If I Could Wander Through Time . . .

Originally posted March 21, 2008

Time travel has been on my mind for the past few days, as it sometimes is. Of all the concepts that writers of science fiction – or speculative fiction, as it might better be called – sometimes tangle with, time travel is the one that grabs hold of my imagination the hardest. I admit I have some interest in anticipating what it will be like when we are confronted with the proof that there are other civilizations, other sentient beings, somewhere else in the universe. The meeting of disparate cultures, if and when it happens (and I’m betting it will), will radically alter our ideas about the universe and our place in it.

But that’s something that I believe will someday leave the arena of science fiction and become science fact. Time travel is a less likely proposition. (I’m not going to say it won’t ever become reality; when I’m tempted to do so, I recall the correction the New York Times ran in 1969, when Apollo 11 made the first lunar landing. The Times acknowledged that had it been wrong in its insistence during the 1920s that rockets could never boost payloads into space.) And I enjoy very much wading through the thickets of fiction about time travel, some of it very good, some of it less so.

I think about it today because I completed last night a re-reading of The Time Patrol, a 1991 collection of short stories and novellas by Poul Anderson (whom I mentioned in a post earlier this week). Anderson’s structure for the collection is that there is a group of men and women who jaunt through time and space, safeguarding human history at the behest of the Danellians, a powerful culture descended from humankind millions of years in the future. When variations in history are detected – sometimes the result of accidents and sometimes the product of mischief perpetrated by criminals who have illegally gained access to time travel – the patrol goes into action to safeguard history as we know it and to ensure the time line that results in Danellian civilization.

Anderson’s work is sturdy, and his tales range from simple detective stories to longer examinations of historical cultures that are generally unwritten about (at least from where I read), like the Mediterranean culture of Tyre in 950 BCE, or the Ostrogoths in what is now Poland and Ukraine in about 300 CE. (Anderson’s long story set in the latter locale, “The Sorrow of Odin the Goth,” is the best in the book and one of the best stories I’ve ever read, speculative fiction or otherwise.) Anderson also wrote a novel, The Shield of Time. I’ve read it once, and started re-reading it last evening; its tale didn’t stick in my head from the first reading, so we’ll see how the second run-through goes.

Other authors have invested much of their writing efforts in time travel. A few come to mind quickly.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote a little bit of every kind of speculative fiction, but to me, his time travel novels and stories were his best, starting in 1973 with Time Enough For Love, subtitled “The Lives of Lazarus Long.” Time travel enters the tale in the last third or so of the volume, and for the rest of the book and for much of the remainder of Heinlein’s work, exploration of time travel, and the inherent contradictions and paradoxes, was a constant.

In addition, Jack Finney has written a three-novel series featuring a character named Simon Morley beginning with 1970’s Time and Again. Allen Appel wrote a series about the travails of Alex Balfour, whose time travels are involuntary; that series begins with 1985’s Time After Time. And Darryl Brock is the author of two novels: If I Never Get Back and Two in the Field, which feature time traveler Sam Fowler. (Brock’s first, from 1990, is likely my favorite time travel book of all; Fowler spends a good portion of the book traveling the U.S. with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team.)

Anytime I read those books or others like it, of course, the notion runs in my head: If I could travel through time, where would I go? Well, six places/times come to mind:

1. The American Great Plains in, say, 1500. I’d love to see the buffalo in herds that stretch to the horizon.

2. The Globe Theater in Shakespeare’s London, for one of his comedies. Given changes in pronunciation, I likely wouldn’t comprehend the English, but I’d know when to laugh.

3. I’d like to go to two baseball games in Pittsburgh, one in Exposition Park in 1908 to see Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop of all time during what was likely his greatest season, and the other in Forbes Field in 1939, when Josh Gibson – probably the greatest catcher of all time – and Buck Leonard, one of the great power hitters of all time, were teammates on the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League.

4. It would be fun to be in Liverpool, England, in 1961 and stop in at the Cavern Club for a performance by the very young Beatles. They played 292 times in the club in 1961 and 1962.

5. I’d travel in 1362 to the land near Kensington, Minnesota, that would eventually be farmed by Olof Öhman, to see if a traveling group of Swedes and Norwegians actually left there the stone inscribed with runes that Öhman found in 1898. Famous in Minnesota and among archeologists on a wider scale, the Kensington Runestone is one of the great historical riddles.

Another riddle that I ponder now and then – as does anyone who loves music – is why some performers make it big and others don’t. About a month ago, I ran across a short post from a year ago at the Illfolks blog about an early 1970s singer-songwriter named Patti Dahlstrom. The two tracks posted there – “Ollabelle and Slim” and “Rider” – intrigued me a lot. So I began to dig.

And I learned that there isn’t a lot of information out there about Patti Dahlstrom. According to Illfolks, she’s evidently in Houston, but according to a piece I saw for the online magazine Spectropop, she’s living in St. John’s Woods in London, England. So there’s very little to go on. Google provides a few links, but nothing with much hard data, not even a birth year (although I’d guess somewhere between 1948 and 1951). What remains are Patti’s four albums, all of which were fairly easy to acquire:

Patti Dahlstrom, on the Uni label, 1972

The Way I Am, on 20th Century, 1973

Your Place Or Mine, 20th Century, 1975

Livin’ It Thru, 20th Century, 1976

As I was recording Patti Dahlstrom this morning to rip the mp3s, the Texas Gal said to me, “It sounds like Carole King.”

Well, maybe. The sound of the accompaniment is akin to Tapestry, with lots of piano and acoustic sounds. Any electric instrumentation is folded into the background, and the sound of the album is homey. If I were to draw a comparison, I’d slide it in with the three albums made about the same time by Joy of Cooking.

But the voice, Patti’s voice, doesn’t slide that easily into either one of those folders. She has a twang and a drawl at times, giving her a bluesy, country feel. The blogger at Illfolks commented on “her rootsy Southern vocals,” calling them “true if not pretty.” The blogger went on to say, “Perhaps at the time (early 70’s) there was no such thing as ‘country crossover,’ so being pitched as a pop star was doing her a disservice.”

That seems about right. Patti’s voice wouldn’t have fallen neatly into a genre in an industry that seems, more often than not, to be looking for a repetition of the last big thing instead of looking for something unique. So Patti was likely too countryish for pop and far to connected to pop-rock for her records to be placed in the country bins. She recorded her four records and went on.

Today’s share is her first, Patti Dahlstrom, from 1971. I think it’s generally a good album, with Patti writing the lyrics to all ten songs and music for six of them. (Music for “Get Along, Handsome” and “I’m Letting Go” came from Severin Browne, while Robbie Leff wrote the music for “Weddin’” and “Comfortable.”) To me, the standout is the album’s opener, “Wait Like A Lady,” with “And I Never Did” and “Ollabelle and Slim” not that far behind.

That makes it sound like the other tracks on the record lack something. They don’t, but there is a sameness throughout the record that veers close to an overload of mellowness. A few things keep that from happening: One is the country feel of “Weddin’,” while another is the slow acceleration of the tempo on “Ollabelle and Slim” that pulls the record forward. The third is the sweet saxophone of Jim Horn weaving its way around the vocal on “Comfortable.”

As I noted, this is the first of four Patti Dahlstrom albums. I’ll be sharing the other three in weeks to come. I like this one a lot.

Wait Like A Lady
And I Never Did
Get Along, Handsome
This Isn’t An Ordinary Love Song
I’m Letting Go
What If
Ollabelle and Slim

Patti Dahlstrom – Patti Dahlstrom [1972]


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