Archive for the ‘Farewells’ Category

The Final Curtain

March 2, 2022

Fifteen years is a long time, whether we’re talking about the real world or the lifespan of a blog.

When I began this adventure – first on Blogger, then on WordPress, and for the last twelve years on my own website – I had, I thought, an inexhaustible supply of tales and topics to share about the music I love and how it’s intersected my life.

Well, it wasn’t inexhaustible. But that stock of tales and topics has lasted fifteen years (and one month, to be precise). Echoes In The Wind has outlasted a lot of the blogs I glanced over or read closely back in early 2007, when I tentatively began to offer my thoughts to the world.

When I put the first post up, I had no idea that I’d follow it with about 2,700 more. Those posts told the tales of my life and commented on the wider world around us and the inner world I found in music, books and many other forms of media, all supported by music that connected – at least vaguely – to those topics.

Along the way, I made friends, all of them musically knowledgeable to a degree that’s sometimes scary, like JB of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, Jeff of AM, Then FM, Larry at Funky 16 Corners, Günther at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, Alex at Click and Pops, and Yah Shure, who doesn’t have a blog, which is good, because his chops would put all the rest of us to shame.

I also got to know, at least a little bit, a couple of musicians whose work I wrote about: The late Bobby Jameson, quirky and acerbic, shared with me and my readers a previously unreleased late 1960s cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona” and sniped at me frequently for my perceived inadequacies. Patti Dahlstrom gladly offered commentary and clarification when I wrote about her four albums from the 1970s, sent me a couple of fascinating books, and asked my opinion about which tracks should be on a 2010 anthology of her work.

It’s been a fun ride.

After I decided to end things here, the Texas Gal asked if I had anything special in mind. I told her I was thinking about a series of posts about my favorite albums. She said she knew which album would end up as my all-time favorite: Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run. Maybe, I said, nodding. Either Born To Run or perhaps the Beatles’ Abbey Road, I said. Or maybe Bruce’s Tunnel Of Love.

And I realized that anyone who’s invested any time at all reading my stuff over the last fifteen years – if given ten tries, or maybe even just five – would likely guess that those three albums top my list. Those readers could likely name just as easily my three or four favorite artists and four or five favorite individual tracks. I doubt there are any mysteries left.

I’m not entirely done with music blogging: I’ll be posting about music once a week for the Consortium Of Seven. (That means that the music library I’ve acquired over the past fifteen years will still be useful.) And the time I’ve devoted to the blog will be given over to a long-abandoned project about my long-ago academic year in Denmark.

The blog will likely be up for another three weeks or so, and then it will be gone. So, to close up Echoes In The Wind, here’s one of the most graceful album closers I’ve ever heard, “You and Me (Babe)” from Ringo Starr’s 1973 album Ringo. Thanks, everyone.

‘Down The Road . . .’

August 25, 2021

Fifty years ago, I was spending my evenings washing floors at St. Cloud State with Janitor Mike and spending my day-time hours no doubt wasting time in the basement rec room, sitting on the green couch and listening to my limited collection of LPs.

It was probably about this time of August that the college hosted an overnight orientation for incoming freshman students, which is when I met Dave the Poet, Wyoming Rick and the other folks who would make up a lot of my social life during that first year at St. Cloud State. But they were in town for one night and then went back to their hometowns and would not be back until nearly two-thirds of September had passed.

And Rick from across the street was – I think – toiling at a summertime job somewhere, and when that ended, he’d head to his junior year at St. Cloud Cathedral, the Catholic high school downtown.

So, pretty much alone, I listened to my LPs – only a few of which were very current – and wondered what albums (beyond the Beatles LPs I would need to backfill my complete collection) I should have in my sights. I could have used the help of the progressive rock folks at KSHE-FM in St. Louis. Here are the top fifteen albums listed in the station’s mid-August 1971 survey:

Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart
Tapestry by Carole King
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
Four Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Poems, Prayers & Promises by John Denver
Fifth by Lee Michaels
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East
Stephen Stills II
Mudslide Slim & The Blue Horizon by James Taylor
L.A. Woman by the Doors
Electric Hot Tuna
Who’s Next
High Time by the MC5
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues

I’ve corrected a couple of titles – on the Allman Brothers Band and James Taylor albums – and I have no idea what album Electric Hot Tuna is. The listings at discogs show First Pull Up, Then Pull Down as the group’s 1971 album, released in June 1971. I’m guessing it’s that album mistitled.

The major question I have there is the presence of the John Denver album on the list. Progressive? Poems was Denver’s fourth album and contained his first hit, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and I guess his version of folky country (or countryish folk, depending on your vantage point) night have seemed different enough to be progressive. To be honest, at the time this survey came out, one of the albums getting regular play in the rec room was Denver’s third album, Whose Garden Was This, which my sister had brought home some months earlier, and I liked it a lot.

It’s kind of hard to look back and recall how Denver was received and perceived in 1971 without letting a lot of the later stuff – his saccharine singles, his goofy persona, and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” – get in the way. In 1971, at least in St. Louis (and likely elsewhere), Denver was seen as a serious musician poised at that intersection of rock, pop, folk and country that always grabs my attention. I should listen to Poems, Prayers & Promises again with that in mind.

So how many of those albums ever came home with me? Twelve or thirteen of them. (There is some confusion about, again, the Hot Tuna album. About twenty-five years ago, just after I quit working for the newspaper in Eden Prairie, a friend from there offered me a crate of her college records; then, about ten years later, she called me and told me one of her children wanted them, if I would part with them, which of course I did. I also deleted the titles from my database (something I no longer do when I let an LP go).

I think the Hot Tuna album was one of those I got from Linda and later returned.

Otherwise, the only two albums on that list that I never brought home are those by Lee Michaels and the MC5. But none of those fifteen was in the cardboard box in the rec room as I sat there during August 1971. Aqualung would show up in November that year, as would my sister’s copy of Tapestry, and Sticky Fingers would arrive not quite a year later. The rest would take longer.

My favorites among those fifteen are – predictably – the albums by Carole King, the Rolling Stones, Stephen Stills, and the Moody Blues.

And that’s helpful because it provides a way to say farewell to Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who died at the age of 80 yesterday in London. Many times through the years, as Sticky Fingers played, I’d stop whatever I was doing and listen to the album’s closer “Moonlight Mile” and nod as Watts’ drumming brought the song to its climax. Listening to it again is as good a way as any for a fan to say goodbye.

Thanks, Jim Steinman

April 21, 2021

Looking at the listing of works by Jim Steinman, who died two days ago, leaves me feeling as if I missed out. I truly know so little of what the man did as a writer, musician and producer. He remains one of the large blank spots in my musical awareness.

There’s a reason. My memory tells me – and bits and pieces of what I’ve read over the past few days confirm – that Steinman came to mass awareness with his writing and production of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out Of Hell and the resulting 1978 single “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.”

By the time the single came out, I was in the working world, and I crammed my radio listening into what I could catch in the car as I drove from one reporting assignments to another and whatever I could catch at home on an aging stereo system my folks had found for me in a second-hand store. Still, I heard “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” occasionally, and I liked it, even if I found it a bit bombastic.

(A lot of other folks liked it, too: It went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 31 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.)

But “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” – the follow-up singles – didn’t grab me. And as I listened less and less to pop music in the late 1970s and early 1980, I missed whatever came next for Steinman.

Then, in 1984, I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

I missed a lot of Steinman’s stuff, and maybe I should go back and dig into it, but I at least found two pieces from the man’s work that will always be a part of my life, and for that, I thank Jim Steinman.

Here’s the official video for “Nowhere Fast” and a clip with the last minutes of the film that includes “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” both credited to Fire Inc.


June 19, 2020

Some sad news came from Denmark the other week: Ejvind, my host brother during my long-ago college year there, let me know that his mother, Oda, was in very ill health and her journey would end soon.

I wept a little as I absorbed the news, and I wept more yesterday, after Ejvind told me that Oda’s journey had in fact come to an end about 5 a.m. Danish time (about 10 p.m. Central Time Wednesday).

Oda and her husband Kristen were my host parents for almost five months during my 1973-74 stay in Fredericia – I spent the final months of the year either on the road or living in the youth hostel St. Cloud State rented for the year – and they were, well, an essential part of my life. Being parents of college-age children themselves at the time – Ejvind was attending a university in the city of Århus, about sixty miles away, and his sister Birgit was taking what we now call a gap year in the U.S. – they were well equipped for the enthusiasms and occasional turbulence of living with a young man away from home for the first time.

Their advice, their caring, and their occasional firm direction were all major parts of that time for me, a time that was – as I’ve said here before – the single greatest formative experience of my life. Being part of that experience made Oda and Kristen among the most important people I’ve known in my life.

Kristen died during the 1990s, when I was pretty much out of touch with everyone, and thus I never had an opportunity to either grieve his passing or extend my condolences to Oda, Ejvind and Birgit (the last of whom I have never actually met, as she was in the U.S while I lived in Fredericia). I’ve been messaging some with Ejvind and Birgit in the past day, and they know how I feel about Oda’s passing.

As I grieve, I remember things. I recall the tradition of evening tea, when Oda would brew herself and me some Earl Grey and make a small cup of very strong coffee for Kristen. We’d sit in the living room, share some pastry – Oda worked downtown near a bakery and made sure we had fresh treats every evening – and talk about whatever came to mind. A lot of what I know about Danish culture and living came from those evening chats.

Oda offered motherly wisdom at several points during my months in their home as I struggled with both a first romance and homesickness. She and Kristen opened their home to my friends, helping me and my St. Cloud State girlfriend host a Thanksgiving dinner for them and several of our friends, and they regularly invited my friends in for other dinners and evening gatherings.

tableclothRecalling those gatherings yesterday reminded me of Oda’s tablecloth. When guests visited for the first time, they were invited to sign their names in pencil on the white tablecloth. Later, Oda would embroider their signatures into the cloth. In the picture here, you can see Oda – on the left – watching as my friends Dewey (center) and Matt sign their names on the tablecloth.

My signature is on that tablecloth, as are the signatures of maybe eight of my friends – including Dewey and Matt – who came visiting during the months I lived with Kristen and Oda. I sent the picture to Ejvind yesterday, and he told me that his daughter Marie has the tablecloth and that it’s still in use. (He, a year or two older than I, noted that some of the signatures on it predate his birth.)

The last time I saw Oda – or Kristen – was on my last evening in Fredericia in May 1974. I had dinner at their home, and they drove me back to the youth hostel at about 9 that evening. Before they left, Oda embraced me and said “Det er ikke farvel. Vi ses igen.”

“This is not goodbye. We will see each other again.”

Sadly, life did not allow that to come true. In another turn around the wheel, perhaps.

Until then, farvel.

Minor correcton made June 20, 2020.

Saturday Single No. 566

November 25, 2017

One of the main currents that’s run through my adult life – and thus through this blog – is the impact of the time I spent in Fredericia, Denmark, through St. Cloud State during the 1973-74 academic year. It was, as I think I’ve said here before, the greatest formative experience in my life, a foundation for almost anything I’ve done, thought and written over the past forty-four years.

I wondered for years if my attachments to my time in Denmark and to the memory of the more than one hundred students who shared that experience were excessive, and I wondered if they were mine alone. But when I broached in late 1993 to a few of those folks that we should plan a twenty-year reunion the following summer, I learned I was not alone. Others felt the same way about the impact of those days in Denmark and in their connections to those who were there.

We are, as one of us noted in an email this week, brothers and sisters. In our day-to-day lives, we are – as is true of any large group – closer to some than to others. But when the largest of life’s sorrows come to one, all of us feel it. And this week, we grieve for the loss of one of our own.

I’ve written before about Dewey, telling of our 450-mile trek to watch the Super Bowl on television in Hanau, Germany, and remembering our pilgrimage to the headquarters of the Adidas shoe company in the small German town of Herzogenaurach. I’ve likely not noted that as we resumed our Minnesota lives and for some years after that, Dewey was one of my closest friends.

We finished college pretty much together, and he was one of two from our Denmark group to stand at my side when I married the Other Half in 1978. He was troubled but supportive when that pairing failed in 1987. When I landed a job in the Twin Cities suburb of Eden Prairie a few years later, I stopped by his office every now and then. But my life turned left in 1999, and I saw Dewey only once more, at our 2004 reunion.

Dewey was a very private man. I had no idea he was seeing anyone until I was invited to his wedding in the early 1980s. And when he began having the physical difficulties that were eventually diagnosed as ALS, he held that pretty close. He had to be persuaded by his life-long friend Cal that those who were in Denmark with him should know, and Cal passed the word on to us at a gathering a few summers ago. I emailed Dewey, and in his reply he said things weren’t too bad, a typical Dewey response. Neither of us said anything about his prognosis in the few emails we sent back and forth after that. But we knew.

The end came last Monday, November 20, and Cal emailed us all that afternoon. Emails went back and forth in the next couple days as we shared our tales of Dewey and our grief. In one of those emails, I shared a graphic I made a few years ago when a Facebook acquaintance died. I found the photo online; the text is the chorus of a lyric I wrote about thirty years ago.

Be A Candle

Do we need music today? Well, I remember visiting Dewey in the mid-1970s when he had an apartment in Minneapolis, and he introduced me to the music of Jackson Browne, for which I’ll be forever grateful. But nothing from Browne’s catalog seems to fit perfectly here, not even “For A Dancer,” Browne’s meditation on grief. So I’ll reach back forty-four years for a tune that we listened to in the lounge at our youth hostel as the end of our time together in Denmark approached.

Here’s America’s 1973 track “To Each His Own.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

George Martin, 1926-2016

March 9, 2016

From the string quartet on Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” to finding the sonic equivalent of chanting Tibetan monks on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” George Martin – as many have already written in the wake of his death yesterday – deserved the title of “the fifth Beatle” more than anyone else.

I could say that Martin, who was 90, guided the Beatles through the bulk of their recording years together, but I then wonder how one guides the equivalent of a revolution or an earthquake? But however you want to categorize it, for much of their time as Beatles, the group told Martin how they wanted their music to sound and Martin – with huge assists from Geoff Emerick and other engineers, of course – figured out how to do that.

Sometimes, of course, it was the other way around, with one good example coming near the very start when Martin insisted that “Please Please Me” be a fast rock number instead of the ballad that John Lennon and McCartney had planned.

And sometimes, Martin’s influence on the greatest band of all time wasn’t directly involved with the sound at all: I’ve read in several places that after the disaster of the Get Back sessions and Phil Spector’s ham-handed production on the album that was eventually released as Let It Be, McCartney asked Martin if he’d work with the band and produce another album. Despite his reservations after the Get Back/Let It Be debacle, Martin agreed. And the brilliant Abbey Road was the result.

During his long career with EMI and then on his own, Martin worked, of course, with many other musicians and groups, but his name will always be linked most closely with the four young men from Liverpool whose aural visions and dreams he helped make real.

(I’ve seen a lot of good pieces online about Martin and the Beatles since yesterday. One of the best came from Justin Wm. Moyer of the Washington Post. It’s here.)

As a musical capstone to this inevitably insufficient post, I thought for moment about Sean Connery’s recitation of the lyrics to “In My Life,” a piece that closed the 1998 album Martin intended to be his last production. But I’ve offered it before, and In My Life turned out not to be the last: Martin and his son Giles remixed and combined numerous Beatles’ tunes for the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s 2005 show Love.

So I poked around the shelves and found something a little more obscure: A 1968 album titled By George! Credited to George Martin & His Orchestra, it included covers of a few Beatles tunes. From that album, here’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Another Mentor Gone

July 21, 2015

The post below is one I wrote in 2011 about Dick Skewes. Mr. Skewes was the orchestra conductor at St. Cloud Tech High School when I was in junior high and during my first two years of high school. I played cornet for him during several summer programs and as a sophomore and junior, and he was easily one of the best and most influential teachers I ever had, helping me learn not just about music but about, among other things, preparation for performance and life both.

Dick Skewes passed on over the weekend at the age of 78, and many comments and posts on his Facebook page made it clear that he was, as I expected, similarly influential on the lives – in music and out – of many, many other students over the years.

When I noted last autumn the passing of my college mentor, E. Scott Bryce, I wrote, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything I’ve ever written since the autumn of 1975 has on it the fingerprints of E. Scott Bryce.”

Well, I can also say that every piece of music I’ve written or performed since the summer of 1967 has on it the fingerprints of Dick Skewes.

My love of classical orchestral music comes from a number of sources: My parents took me and my sister to numerous performances of the orchestra – and concert band and concert choir – at St. Cloud State when we were young. My mother and sister and I rarely missed a concert offered during my elementary and junior high years by the organization called Civic Music, which brought classical music to the St. Cloud Tech High gym/auditorium in many styles: piano soloists or duets, woodwind or brass ensembles, chamber orchestras, full orchestras and – for a few years – annual visits by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

But the most formative influence on my classical listening had to be Dick Skewes, who was the director of the St. Cloud Tech High orchestra from sometime during my junior high years until the end of my junior year in high school. I began playing cornet during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. It was three years later, as eighth grade ended, that Mr. Skewes entered my life.

My sister – three years older than I – played violin in Tech’s orchestra and she would do so in the summer orchestra program. I don’t know if the summer program was new that year or if I’d simply not noticed it before, but for about eight weeks during the summer, the St Cloud Tech orchestra would rehearse once a week – Monday evenings – and perform in a concert on the front lawn of the high school on Tuesday evenings.

And, as the summer of 1967 began, Mr. Skewes saw that the orchestra was short of trumpet/cornet players, and through my sister, extended me an invitation, which I accepted. For that summer and the next, and then for my sophomore and junior years in high school, I played trumpet parts on my cornet in Dick Skewes’ orchestra. (I do not recall an orchestra program during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, but if there was one, I played in it.)

And the music we played! Oddly, the titles of most of the works we played during the summers of 1967 and 1968 have faded, but the bulk of our programs was pulled from the work of Eastern European and Russian composers. These were pieces filled with heroic and tragic melodies, music that to this day for me personifies the Slavic soul. Among the pieces I recall from those first two summers in orchestra are an adaptation of Mussorgsky’s work for piano, “The Great Gate of Kiev” and one of the Slavonic dances by Antonín Dvořák.

In 1968, I moved the eight or so blocks from South Junior High to Tech High School and joined the Tech orchestra as a permanent member. And Mr. Skewes continued to challenge us with the music he selected for us, much of it again by Eastern European and Russian composers. Here’s a performance by the Leningrad Philharmonic of the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s opera Russlan and Ludmilla, a piece we in Tech’s orchestra struggled with during the first half of my sophomore year.

As I had been during my two summer stints, I was thrilled. This was so far removed from the classical music I’d expected to play. Don’t get me wrong: I love a wide variety of classical music. But it seemed to me the use of the horn section – where I lived – was far different in the works by the Slavic composers than it was among the works of many of the other great composers. As an example, one of the other pieces we played during my sophomore year was the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, a piece that has been over the years one of my favorite bits of classical listening. But when one listens closely, the horns are not at all busy. And one of the most frustrating things for me as a cornet player in the orchestra was patiently counting in my head forty measures of rest and then playing eight notes before sitting back to count another forty measures. I didn’t have to do that very often with the Slavic composers.

I know I frustrated Dick Skewes. I was not a hard worker. I had a good ear, and my lip was in good enough shape for performances. But I did not practice hard at the music we played. Most of it came easily, so when I was playing at home, I spent most of my time making my way through popular music songbooks. (Not rock and pop; the tunes in the songbooks I paged through were classic pop, things that Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and, yes, Al Hirt had or would have recorded.)

So I slid by on the gifts I had, not expanding them. Until Mr. Skewes selected for our orchestra’s competition season and winter concert season during my sophomore year the First and Fouth Movements of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From The New World.” Written by the Czech composer during a visit to the United States in the 1890s, the work pulls Native American and African American motifs into the classical form.

As our orchestra struggled through the pieces during the early portion of my sophomore years, I was stunned at what I was hearing. There was so much for the horns to do! But I had a major challenge: The trumpet part was written for a trumpet keyed in A. In other words, the note called a C on such a horn would be the same as an A on a string instrument or a piano. Most trumpets and cornets – mine included – were keyed in B-flat, which meant that the notes I was supposed to be playing were a half-note different than the notes that I was instinctively reading and instinctively hearing in my head.

Mr. Skewes’ solution was perfect for me. After school one day, he sat me down with my trumpet part and his score and he put on the orchestra room stereo an LP of the Dvořák symphony. I used my ear to find the appropriate pitches, leaving the notation to provide only the rhythm. I’ve been grateful ever since for his willingness to find another way to help me to learn. And learn I did. Even now, more than forty years later, I know the trumpet parts to the two movements we performed that years of Dvořák’s stunning work. I couldn’t play them, as my lip is horribly out of shape, but I know the parts. Here’s the Dublin Philharmonic with Dvořák’s Fourth Movement:

Mr. Skewes left St. Cloud Tech for graduate school after my junior year, a year when I was second chair in the orchestra instead of first chair, as I had been a year earlier. That frustrated me, and I think it frustrated him, too, because I hadn’t worked as hard as I could on my audition piece. But even the second trumpet parts to the things Dick Skewes had us play were far more interesting than the music I played in the orchestra during my senior year. Our new conductor had us performing lots of Haydn and Handel, lots of pieces that had me counting forty measures and then playing eight notes. It wasn’t nearly as much fun.

My classical library, on LP and CD and in mp3 form, covers a wide variety (especially since my LP library was augmented by the records from the Musical Heritage Society that Dad collected). But when I look at the things I listen to most often, most of them trace their musical lineage to at least one of two places (and sometimes both): The Slavic lands of Eastern Europe and the director’s stand where Dick Skewes stood for those years when I was his horn player.

Thank you, Mr. Skewes.

Goodbye To Bobby J.

May 21, 2015

The murmurs started at Facebook Monday or maybe over the weekend. No one had heard from Bobby Jameson for a while. Was he okay?

Jameson, the mercurial musician whose 1960s music I’d written about during the first year or so of this blog, had a habit of deleting his Facebook page and going away for a while. Someone would say something that offended him, and he’d walk away from FB for a while. But in a day or two, he’d start up again, sending friend requests to me and the hundreds of other people who were his FB friends and who read his poetry and his blog posts and listened to the hours of music – most of it never previously released – that he put up at YouTube.

There were good reasons for his getting annoyed and offended. He suffered from horrible headaches, and that gave him a short fuse. In recent months, both his brother Bill and his mother had passed on, and he was still grieving. And as anyone who spends even a small amount of time online knows, the world is full of idiots and vipers, people who find their satisfaction in either telling people what they should do or in putting other folks down in utterly cruel ways.

Having survived the 1960s craziness of Hollywood/Los Angeles and the strain of life on the streets, and being in recovery from substance abuse for more than forty years, Bobby knew that sometimes the best thing one can do when confronted by idiots and vipers is to walk away. So he often cut ties with his friends and came back a few days later, mending most of those ruptures and starting over again.

But when folks in Bobby’s collection of friends online noticed that he hadn’t posted a thought, a poem or a tune for a while, the questions started and the murmurs grew louder. And two days ago, on Tuesday, the word spread from friend to friend, from page to page: Bobby Jameson was gone. It happened a week earlier, on Tuesday, May 12.

Bobby’s brother Quentin posted yesterday on Bobby’s page: “I especially want all to know that Bob did not harm himself. He had an aneurism in his descending aorta. He was clear headed to the end. He made (I think) a good choice not to opt for a risky surgery, which would, at best, have left him disabled in a nursing home for a few more years. He died true to his own rules of sobriety, honesty, and independence; a warrior’s death.”

From what I understand, it was my 2007 commentary on Bobby’s 1969 album, Working!, that spurred him to join the online world. A couple of people at Bobby’s FB page and at mine have mentioned that in the past few days. One of his friends noted, “[A]lthough he cursed that decision many times, I’m not sure he would have ever done it any differently. I am glad he had the chance to speak up about the past, write his own blog, and begin working through the feelings of all that had happened to him.”

It was through Bobby’s online presence – his blog, his YouTube channels (here and here) and his Facebook page – that I’ve become friends over the years with a large number of people, some of whom knew him in his Los Angeles days, some of whom knew him during the darker days of the early 1970s, and some who’ve met him since. And we’re all grieving.

I never met Bobby Jameson in person, but in the way that the world works today, our online connection made him my friend and my brother. I’m going to miss him, sharp corners and all.

One of the things that pleased me most during the early days of our friendship was that shortly after my piece on Working! brought us together, he shipped me an mp3 of his cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona,” a 1968 track that had been recorded for Working! but was ultimately trimmed from the 1969 album. I was touched that he’d trust me with it and allow me to share it with readers in this space. Here’s one of the two videos he made over the past few years for the track.

Of Pate & Rye

March 25, 2015

Once more, we visit the ghosts of East St. Germain, the main drag here on the East Side of St. Cloud. It’s 1965, and we go once more into the dining room of the Ace Bar & Cafe, where the young whiteray, his parents and his sister are celebrating one occasion or another.

After we order, as we sit with our beverages – probably a Mountain Dew for me, a Coke for my sister, a Hamm’s Beer for Dad and an old-fashioned for Mom – our waitress brings us the relish tray: Carrots, celery, radishes, pickles, liver pate, probably some pickled herring, and an assortment of crackers in cellophane packages.

Restaurants don’t do relish trays anymore. They’re too labor intensive and too wasteful, I imagine. But fifty years ago, every “go out for a nice dinner” restaurant in the St. Cloud area offered them: The Ace, the Persian Club, the 400 Club, the Hub, the Log Lodge, and maybe more I can’t think of right now. The trays’ offerings changed a bit from place to place but a relish tray was a constant of a nice dinner out in those days.

My favorite portion of the relish tray, as I’ve noted here once before, was the liver pate. (I love pickled herring almost as much, but it wasn’t a rare treat, as we routinely had a jar of it in the fridge at home.) Almost as soon as our waitress placed the tray on our table, I’d have my eye on the pate, and I’d rummage through the selection of crackers until I found a packet of Ry-Krisp. The flat rye crackers seemed made for liver pate, and just thinking about that long-ago treat makes my mouth water as I write.

The pate and of the pickled herring on the tray were no doubt a reflection of the Northern European origins of many of the East Side’s residents back then. Most families on the East Side had been in the U.S. for a couple of generations – there were a few immigrants and first-generation Americans – but even second- and third-generation folks fifty years ago tended to hold onto the ethnic tastes and traditions of their ancestors.

There were still vivid connections to those immigrant ancestors: My mom spent a lot of time as a child with her maternal grandfather, who emigrated from Prussia as a child (and in fact, William Raveling lived long enough that I sat on his lap as an infant). My dad’s family had come to the U.S. from Sweden a little earlier but still held onto many of its Scandinavian traditions, lutefisk, pickled herring and flatbread among them.* The families of most of the kids I knew on the East Side were like that. Not all of them descended from Northern Europeans; the names I recall of some of my schoolmates reflect origins in England, Scotland, and the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe. But we all cared about our ancestors’ origins, and the folkways and tastes of those ancestors were important as well.

So why this today? Because last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Ry-Krisp has come to an end. After nearly a century, the company is closing. As Kevyn Burger wrote:

For as long as there have been modern grocery stores, there have been boxes of Ry-Krisp on their shelves. Every one of the commercially produced crackers inside was mixed, baked and packed at the world’s one and only Ry-Krisp plant in southeast Minneapolis.

But the Minnesota-born brand is no more. Production at the boxy white factory wound down in March. Soon the final packages of Ry-Krisp will disappear forever from the cracker aisles, and with them, a bit of local history will crumble.

In one short century, Ry-Krisp rose from humble origins to become a product distributed around the globe. The crunchy rye-flavored snack became an emblem for overlapping culinary trends, shifting from peasant fare to health food to diet aid until changing tastes led to the cracker’s quiet demise . . .

Reading that piece brought me back – as so many things seem to do – to the Ace Bar & Cafe. And it brought me back to the occasional stock of Ry-Krisp I used to keep on my shelves at home. I’d buy it as a snack – a platform for cheese – now and then, and about fifteen years ago, after my doctor advised me to adopt a whole grain diet and further encouraged me to avoid yeast and fermented products for a year, Ry-Krisp was one of my bread substitutes. I recall sitting at my kitchen table in my small apartment on Minneapolis’ Bossen Terrace, eating kippered snacks on Ry-Krisp for a quick lunch.

Once the prohibition on yeast and fermented products was lifted, I found myself a brand of whole wheat bread. At about the same time, whole grain Triscuits and Wheat Thins became my snack crackers of choice, and Ry-Krisp left my shopping list. Until this week, that is. Once I read the piece in the Star-Tribune, I knew I had to buy one last box of Ry-Krisp. And here it is.

My Last Box of Ry-Krisp

I wasn’t the only one with the idea, though: By the time the Texas Gal and I got to our neighborhood Ca$h Wi$e on Sunday afternoon, all of the regular Ry-Krisp was gone from the shelves, as was all of the seasoned Ry-Krisp. I was left with the consolation prize of a box of light rye crackers. (The company also made multi-grain and sesame versions of the cracker, but there was no shelf space for those new-fangled varieties at the local store.) It may be light, but it’s Ry-Krisp, and the ingredients are the same as they always were: Whole rye and salt. (The idea of a multi-grain Ry-Krisp, a version I don’t ever recall seeing in stores, bothers me, if only vaguely; Ry-Krisp was supposed to be rye, and when you start throwing other grains into the mix, you’ve got something else.)

So I’ve got my last box of Ry-Krisp, and I think I’ll head out sometime in the next few days to the Byerly’s grocery across town – it’s a little more high rent than Ca$h Wi$e – and see if there’s any liver pate from Scandinavia or even Germany on the shelves. (If I have to settle for French, I will.) Then I’ll have myself one more snack of pate on Ry-Krisp, and for a fleeting moment, it will be 1965 in the Ace Cafe once more. I think I’ll skip the Mountain Dew this time.

And here’s a record that we might easily have heard in the background at the Ace on a Saturday evening in 1965: “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Sounds Orchestral was No. 1 for three weeks on the Billboard Easy Listening chart and went to No. 10 on the magazine’s Hot 100.

*That attachment to tradition was likely enhanced by the homogeneity of the area around Dad’s hometown of Cambridge – most folks there in the early 20th century could trace their roots to Sweden – and by multi-generational living: Among the members of Dad’s household during his childhood was his Great-Uncle Charlie, whose parents or grandparents came from Sweden. (Great-Uncle Charlie’s rocking chair, refinished and reupholstered a few years back, sits in my dining room.)

Saturday Single No. 431

January 31, 2015

About three years ago, having run across an obscure single by Rod McKuen in a Billboard Hot 100 from 1962, I remembered seeking out a couple of volumes of McKuen’s poetry in high school:

Why? A couple of things contributed, I imagine. I’d been listening frequently to the Glenn Yarbrough album The Lonely Things, a 1966 LP of McKuen’s songs that my sister had received from a boyfriend before he headed off to Vietnam. And there was my embryonic interest in writing my own verse and lyrics. Those two bits of my life united, I think, into the realization that even if matters of the heart did not unwind as I might wish they would (and they did not, though at sixteen, how could they have done so?), something worthy might be salvaged from the sorrow.

So I read the two volumes, recognizing a few of the pieces from the Yarbrough album and dipping into those that were not familiar. I found some of them affecting, I remember, and I found some of them not to my taste. Assessing them from a distance of more than forty years – and not having read many of them for that long – I now see much of McKuen’s work as manipulative, pushing his loved (and lost) one’s buttons, as it were, instead of truly grieving. And his poems and lyrics – even those on the Yarbrough album, which I still love – all too often tap sentiment instead of true emotion.

Hmmm. Until I wrote those words, I didn’t know I felt that way about McKuen’s work. As I used to tell my reporting and writing students: If you want to know how you really feel about something, start writing about it and follow the words. But anyway, back to work . . .

And I still feel that way about the work of McKuen, who passed on in California two days ago at the age of eighty-one. But that’s (mostly) the dismissive assessment of an adult. As an adolescent, as I noted in that piece from three years ago, I found many of his works affecting, and – especially when filtered through the voice of Glenn Yarbrough – touching. Sentimental? Yes, I still think so, but I’m also aware that the reliance on sentiment – by McKuen and other writers alike – is one of the things that pushed me toward being a writer, toward using the events and feelings of my life as foundations of my own work.

And there we come to one of the points of this blog: How the music I’ve loved over the years has brought me to where I am, as a writer and a person. And the fact that I have come to be far more critical of McKuen’s work in the forty-five years that have passed since I was a high school junior does not negate the value I found in some of McKuen’s work then nor its influence since those days on my writing and my life.

That value and that influence came most of all from Yarbrough’s album The Lonely Things. So to remember Rod McKuen and to acknowledge his place in my life, here’s one of the pieces from Yarbrough’s album that I found most affecting in 1970. Even as I recognize the song’s flaws today, I still find the combination of McKuen’s words and Yarbrough’s voice a potent mix, which only means that I am both sixteen and sixty-one as I listen to it this morning. Here’s “Stanyan Street, Revisited,” today’s Saturday Single.