Archive for the ‘2009/10 October’ Category

Saturday Single No. 158

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 31, 2009

There are once again three bridges funneling traffic across the Mississippi River here in St. Cloud, as there have been for most of my life.

There were, however, only two here when I was born: The bridge connecting St. Germain Street, St. Cloud’s main street, with East St. Germain Street; and the Tenth Street Bridge, which crossed the river near what was then St. Cloud State Teachers College. They were old already, the St. Germain Bridge having been built in 1894 and the Tenth Street Bridge – barely two vehicles wide by the time the larger cars of the 1950s rolled around – having gone up in 1892, connecting Tenth Street on the west bank with the east side’s Michigan Avenue.

I don’t recall that those two bridges had names other than the functional labels of St. Germain Bridge and Tenth Street Bridge. It seems, however, that one of the major concerns of public works in the last half-century has been that those works be named. Thus, the 1970 replacement for the St. Germain Bridge was Veterans Bridge. (To be fair, “St. Germain Bridge” would not have worked for the new span, as the alignment was changed and the bridge connected East St. Germain Street with First Street North.) And when the Tenth Street Bridge was demolished in the mid-1980s, its taller and graceful replacement was reasonably tagged University Bridge.

Neither of those names is awful. It’s just that, as a culture, we seem to invest a great deal more time these days deciding what to call something than seems to really be required. Let’s build it, slap a functional name on it and move to the next thing. But in the mid-twentieth century, the folks responsible for building and naming a new bridge through St. Cloud, well, they got stupid.

The new bridge was part of State Highway 23, which sliced through old neighborhoods in St. Cloud and then headed northeast to Duluth and southwest to the prairie. I don’t remember the old neighborhoods on the west side of town; the project took place between 1957 and 1959, starting when I was three. But the project included a bridge across the river located about a block from the apartment building where we were living as 1957 began, and I vaguely remember Dad going outside and taking pictures. (He evidently returned several times to take pictures of the progress; we’ve found boxes of slides showing the bridge and the project near completion, views that had to be taken after we moved about six blocks to the house on Kilian Boulevard.)

At any rate, when the Highway 23 bridge was completed, it needed – absolutely had to have – a name. I have no idea who came up with the idea, but he (in the late 1950s, it was almost certainly a man) ought to be the charter inductee into the Lame Bridge Name Hall of Fame. The city and state leaders dubbed the new span the DeSoto Bridge, in honor of Hernando DeSoto, supposedly the first European to see the Mississippi River.

It turns out that Ol’ Hernando did in fact see the river in May of 1541. Was he the first European to do so? Wikipedia says, “It is unclear whether he, as it is claimed, was the first European to see the great river. However, his expedition is the first to be documented in official reports as seeing the river.” But there is a problem with commemorating DeSoto’s achievement by naming a St. Cloud bridge for him: DeSoto came upon the Mississippi very near what is now the city of Memphis, Tennessee, about nine hundred miles south of here. Ol’ Hernando had nothing at all to do with the portion of North America that became Minnesota, except for the very thin idea that the water he saw there had once flowed through here (and I doubt that anyone – even the dimwit who proposed the name – offered that as justification).

As stupid as the name was, not a lot of people paid attention. Oh, there was a nice monument on the west side of the bridge, with a carved portrait of what DeSoto might have looked like. And newspapers reporters and various governmental officials had to pay attention, as in: “The parade will cross the DeSoto Bridge and turn south on Wilson Avenue . . .”

But for the most part, through the 1960s, we all simply called it “the new bridge.” When the city’s two older bridges were replaced with the Veterans Bridge and later the University Bridge, “the new bridge” didn’t work so well. So what had been the new bridge was referred to as the Highway 23 Bridge (or the Division Street Bridge, which was not quite accurate, as Highway 23 doesn’t run along Division Street until some distance west of the river).  I honestly don’t recall ever hearing a non-official or non-reporter refer to the 1959 bridge as the DeSoto Bridge.

The DeSoto Bridge is gone now. After the Interstate Highway 35W Bridge in Minneapolis groaned and fell into the river on an August afternoon in 2007, every bridge of similar design in Minnesota – and likely elsewhere – was inspected. And the DeSoto Bridge was discovered to have a structural anomaly – bowing gusset plates – similar to that thought to have been responsible for the failure of the Minneapolis bridge. It was closed (shortly after the Minneapolis disaster, I think, but I can’t find a date for that) and then demolished in March 2008, and highway officials put up a new bridge in what seems a pretty speedy eighteen months.

That new bridge opened two days ago, and motorists through the region no doubt are all pleased, as the city and the area have become way too populous to manage traffic with two bridges, as we’ve done for two years now. So that’s a relief. But what do we call it? Well, the newest bridge has been dubbed, in an excess of excess, the Granite City Crossing. I’m pretty sure that’s another name that will never find its way into the day-to-day language here in Central Minnesota. I’m guessing that for a long, long time, that bridge will be simply “the new bridge.”

So that’s a little more than a century of bridges in St. Cloud, six bridges from 1892 to 2009. But wait! There’s also a railroad trestle in town, built in 1872. There’s little traffic on the trestle, just trains operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the occasional fools who cross the tall bridge on a dare or in a drunken state.

But it is a bridge, and that makes seven, so here’s today’s Saturday Single:

“Seven Bridges Road” by Steve Young from Seven Bridges Road [1971]

Quiet Time In ’89

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 29, 2009

The autumn of 1989 – twenty years ago – was a quiet one. I’d landed in Anoka, Minnesota, a town about twenty miles north of Minneapolis, after my two mostly unhappy years on the North Dakota prairie. I wasn’t in Anoka long, just a little more than ten months, but it was a good place to recharge my batteries and decide in which direction to go next.

I did a little bit of teaching at a nearby community college and spent half of my time working for a newspaper chain, reporting for a paper that covered the small towns of Champlin and Dayton. (Champlin has grown into a good-sized suburb in the twenty years since; Dayton is far more rural and has grown, too, but not as rapidly.) After one quarter of teaching, I left the community college and worked full-time for the newspaper chain, reporting and taking care of special projects.

It was a pleasant, undemanding time, which was exactly what I needed. Those months were made more pleasant by weekly visits from a lady friend from St. Cloud, who would stop by on Wednesdays for dinner on her way to teach a course at the same community college. I’m a pretty decent cook, and Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week during that time, what with the regular visits to the butcher shop and the bakery and the chance to cook for someone other than myself. We generally had chicken or fish although I do recall trying my wild rice and turkey curry – a favorite of mine – for the first time. Those weekly dinners were among the highlights of my life in Anoka.

We always had music playing, sometimes the radio but usually records on the stereo, and here are a few tracks from that year, some of which we might actually have heard while eating dinner.

A Mostly Random Six-Pack from 1989
“Texas” by Chris Rea from The Road to Hell
“Where’ve You Been” by Kathy Mattea, Mercury 876262
“Vanessa” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo In Me
“Have A Heart” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time
“No One” by the BoDeans from Home
“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from The Indigo Girls

“Texas” is a moody piece from a moodier album. I recall hearing “Texas” when the album was released; it got a lot of play on Cities 97, which was my radio station of choice during my months in Anoka. The Road to Hell and another Rea album from about the same era, 1991’s Auberge, remain among my favorites.

“Where’ve You Been,” a story song about soulmates, was pulled from Mattea’s Willow in the Wind album. I very well could have heard it on Cities 97, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t listening to a lot of country radio at the time, though, so that’s not the answer. I do know I heard it frequently during my months in Anoka, as the story resonated with me. And it’s a beautiful song: The next year, it won Don Henry and Jon Vezner a Grammy for Best Country Song, and Mattea walked away with a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

I know I never heard Alex Taylor during those dinners in the autumn of 1989, because his work was something I didn’t discover until years after it was recorded and years after he died in 1993. “Vanessa” is a fine piece of bluesy rock, as was the entire Voodoo in Me album, which turned out to be Taylor’s fifth and last released album. Taylor, whose siblings were James, Livingston and Kate, also recorded and released With Friends & Neighbors (1971), Dinnertime (1972), Third for Music (1974) and Dancing With the Devil (1989). I’ve heard them all but Third for Music. Anyone out there got a line on it?

The story of Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time is one of the great tales: A failed album in 1986 (Nine Lives), followed by work with producer Don Was, leading to a handful of Grammys, including the award for Album of the Year. As to “Have a Heart,” as a single, it went to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The little note that pops up on the RealPlayer whenever I hear a tune by the BoDeans says, “The very definition of heartland music, the BoDeans’ rootsy pop rock is a cross between the Replacements and Tom Petty.” I suppose that’s not a bad description, but like most capsule characterizations, it skips the subtleties entirely. You actually have to listen to the music for those, and although I didn’t listen much back then, I do now, and like the work of the boys from Waukesha, Wisconsin, pretty well.

I’ve told the tale before, in another venue: I was sitting in a restaurant in Edina, Minnesota, during the late summer of 1989 when I heard a pair of young women in the next booth discussing the best new group they’d heard in a long time: The Indigo Girls. I jotted a note to myself, finished my lunch and then drove to a nearby record store and bought The Indigo Girls on LP. For twenty years, ever since the moment I heard the opening strains of “Closer to Fine,” the Indigo Girls have been among my favorite performers and The Indigo Girls has been one of my favorite albums.

Autumn At Its Peak

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 27, 2009

I spent three autumns – those of 1983, 1984 and 1990 – in Columbia, Missouri, a city just far enough south that autumn is a beautiful and lengthy season, warm and colorful into November. There was no sense of impending chill, for the most part, but then Missouri is far enough south that in normal years, the oncoming winter is neither overly chilly nor markedly drear. It was as if the beauty of autumn came free, a season of change and color and mellow mood for which no winter payment was demanded.

In Minnesota, I think, autumn is viewed in two ways. (I imagine there are those who don’t spend any time thinking about the meaning of autumn or of any of the seasons; I do not understand such folk, and I pity them.) Autumn to some of us is a borrowed joy, a season of oranges, reds and browns tinged with enough melancholy to make it pleasant, a pageant of waning sunlight and cool air for which we pay during the long Northland winter.

Or else autumn is a gift of nature, a bonus time of sunlit afternoons and chill, misty mornings, the seasonal equivalent of a two-minute warning, with Nature telling us that our temperate times are soon to end and if we have things to accomplish, we best do them today: Rake the lawn, clean the gutters, gaze at the long Vs of geese heading south, and then look at the half-moon attended by Jupiter and feel the chill of the breeze from the north.

So which is it? Do we borrow autumn’s subtle spectacle and pay for it later, when the wind carries the empty chill of Arctic air instead of the scent of brown and gold leaves? Or is autumn a gift, a season of time passing that levies no obligation but to cherish it?

I think the season may be both gift and obligation at the same time. If autumn does have a price, though, it’s not just winter’s winds. I think that price is closely related to the weight of autumns gone by. The season is my favorite, and as I wander through my fifty-seventh autumn, I carry with me much of what transpired in those previous fifty-six autumnal seasons. This is not heavy baggage; it’s a backpack’s worth at most. And not all of the memories stuffed into the backpack are sad ones: This week, for instance, brings the Texas Gal and me the joy of the second anniversary of our wedding. Last week, I realized that my father would have turned ninety, were he still among us. That’s he’s not is a sorrow; that he was here for so many years, until he was eighty-three, was a joy, and both of those thoughts, too, belong in the autumnal backpack.

When rummaging through that backpack, one does find years when autumn was a series of troubles, but one also finds years when autumn was one bit of joy following another for months. When those troubles and joys come in consecutive years, their impact is huge, even though more than thirty years have passed. As autumn began in 1974, I was still recovering from the lung ailment that had taken most of my summer away. In late September, my father had a heart attack, one from which he fully recovered, but we had no way to know at the time. And a month later came a horrific traffic accident in which I was badly injured and lost a dear friend. For a long time, the only thing I knew about the future was that it would arrive and would eventually bring another autumn. Whether that next autumn would be better was not something I was willing to assume.

It was better. If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. Dad was healthy, I was healthy. My classes – the last I’d take on campus before my internship and graduation – fascinated me, and two of them were instrumental in my learning to be a writer. I still spent a great deal of time at The Table in the student union, though as some folks had graduated, the cast of characters was evolving. I was also spending a lot of time with my pal Murl, whom I’d met that summer.

It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. (That healing was a process, of course, and had started some seasons earlier, but it was during that autumn of 1975 that I truly began to feel mended.) My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss. And here are some of the friends I heard.

A Six-Pack From A Golden Autumn (1975)
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship from Red Octopus
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 456261
“Sky High” by Jigsaw from Sky High
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Watercolors
“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230
“SOS” by ABBA, Atlantic 3265

None of these, of course, are anything near obscure, but there are a couple of them that don’t get aired all that frequently on oldies radio. I heard the intro to “Miracles” on the radio the other day while I was out on some errands; it was the first time in a long time I’d heard the song on the radio, I thought. I ended up taking a longer path home than normal, just to hear the whole thing.

Along with “Miracles,” I think that “Sky High” and “At Seventeen” are also a little bit ignored and maybe forgotten, which is too bad. All six of these did well on the charts, with five of them hitting the Top Ten: An edit of “Miracles” went to No. 3; “Dance With Me” topped at No. 6; “Sky High” went to No. 3; “At Seventeen” also reached No. 3, “My Little Town” got as high as No. 9; and “SOS” peaked at No. 15.

These records aren’t necessarily the best sounds from the autumn of 1975, but they are among the ones that come to mind most quickly when I think of that season. More to the point, when I hear any of them, I am reminded of the healing golden-orange light of the autumn of 1975 and the renewal I felt all through that season. And I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): “Miracles” and “Dance With Me.”

(I think that the three I’ve tagged as singles – the ABBA, the Simon & Garfunkel and the Orleans – are in fact the single edits, but I’m not anywhere near certain about that. Information to the contrary would be appreciated.)

Saturday Singles Nos. 156 & 157

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 24, 2009

I’ve written before about how my love for soundtracks and movie themes predated my interest in rock and pop. Well, forty years later, as I continue to expand the boundaries of my rock and pop universe, I continue as well to listen to soundtracks, renewing acquaintances with previously heard composers, artists and works, as well as finding new folks and music to hear. And I still find myself digging, from time to time, into television themes, a category that seems to divide itself into three subfolders: those themes I heard while watching favorite shows in years gone, those I hear while watching favorites these days, and those themes I’m aware of – both then and now – that come from shows I don’t recall seeing.

When I search for “television theme” on the RealPlayer, I get back a list of eighty pieces. (That doesn’t yet include the more than one hundred mp3s from television westerns I found and wrote about the other day; those have yet to be sorted and indexed.) And a run through the titles can be quite a trip:

The earliest television theme I have is Miklós Rósa’s unmistakable piece for “Dragnet,” which first went on the air as a radio drama in the late 1940s and then came to television in 1951. The radio version lasted until 1957, the first television version ran until 1959, and the show was revived on television from 1967 to 1970. The mp3 I have is, I think, the theme from the early television show. (One of the difficulties in dating and sorting television themes is that the themes are often tinkered with from one season to the next, and it’s difficult to know which season’s theme one has.)

The most recent comes from 2006: the evocative theme by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden for Friday Night Lights, whose new season starts this week on DirecTV. We don’t have that service, so we’ll have to wait until next spring, I think, to see the new episodes on NBC. I will have a hard time waiting; I truly think that Friday Night Lights is one of the great television dramas ever made.

Between those extremes in time fall a lot of good themes, a lot of very dorky bits of music, and a number of tunes that lay right into the middle. A while back, I offered a selection of television themes, and I might do so again in the next few weeks. But this morning, I’m thinking about one theme in particular.

Late last evening, while the Texas Gal was studying, I scanned the DVD shelves and pulled down a box that I’d set aside when we moved and hadn’t gotten back to since: Hill Street Blues: The Complete First Season, a gift – with its companion second season – from the Texas Gal a few years ago. Back in the 1980s, when each week’s episode of Hill Street Blues was essential watching at my house, I would have put the drama—edgy for its time – in the top spot of my list of best television series of all time.

Since then, there are some television series that have been better, although not many. A few that I’m sure of are The West Wing, The Sopranos and Deadwood. I’ve never watched The Wire nor Homicide, omissions that will be remedied, but they might belong in a list of the top ten television dramas of all time; I know that the Texas Gal will reserve a spot for ER, and I’d likely concur. I mentioned Friday Night Lights above, and there are other recent dramas that might push HSB down the list a little further, but without actually pulling that list together, I’m pretty certain that Hill Street Blues stays in the top ten.

Even if that’s not the case, it doesn’t take away from the quality of the show or the pleasure I – and others, I assume – get while watching the first season unfold on my screen, with the second season box waiting for me to get to it. (A check at Amazon this morning showed no other seasons currently available; I hope that will change. There was a link to a firm offering a box set of the full series, but I have a hunch that’s a counterfeit.)

And that pleasure includes the little shiver I still get from the introductory piano chords of Mike Post’s theme for the show. Whether it’s the version from the show itself with the voice of the dispatcher and the sound of sirens or the version released as a single – it went to No. 10 during the autumn of 1981 – that little shiver is still there. And here they are, today’s Saturday Singles:

“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, television theme [1981]

“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, Elektra 47186 [1981]
(Featuring Larry Carlton on guitar)

Disconnected

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 22, 2009

I arose a little later than usual yesterday, as I’ve been battling a stubborn cold, and came into the study to check a few blogs and prepare a post. As the computer booted, I picked up the phone to tell the Texas Gal – already at work – that I was breathing and upright.

No dial tone.

I went to the front rooms and tried that phone. No dial tone there. So I went back to the study, planning on sending an instant message or an email. We had no ’Net access, either. I clicked on the TV, got a picture and sound and assumed that was okay. (That was an error: It turned out that most of our cable channels were down, too.) Now I really needed to talk to the Texas Gal as well as the cable company.

We gave up our cell phones a while back, so I drove down to the neighborhood convenience store. There, hunching my shoulders against a light rain, I dropped a couple of quarters into the pay phone. The Texas Gal said she’d call the cable company and told me to go home and get in out of the rain. An hour or so later, she came home for a few moments and said that a service tech would stop by during the early afternoon.

And actually, two of them did, with the second of them bearing the unwelcome news that our services would not be restored until sometime around two in the morning. He said that we were one of nine customers affected by an equipment failure, but making the ten-minute repair would require disconnecting about three hundred customers. So his bosses, he said, had told him not to repair the fault; instead, a truck would come out sometime after midnight and take care of the problem.

It was a perfectly sound business decision, but it was still annoying and a little worrying. Missing the high end cable channels for a day was no big deal. Nor was being offline, I thought. But being without a phone in case of emergency? That wasn’t good, and I told the fellow that. He nodded. “I understand,” he said. “And I’ll pass the word on. But I can’t do anything about it.”

I nodded back, and after he left, I went and found my deactivated cell phone. I think – though I’m not certain – that even deactivated phones can call 911. So I charged the phone and put it on the dining room table just in case the worst occurred. It didn’t. We had a pleasant evening: some television, some reading and, for me, a little bit of tabletop baseball.

As pleasant as the evening turned out to be though, not having ’Net access was a major annoyance: Both of us missed our normal online activities. No email or Facebook, no new blog posts to read, no way to check my fantasy football teams or the Texas Gal’s quilting group. And that pointed out to us how large a part of our lives the online world has become. It’s amazing how, in a relatively brief bit of time, we’re living so much of our lives online.

Is that worrisome? Not so long as we can do without if we have to. The things that the ’Net brings to our lives are worthwhile, fun and maybe even important. But they’re not essential. (That holds true, too, for the high-end cable channels. The telephone is another story, I think.) Still, even though I was out of touch for only a day, it’s good to be back.

A Six-Pack of Communications
“Telephone Line” by the Electric Light Orchestra, United Artists 1000 [1976]
“57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” by Bruce Springsteen from Human Touch [1992]
“(I’m A) TV Savage” by Bow Wow Wow from I Want Candy [1982]
“Race of the Computers” by Pete Carr from Not A Word On It [1976]
“TV Mama” by Big Joe Turner, Atlantic 1016 [1953]
“Pick Up The Phone” by Lesley Duncan from Moonbathing [1975]

The first two of these are pretty well-known, I think, and Bow Wow Wow is, too, though maybe this track is less well-known than some of that odd band’s other music. (Sorry for the low bitrate on that one, but it’s all I had.)

Pete Carr’s name is more familiar as a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals than as a solo artist, but Not A Word On It is a pretty good solo album. All-Music Guide has a date of 1975 for the record, but I’ve seen 1976 in other places I trust, so I’m going with that. (Thanks to walknthabass at Gooder’n Bad Vinyl.)

Big Joe Turner, one of the premier blues shouters, recorded from the 1930s into the 1980s, but seems almost forgotten today. “TV Mama,” recorded when television was still very new, is an example of using the most recent fad or craze as a framework for a salacious bit of music. (I ripped this from a library collection long before I ever thought about bitrates, so this track, too, is at a lower bitrate than I normally share.)

Lesley Duncan was a top session vocalist in England during the 1970s and released a few solo albums that were critically praised but didn’t sell all that well, from what I can tell. “Pick Up The Phone” is a nice piece of mid-1970s pop; if you like it, you’ll like the rest of Moonbathing as well as Duncan’s other work, I think.

Saturday Singles Nos. 153, 154 & 155

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 17, 2009

Preparing Wednesday’s post, I heard something in the Walkabouts’ “Murdering Stone” that linked it to two much older songs, one a country rock touchstone and the other a classic tale lodged firmly in country music. I’m still not entirely certain what it was I heard (beyond the obvious preoccupation with mortality) that linked the Walkbouts’ 1993 song with Mason Proffit’s “Two Hangmen” and with “The Long Black Veil,” a tune recorded by a long list of performers. The more I’ve thought about it over the last two days, however, the more I think that those songs share a thread of some sort that runs from 1959, when Lefty Frizzell recorded a hit version of “The Long Black Veil” through 1969, when “Two Hangmen” was released on Mason Proffit’s Wanted, into 1993, when “Murdering Stone” provided what I hear as the center of New West Motel.

I imagine if I ponder the question some more, I’ll find links to earlier songs and other songs in the country and country rock idioms. Or I might find that the chain, whatever it means, stops – or, more aptly, begins – at “The Long Black Veil.” As I mentioned Wednesday, the song was written for Lefty Frizzell by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, and Frizzell’s 1959 recording of it went to No. 6 on the Billboard country chart. Since then, the song has been a staple of the country repertoire and a fixture as well in the country rock and Americana songbooks.

Greil Marcus, in his book Mystery Train (subtitled Images of America in Rock ’N’ Roll Music), calls “The Long Black Veil “a modern country tune in the guise of an old Kentucky murder ballad.” One can infer from his writing that he believes the theme of the song – a theme that he says is woven deep into all of Music From Big Pink, The Band’s debut album on which the song appears – is “obligation: a kind of secret theme at the heart of both words and music. What do men and women owe each other? How do they keep faith? How far can that faith be pushed before it breaks?”

He continues: “Certainly ‘Long Black Veil,’ the only song on the album written neither by the Band nor Bob Dylan, takes obligation as far as it can go. A murder has been committed; a man is singled out from the crowd as a culprit, but he will not give up his alibi, because he’s ‘been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.’ She keeps silent as well. The singer, the man accused, owes something to his lover, something to his friend, and something to his community, to justice; the woman won’t injure her husband by revealing the secret, and she keeps faith with her lover as he goes to the gallows – allowing him to die with his friendship intact, and then forever haunting his grave.”

Marcus goes on to note that one of the song’s writers, Danny Dill, later told country music historian Dorothy Horstman that the song was inspired by bits and pieces: by “The Lady In Black” who appeared annually at the grave of silent film idol Rudolph Valentino; by the song, “God Walks These Hills With Me,” written by Red Foley; and by an old news item about the unsolved murder of a priest in New Jersey, killed with more than fifty witnesses under the town hall light.

On the most simple level, “The Long Black Veil” is a story song, the tale of a secret threatened by coincidence and kept through sacrifice. It doesn’t take a lot of listening, though, to find Marcus’ theme of obligation, an obligation extended to tragedy and stoic heroism in the song through the keeping of commitments both implicit and explicit.

I found Lefty Frizzell’s version on an LP titled Lefty Frizzell’s Greatest Hits, and an online discography verified that the version on the LP is the same recording that was issued as a single in 1959. The Johnny Cash version was ripped from his 1965 LP Orange Blossom Special, and The Band’s version comes from the remastered CD, released in 2000, of 1968’s Music From Big Pink.

Here, then, are your Saturday Singles:

“The Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell, Columbia 41384 [1959]
“The Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash from Orange Blossom Special [1965]
“Long Black Veil” by The Band from Music From Big Pink [1968]

Time Is Tight

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 16, 2009

Whew! A chance to sit down. I’ve been running most days this week, taking care of various obligations and appointments, and time has been scarce. Instead of trying to squeeze in a post with any substance today, I’m going to beg your indulgence and start regular posts again tomorrow with a Saturday Single.

In the meantime, here are some songs that deal with this week’s rarest commodity. Though I like all of these, the Whitfield and Williams tracks really kick. But I’d urge you to try all of them.

A Six-Pack Of Time
“Time Lonesome” by Zephyr from Sunset Ride [1972]
“Tell Me Just One More Time” by Jennifer Warnes from Shot Through The Heart [1979]
“Pony Time” by Barrence Whitfield from Back To The Streets–Celebrating the Music of Don Covay [1993]
“Pearl Time” by Andre Williams, Sport 105 [1967]
“The Time Will Come” by the Whispers, Soul Clock 107 [1969]
“Good Time Living” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy [1970]

Bonus Track
“Give Me Just A Little More Time” by the Chairmen of the Board, Invictus 9074 [1970]

See you tomorrow!

Mystery Delayed

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 13, 2009

Well, I was going to write today about a Minnesota mystery that’s had some national attention in the past few weeks: A slab of old rock, a late Nineteenth Century farmer, eight Swedes and twenty-two Norwegians, a north-central Minnesota town, and a film on the History Channel that somehow managed to bring in the medieval Knights Templar and the Holy Grail.

But today’s plate got filled faster than an empty glass at a local beer joint, so that will all have to wait until tomorrow. That’s okay. This way, I get twenty-four more hours to figure out what I have to say.

“It’s a Mystery” by the Average White Band from Cut the Cake [1975]

Saturday Single No. 152

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 10, 2009

The sun is shining, and it’s chilly outside, with a thin layer of snow on the ground. That won’t last long. I imagine by noon or thereabouts, the snow will have melted. By that time – long before then, I hope – the Texas Gal and I will have taken the highway north out of town for a brief Saturday excursion.

That’s something we haven’t done for a while: Take off on a Saturday morning, choose a direction and go. Recently, her coursework has taken priority, and I imagine there were weekends when my devotion to this blog has limited our time. But her list of assignments this weekend is short, and I will be brief this morning so we can head out.

This is not a major undertaking, a Saturday excursion, and we will not drive far. Our first planned stop is the small town of Pierz, not quite forty miles from here. The attraction? Well, there are a couple of antique stores/junque shops that are fun to poke around in, but the main draw is a meat market that offers the best bacon either one of us has ever had. Bacon is a Sunday tradition in our home, and the prospect of stocking up on Pierz bacon has us, well, not quite giddy, but very pleased.

After that, we’ll head east toward Mille Lacs Lake, one of Minnesota’s largest, hoping to see some fall foliage along the way. There’s a quilt shop in the small town of Wahkon that the Texas Gal wants to check out, and I imagine we’ll find other diversions along the way to Wahkon and then on our way back to St. Cloud. And there’s the prospect of lunch in a small-town restaurant where the fries are fresh and crisp and the menu holds a surprise or two.

So to get us on our way, here’s a song by a Canadian band named after its founder, Jerry Doucette, and it’s today’s Saturday single.

“Down the Road” by Doucette from Mama Let Him Play [1977]

Authors On The Cards

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 9, 2009

While waiting for the Texas Gal to get home yesterday afternoon, I was wandering around the Web and found myself at one of my favorite sites, Find A Grave, a site that catalogs the resting places of people both famous and not. I can spend hours there, wandering through lists of folks buried in Massachusetts or in Hungary or anywhere else on the planet. I’ve seen in person a few of the graves of famous folk listed at the site. I hope to see a few more someday, and I have a few regrets that years ago, I was near several famous cemeteries and did not visit them.

Anyway, I somehow wound up looking at the entry for the tomb of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson on the island of Samoa. (You can read the epitaph carved on his tomb – a favorite of mine – here.) I glanced at the picture of Stevenson at Find A Grave (a cropped version is shown here) and I thought to myself, “Yes, that’s about what his picture looked like on the playing cards.”

The card game was Authors, and my sister and I played it frequently when we were kids. The deck was made up of forty-four fifty-two cards, with each card representing a work by one of thirteen famous authors. The game had the players collect complete sets of four cards for each author, and the player who collected the most sets – called “books” – was the winner. Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the eleven thirteen authors in the game, and his portrait on the cards did in fact look a lot like the picture at Find A Grave and other portraits of him that can be found online.

I once had two copies of the Authors card game, the slightly battered copy my sister and I played with for years and another copy that had never been used, but I don’t think I have them anymore. I believe they were included when I took five or six boxes of my childhood toys to an antique dealer about five years ago. (If my childhood toys are antiques, what does that make me?) And if I still have one of those copies of Authors, it’s somewhere in a box on the basement shelves, and I have no idea which box.

But I wondered, as I looked at Stevenson’s picture, if I could remember the thirteen authors whose works were used as cards in the game. I began a list:

William Shakespeare
Charles Dickens
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sir Walter Scott
Louisa May Alcott
Robert Louis Stevenson
James Fenimore Cooper
Washington Irving
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Mark Twain

And there I stopped. Ten down, three to go. As we ate dinner and watched an hour or so of television, I let the question lie, knowing that sometimes information rises when it’s not being tugged at. I went back to my list later in the evening and got no further. Hoping to jog my memory, I went to a list of those buried or commemorated in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey in London. And I found one name, an American poet memorialized there.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There my list stops. I cannot recall the names of the last two authors from the card game. And I cannot find a list of the thirteen online. Does anyone out there know? [See Afternote below.]

I have only one song with the word “author” in the title, so I skipped past it and went to the word that describes what authors do:

A Six-Pack of Write
“Nothing to Write Home About” by Colin Hare from March Hare [1972]
“Paper to Write On” by Crabby Appleton from Rotten to the Core [1971]
“Write Me A Few Of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues” by Bonnie Raitt from Takin’ My Time [1973]
“Why Don’t You Write Me” by Punch from Punch [1969]
“Write A Song A Song/Angeline” by Mickey Newbury from Looks Like Rain [1969]
“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)” by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie from Sinatra-Basie [1962]

I found Colin Hare’s March Hare at Time Has Told Me, which notes that the album “is a UK troubadour classic which still sounds fresh and innovative today.” Hare – little known in the U.S. even at the time – was a member of Honeybus, handling rhythm guitar and vocals. (All-Music Guide says of Honeybus: “[T]hey came very close, in the eyes of the critics, to being Decca Records’ answer to the Rubber Soul-era Beatles,” an astounding statement that tells me that perhaps I should dig into the Honeybus catalog.) Hare’s own discography at AMG lists March Hare and two albums from 2008 that I know nothing about. March Hare is decent listening, and “Nothing to Write Home About” is quirky enough that it stands out when it pops up from time to time.

Most folks recall Crabby Appleton from the group’s very good single, “Go Back,” which slid into the Top 40 and came to rest at No. 36 in the summer of 1971. That was the group’s only hit, and in search of another, says AMG, the group tried on a harder sound for its second album, Rotten to the Core, “veering off into boogie rock and heavier Zeppelin-esque romps, twice removed from the plaintive power pop and conga-driven rock of their debut.” That makes “Paper to Write On,” with its plaintive country sound, an even more odd choice for the Crabbies. I like it, but it reminds me (and AMG agrees) of the Flying Burrito Brothers. That’s not a bad thing, but for a group like Crabby Appleton trying to cement an identity, it seems strange.

I don’t have to say a lot about Bonnie Raitt except that she’s one of my favorites. Takin’ My Time was her third album (and the track “Guilty” was the first Bonnie Raitt tune I ever heard). Both “Write Me A Few Of Your Lines” and “Kokomo Blues” were credited to Mississippi Fred McDowell, although “Kokomo Blues” has also been credited in other places to Kokomo Arnold and Scrapper Blackwell.

I found Punch’s delightful cover of Paul Simon’s “Why Don’t You Write Me” at Redtelephone66, where I’ve found gem after gem in the past few years. (Thanks, Leonard!) I find it interesting that Punch released the song on its self-titled album in 1969 while the Simon & Garfunkel version didn’t come out until 1970 with the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Technically, that means that Simon & Garfunkel’s version is a cover.

The haunting “Write A Song A Song/Angeline” is the opening track to Mickey Newbury’s equally haunting album Looks Like Rain, which is one of those records that you wonder how the world missed when it came out. But then, I’m tempted to say the same thing about a lot of Newbury’s work. He wasn’t exactly unknown, but . . .

The awkwardly titled “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter)” comes from one of several projects that Frank Sinatra did with Count Basie and his orchestra. As time moves on, I find myself more and more appreciating the Sinatra catalog, listening more and more to the work he did in the 1950s and early 1960s. I imagine that any list ever compiled of the essential entertainers in American music history would have Frank Sinatra’s name at or very close to the top. (I’m not even going to try – writing as I am on the fly – to figure out who else would be in the Top Ten.)

Afternote
Based on a post with two accompanying pictures that I found at another blog, I have to assume that our game only had eleven authors in it, as opposed to the thirteen authors I’ve seen mentioned other places. The game we played came in the blue box with Shakespeare’s picture on it, just as pictured at Bachelor at Wellington. In other words, I remembered ten of the eleven on my own, and needed a reminder only for Longfellow.

Note from 2022: The photo and website referenced above are no longer available. Below is a similar photo of the author cards and a photo of the blue box.