, Mike made his way from the north side over to our place with a bunch of singles he’d found in one of his recent excursions to Musicland. I’m not sure there was anything new there, nothing I hadn’t heard on the radio, but of course, the sound quality of the stereo was better, and yakking while listening to music was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. And then Mike put on a novelty record.

It was funny and raucous, and we laughed as only high school juniors can as it spun on the stereo. I’d heard it before, on the radio, but it never failed to amuse me. So I grabbed my cassette recorder and a new tape. My taping method back in 1970 was crude. There was no output plug on the stereo, so I’d lay my recorder on the carpet on the middle of the basement floor, aim the microphone as well as I could toward the stereo and tape the sound coming from the speakers. Our first attempt was interrupted by the sound of my father whistling as he came downstairs to get something from the storage room. The second ended when I sneezed. On our third take, we were barely seconds from the end when someone outside pounded twice on the basement window. That was Rick, coming from across the street, giving me his usual signal that he was heading to the back door. With Rick joining us, we got the song recorded on the fourth take. (By that time, my mother, upstairs in the kitchen, was heartily tired of the song.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten tired of the record, though I no longer listen to it more than once at a time. It turns out, though, that I’d heard the main performer’s voice many times. His name was Tony Burrows, and during the early 1970s, he was one of the more active and successful studio singers in Britain. He might, in fact, qualify for the title of King of the One-Hit Wonders, having sung lead on Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” White Plains’ “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” “Beach Baby” by First Class, the Brotherhood of Man’s “United We Stand” and the record I’m pondering today (on which Burrows partnered with Roger Greenaway). I’d heard and liked the Edison Lighthouse, White Plains and Brotherhood of Man singles (“Beach Baby” was still four years in the future), but I had no clue that Saturday morning that the same voice had sung on all of them. Nor did I imagine that the single Mike and I were laughing at that morning featured the same person as well.

The record in question made it into the Top Ten that summer, peaking at No. 9 on the July 18, 1970, Billboard Hot 100. And it’s not entirely forgotten; it gets a bit of airplay on the oldies stations, though not nearly as much play as Tony Burrows’ other singles have gotten over the years.

Mike and I didn’t see each other much after that summer. The St. Cloud school district opened Apollo High School in the autumn of 1970: Mike went there while I stayed at Tech. And I was not welcome at his home; during the summer of 1970, I brought a Beatles album over one evening and learned that Mike’s mom had never gotten past John Lennon’s 1966 comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. After high school, I headed to college while Mike went into the Army and then went to St. Cloud State for a brief time in the middle of my years there. We’ve seen each other a couple of times in the last ten years – once, sadly, at a memorial service for a college friend and then one Saturday when he stopped by the house for a couple of hours – and we keep up on Facebook.

I long ago lost the tape we made that Saturday morning. But when I got my computer in early 2000 and began creating a collection of mp3s, I imagine that the novelty record Mike brought over that long-ago morning was one of the first couple hundred songs I secured. And I imagine that as I heard the record in 2000 for the first time in years, I laughed again, though probably not as hard as a high school junior might have.

Here’s “Gimme Dat Ding” by the Pipkins.

‘I Think I’ve Been Here Before’

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

So here’s the problem that pops up now and then when you’ve written 2,400-some posts and don’t have them indexed:

You find a track buried deep in a folder on the hard drive and think, “Wow, I didn’t know I had that! Let’s write about it and the cover versions it inspired!”

And after investing an hour or so in research and formatting, something clues you in: You’ve written about this before. In the past two years. This one’s a little bit different, maybe even better, but it’s basically the same post.

Ah, well. Here’s the appropriately titled “A Sense Of Déjà Vu” by Al Stewart. It’s from his 1996 compilation of outtakes and demos, Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.

‘Ooh, She Do Me . . .’

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Having revisited Phoebe Snow’s cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” earlier this week, I was poking around various sites looking for other covers of the John Lennon-penned tune, and I was reminded of a different cover of a Beatles song by band with a very familiar name: Underground Sunshine.

The group, from Montello, Wisconsin, was part of my first full season of Top 40 listening, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” rising as high as No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the late summer and early autumn of 1969. That cover hangs in my memory for two reasons:

First, the record stayed long enough on the playlist of WJON, just down the street and around a couple of corners from us in St. Cloud, that I managed to get a decent recording of the record off of the radio on the late September evening that my sister was celebrating her nineteenth birthday. Not a big deal, but it’s always nice to surprise and please your older sister.

Second, as the Underground Sunshine’s record got its airplay during that late summer and early autumn, I was blissfully unaware of the song’s genesis, as I had only recently entered the world of pop and rock. Some months later, I heard the Beatles’ original (from the 1968 White Album) and pondered for a moment why the Beatles would bother recording another group’s song. I remain very glad, more than fifty years later, that I did not voice that thought aloud in the presence of any of my peers.

Anyway, the Underground Sunshine came to mind today – and as I write, I realize I’m kind of burying the lede here – with the discovery that the Wisconsin group had recorded “Don’t Let Me Down” and included the track on its only album, Let There Be Light, released on the Intrepid label in 1969.

The cover is a mixed bag: The tempo is just a hair slower than on the Beatles’ version, and the vocals are a bit dodgy, especially on the bridge. On the other hand, the organ solo – subbing for Billy Preston’s electric piano – works nicely. For a regional band’s album cut, it’s decent.