From The Kiddie Corner Kid

Originally posted January 6, 2009

It’s a compound word and can be either an adjective or an adverb. But the actual set of words itself comes in several variations: A quick search this morning at Dictionary.com brought me a number of those variations:

Kitty-corner.
Cater-cornered.
Catty-cornered.
Kitty-cornered.

I suppose there are some variations I’ve missed, but they all mean the same, referring to two things placed diagonally. In our neighborhood on Kilian Boulevard thirty-five or more years ago, it was Rick and I who lived kitty-corner to each other. I’ve written frequently of our escapades and our explorations of music, and he’s stopped by on occasion to comment. When he does so, he calls himself the “kiddie corner kid.”

He stopped by and left a note on my New Year’s Eve post, which included my New Year’s Eve lyric, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

The kiddie corner kid wrote:

“I always thought 12 o’clock high was a Gregory Peck WWII airforce movie. Or was it Gregory Peck in that western where the train comes in at 12 o’clock high? I can’t remember, BUT Gregory seems to be intertwined in all.

“Also I have a friend that could put your words to music, he uses this old pump organ in his basement and has a great way with putting musical notes with musical words. (I just can’t make up my mind.)”

I laughed until my eyes watered, but I imagine others read the note and went “Wha?” So a brief explanation might be in order, even though explanations can water down punch lines.

As to the first paragraph, although I’ve used it sparingly in the blog – maybe twice in two years – my first name is in fact Gregory. And yeah, Twelve O’Clock High was a 1949 Air Force film starring Gregory Peck. It also was a television series that ran for three seasons on the American network ABC in the 1960s. And the western Rick referred to was in fact High Noon, but that starred Gary Cooper, not Gregory Peck. I think Rick knew that.

The first paragraph made me smile. The second dissolved me in laughter. The basement in question was at my house, and there was an old pump organ – one my father had bought from his sister – in the corner. The pedals were a little stiff and the bellows a bit wheezy, but they worked. The labels on the stop knobs were printed in a confusing font that I’d call Olde English if the words had been English. The words were Swedish, I think, although they could have been Latin. Either way, they were unintelligible for kids of fifteen. But it didn’t matter; we’d pull out a few of the stops and noodle around on the organ. And one day, we wrote a song: “Can’t Make Up My Mind.”

The music is a pretty standard three-chord romp with a few dips and stops. The lyric, well, we were fifteen, maybe sixteen. “Can’t Make Up My Mind” is the first lyric I’d ever committed to paper. It’s pretty bad.

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Rick told me last night. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.”

Well, we can disagree on that. I told him we did better on our next effort, a little Lightfootesque ditty called “Sunday Afternoon.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That was all right.”

But with either of those songs – and the few other bits and pieces of songs we put together in those years – the product matters little. It was the process, the time spent together in common effort, that was the seed of the memories that we both cherish. “It’s funny,” he said, “the things that stick with you. I must have gone upstairs at your place for something, because I remember being on the landing, coming down the basement stairs, and hearing you in the basement, working on the song on that old organ.”

It was a good time, even if it wasn’t good music . . . yet.

A Six-Pack of Good Times
“Let The Good Times Roll” by Ray Charles, Atlantic 2047, 1960

“Old Times, Good Times” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills, 1970

“Good Times” by Shelagh McDonald from Stargazer, 1971

“For The Good Times” by Al Green from I’m Still In Love With You, 1972

“A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)” by Jim Croce from Life & Times, 1973

“Good Times” by Chic from Risqué, 1979

A few notes:

Based solely on the catalog, “Let The Good Times Roll” was one of Ray Charles’ last singles for Atlantic before he moved to ABC-Paramount. The record didn’t make the Top 40, and it might not be in the top ten percent of Charles’ records, but a performance from Charles that’s less than stellar is, of course, better than a hell of a lot of music.

I’ve posted the Stephen Stills track at least once before, but it’s so good and happens to fit so well into today’s theme. The hit from Stephen Stills was, of course, “Love The One You’re With,” which went to No. 14 as 1970 slid into 1971. I’ve long thought that Stills should have released “Old Times Good Times,” which has Jimi Hendrix playing lead guitar, as a single. Hendrix had died only months before the album and its first single were released, and the single would have been a fitting memorial. But maybe it was too soon.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never before posted anything from Shelagh McDonald, whose story is one of the most fascinating in rock history. The owner of an achingly lovely voice, McDonald, a Scottish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, had released two albums and was on the edge of stardom in Britain when she simply disappeared in 1971. When her music was released on CD in 2005, piquing interest in her tale, she showed up one day in the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail and told her story. That story and her music – collected on Sanctuary Music’s 2005 complilation, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – are both well worth checking out.*

Al Green and Willie Mitchell in the 1970s: One sound, millions of hearts moved.

Chic’s “Good Times” was one of two things: It could have been a call to party now and forever because the world is going to hell and we’re all gonna die. Or it might have been irony, because the times – when it came out – were lots less than good. I don’t know. I likely could dig through some research and make a judgment, but that would be work. So what the hell, let’s dance as the lights fade!

*As it turns out, I had previously posted a track from Shelagh McDonald, but no more than that. I had not previously written about her fascinating story. Note added November 9, 2011.

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