First Steps Into The Adult World

Originally posted August 22, 2008

It was about late August in 1977 when I finally quit going to college and entered – however tentatively – the adult world. A recession the year before had made it tough for that year’s college grads – of which I was one – to find jobs, so I’d remained in school, doing some graduate work in 1976 and then, in 1977, adding a print journalism minor to my undergraduate degree in mass communications/television.

By the end of the summer, I had that minor finished, having taken a couple of courses in print reporting, editing and layout and a couple of writing workshops. I’d also spent six months as the arts editor for St. Cloud State’s University Chronicle, the student newspaper, corralling reporters to write about everything from theater productions to ceramics festivals; I wrote a lot of movie reviews and had a grand time with all of it.

I was renting a small mobile home from Murl, next to the one where he and his wife lived. I sat at my kitchen table many evenings that July and August, writing letters to newspapers that might need a reporter and listening to WJON, where my college classmate, Jim, usually took the evening shift. I chatted with him occasionally and frequently won the station’s trivia contests.

As the summer drew to a close, two things became clear. First, I’d likely have to find another place to live. Murl, faced with an unexpected vacancy in the spring, had rented me the mobile home at a discount rate for five months. Come September, the rate would revert to the norm, and that would be beyond my means unless I found a job at one of the small newspapers in the area. Second, the state of the economy combined with my lack of experience meant that the odds of finding a newspaper job – whether near St. Cloud or elsewhere – were slender at best. One day in August, my girlfriend of the time and I drove to a small town north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin – about 150 miles away – where I interviewed to be the editor of the local newspaper.

The publisher expressed reservations throughout the interview about my inexperience, while I tried to reassure him that I could handle whatever came my way. I was torn as we drove back to St. Cloud: I needed a job, but did I want to live in a town where four of the five businesses on the main street had displays in their windows of Green Bay Packers souvenirs? It was a question I didn’t have to ponder long. A few days later, the publisher called me and told me that he’d “found a real writer.”

(Even though I likely wasn’t prepared for that job at the time, his dismissal rankled. In the spring of 1983, while I was at the Monticello paper en route to graduate school, I saw in the Minneapolis paper that the same publisher was once again seeking an editor for his paper. I was tempted to send my resume, complete with the list of ten or so state and national reporting awards I’d won, and apply for the job. If it were offered, I thought darkly, I’d decline, telling him I’d decided to write for a real newspaper. I didn’t apply.)

Not quite despairing but concerned, I went one August day to the local offices of a federal program called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which acted – among other things – as a bridge between workers and jobs. Perhaps the center’s listings had some job for which I was qualified. My intake interviewer turned out to be a fellow who had bought a car from one of my roommates while I was living in the cold house on the north side. He recalled that my training was in communications, and forty-five minutes after walking into St. Cloud’s CETA office, I was the office’s public relations manager.

The job didn’t pay a lot, something a little better than minimum wage, if I recall correctly. But it was an income, and with the right living circumstances, I could make it work. As it was, my girlfriend also needed new quarters, and her mother owned a cabin on a lake about fifteen miles southeast of St. Cloud. It was rustic: no heat and limited hot water, but we were young, and it was still summertime. So she and I and the two cats we shared moved out to the lake at the end of August for a two-month stay.

Here’s some of the music I recall hearing late that summer and during our two-month sojourn at the lake:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1977, Vol. 3
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle, United Artists 1016 (No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of August 20, 1977)

“Heaven on the 7th Floor” by Paul Nicholas, RSO 878 (No. 79)

“It’s Sad To Belong” by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Big Tree 16088 (No. 74)

“Ariel” by Dean Friedman, Lifesong 45022 (No. 63)

“Angel in Your Arms” by Hot, Big Tree 16085 (No. 61)

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” by Abba, Atlantic 3387 (No. 57)

“Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” by Bill Conti, United Artists 940 (No. 54)

“Boogie Nights” by Heatwave, Epic 50370 (No. 51)

“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson, A&M 1949 (No. 23)

“Give A Little Bit” by Supertramp, A&M 1938 (No. 17)

“Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band, Warner Bros. 8370 (No. 15)

“Whatcha Gonna Do” by Pablo Cruise, A&M 1920 (No. 6)

“Easy” by the Commodores, Motown 1418 (No. 5)

A few notes:

The Crystal Gayle song was inescapable as the summer faded and autumn moved in. It entered the Top 40 in late September and spent three weeks at No. 2 later that autumn. I swear we heard it every evening as we drove home from our jobs in St. Cloud to the cabin.

“Ariel” was Dean Friedman’s only Top 40 hit ever, and it has to be one of the more odd records to crack the charts in 1977. (I’d say “ever,” but there are lots of odd singles out there.) The strained voice, the ramble-on-until-he-has-to-take-a-breath lyrics, the geeky background singers: it’s one of those records your either like or hate. Enough people liked it that it went to No. 26. It’s still got some charm for me, and Friedman got the details right about post-hippie, pre-disco America, from the peasant blouse to the Legion Hall.

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” was Abba’s eighth Top 40 single, and I wondered if the act was getting stale. To me, the great Abba singles were “SOS” in 1975 and “Dancing Queen” from earlier in 1977. But “Knowing Me, Knowing You” grew on me as the season moved on. It was pretty good radio fare, and it stayed in the Top 40 for ten weeks, reaching No. 14.

During the spring and summer of 1977, I filled a lot of space in the university newspaper’s arts section praising the movie Rocky, especially its soundtrack, no doubt boring my readers along the way. I’m not sure these days how highly I would rate the movie (I may ponder that some day and write about it here), but I still think that Bill Conti’s soundtrack – especially “Gonna Fly Now” – was a gem, one of the great soundtracks of the decade and maybe all time. Conti’s version of “Gonna Fly Now” was No. 1 on the Billboard chart for one week in July 1977. Oddly enough, we didn’t hear it all that often in Minnesota; the local stations seemed to prefer Maynard Ferguson’s propulsive cover of “Gonna Fly Now,” which went only to No. 28 in Billboard.

The Brothers Johnson “Strawberry Letter 23” – a cover of Shuggie Otis’ 1971 single – was a piece of smooth-edged funk that sounded like nothing else coming out of a radio speaker that late summer and early autumn. The record peaked at No. 5 on the Top 40 but reached No. 1 for a week on the R&B chart. The guitar solo is by Lee Ritenour.

I’ve posted “Smoke From A Distant Fire” here before, but it’s good enough to repeat it. One of the great one-hit wonders, it popped up on the car radio the other day, and it held its place as one of the few records that I let play, sitting in the parked car until the record is over and only then going about my business. It peaked at No. 9 that fall.

As always, bitrates will vary.

(It’s entirely possible that some of these selections are album tracks instead of single edits. If so, my apologies.)

Coming Attraction
This is just another reminder to stop by here Sunday when caithiseach of The Great Vinyl Meltdown fills us in on his thirteen favorite singles. It’s a good list with some good listening.

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