A Wake, A Funeral & A Smile

Originally posted February 27, 2008

This was a two-funeral week here. (Actually, to be technically correct, a one-wake, one funeral week.) Last week, we went and saw my buddy Dan and his brothers and father at the wake for his mother, who died after a long illness. And yesterday, I drove about fifty miles to Cambridge for a funeral; my aunt – the widow of my dad’s elder brother – died last week.

At the wake last week, I saw some friends and acquaintances I’d not seen for years, including Dan’s brother, with whom I’d shared some college classes years ago. I also saw a number of faculty and staff I knew from the university, where Dan’s dad and mine had worked together for years. And yesterday, I saw cousins I’d not seen for a while, since my dad’s funeral almost five years ago.

As I noted last fall – and I don’t think this is in any way out of the ordinary for life here in America – as I move deeper into my fifties, I more and more catch up with my, relatives, friend and acquaintances at funerals. During a light lunch in the church after yesterday’s funeral, I mentioned that it was my second such event of the week, and my cousin Ron’s wife, Vickie, mentioned that it was her fourth in the past week. “And I imagine,” I said, “that it’s only going to accelerate.” We all nodded glumly.

One other thing made yesterday’s funeral more than a little un-nerving. As I and six other of her nephews carried Aunt Marion’s casket in the cemetery and then stood by with others for a brief graveside service, I realized that I was standing very near the place where someday – many years from now, I hope – the Texas Gal and I will be laid to rest.

The afternoon wasn’t one of utter gloom, though. Catching up with my cousins was enjoyable, and there was a moment of levity when I learned something from my sister. I was wearing new slacks and she commented on it. I told her that since the last time I’d worn anything even halfway dressy – I wear jeans most of the time I’m out and sweatpants most of the time at home – the slacks in my closet had gotten smaller.

She nodded. “That happens,” she said. “What happens is that when you leave clothing hanging in the closet, the air leaks out from between the threads of fabric, and when you come back after a while, all your clothes have gotten smaller.” She nodded judiciously. “It’s a scientific fact.”

It was a welcome moment of levity in an otherwise mostly somber day.

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
Not long ago, I shared the second of two early 1980s albums by Gary U.S. Bonds, and when I wrote about Dedication, I said: “Not surprisingly, nine of the record’s ten tracks have a familiar sound, a combination of the E Street Band’s sound with the sound of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, for whom [Bruce] Springsteen and [Steve] Van Zandt did a fair amount of production work around the same time.”

The comment got me thinking and digging into my collections. I had very few mp3s from Southside Johnny and the Jukes, but I have five LPs. So I did a little looking around, and I discovered that at least a few of those records, despite being released on CD a few years ago, have fallen out of print. So here’s the first in a planned series of shares: I Don’t Want To Go Home, the 1976 debut album by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

It’s a pretty good album, rooted in the R&B horn band sound that founders John Lyon and Steve Van Zandt envisioned for the band when it was formed in 1974. By the time the debut was being recorded, Van Zandt had moved to Springsteen’s E Street Band, but he produced the record and brought along some songs.

Essentially, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes is a bar band, but certainly one of the greatest bar bands ever. The group performs little if any original material, but its sweaty effort lifts the group from being just a cover band to the status of unique interpreters. Add to that the benefits of having Van Zandt’s production sense, the punch of the Miami Horns and material written by Van Zandt and by Springsteen, and you’ve got a good record.

Highlights? Well, the title track – a Van Zandt composition – for sure, as well as “The Fever,” one of two Springsteen contributions. “Fanny Mae” and the sassy “It Ain’t The Meat (It’s The Motion)” are also standouts. A couple of guest performances liven the record: New Orleans R&B legend Lee Dorsey (“Working In A Coal Mine,” “Ya Ya” and many more) drops by for a duet on “How Come You Treat Me So Bad,” and Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes joins in the album’s Springsteen-penned closer, “You Mean So Much To Me.”

Johnny and the Jukes would release better albums – I’d say that 1978’s Hearts of Stone was their best – but I Don’t Want To Go Home was a good start.

Tracks:
I Don’t Want To Go Home
Got To Get You Off My Mind
How Come You Treat Me So Bad
The Fever
Broke Down Piece Of Man
Sweeter Than Honey
Fanny Mae
It Ain’t The Meat (It’s The Motion)
I Choose To Sing The Blues
You Mean So Much To Me

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes – I Don’t Want To Go Home [1976]

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