Originally posted March 10, 2008
(The first half of this post was the first thing I ever wrote for a blog, in July 2006, long before Echoes In The Wind was a shadow of a thought. I imagine some who’ve stopped by here have clicked links and read it at Whiteray’s Musings, the long-ignored blog that serves now as a storage depot and place for experiments. To many, I hope it is new. I have done a bit of editing.)
It was the summer of 1972. Republicans were screaming for “Four more years!” of Richard Nixon. The Democrats were marching gingerly in ragged formation toward what they thought was the Revolution.
A bunch of people were arrested at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a loose end in a fabric of lies. That loose end, when pulled on hard enough by judges and the media (pulled on most strongly, it seems clear, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post), eventually resulted in the resignation of President Nixon two years later; in the creation of numerous laws and policies designed to enhance the ethics of politics and governance; and in a surge of enrollment at schools of journalism all around the country, as young people all over the United States decided it would be fun to become investigative reporters.
And U.S. soldiers were still fighting and dying in Vietnam.
I was eighteen that summer and although I was aware of all of that going on, I can’t say I was horribly involved or worried about any of it. I do recall thinking on June 18, when I saw an item in the newspaper about the arrests at the Watergate, that the trail of dollars and other evidence would likely lead back to persons close to the Oval Office, if not to the president himself, but that may have been youthful revulsion for Richard Nixon driving that conclusion rather than any great insight into politics, finance and crime. (On the other hand, I was right!)
Not even the Vietnam War worried me, at least not personally. Sometime that summer, the president announced that no new draftees would be sent to Vietnam. I imagine that a lot of my contemporaries across the country shook their heads in relief at that news. It really wasn’t a big deal, because it was becoming more and more clear that my cohort – the men born in 1953 – were going to be the first cohort that went untouched by the draft since, well, before World War II. For the first time in more than thirty years, young men born in a specific year would not be drafted.
Of course, the news about no new draftees being sent to ’Nam resonated more loudly, I am certain, with those born in 1952, as many of them – not as many as had been true for those born in years earlier, but enough – were still receiving their “Greetings” letters from the military.
I don’t recall how likely it was for men born in 1952 to be drafted, much less how many of them were sent to Vietnam before the new policy was announced that summer. Those facts didn’t matter to me as anything more than curiosities.
I am reasonably certain that no one born in my birth year of 1953 was ever drafted, although we did get lottery numbers based on our dates of birth. Mine was 354, which meant that the chances of my being called to get a buzz cut and be screamed at for six weeks by a drill sergeant were almost nil. That was good.*
So what did concern me in the summer of 1972? What was I thinking about? What do I recall?
Well, I was worried about dusting Venetian blinds. I worked as a part-time janitor that summer at an elementary school on the campus of St. Cloud State College (now University) in Minnesota. It wasn’t hard work, for the most part, but removing what was likely a year’s accumulation of dust from Venetian blinds was a pain-in-the-ass job that took more than a week, it seems to me. I didn’t mind dusting shelves, dry mopping and mopping floors, washing blackboards and all of that, but dusting those damned blinds was the worst thing I did all summer.
I remember the music, as I always do from almost any portion of my life. That was the summer of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally,” a pop confection that was omnipresent for several months. A listener to AM Top 40 – which I was – would also have heard “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the first hit for Jim Croce, and tunes from Neil Diamond, the Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites, Roberta Flack, Billy Preston and Bill Withers.
And then there was the Looking Glass and its song “Brandy,” about the barmaid in the harbor town. Another pop confection, yes, but one that seems to have aged far better in my mind than many of those records that surrounded it on the radio. And at the odd times that I hear it these days – nearly thirty-six years later – it takes me back. But when I go, I am not wielding the mop or broom, I am not dusting the blinds. I am not wondering if the current object of my affection has a reciprocal interest.
No, I am driving my 1961 Ford Falcon north from St. Cloud on an August day, my best friends with me as we head for a weekend in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Why does all this come to mind today? Did I hear “Brandy” this morning or yesterday? Well, no, but given that the Looking Glass tune is one of the thousands in the RealPlayer, I can hear it any time I want to. (In fact, just because I can do it, I just cued it up: “There’s a port in a western bay . . .”)
No, the summer of 1972 and the music on the road to Winnipeg came to mind because of something I found in my file cabinet yesterday. It’s a record of the times that Rick and Gary and I purchased gasoline on our trek, noting the miles driven, the mileage my old Falcon got, and – most astoundingly – the cost of the gas for our four-day, 860-mile trip.
(The RealPlayer just switched from “Brandy” to “The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, which is a lovely song, but dated ten years earlier than our trip to Winnipeg. And while I dithered about what to say about that, the music moved on to Bob Dylan’s performance of “Blowin’ In The Wind” at the 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh. As always, music so commands my attention that I find it takes away the concentration I need to write. So I turned the jukebox off as Bob was asking “How many roads . . .”)
So how much did it cost us to drive from St. Cloud to Winnipeg and back in 1972? Well, we bought 44.3 gallons of gas during our four-day excursion . . . and we paid $17.20. In other words, about thirty-nine cents a gallon.
And that, more than anything else about that summer, tells me how long ago it really was. Yes, the school where I dusted the blinds has been closed, the building remodeled about twenty years ago to house programs in electrical engineering and such-like. Yes, Jim Croce’s been dead for more than thirty years. Yes, my 1961 Falcon has been rusting, abandoned, in the junkyard of a friend’s parents since 1977 (and in fact that friend himself has passed on). And no, I do not remember with whom I was besotted that summer of “Brandy.”
All of those things underline in bold ink the fact that it has been thirty-six years since Rick, Gary and I drove north to adventure and beer and hangovers. (The drinking age in Canada was eighteen as opposed to Minnesota’s twenty-one; we drank Molson’s Canadian and Old Vienna.)
But the boldest ink, it seems to me, comes from that handwritten document I found in my files: Gasoline at thirty-nine cents a gallon!
And no, I don’t remember how much we paid for the beer.
A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 3
“Brandy” by the Looking Glass, Epic single 10874
“Pearl’s Goodtime Blues” by Eric Andersen from Blue River
“Too Late to Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, United Artists single 50910
“To The Morning” by Dan Fogelberg from Home Free
“Dark Dance” by Robin Williamson from Myrrh
“My Impersonal Life” by Blue Rose, Epic single 10811
“Her Picture Matches Mine” by Laura Lee from Women’s Love Rights
“Rock and Roll Lullaby” by B.J. Thomas, Scepter single 12344
“Go All The Way” by the Raspberries, Capitol single 3348
“Stand Back” by the Allman Brothers Band from Eat A Peach
“Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics from Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
“Roundabout” by Yes, Atlantic single 2854
“From The Beginning” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Cotillion single 44158
A few notes:
Eric Andersen, as I think I’ve noted before, was one of those singer-songwriters cursed in the 1960s and 1970s with the tag of “The New Dylan.” No good ever came of a record company or a critic placing that burden on a performer. Andersen was good, though, and – to my mind – for a few years came closer than anyone else to living up to that mantle. Blue River is probably his best album.
“Too Late To Turn Back Now,” a No. 2 hit, continues a good helping of great radio singles in this mostly random collection. With four Top 40 hits and two in the Top Ten – 1971’s “Treat Her Like A Lady” went to No. 3 – the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose never sounded sweeter than when coming from the car radio on a warm summer evening. (The other great radio singles here, to my ears, are “Brandy,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” “Go All The Way,” “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “Roundabout.”)
How does one begin to describe or assess the music of Robin Williamson? One of the founders of the quirky 1960s folk group, the Incredible String Band, Williamson has resolutely followed his muse. That group’s pastoral British folk had its own odd edge, and that continues in Williamson’s solo work. All-Music Guide notes that Myrrh, Williamson’s first album after the dissolution of the ISB, retains that group’s “odd instrumentation and serpentine melodicism.” “Dark Dance” may be a little less accessible than the rest of the album, but only a little. The entire album will delight fans of the combination of folky and quirky.
I don’t know much about Blue Rose. The group is not – obviously – the women’s bluegrass super group of the same name that was also recording in 1972. “My Impersonal Life,” was written by Terry Furlong, who was lead guitarist for the Grass Roots. Three Dog Night also recorded the tune in 1971. The Blue Rose version was included on a well-known 1972 Columbia sampler called The Music People, which is where I found it. I’m keeping an eye out for Blue Rose’s self-titled album, which I think I’d like if it’s all as good as “My Impersonal Life.”
Laura Lee was one of the artists recorded by Hot Wax records, the label created in 1968 by Eddie Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland when the writing/production trio left Motown Records. (Some of her labelmates were Honey Cone, Freda Payne and the Flaming Ember.) Her single, “Women’s Love Rights,” barely reached the Top 40, hitting No. 36 in the autumn of 1971. Still, it’s a good single, and the album of the same title is also good, well worth checking out.
For all their success at album rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer remains, technically, a One-Hit Wonder. Of course, the group’s aim was never singles, so that’s not really fair. But “From The Beginning” is a great single. It’s not a driving-around-town-with-nothing-better-to-do single but more of a “Man, that’s strange and good” single for those times when you roll over in bed at two in the morning after leaving the radio on. (Something that surprised me as I dug into the charts was that, for all its airplay, ELP’s “Lucky Man” [Cotillion 44106, according to one source] did not make the Top 40.)
*After this entry was posted, a reader named David, a year younger than I, noted that he was assigned a draft number. It turns out, according to Wikipedia, that Congress did extend the draft for two more years in 1971. Note added June 18, 2011.
Tags: Allman Brothers Band, B.J. Thomas, Blue Rose, Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, Dan Fogelberg, Dramatics, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Eric Andersen, Laura Lee, Looking Glass, Raspberries, Robin Williamson, Yes