‘I Feel For Ya . . .’

Originally posted February 4, 2008

Rob came over to watch the Super Bowl yesterday, the ninth straight year he’s come to my house for the big game. As we have the other eight years, we quaffed some beer – this year’s best was an English brew called “Old Speckled Hen” – ate a little bit near halftime and kept an eye on the game and the commercials. We also got caught up on a wide range of topics, as we generally do, with yesterday’s subjects ranging from politics through the HBO series Rome (which both of us are watching on DVD) to the stylishness of the New York Giants’ road uniforms.

I might like the uniform, but I’ve never been fond of the Giants, so I was rooting for the Patriots while Rob pulled for the Giants. When the Giants won it, I was disappointed for a moment or two but not devastated. There is, of course, devastation in millions of homes in New England this morning. Being a fan of the Minnesota Vikings – four-time Super Bowl losers and losers, as well, in a couple of conference title games they should have won – I understand devastation. And last evening, as I thought about the gloom that no doubt descended on New England, I also thought about a long, sad ride in a Volkswagen.

It was January 1974, the winter of my time in Denmark. Along with the other football fans among the St. Cloud State students living in Fredericia, I’d been following the fortunes of the Vikings from a distance. There was some coverage of the National Football League in the International Herald Tribune, an English-language newspaper published daily in Paris. It generally came to Fredericia a day late, so I would read about Sunday’s football games on Wednesdays, when the Tuesday edition arrived. I got a little more in-depth information from my father, who several times a week sent me envelopes stuffed with clippings from the St. Cloud and Minneapolis daily newspapers and from Sports Illustrated. Those envelopes took about a week to make their way to me.

The only other source of information about American football – and it depended on atmospheric conditions – was the Sunday broadcasts of one NFL game a week on Armed Forces radio, intended for American troops in Germany. Fredericia seemed to be just past the point of good reception for those broadcasts, and several Sunday evenings, I strained to hear bits and pieces of the game. I heard broadcasts of the Vikings’ games twice, once early in the season against the Los Angeles Rams and then around New Year’s, when the Vikings defeated Dallas to earn a spot in Super Bowl VIII against the Miami Dolphins.

(The contrast to today’s nearly immediate flow of information is startling. Were I in Denmark now, there would be no difficulty, of course, in getting nearly as much information about the Vikings – or any team – as I would have found at home.)

So as the Vikings headed to the Super Bowl, those of us in Fredericia who were football fans began to think. There was only one way to see the game on television in Europe: The Armed Forces television service would air the game wherever there were American troops on duty. One of those places was the area around Frankfurt, Germany, about 470 miles from Fredericia. And one of our gals had a cousin in the Army stationed in that area, living in an apartment in the smaller city of Hanau.

Members of our group owned two cars: Patty – the woman whose cousin lived in Hanau – owned one with another gal. And three guys – older students who were veterans – had chipped in to buy a Volkswagen. So early on Saturday morning, nine of us piled into the two cars and headed south. We went first to Frankfurt, where we picked up two more fellows who’d used their rail passes to take a train, and then headed to Hanau.

A question with an easy answer: What do you get when you combine eleven college students, three servicemen and lots of beer in a small apartment? It was drunken chaos Saturday night and again most of Sunday. Early Sunday afternoon, we took a break and played touch football in the street, earning skeptical glances from some young German boys who happened by. With kickoff in the U.S. set for sometime in the afternoon, the game would not start until the evening (at eight o’clock in Germany if my memory of the 1 p.m. Central Time start is correct).

We huddled around the television, still drinking and eating pizza. (The existence of a good pizza place in Hanau, Germany, in 1974 was a result of the presence of large numbers of American servicemen.) Of the fourteen of us in the apartment, thirteen were Vikings fans; one of the soldiers was from Florida and was a fan of the Dolphins. To the dismay of we thirteen, the game was effectively decided in no more than half an hour. Miami took the opening kickoff and moved efficiently down the field for a touchdown. The Vikings ran three plays and punted. Miami moved efficiently down the field for another touchdown.

It was 14-0, Miami, still in the first quarter, and the game was essentially over. We Vikings fans stared at the television, shocked and silent. The Miami fan – who had been quite drunk by kickoff – began to cackle. Every two minutes, he’d turn to one of us and shake his head. “I feel for ya,” he’d say, “but I can’t reach ya!”

Sometime after eleven o’clock, the game ended, with Mr. Miami still cackling drunkenly. The final score was Miami 24, Minnesota 7. The four of us who’d driven down in the Volkswagen collected our stuff and headed out. The others decided to stay until the morning. We were a glum quartet driving north through the German night, unhappy and baffled that the Vikings had been taken apart so convincingly. Eventually, my buddy Dewey and I dozed in the back seat.

Sometime in the middle of the night, we stopped for gas and a quick meal at one of the service plazas along the autobahn. We sat in the nearly deserted snack bar, eating bowls of gulaschsuppe, a thick soup made of beef and onions in a paprika sauce. As he finished his bowl, Dewey grinned sleepily at me across the table. “I feel for ya,” he said, “but I can’t reach ya!”

I shook my head and rolled my eyes, and the other two fellows snorted. A few minutes later, we left the restaurant and got back in the car, on our way home to Fredericia.

Jesse Colin Young – Light Shine (1974)

As long as I was writing about 1974, I thought I’d share an album from that year. Jesse Colin Young was the founder of the Youngbloods, who had a series of successful albums in the 1960s and early 1970s. Their gentle folk rock was augmented – especially on their later albums – with a light touch of California psychedelica. They were a consistently good – if never truly great – group, producing fine albums and hitting the Top Five in 1969 with their great single, “Get Together.” Their best albums were probably The Youngbloods from 1967 and Elephant Mountain from 1969.

The group faded away in the early 1970s amid a series of personnel changes and a confusing cluster of album releases. At about the same time, Young resumed a solo career that had started in the mid-1960s. His earnest folk-rock of the earlier time had transformed itself into what I tend to call post-hippie California singer-songwriter material. (The terminology is meant only a description, not a put-down; it’s a genre I like pretty well.) Young’s first post-Youngbloods release was 1972’s Together, which collected some originals with some of his favorite songs from others, like Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the country standard, “Six Days on the Road.”

In 1973, Youngblood released Song for Juli, much of which was original, and then in 1974, he released Light Shine, an album made up of nearly all original songs, with only the traditional tune, “The Cuckoo” not being a Young composition. It was the first of Young’s albums to reach the Top 40 charts, reaching No. 37. (In 1975, Songbird went to No. 26, and 1976’s On the Road got to No. 34.)

Light Shine is a pleasant album, with a light and airy sound, and it includes some accomplished instrumental passages. If the songs seem a little insubstantial at times, I get the feeling that the sense of the album was more important to Young than was the actual content. The first four tracks – Side One in the vinyl configuration – were listed as a “California Suite,” although there seems little to unite them except their sound. The fourth of those – the hippie-ish anthem “Light Shine” – had been included on the Youngblood’s Good and Dusty in 1971, but I think it works better here.

California Suite: California Child
California Suite: Grey Day
California Suite: Grey Day, Pt. 2
California Suite: Light Shine
Pretty and the Fair
Motorcycle Blues
The Cuckoo

Jesse Colin Young – Light Shine [1974]



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