Posts Tagged ‘Earth Wind & Fire’

Jeff, EW&F, Boz, Bubble Puppy & The Doors

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 30, 2009

One of the things that made Jeff Healey such a powerful guitar player was his lap-style playing, which – if not unique – was at least a rare technique. Here’s a clip of Healey and his band performing Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By” during a March 26, 1995, performance at the Sudbahnhof in Frankfurt, Germany.

Video deleted.

There are few things that go together better than funky music and excessive 1980’s style costumes. Here’s the video – the height of style and technique then and wonderfully cheesy today – that was released in 1981 for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.”

I can’t post it here, but here’s a link to a very nice performance by Boz Scaggs of “We’re All Alone.” It’s from 2004 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francsicso. (The recording cuts off too soon, but it’s still a great performance.) (Video deleted as of June 20, 2012.)

Here’s a video posted to the Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass.” There’s nothing new there musically, but you can see some record covers, posters and photos of the band.

Then, here’s a live soundstage performance by the Doors of “Wishful Sinful.” Based on the Doors’ appearances, this dates from sometime in 1970, probably around the time the band was working on L.A. Woman.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably do something to mark May Day again. Exactly what that’s going to be I don’t know right now, but this time, it will at least be on the right day.

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On The Reading Table

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 29, 2009

Here’s a quick look at what’s on my reading table:

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester. I’ve read a few things by Winchester before, most notably A Crack in the Edge of the World, his account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and The Meaning of Everything, which turned out to be a history of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the man can make anything interesting.

In the book currently on my table, Winchester tells the tale of English eccentric Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who became fascinated with China. Posted there by the British government during World War II, Needham became an expert on the scientific history of China. After the war, he continued his research, eventually producing seventeen volumes of his Science and Civilisation in China, making him “the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.”

As well as being a relentless researcher – his knowledge of Needham’s eccentric personal life and professional writings is deep – Winchester knows how to write. His books – and this is the fourth I’ve read, I believe – pull me into regions and disciplines that I not only know little of but that I’ve honestly never thought about much.

Next in the pile – I tend to read three or four things at a time, switching off every couple of days; I’ve done so for years – is sneaker wars, Barbara Smit’s history of the adidas and Puma shoe companies, from their founding in a small town in Germany just after World War II through the years when the two companies, as the dust jacket says, “changed the business of sport.”

It’s an interesting book, and my having visited the adidas headquarters no doubt makes it more so for me. Smit’s research seems strong enough. The dust jacket does not say where Smit was born, though it says she lives in France. That might matter, as every once in a while, something in the book’s diction or word choice makes me stop and think. As an example, while writing about Joe Namath, who was one of the earlier American top athletes to wear Puma shoes, Smit writes that Namath played his college football at the University of Alabama, “which he led to a football championship title in 1964.”

That “football championship title” bothers me. I’d have edited it “national championship.” I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve come across about five or six things like that – word choices, odd juxtapositions – that make me stop. Being a writer, I look at them and revise them mentally, and then go on. But it’s dangerous for a writer if a reader stops reading for any reason. He or she might not start up again.

The most intriguing book on my current reading table is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. The blurb on the back says: “Despite its apparent materialty the universe is actually a kind of 3-D projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram. This astonishing idea was pioneered by two of the world’s most eminent thinkers, physicist David Bohm . . . and the quantum physicist Karl Pribam. The holographic theory of the world encompasses not only reality as we know it, including hitherto unexplained phenomena, but is capable of explaining such occurrences as telepathy, paranormal and out-of-body experiences, synchronicity, ‘lucid’ dreaming and even mystical and religious traditions such as cosmic unity and miraculous healings.”

This is one I’m moving slowly through, taking my time and digesting each sentence, each idea, each section. I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the ideas in the book until sometime after I’ve completed reading it. But I can say that it’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. The inscription from my friend Patti, who gave me the book, tells me to “Enjoy the ride!” And I’m doing so.

The fourth book in the current reading pile showed up this week after a trip to the new regional library in downtown St. Cloud. I’d read a review of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell in one of the national newsmagazines; I forget which one. While the review praised the book, the book’s topic gave me pause: The Kindly Ones is the fictional memoir of a Dr. Maximilien Aue, a Nazi war criminal. From Poland and Ukraine, where the carnage begins for Dr. Aue (and which is where I am, just eighty-seven pages into a 975-page volume), the reader and the doctor will travel onward through the blood, fire and horror.

Littell wrote in French, and the English translation was done by Charlotte Mandell, so one never knows who really to credit, but The Kindly Ones is – so far – one of the more elegantly written books I’ve read in many years. The contrast of that elegance with the brutishness and cruelty that Dr. Aue seems to be carefully assessing as he takes part in it makes The Kindly Ones a difficult book, to say the least. I think I’ll finish it, and I have a sense I will not likely forget it, though I may not truly enjoy it.

As often happens when I write about books, there’s no easy way to slide into the topic of music, so we’ll just jump. Here’s a selection of stuff from the 1980s just because I felt like it today.

A Six-Pack of Random Eighties Tunes
“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire from Raise! [1981]
“No Use In Crying” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You [1981]
“Michael” by Secession, bonus track from A Dark Enchantment [1987]
“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting from …Nothing Like The Sun [1987]
“Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band from See The Light [1988]
“Don’t Talk” by 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe [1987]

This is the album version of “Let’s Groove,” found on Raise! The single ran about a minute and forty seconds shorter, which still gave folks plenty of time to get out onto the dance floor and shake it. The record was the last big hit for Earth, Wind & Fire, reaching No. 3 on the pop chart and spending eight weeks in the No. 1 slot of the R&B chart. Earth, Wind & Fire would reach the Top 40 chart one more time, with “Fall In Love With Me,” which went to No. 17 in 1983.

“Ain’t No Use In Crying” is one of the less-than-stellar ballads that the Rolling Stones used to flesh out the second side of Tattoo You. While the song may not have been one of the best in the Stones’ catalog, however, the recording was pretty good. The band and Mick Jagger all sound generally interested in the proceedings, which hasn’t always been the case.

I remember absolutely nothing about “Michael” or Secession and know only what I can hear this morning; The song’s mannered vocals and synth sound puts it clearly in the 1987 slot where I have it tagged. So let’s go dig a little. At Amazon, used copies of A Dark Enchantment – a UK-issued CD – have a starting price of $99. A search for “Secession” at All-Music Guide brings up little, just a list of similar artists: Switchblade Symphony, Dance Society and Psyche. As I dig a little deeper, I learn that the blog Systems of Romance must be where I got this and the rest of A Dark Enchantment. “Michael” was evidently one of several bonus tracks on the CD reissue. I like it.

I’m of two minds about Sting. Sometimes when one of his songs pops up on random play, I put down what I am doing and listen intently. At other times, with an almost irritated shrug, I each over and click through to the next song. I guess what that means is that I have to be in the right mood to listen to Sting. And when I’m in that mood, his stuff is pretty great.

“Angel Eyes” is the ballad that brought blind guitarist/singer Jeff Healey into the spotlight, a sweet and lovely song. (Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Minot, North Dakota, and one of the more pleasant episodes of my stay on the prairie, so that’s all right.) An edit of “Angel Eyes” was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer and autumn of 1989. See The Light was a pretty decent album, too. Healey died in March 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.*

In My Tribe is assessed by All-Music Guide as the breakthrough record for 10,000 Maniacs, and I guess that’s accurate, although the band’s major label debut, The Wishing Chair, got the group some attention, if I recall things correctly. Either way, the band’s sounds was unique enough that people actually listened. Chief among those things that made the sound unique, of course, is the arresting and beautiful voice of Natalie Merchant.

*The linked video is evidently the single edit. Video linked and note added July 1, 2013.

EW&F, ZZ Top & The Band

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 2, 2009

Off to YouTube!

Looking for videos of songs recently posted, the first thing I came across was labeled as a 1975 performance of “Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire:

Here’s a live performance of “La Grange” that ZZ Top evidently did for NBC (probably on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno sometime around 2005 although that date is pretty iffy):

I’m I’m not sure of the date of this next clip, but it’s got to be from sometime in the 1970s. It looks to be the original line-up of The Band – with some help from a few other folks – doing “Rag Mama Rag.” Levon Helm takes up his mandolin and Richard Manuel sits down at the drum kit. I can’t see Rick Danko, but I assume he’s just back in the shadow.*

I think that tomorrow, along with whatever I happen to write about, I’ll begin a series of reposts of albums that people have requested over the past few months. If you’ve asked for one and I don’t get to it during April, send me a gentle reminder. Thanks.

*After I posted this, I got a note from reader Jenaclap telling me what I should have spotted right away: Rick Danko in front on the acoustic guitar. I was too busy looking in the shadows for the bass player. And my dating of the clip was in error as well: The absence of Robbie Robertson (and the presence of other players) means that this clip is from the time of the first reunion of The Band from the early 1980s to 1986, when poor Richard Manuel killed himself. Note added shortly after original posting and revised May 16, 2012.

Edited significantly on archival posting.

The Seeds Of A Brand Loyalty

March 25, 2012

Originally posted April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1974, thirty-five years ago today, I was playing hooky in a big way. In fact, I was starting my second week of hooky from St. Cloud State’s classes in Fredericia, Denmark. Spring quarter had started Monday, March 25. Sunrise that day had found me in a youth hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland, looking out of the window at the Matterhorn. I knew it was the first day of class, but I also knew I had yet to travel through Switzerland and Austria to Vienna and I had yet to see Munich in what was then West Germany.

It wasn’t a tough choice. So a week later, on April 1, I was in Munich, standing in a square to watch the town hall tower’s ancient glockenspiel chime the hour. As I stood and waited for the top of the hour – ten o’clock, I believe – I saw one of my fellow St. Cloud State students, DJ, whom I’d not seen for nearly four weeks, since a raucous few days in Paris. He grinned and we caught up with each other as we waited. At ten o’clock, the bells in the tower chimed, and colorful carved figures danced and jousted.

The crowd thinned, and I turned to DJ. “So what are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“I’m heading to the Hofbräuhaus for lunch,” he said, “and then I’m heading back to Fredericia, but I’m going to visit a shoe factory along the way.”

A shoe factory?

He grinned and said he was heading for the world headquarters of adidas, the company whose shoes bore a distinctive three stripes.

I knew the shoes. I’d wanted a pair for years and, finally, for Christmas 1971, my folks gave me a pair: blue with the three stripes in white. I loved those shoes, and I wore them out. Then I bought another pair to bring with me to Denmark. I don’t think I was wearing them the day I ran into DJ, as I’d left Fredericia for spring break in early March, and it was still a bit chilly to wear the adidas shoes every day.

We went to the Hofbräuhaus, where we ate some baked liver loaf and each had a couple of beers. After we ate, we found an unattended door on the building’s lower level, and we each sneaked out with one of the Hofbräuhaus’ distinctive gray mugs, repeating an act of larceny committed by thousands of others over the years. From there, we went to the train station and headed to Nuremberg.

As we rode, DJ explained. The adidas company had its headquarters in a small town called Herzogenaurach. We’d have to take a train from Nuremberg to a city called Fürth, and there, we’d have to catch a train to a station called Erlangen-Bruck, near the smaller city of Erlangen. There, finally, we would catch a train that brought us to Herzogenaurach. Our goal, DJ said, was to get a tour of the factory and the company’s shoe museum.

As DJ had planned, our fourth train of the afternoon brought us into Herzogenaurach, but it was mid-afternoon by that time. “We might be too late,” he said, as we hurried down the street. I saw a sign in the street, like a traffic sign. One portion of the sign pointed to the right, and showed “adidas” and the familiar trefoil logo. The other portion pointed left, and read “PUMA” with the also familiar leaping cat. As we headed to the right, I asked DJ, “Puma and adidas?”

He nodded as we hurried, and between breaths, he told me that the companies had been started by feuding brothers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, in the years after World War II. Adolf had used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name to brand his shoes: adidas. Rudolf had chosen Puma as his brand name, and the headquarters for both brands were located in Herzogenaurach, a city that in 1974 had a population of around 15,000, maybe a little less.

We made our way through town to a group of buildings at the edge of town, with the most modern of them marked “adidas.” We went to that one, and at the door, DJ explained our mission. Eventually, the doorkeeper went away and brought back a man who was maybe in his forties, wearing a conservative coat and tie. He looked at the two of us, with our longish, untrimmed hair, and told us he was sorry, the factory was closed and it was too late to get a tour. He gave each of us his card and said that if we could come back early in the morning on a Thursday or a Friday . . .

Disappointed, DJ and I walked back into the center of the small town and went to the adidas factory outlet. He bought shoes and an athletic bag; I bought a t-shirt. And we headed back, via Erlangen-Bruck and Fürth, to Nuremberg, where we caught a train that would take us to Hamburg in northern West Germany. From there, it was only a few hours to Fredericia. We got home about mid-day on April 2, a week and a day late for class.

(We weren’t the only ones to be late for spring classes, nor were we the last ones back from spring break: Many of us had missed at least some class time that spring quarter, and a few others straggled in after DJ and I got back to Fredericia. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that our time in Denmark was St. Cloud State’s first attempt at a foreign study program, and although the administration had anticipated some absenteeism, our behavior at the beginning of the spring quarter was more widespread and blatant than expected. From then on, in all of St. Cloud State’s foreign study programs, an extended absence required a good reason. Those students without good reasons, I think, were sent back to the States. And I’m pretty sure that, “But I hadn’t been to Vienna yet!” wouldn’t have been a good enough reason.)

A couple of days later, I got a letter from a gal I’d met in Vienna who was studying in Poitiers, France, inviting me to visit for Easter, if my rail pass was still good. It was, and train schedules were good enough to allow me to get there, spend two days, and get back to Fredericia without missing any school.

In fact, I thought, as I looked at maps and train schedules, I could leave Wednesday afternoon and head south to Munich – where there was a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that I’d not seen while I was there – and then take a Thursday night train to Paris. I could still get into Poitiers on Friday, which is what my lady friend had suggested. I looked at my adidas shirt drying on the radiator and thought a little more.

And at 7:30 in the morning on April 11, a Thursday, I presented myself at the main building of the adidas shoe company. I gave the doorman the business card I’d gotten during my previous visit, and waited. The conservatively dressed fellow came to the door and did a double-take when he saw me. I reminded him that he’d essentially promised a tour if we came back early on a Thursday or a Friday. He nodded, smiling tightly, and escorted me into the building. He handed me off to a junior somebody, who took me around the factory and then through a small museum, where I saw – among other things – adidas shoes that had been used by Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali. I left the factory after about an hour, impressed with what I’d seen and carrying a bag of key chains and other trinkets, all marked “adidas.”

And this may be silly, but since that day, I’ve never worn a shirt or jacket or anything that displays the brand name of another shoe company. No Nike shirts or caps, no Puma, no New Balance, no Air Jordan. I’ve not always had sports shoes, but when I have, they’ve been adidas. I have several shirts with the adidas logo and none displaying any other shoe brand’s logo. I have a small collection of baseball caps, most of them displaying the logos of various athletic teams . . . and three with the adidas logo.

As I said, that brand loyalty might be kind of silly. I’m not an athlete, never really have been. But that loyalty satisfies something in me, and that’s all that matters.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 30, 1974)
“Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5, Motown 1286 (No. 40)
“On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, Asylum 11033 (No. 51)
“Star Baby” by the Guess Who, RCA Victor 0217 (No. 54)
“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 46007 (No. 64)
“Watching The River Run” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 46010 (No. 73)
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 (No. 97)

I don’t recall hearing any of these at the time. Readers might recall my mentioning the tape machine in the lounge of the youth hostel where I was living during the early months of 1974: We listened mostly to the Allman Brothers, the first Duane Allman anthology and Pink Floyd, with Graham Nash, the occasional slice of Bread and a few others being dropped in for variety. Radios were scarce at the hostel, and Top 40 was hard to come by.

Though I’m sure I’ve heard “Dancing Machine” before I ripped it from one of the Texas Gal’s CDs this week, I couldn’t tell you when. My tolerance for the Jackson 5 has been limited for years to “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” I don’t think “Dancing Machine” is quite up to the level of those, but it’s a pretty good, propulsive track, better than I thought it would be when I first chose it for this selection. The record went to No. 2 on the pop chart and spent a week at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the last Jackson 5 record to climb so high on either chart.

When listeners dropped “On A Night Like This” on the turntable, they were hearing something that hadn’t been available on record before except on bootlegs: Bob Dylan in the recording studio with The Band. The single was the first track from Planet Waves, which surprisingly – given their long association – was the first album that found all five members of The Band in the studio with Dylan. (The facsinating Basement Tapes, showing what Dylan and the five members of The Band had been up to during Dylan’s recovery from a motorcycle accident, would come out in 1975.) A rollicking and grinning piece of Americana (long before, as I said the other day, that term was applied to popular music), the single nevertheless failed to reach the Top 40; by the end of March, it had been in the Hot 100 for six weeks and had peaked at No. 44. By April 6, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100.

For about two-and-a-half years, between early 1969 and the late summer of 1971, the Guess Who – a group out of Manitoba, Canada – had been a reliable hit-making machine, putting eleven singles into the Top 40, with five of them reaching the Top Ten. (The most successful of them, “American Woman,” spent three weeks at No. 1 in the spring of 1970.) In the spring of 1974, the Guess Who broke a three-year absence in the Top 40, as “Star Baby” – a catchy piece of radio pop – slid into the pop chart. As March ended, the record was on its way up, moving to No. 54 from No. 63. Three weeks later, “Star Baby” poked its head into the Top 40, sitting at No. 39 for two weeks before tumbling back down the chart. The Guess Who had two more hits in 1974 – “Clap For The Wolfman” went to No. 6 and “Dancin’ Fool” went to No. 28 – and then disappeared from the Top 40 for good.

From 1974 into the early 1980s, Chicago-based Earth, Wind & Fire released a series of catchy singles that laced R&B with funk and the occasional tender ballad. That brought the group – formed and led by drummer Maurice White – sixteen Top 40 hits, seven of which reached the Top Ten. One of those, “Shining Star” spent a week at No. 1 on the pop charts; seven of the group’s hits were No. 1 on the R&B chart. That string began with “Mighty Mighty” in 1974. During the week in question, “Mighty Mighty” was at No. 64 and was heading up the chart towards its peak of No. 29. All together, the song – a potent slice of radio R&B – spent fifteen weeks in the Hot 100.

It’s interesting that Loggins & Messina included “Watching The River Run” on their 1976 anthology, The Best of Friends, as the song got no further up the Hot 100 than No. 71 in a six-week run. But then, Loggins & Messina only had three Top 40 hits, which would make for a pretty skimpy anthology. And “Watching The River Run” is a good choice, maybe the quintessential Loggins & Messina track: melodic and mellow with a lyric that tells us that we’re all part of something sweet and good, something that will go one when we no longer do.

The growling, nearly incomprehensible lyrics of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” combined with the record’s Texas-style boogie, nearly got ZZ Top into the Top 40. “La Grange” crawled slowly up the chart after its March 30 debut, eventually reaching No. 41 in the last week of June 1974 and the falling out of the Hot 100 a month later after a nineteen-week run. Starting with “Tush” in the summer of 1975, ZZ Top would eventually have eight Top 40 hits, with two of them – “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” – reaching the Top Ten in the mid-1980s. But as good as any of those were, I don’t think they match “La Grange.’ A-how-how-how-how!

Note: For those interested in the history of adidas and Puma shoes and the feud between the Dassler brothers that led to the forming of two competing companies in one small German town, look into Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smit. Even if you don’t wear sports apparel of any kind, it’s a fascinating look at influence the two companies had in starting the amazingly huge business of marketing sports gear and apparel.

Paul, EW&F & Orleans

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 23, 2008

Off to YouTube this morning!

The first thing I found related to yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen from 1975 was a performance by Paul Simon of his song, “My Little Town,” presented live on the BBC on December 27, 1975.

Here’s a recent performance of “That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire, taken, according to the poster, from the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, November 12, 2007:

And here’s Orleans, performing “Dance With Me” on the Midnight Special during late 1975:

Autumn 1975: Learning New Skills

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 22, 2008

Pondering the autumn of 1975 – a season that seems more brilliant in memory the further it recedes in time – I realized that I expanded what educators call my “skill set” in those months.

Part of that expansion of abilities came from both my last quarter of college coursework before graduation and from my most frequent activity during my spare time, and part came on a wet October Saturday that I spent at home with my parents.

That wet Saturday provided an interesting learning opportunity, yet it left me with skills I’ve had no chance to use. For years, while my grandparents lived on their farm, our family would spend some time on the farm in August, with one of the late-summer chores being the butchering of a good number of chickens to freeze and store for the winter. The price my family paid Grandpa for the chicken was reasonable to him and far less than we would have paid at the butcher shop or at Carl’s Market up on East St. Germain.

After Grandpa and Grandma moved off the farm in 1972, we bought chicken in the store like everyone else. But for some reason in October 1975, Mom and Dad decided that they wanted some fresh chicken to freeze and store for the winter. So early one Saturday, Dad went off to a farm somewhere northeast of St. Cloud and came home with about a dozen chickens, headless and with their feathers removed. (A good thing, that last; from my experiences on the farm, I know well that pulling feathers from a butchered chicken is difficult and messy.) And for most of the rest of the day, Mom, Dad and I stood around the kitchen table, knives in hand, and cleaned chickens, something I’d never done before.

I needn’t go into gory detail. It was messy, of course, and by the time we got through cleaning and cutting up the final chicken, I was pretty good at it. I figure if I had to do it again, I could. But I’ve never had the need since, a fact for which I am grateful.

The other skill that I strengthened that autumn – in class and during my spare time – was writing. Among my classes that fall quarter was one in the history of the documentary film. We spent hours watching documentary films – from Robert Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece, Nanook of the North – considered by most historians as the first true documentary – through 1971’s The Selling of the Pentagon, a television effort by CBS News. Some of the films were art; I think of Rain, a 1920s film by Joris Ivens (and the fact that these titles and names come back to me unbidden makes me realize again how important that class was to me) that detailed an everyday rainstorm in his hometown of Amsterdam, Holland. Some of them were something darker: The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the 1934 Congress of the German Nazi Party at Nuremberg and was – viewed with knowledge of the tragedy and horror that ensued – a chilling, powerful and dark piece of work.

Not only did we watch films, but we wrote about them. Each student was required during the quarter to submit a certain number – eight, maybe? – of brief critiques of the films we were seeing and one longer critique. The short papers were required to be two to three typed pages, double-spaced, and the longer paper, about ten pages. Not yet being skilled at composing my work at the typewriter, I wrote – actually printed – my critiques on notebook paper. And as I pondered and assessed the films we were seeing, I realized that, although writing was work, it was work I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to move words around into forms and orders that were mine alone.

I remember the first time I realized that: I was writing a critique of Rain, the brief film shot in 1920s Amsterdam, and I was assessing the pacing of the film. I wrote that the film moved through the streets “with a calm urgency, like the rain.” I paused and looked at my words on paper, especially that “calm urgency.” Something about the way those words looked, sounded and read together gripped me tightly. And it was something I had done! I’m sure other writers before – many others – had found that combination of those two words and gone ahead from there. But for the moment, that set of two words was mine.

That was the moment that I began to think of myself as a writer.

And writing took up much of my free time from then on: I wrote short stories, and screenplays. My lyrics – which I’d dabbled in since 1970 – became more focused and more planned. I continued to work on a memoir of a railroad jaunt through northern Scandinavia that I’d shared with a madcap Australian – a manuscript that has rested, ignored (justifiably, I’m sure), in my files for more than thirty years now.

A writer is always learning to write. Every time he or she takes pen or pencil to paper or lays his or her fingers on the keyboard, a writer is learning something. The lesson may not be obvious; the learning is not conscious. But a writer who is serious about his or her craft comes away from every session with his or her skills honed more, even if it’s just a tiny bit. In those days in the autumn of 1975, I was learning a great deal about writing – and about thinking, for one cannot write clearly without thinking clearly – every time I sat down at a table, whether that was in my room or the basement rec room at home, in a coffee shop or restaurant around town, or in my favorite haunt, the snack bar in the basement of St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center.

I’ve never cleaned a chicken since that rainy Saturday. But I’ve written almost every day since I discovered that “calm urgency” one evening in the autumn of 1975.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 4
“Fire On The Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, Capricorn 0244 (No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 18, 1975)

“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230 (No. 81)

“Gone At Last” by Paul Simon & Phoebe Snow, Columbia 10197

“Fight The Power” by the Isley Brothers from The Heat Is On (“Fight The Power, Pt. 1,” T-Neck 2256, was at No. 58)

“That’s The Way Of The World” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10172 (No. 50)

“Island Girl” by Elton John, MCA 40461 (No. 36)

“Sky High” by Jigsaw, Chelsea 3022 (No. 31)

“SOS” by Abba, Atlantic 3265 (No. 24)

“Lady Blue” by Leon Russell, Shelter 40378 (No. 19)

“Fame” by David Bowie, RCA Victor 10320 (No. 12)

“They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” by the Spinners, Atlantic 3284 (No. 9)

“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 (No. 6)

“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka, Rocket 40460 (No. 1)

A few notes:

The Marshall Tucker Band was far more country-oriented than most of their brethren who recorded for the Capricorn label. “Fire On The Mountain,” which features Charlie Daniels on fiddle, would not be out of place on today’s country radio. Of course, a lot of what passes for country music these days would not have been out of place on rock and pop radio in 1975. Brooks & Dunn, for instance, often sound – instrumentally, at least – like the Rolling Stones gone off to Nashville. Anyway, more than thirty years on, the Marshall Tucker Band is still good listening.

I remember sitting at The Table in Atwood Center sometime during the autumn of 1975 and hearing the first low piano notes of “My Little Town” coming from the jukebox. I liked Paul Simon’s solo work, but it somehow sounded so right to hear his voice blend once more with Art Garfunkel’s (whose solo work was far less accomplished than Simon’s). And I think the song itself is one of Simon’s ignored masterpieces both musically and in the lyrics that detail the stifling atmospheres many of us perceive in our own hometowns as we grow.

I don’t have the Isley’s “Fight the Power, Part 1,” which went as high as No. 4, nor do I recall hearing it that autumn. But the album track from which Part 1 was pulled is too funky and, well, too good in its call to action to leave it out. I imagine the word “bulls**t” was bleeped on the radio.

A few of these singles, to this day, say “autumn of 1975” to me more than do the others. Among the most evocative – taking me back to sunny days on campus at a time when I was probably happier and more secure, both personally and in school, than I had ever been – are Earth, Wind & Fire’s “The Way Of The World” and Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” I love a lot of the rest of EW&F’s catalog, too, but “The Way Of The World” is my favorite. I guess “Dance With Me” is my favorite track by Orleans, too, but then, it has to be: It’s the only one I ever listen to.

Two of the other records here also take me back to a specific place on one specific evening that November: A pal of mine and I hit a series of drinking emporiums one Friday evening and wound up at a place called The Bucket, which was located in a spot that I believe placed it outside of the city limits of both St. Cloud and the nearby small town of Sartell. It was a rough place, and it had recently added to its attractions the diversion of young women disrobing while they danced on a small stage. Hey, we were twenty-two, okay? Anyway, among the songs one of the entertainers selected from the jukebox to accompany her efforts were David Bowie’s “Fame” and Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood.” Thankfully, they don’t pop up often, but when they do, those two tunes put me for just a moment in a Stearns County strip joint.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Columbia Singles

August 3, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2008

It was about four in the afternoon yesterday when the Texas Gal and I took a break. We’d hauled four carloads of stuff over to the house – following five loads on Saturday – and I’d made another trip to the big-box home center, followed by the assembly of two more sets of utility shelves in the basement.

We’re beginning to envision how the living room will be arranged, and the Texas Gal has a handle on where things will go in the loft, which will be her quilting and sewing space. I can see that my study will have room to have my keyboard out, which means I can make some music again, and we’re negotiating colors for the bedroom. We’ve agreed on a Scandinavian motif for the kitchen.

Those things are much more vision than reality now, and much heavy lifting remains before the gap between those two words is bridged. This will be the first house the Texas Gal has lived in as an adult; she’s been an apartment dweller. And though I shared a house with some fellows during my late college years (I’ve lived in mobile homes and apartments since), this feels like my first house, too. So we’re trying to take in all of the process that gets us home, even the drudgery of piecing together plastic shelf sets and of sorting out boxes of fabric.

As we took our break in what is still a sparely furnished kitchen, she drinking a Dr. Pepper, me sipping a Summit India Pale Ale, we looked at the bare walls and saw the décor that will soon be there; we looked through the archway into the empty dining room and saw the table and chairs that will soon welcome dinner guests. And we smiled at our house-to-be and at each other.

Translating that to music can be sketchy, but I went to my favorite song about smiles, and moved on from there.

A Baker’s Dozen of Columbia Singles

“Make Me Smile” by Chicago, Columbia 45127, 1970

“My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, Columbia 44163, 1967

“My Back Pages” by the Byrds, Columbia 44054, 1967

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins & Messina, Columbia 45719, 1972

“Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, Columbia 10090, 1975

“Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, Columbia 11072, 1979

“Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, Columbia 04636, 1984

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674, 1963

“Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay, Columbia 45180, 1970

“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers, Columbia 44414, 1967

“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde, Columbia 44590, 1968

“Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, Columbia 45236, 1970

“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After, Columbia 45457, 1971

A few notes:

“Make Me Smile” still grabs me by the collar and says “Wake up, we’re playing music here!” The same is true, of course, for many of Chicago’s early singles. (Take a look at what JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ had to say about “25 or 6 to 4” recently.) Unhappily, the band didn’t keep up this level of quality. When did I give up on Chicago? Maybe with “Wishing You Were Here” in 1974, but certainly by the time of “If You Leave Me Now” in 1976. For a few years, though, Chicago had a good hold of my collar.

“My World Fell Down” comes from the confectionary talents of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, the producers behind Sagittarius. A little too cloying, maybe, but the single is worth noting because the 1997 CD release restored an avant-garde bridge of noise that had been brutally edited when the LP was released in the Sixties.

The Dylan track was the single from Slow Train Coming, the first of Dylan’s three Christian albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with production from Barry Beckett and guitar provided by Mark Knopfler, Slow Train Coming is far better – and far more enjoyable – than the two albums that followed. (Dylan earned a Grammy for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” for “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)

“Silver Bird” was one of two great radio singles Mark Lindsay released in 1970 after leaving Paul Revere & the Raiders. “Arizona” was the other, and it went to No. 10 in the early months of 1970. “Silver Bird,” which entered the Top 40 in July, reached only No. 25. They were Lindsay’s only Top 40 hits. I don’t recall the last time I actually heard either one of them on the radio, but they still sound plenty good popping up on the player.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that the Avant-Garde was the duo of Elkin “Bubba” Fowler and Chuck Woolery. “Naturally Stoned” was one of those rare hits that almost wasn’t: The record reached No. 40 in its only week on the chart. The book doesn’t say what happened to Elkin after that, but Woolery, the book notes, went on to host TV games shows like Wheel of Fortune, Love Connection and Greed. Even with all that, it’s not a bad record although it’s certainly a period piece.

I’ve never been much of a Streisand fan, but she and producer Richard Perry got it right with “Stoney End.” The record did well, too, going to No. 6 after entering the Top 40 in December 1970. (The similarly titled album came out in February 1971, which explains the seemingly contradictory tags on the mp3.)

‘If I Was You, I’d Harvest . . .’

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 89, 2008

I got some good advice from my grandfather at least once.

I was twenty, and I’d recently returned from my time in Denmark. While I’d been gone, I’d grown my first beard and mustache, kind of by default. I’d been packing my backpack for a trip during a December quarter break, and I decided that I could save a little room by not packing my razor – a Schick injector, if I remember correctly – and the other things needed to shave. So I headed off into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, looking scruffier by the day, at least until the growth progressed enough to be considered a beard and mustache.

As I said, I was twenty, and the resulting foliage wasn’t lush. The mustache was okay, but the beard stayed pretty much confined to my jaw line; my cheeks were barren. But it was a lot easier not having to shave every day, especially during those times when I was wandering, living out of a backpack.

I came home in May, and a few days afterward (just days before I entered the hospital, which I wrote about the other day), I saw my grandparents – my mom’s folks – for the first time in almost nine months. My grandfather was eighty-two and had been a farmer all his life. He came up to me, looked closely at the growth on my face. He tugged at it lightly.

Then he nodded and said, “If I was you, I’d harvest this crop, fertilize and hope for better next year.”

It was another year and a half before I took his advice. I shaved off that first beard in December 1975, when I was interning in the sports department of a Twin Cities television station; I thought that being clean-shaven might increase the chances of getting some airtime and perhaps even getting a job. I kept the mustache, though.

And for the next twelve years or so, the beard came and went. I grew one a few years into my time at the Monticello newspaper and shaved it off one hot July day a couple years later. I let it grow out again during graduate school in Missouri and shaved it off about the time I moved back to Minnesota. And when I was teaching in Minot, I quit shaving during the 1987 Thanksgiving break, and that beard has stayed with me for more than twenty years now. And throughout all that, the mustache has stayed; my upper lip last felt a razor on December 5, 1973.

One of the things that means, of course, is that the Texas Gal – whom I met in 2000 – has never seen me clean-shaven. She occasionally suggests that she’d like to. I think about it, and I might shave for her someday. But as I’m not at all interested in shaving every day ever again, so I’d only grow it back right away. And the mustache would stay, no matter what.

The beard did fill in during my twenties, covering my cheeks quite nicely. But it’s no longer brown. I could call it “salt and pepper,” but only if I were willing to admit that whoever seasoned it used a lot more salt than pepper. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good beard. I think Grandpa would be proud of the crop.

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen from 1975. We’ll start with the record that was No. 1 the week I first took my grandfather’s advice.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1975, Vol. 3
“Let’s Do It Again” by the Staple Singers, Curtom single 0109

“I Dreamed Last Night” by Justin Hayward & John Lodge from Blue Jays

“Arkansas Line” by Elvin Bishop, Capricorn single 0237

“As Surely As I Stand Here” by Tower of Power from In The Slot

“Naked in the Rain” by David Crosby & Graham Nash from Wind On The Water

“All About Love” by Earth, Wind & Fire from That’s The Way Of The World

“Pick Up The Pieces” by Doris Duke from Woman

“Livin’ For The Weekend” by the O’Jays from Family Reunion

“End of the Line” by Roxy Music from Siren

“Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, Warner Brothers single 8143

“Lonelier Are Fools” by the Three Degrees from With Love

“It Makes No Difference” by The Band from Northern Lights – Southern Cross

“Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck single 2256

A few notes:

“Let’s Do It Again” was the title song from a soundtrack written by Curtis Mayfield. After the success of Superfly in 1971, Mayfield composed a series of soundtracks that were generally pretty good, most of them much better than the films they backed. Let’s Do It Again, which I’ve never seen, starred Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, John Amos, Ossie Davis and Jimmie Walker. Oh, and that odd noise at the start of the song? It’s supposed to be that way. I pulled out the vinyl this morning and checked.

Blue Jays was one of several projects by members of the Moody Blues that surfaced in the mid-1970s. The group took a break after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn that lasted until 1978 and the release of Octave. Other albums came from Ray Thomas, the Graeme Edge Band and Mike Pinder. (There may be some I’m forgetting.) Of the various projects, I think Blue Jays turned out the best.

Doris Duke, a deep soul singer who’d been recording since the mid-1960s, released Woman on the Scepter label in the U.S. after it had been released on Contempo in Britain. While not up the quality of her 1969 album, I’m A Loser (recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia, and released on the soon-to-fail Canyon label), Woman, according to Jason Ankeny of All-Music Guide, is a “much-acclaimed set.” His fellow AMG reviewer, Andrew Hamilton says, however, “If you play this LP once, there’s no need to play it again; you didn’t miss anything the first time, and it doesn’t get any better the second time around.” Who’s right? I lean toward Ankeny’s assessment; it’s a pretty good record.

If I’m in the right mood, I generally enjoy hearing Roxy Music’s work, at least one track at a time. If I listen to entire albums – with the exception of 1982’s Avalon – the group’s music sounds cold and fussy. Siren seems less that way than the rest of the group’s 1970s output, I guess. But it still feels as if I’m listening to the group through a closed window, a barrier that the musicians aren’t the least bit interested in getting past.

“It Makes No Difference” was one of the last great songs The Band recorded during its original incarnation – “Acadian Driftwood,” also on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, is one as well – and one of the last great songs that Robbie Robertson wrote (nothing in his solo career has come close to the songs he wrote for The Band). One of The Band’s strengths was the ability to match a song with the appropriate voice, and here, Rick Danko’s yearning tenor – echoed by Garth Hudson’s soprano saxophone solo – fits perfectly. This track can melt your heart.

‘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 of Gone

May 20, 2011

Originally posted November 14, 2007

Everyone – more than once in their working lives, I imagine – has had a job assignment during which they look at their co-workers and ask, “Why are we doing this?”

And the answer comes back, “Because the boss wants it done.”

My first brush with that sort of assignment came mid-way through college, during the spring and summer of 1973. I’d been working at the St. Cloud State library – called the Learning Resources Center – since the fall before. I generally worked in the equipment distribution center on the first floor, but during breaks, I was often handed special assignments.

On the first Monday of spring break, my dad – the Assistant Dean of Learning Resources – assigned one of those special tasks to me and another student, a project on which we would spend our time for a week and a half. Dad showed us a reel-to reel videotape recorder (the height of technology in 1973). In particular, he pointed out the two-inch yellow letters that said “LRS,” letters that had been spray-painted on the recorder in the library’s receiving room and which stood for “Learning Resources Services.”

Dad handed us boxes of spray paint, nine cans of black and nine of white, and we each got two stencils – one of a rectangle about five inches wide and a little more than two inches high, and the other of the letters “LRS” about an inch high. Our job, he told us, was to go out on to the campus and systematically find every piece of equipment that belonged to Learning Resources: video recorders, television monitors, film projectors, slide projectors, tape recorders, record players, wheeled carts and more. On every piece of equipment we found, we were to paint a black rectangle over the two-inch yellow letters and then, when the black paint had dried, paint in white on the rectangle the smaller “LRS” in white.

We stared at him, probably with the look of people who have been smacked in the foreheads with billy clubs. As I processed the idea of what we had been assigned to do, two things came to mind. First, I had no idea how many pieces of audio-visual equipment there were on campus, but it was a lot. (Actually, it was about 17,000, as I learned two years later when my friend Murl and I headed up a campus-wide inventory during the summer we moved the house.) Second, as the scope of the project set in, the question “Why?” came to mind.

Dad had anticipated the realization and the question. He suggested we start with Stewart Hall, one of the main classroom buildings on campus, and then he said, “There is a lot of stuff out there, but you should be able to get to it all during the summer.”

I nodded, still a little stunned. “But why?” I finally asked.

He hesitated, chewed his cheek a little. “Because the dean wants it done,” he finally said. “So you’d better head to Stewart Hall.”

At home that evening, Dad told me that the dean had never liked the yellow color used to mark Learning Resources’ equipment, a hue in use for the three years the department had been in its new building. And, Dad said, the dean – a long-time family friend – had never cared for the font used for the stencil for those two-inch high letters. “He thinks the letters look ugly,” Dad said, shaking his head a little.

I offered the opinion that a black five-inch by two-inch box with smaller white letters would look pretty ugly, too, and Dad nodded. “Sometimes,” he told me, “you just do what the boss wants you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense.”

So for that spring break and then for twenty hours a week that summer, my colleague and I – augmented once the summer sessions started with a few other workers – worked our way across campus, poking our heads into classrooms, rummaging through closets in departmental offices and asking secretaries to let us into faculty offices, seeking out and painting over those yellow letters wherever we could find them. It wasn’t awful work, except when we had to work in smaller closets and the paint fumes got a bit thick. And the fellow I was working with – whose name has disappeared in the fog of years – was pleasant enough, a music fan like me, so we passed a lot of the time with good conversation.

One day during spring break, we decided to head to a local drive-in to grab some burgers for lunch and then head to his place, as he had an album he wanted me to hear. So as we ate, he cued up a song, and I heard one of the best things I’d heard in a long time, by a duo that was completely new to me. It was Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone,” off of their album, Abandoned Luncheonette. I loved it.

“A friend of mine told me about it,” my co-worker told me, “and it took me a long time to find the record. It’s pretty obscure.”

That wouldn’t be the case for long. In 1974, “She’s Gone” was released as a single and only reached No. 60, but in 1976, a re-released “She’s Gone” would go to No. 7, and Abandoned Luncheonette would find its way to No. 33 on the album chart, launching Hall & Oates’ long stay in the spotlight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Gone
“She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates from Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973

“Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash from Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969

“Real Real Gone” by Van Morrison from Enlightenment, 1990

“Goin’ Gone” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“My Baby’s Gone” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, Juneteenth Festival, Houston, Texas, June 19, 1979

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” by Arlo Guthrie from Precious Friend, 1982

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66133, 1965

“Gone Again” by Fred Neil from Bleecker & MacDougal, 1965

“Going, Going, Gone” by Bob Dylan from Planet Waves, 1974

“Now You’re Gone” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs, 1969

“After the Love Is Gone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 11033, 1979

“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack. Millennium single 11813, 1981

“Too Soon Gone” by The Band from Jericho, 1993

A few notes on some of the songs:

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone” may be the best song on this list. The eerie and foreboding piece was David Crosby’s reaction to the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy.

My, but Lou Ann Barton can sing. And with Stevie Ray Vaughan helping, her 1979 rendition of “My Baby’s Gone” becomes downright incendiary. Three years later, Barton headed to Muscle Shoals to record her first album, one of only five she’s released, including a 1990 CD recorded with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli. Any of them are worth seeking out.

Fred Neil was one of the more gifted songwriters and performers in the Greenwich Village scene during the early to mid-1960s, but his greatest claim to fame is the authorship of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” used as a theme in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. Never a prolific artist, Neil retreated to Florida in the late 1960s and released only a live album in 1971 after that. He died of cancer in 2001. All-Music Guide calls the album Bleeker & MacDougal “one of the best efforts from the era in which folk was just beginning its transition to folk-rock.”

“Going, Going, Gone” is one of the better moments from Dylan’s Planet Waves album, the first release that had Dylan backed by The Band. (The double album The Basement Tapes, compiled from recordings done during the mid-1960s in Woodstock, New York, would come out in 1975.) Planet Waves is a muted album, showing none of the fiery interplay that listeners anticipated in a record released just ahead of Dylan’s 1974 tour with The Band, his first tour in some years. (The fiery interplay showed itself on the tour, as a listen to Before the Floor will bear out.)

Jericho was the first album released in the 1990s after Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson reconstituted the band with some new players. The abject “Too Soon Gone,” written by Jules Shear and Stan Szelest, is almost certainly a meditation on the 1989 suicide of original member Richard Manuel.