Posts Tagged ‘Bachman-Turner Overdrive’

‘The X-Rays . . . Look Odd’

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2008

Someone whose name I never knew saved my life thirty-four years ago this week.

I’d returned to St. Cloud from my academic year in Denmark on May 21, and by May 28, I was coughing every five minutes, feeling weak and winded. For a couple nights, I slept sitting up because every time I lay on my back, I started coughing uncontrollably. I’d started smoking during my last weeks in Denmark and had continued when I came home; thinking the cigarettes were the culprits, I laid them aside. But I continued to cough, and I felt weaker every day.

Finally, my mother took me to our family doctor. He tapped my chest, listened to my lungs and all that, and he sent me to the local hospital for some X-rays. At the hospital, when the X-rays had been shot, the technician asked me to wait there until he was sure they came out all right. I sat there with Mom, reading magazines and coughing. At length, the technician came out. He said, “The X-rays are all right, but they look odd. I’d like you to stay here until I can have a doctor look at them.”

And that almost certainly saved my life.

A doctor on call looked at the X-rays and had me admitted to the hospital. For half an hour or so, I went through tests – one of which determined how long I could exhale, in other words, lung capacity. I had blood drawn for lab work. About three hours or so after Mom and I walked in, I was sitting up in a bed – reading the morning paper, I think – waiting to find out what was going on.

And a doctor, a nurse and two orderlies – all with grim faces – came literally running into my room, the orderlies hauling an oxygen tank. The doctor watched as the nurse threaded a plastic tube through my nose and down into my breathing passage. She connected it to the tank and one of the orderlies turned the valve, sending oxygen into my lungs. The doctor said that no one knew why, but my lungs had – over the past week – filled with fluid to an alarming degree. I was drowning.

The doctors who cared for me in the next week gave some information to my parents that they did not share with me. From what I learned later, as I understand it (and I’ve never done much digging), the amount of oxygen, or O2, present in the blood is measured so that a normal level is somewhere around 100. When one’s O2 level drops to 50, some very bad things can occur. When it drops to 35, things get much worse. And – again, as I understand it from many years ago – when it drops to 25, one does not have much of a future. I have been told that my O2 level as I went through those tests that afternoon was 32.

That explains the grim faces on the doctor, the nurse and the orderlies.

That evening, I was moved to a room with an oxygen tank built into the walls and was given one of those oxygen masks with the nozzles that fit into one’s nose, which was much more comfortable. The internist assigned to my case told my parents and me that he was going to put me on Prednisone, a steroid. Over the course of a week, that cleared the fluid in my lungs, and doctors determined that there had been no permanent damage. I was very lucky. But the doctors never figured out why my lungs had filled; they called it an allergic reaction of unknown origin.

So I went home breathing and whole. My doctors, being understandably cautious, recommended that my activities be limited for at least the first six weeks of summer. I negotiated with them the right to walk every morning to the neighborhood grocery store a block away to buy a newspaper. And for the first half of the summer of 1974, that was just about all I was allowed to do. Oh, I imagine my folks took me out to dinner, and I know friends stopped by. But I was strongly discouraged from leaving the house on my own for anything other than that brief morning walk.

That was difficult enough for a man of twenty who was beginning to feel much better. But worse yet, I continued to take the Prednisone through the summer, and the drug had an effect on me similar to what I imagine low-grade speed would. I could sleep no more than six to seven hours a night, and when I was awake, I wanted to go, go, go. Those six weeks got long, and it was a major relief in July when I was allowed to leave home every weekday and work four to five hours at St. Cloud State’s Learning Resources Center.

Luckily, I had things to read – nearly nine months’ worth of Sports Illustrated and Time, which my dad had set aside for me while I was in Denmark – and I had music: Records in the rec room in the basement; the piano in the dining room; my guitar, which I played as I sat in our front yard overlooking the street; and radio, which was on as background most of the rest of the time, especially in the evenings, when I read late into the night.

Here’s some of what I heard that summer, thirteen songs pulled from the Billboard Top 100 for June 1, 1974:

A Selected Baker’s Dozen from 1974
“Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins, Epic single 11115 (No. 98 as of June 1, 1974)

“Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae, T.K. single 1004 (No. 93)

“Keep on Smilin’” by Wet Willie, Capricorn single 0043 (No. 81)

“Waterloo” by Abba, Atlantic single 3035 (No. 76)

“Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, RCA single 0232 (No. 71)

“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan, ABC single 11439 (No. 55)

“Let It Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Mercury single 73457 (No. 50)

“If You Wanna Get To Heaven” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, A&M single 1515 (No. 45)

“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia single 46007 (No. 33)

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, Virgin single 55100 (No. 25)

“Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” by the Main Ingredient, RCA single 0205 (No. 24)

“Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John, MCA single 40198 (No. 21)

“Help Me” by Joni Mitchell, Asylum single 11034 (No. 8 )

A few notes:

When I do a Baker’s Dozen, I usually let the RealPlayer select the songs randomly, so I always hear at least a snippet of each song. Today, I selected the songs from the Billboard list, so I heard bits of only a few. “Please Come To Boston” was not one of those I heard this morning, but I find as I think about it that it rings more clearly in my head than almost any other song on this list, throwing – as it were – echoes around the canyon. Was it that good a song? Or was it just pervasive? It peaked at No. 5 that summer, Loggins’ only hit, and it was, I guess, a not-bad chip from the singer-songwriter block. But in the end, more pervasive than good.

I wrote a few weeks ago that Wet Willie sometimes gets overlooked when talk turns to southern rock of the Seventies. The same is true with “Keep On Smilin’.” There wasn’t much southern about it, at least not what a listener would expect of a Capricorn release. But it was fun, it moved along nicely, and it had a good vocal and a good hook.

“Rock the Boat” is another one of those songs whose lyrics roll through my head without hesitation whenever I stop to think about it. The song reached No. 1 that summer, another example of the value of a good hook.

“Tubular Bells” began as an LP with two long compositions, one on each side. The single came about when an edit of Oldfield’s composition was selected for use as the theme to the movie The Exorcist, which came out in 1973. The single was released after the film’s success and eventually made its way to No. 7.

I tend to think that “Help Me” is the best thing Joni Mitchell has ever recorded over the course of her long career.

One day in July, having received approval from my doctors, my folks let me drive to the local mall on my own. There wasn’t a lot to do there, although I imagine I checked out the paperbacks at the drug stores and then looked through LPs at Musicland and Woolworth’s. But to be out on my own again was liberating, and I sat on one of the benches in the mall, sipping a soft drink, just watching that bit of the world. As I did, I heard from the sound system of a nearby store “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” And for more than thirty years, that song has been to me the sound of freedom and relief.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1973, Vol. 3

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 13, 2008

The first time I saw Billy Preston, he performed in an open-air concert at Selke Field on St. Cloud’s East Side. Selke’s stone walls date from the 1930s and enclose an entire city block. Until not too many years ago, about a third of the space was used for a football field and a surrounding running track. The rest of the area was open space for whatever uses the university might have.

And on a Saturday afternoon in May 1973, its use was as a home for the day for the legendary keyboard player and singer. I recall that my parents had no problem with my going to the concert – I was nineteen. I’m sure, however, that they had some concerns about my companion for the day. Let’s call her Sunny. She was twenty-six, divorced with two kids, in fragile recovery from an addition to at least one illegal substance, and was paying her way through college and feeding her children by dancing in a strip joint.

I’d met Sunny at The Table at school, and I have to give my folks credit: Mom and Dad never really said anything as I spent a few months seeing Sunny at school and then spending a fair amount of time at her apartment during evenings and weekends. My memory tells me that Sunny might even have come over to our home for dinner at least once, an encounter that would have shown my parents that she was actually pretty self-effacing, quiet with a sweet smile and a nice laugh and not at all the rough woman that they might have feared meeting, given only a description.

But I could tell all through the spring that my folks had their concerns, and looking back, that was reasonable. Between Sunny and me lay vast gaps in age and experience, gaps that scared me a little bit, to be honest, as I spent time with her and got closer to her during the spring and early summer.

We never were lovers. I would have happily accepted that role had it been offered, but I didn’t push for it. During the time that we spent hanging around her home or various drinking establishments, there were a few other men who came and went. Several times when I left Sunny’s home in the evening, there were men there who clearly would not be leaving until morning. Did that bother me? Yes, but given my utter inexperience in that aspect of life, it also brought me a sense of quiet relief. I never pushed for more.

I was happy spending time with her and her friends – they were a wide-ranging and fascinating group of people – and also spending time with her kids. I’ll call them Luke and Bethy, and they were eight and six, respectively. We went on picnics, played mini-golf once, I think, and the four of us – augmented more than once by one or more of Sunny’s lady friends and very rarely by one of the men she knew – would go shopping, ending the outing with a stop at a burger joint.

She was good to her kids, tried to be a good mom, from what I knew about the mom biz when I was nineteen, and she seemed – looking back – to be doing well at walking the slender bridge of recovery. I only recall one time when I truly questioned her judgment: In May, the four of us drove to St. Paul with tickets to see the Doobie Brothers. Along the way, we picked up a man she knew, a stop I’d not been told about, but that was okay. At the show, however, Sunny and her guy went dancing in the open space in front of the stage, leaving her two children sitting in the front row, scared and overwhelmed by the crowd and the spectacle and the sounds booming from the ten-foot-tall speaker not all that far away. For most of the concert, I sat between the kids, an arm around each one, very angry.

The academic year ended, and I stayed on campus for the summer, working half-time as a janitor and half-time for Learning Resources. I saw Sunny a few times early in the summer, as I got ready for my time in Denmark. Later, in August of 1973, she was one of those who arranged a surprise going-away party for me at the Grand Mantel, our favorite place for drinks. She sent me off with a kiss.

The night I got home from Denmark, in late May, 1974, I went down to the Grand Mantel to meet Sam, who’d left a note on my car to that effect a day or two earlier. He couldn’t make it that evening, it turned out, but I called him and we arranged to meet the next day on campus. While we were talking, I asked him quickly about some of our mutual friends. All seemed fine until I asked, “And Sunny – how’s she doing?”

There was a silence. “That,” said Sam, “is a sad situation.” He paused before telling me more. She’d gone back to drugs and dropped out of school. He thought the county had taken the kids away from her. And he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think she was in St. Cloud anymore.

One of the next few days, I drove past the apartment where Sunny and her kids had lived when I left town. It was empty. I never saw her again.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 3

We’ll start with a song that Sunny and I danced to during that May 1973 concert, and then go on to a song that often makes me think of her. And we’ll go random from there.

“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston, A&M single 1411

“Too Late For Prayin’” by Gordon Lightfoot from Sundown

“I’m Just A Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like A Man)” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette

“Mind Games” by John Lennon, Apple single 1868

“Page 43” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby

“The Great Gig in the Sky” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon

“Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, Brussels, Belgium, October 17

“Final Theme” by Bob Dylan from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

“Clever Girl” by Tower of Power from Tower of Power

“You Got To Reap Just What You Sow” by Joy of Cooking from Same Old Song And Dance (unreleased)

“Let It Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Mercury single 73457

“If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers from Be What You Are

“Together” by El Chicano from El Chicano

A few notes:

The Hall & Oates tune is one of the great tracks from an album that I think gets ignored when talk turns to great records. The album was released in 1973, and “She’s Gone” went out as a single for the first time in 1974, but neither the album nor the single went anywhere until 1976, when they both reached the charts. But both the album and the single soon became afterthoughts to the duo’s more current work at the time. “She’s Gone” survives in the Oldies rotation, but Abandoned Luncheonette deserves a better fate than it got.

The year of 1973 falls smack-dab in the middle of John Lennon’s so-called “Lost Weekend.” His albums might have been fuzzily thought out at the time – Mind Games especially has always seemed erratic – but he could still find great singles inside himself. And the title track to that erratic album was one of them.

Among the various combination of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, the duo of Crosby and Nash produced some of the best music. Graham Nash/David Crosby was the best of the albums the duo recorded, and “Page 43,” Crosby’s brief and sweet exploration of the purpose of life, is the best track on the album: “ . . . and you should have a sip of it, else you’ll find . . . it’s passed you by.”

It’s difficult to pull individual track from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon without pulling the music entirely out of context. “Money,” which opened Side Two of the original vinyl, worked. “Time” from Side One, and “Us and Them,” from Side Two, worked a little less well. But “The Great Gig In The Sky,” which closed Side One, somehow manages here to stand on its own. If I have my Pink Floyd lore correct, Clare Torry provides the swooping vocals.

I don’t often offer soundboard recordings/bootlegs here. The Muddy Waters recording with the Rolling Stones the other day was an exception. So, too, is the Rolling Stones’ version of “Tumbling Dice” today. Supposedly recorded for a live album, the Brussels show gives a good look at the Stones when they were truly “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World,” and to me, it’s a reminder of how they sounded when I saw them in Denmark thirteen days before they played this show in Brussels.

Of the final four groups in today’s list, the only one you seem have a chance of hearing on Oldies radio is Bachman-Turner Overdrive and its seven Top 40 hits, and that’s too bad. Joy of Cooking, as readers know, is one of my favorite forgotten groups of those years when the Sixties blended into the Seventies, but the group never hit the Top 40. The Staples Singers had eight Top 40 hits between 1971 and 1975, including two No. 1 songs (“I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and “Let’s Do It Again” in 1975), but I don’t recall the last time I heard them on any of the Oldies stations I listen to. The same holds true for El Chicano, which wasn’t nearly as successful reaching the charts as BTO or the Staples but still did have two Top 40 hits, including the sweet “Tell Her She’s Lovely” (No. 40 for one week!) in 1973.