Posts Tagged ‘Harry Chapin’

Another Goodbye

May 18, 2011

Originally posted November 5, 2007

Kind of a tough weekend here on the East Side.

Well, we knew it was coming, but it happened faster that we expected. Simmons, the thirteen-year-old cat that I brought with me when the Texas Gal and I merged households, is gone.

He’d been losing weight and walking a bit gingerly for a while, so we’d taken him to our regular veterinarian a week ago, where blood tests showed an over-active thyroid. That explained his incessant appetite and the weight loss. We started him on some medication and kept a close eye on him. One of the things the vet told us was that thyroid conditions often mask kidney problems in cats.

But Simmons – named when I got him in 1994 for my all-time favorite baseball player, Al Simmons – seemed fine, at least until Saturday afternoon. I noticed then that he was lying a little awkwardly under my computer desk, a new place for him. I petted him and he purred, and I thought, well, cats change their places. That evening, though, he didn’t come right away to the living room when the Texas Gal and I sat there, and when he did come into the room, he lay under one of the tables, again looking as if he were a little uncomfortable.

I went to pull him out from under the table, and as I held him under his front legs and pulled, he yowled. Stunned, we carefully lifted him and put him on the couch, and while I was getting ready for a trip to the emergency veterinarian’s office, the Texas Gal tried to lift him from the couch. And he yowled again. When we got to the vet’s office, though, he acted like the laid-back cat he’d been for thirteen years. No screams, no panting, just a little nervous twitching and a lot of purring.

Stumped, we brought him back home. And Sunday morning, the Texas Gal woke me, saying she couldn’t find him. We searched and finally located him behind the couch. After we got him out, we watched him walk gingerly across the floor. The Texas Gal once worked for a vet in Texas, and she said that Simmons’ gait was similar to that of cats she’d seen with kidney problems. Whether it was that or another difficulty, it was clear that Simmons was no longer comfortable. So we took deep breaths and took him back to the emergency vet.

And we held Simmons as the vet tended to him and the light went out of his big brown eyes.

It’s been not just a tough weekend but a tough few months, as regular readers here will recall. Since the beginning of July, we’ve lost two rats and a cat, a sequence that other animal lovers will recognize as almost overwhelming. I think a kind of numbness sets in after a while, something that I hope can fade now. We’ve still got other furry friends, including seventeen-week-old Oscar, a kitten who was one of my birthday gifts in September. And we know that saying goodbye is part of the bargain you make when you bring pets into your lives.

But it is hard. When we got home yesterday afternoon, we settled into our Sunday routines as well as we could, the Texas Gal working on a quilt and me watching the Vikings. But there was a cat-shaped hole in our home. The Texas Gal said later that when she thought of Simmy during the day, she kept thinking about “Cat’s In The Cradle,” Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit. “I know the song doesn’t really fit,” she said, “but that’s what comes to mind.”

Harry Chapin – Cat’s In The Cradle (1974)

Before all that happened, my plan was to rip one of my records for today. I decided this morning to stick with that plan and offer something new (actually something old that’s not been available). After a few false starts, I settled on a 1974 release from Redbone, an album titled Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes.

Redbone was formed and led by Native American brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, who, before they formed the group, were the writers of the song “Nicky Hoeky.” Redbone is best known for its two Top 40 hits: “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” reached No. 21 in 1972, and “Come And Get Your Love” reached No. 5 in 1974. Both of those hits had a swampy feel to them, as did much of the music on Redbone’s albums, especially Potlatch and Redbone, both from 1970.

“Witch Queen” came from the 1972 album Message from a Drum and “Come And Get Your Love” came from 1974’s Wovoka, and those two albums have much the same sound. (All four of those albums are worth seeking out, though it appears that Message From A Drum is not available on CD. The other three of those albums have at least been released on CD and seem to be available through standard online sources. All-Music Guide lists two other 1970s albums by Redbone: Already Here from 1972 and Cycles from 1978; I know nothing about either of them except that neither of them is listed as having been released on CD.)

That swampy and slightly spooky feel holds true for much of Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes, especially the tracks “One More Time,” “Cookin’ With D’Redbone” and the oddly titled “Moon When Four Eclipse.” There are a few tracks – “Suzi Girl,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and the title track most notably – that seem to me like missteps, with swirling strings and unimaginative beats echoing the proto-disco hits that were becoming more and more prevalent in 1974.

One note that may be of interest: The album’s credits list Bonnie Bramlett, Merry Clayton and Clydie King as background singers. Though their contributions seem to be spread throughout the album, they are most prominent on the track “Blood Sweat and Tears.” I’m not sure whose voice it is swooping and soaring in the background there (Clayton would be my guess), but it’s one of the record’s most thrilling moments.

(This is a rip from vinyl, so there are a few pops here and there.)

Track listing:
One More Time
Suzi Girl
Only You and Rock and Roll
Blood Sweat and Tears
Cookin’ With D’Redbone
(Beaded Dreams Through) Turquoise Eyes
Beautiful Illusion
Interstate Highway 101
I’ll Never Stop Loving You
Moon When Four Eclipses

Redbone – Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes [1974]

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A Baker’s Dozen From 1980

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 18, 2007

When the year 1980 comes along as I’m thinking about music, my train of thought is an express, heading to only one destination.

It was a Monday, December 8 was. It was the second Monday of the month, which meant that I spent the bulk of the evening at Monticello City Hall, listening to the city council debate whatever issues were on its agenda. It sounds deadly dull, but I actually enjoyed covering city government; the ebb and flow of politics and policies over a nearly six-year period gave me insight as to how a city grows.

I don’t recall any of the topics on the agenda, but the meeting was over fairly early. I’d guess it was around 9:30 when the gavel fell and I walked out of the building into the chilly night, headed for my car and my home about two miles out of town. The woman who was then my wife was there, probably involved in some craft project, and there was a football game on television, Miami and New England.

And so I was seated in my easy chair, probably dipping into a bowl of popcorn, when Howard Cosell interrupted the game.

“This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said. “An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot five times in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival.”

I stared at the screen, football forgotten. I recall trying to wrap my head around the weight Cosell’s words carried, not quite grasping it, the news too stunning and too fresh for comprehension or sorrow. Not long after the game ended, the result unnoticed, we retired for the night, and I lay there, still shocked. “Do you think it will be on Nightline?” she asked me.

“I can’t imagine they’d cover anything else.”

“Then go watch it. He was yours.”

I went to the living room. In a short marriage in which both of us so often got so many things so wrong about each other, that was one that she got right about me, and I am still grateful. I watched as Ted Koppel and his reporters and guests sorted through what was known and what was supposed. Then they began the first of thousands of assessments of what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us.

That’s a topic worthy of several volumes – what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us – and not all of the answers can be put into words. The next day was a busy one at work, as Tuesdays always were, but I managed to get home for thirty minutes for lunch. One of the Twin Cities classic rock stations, KQRS, was playing the Beatles’ catalog alphabetically, and as I ate my sandwich, I heard “In My Life.”

As I listened, I finally understood how those folks a few years older than I had felt during the summer of 1977 when they got the news that Elvis had died. Bent over my dining room table, I wept for John; for Yoko, Sean and Julian; for John’s three bandmates; and I wept for all of us who loved the man through his music.

Here’s a random Baker’s Dozen from 1980:

“Sequel” by Harry Chapin, Boardwalk single 5700

“Middle Man” by Boz Scaggs from Middle Man

“Boulevard” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out

“Gaucho” by Steely Dan from Gaucho

“Crush On You” by Bruce Springsteen from The River

“Saving Grace” by Bob Dylan from Saved

“Wildwood Boys” by Jim Keach from The Long Riders soundtrack

“The Last To Know” by Dan Fogelberg from Phoenix

“Every Night” by Richie Havens from Connections

“High Walls” by Levon Helm from The Legend Of Jesse James

“Woman” by John Lennon, Geffen single 49644

“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, Chrysalis single 2464

“Cocaine” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1039

A few notes on some of the songs:

For many people, there is no middle ground when it comes to Harry Chapin: They either love him and his works, or detest him. “Taxi,” especially, seems to draw either scorn or rapture. If it were better known, I’d imagine the same response would apply to “Sequel,” in which, backed by almost the same music as eight years earlier, Harry returns to San Francisco and has “eight hours to kill before the show.” We know where he goes, and of course, he takes a taxi, and he tells us (almost) all about it. Overblown? Yes. Beloved? Yes, that, too. Chapin was a storyteller, and one of the ancillary regrets I have about his death in 1981 is that we never got to hear the end of the tale, which I can only assume he would have called “Finale.”

Jackson Browne’s Hold Out has aged better than I thought it would. Coming after his first four studio albums and the live triumph of Running On Empty, it seemed slight and lightweight – especially in its lyrics; the music was pretty well done – when it came out in 1980. Now, twenty-seven years later, most of the album fares better. But “Boulevard,” which seemed to be the slightest song on the record in 1980, still sounds trite.

Springsteen’s “Crush On You” is one of the most direct and powerful songs from The River, an album stacked with direct and powerful tunes that are balanced by a few of the loveliest ballads the Boss has ever done. I’m not sure being so direct with the object of one’s passion would work in real life, but Bruce and the boys are strong enough here to make the listener think it might.

“Saving Grace” comes from Saved, the second of Bob Dylan’s three so-called Christian albums. It was also the least successful musically, if not commercially, of the three. It’s an album that I would guess that few Dylan fans listen to very often; the Bard of Hibbing is one of my favorite performers and I don’t think I’ve played the record more than twice, maybe. But even mediocre Dylan can hold some interest in performance, and the lyrics have one of two turns of phrase that show that he put some work into it.

I chuckled when songs from both the soundtrack to The Long Riders – a film that told the story of Jesse James – and the LP The Legend of Jesse James popped up during the random play. It was evidently a good year for the original James Gang, 1980 was. Of the two albums, I prefer The Long Riders. Even though the vocal on “Wildwood Boys” is by Jim Keach, the song, and the soundtrack, belong to Ry Cooder, who wrote much of the original material and arranged the rest, some of it traditional, some of it written for the film. The LP The Legend of Jesse James, which I can only call a country-rock opera, is a not-awful attempt to tell the same story through song that Walter Hill told on the screen. The main roles are sung by Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Charlie Daniels; other prominent names on the record include Albert Lee and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and Bernie Leadon on banjo. Written and produced by Paul Kennerly, the record sounds good in concept but unhappily doesn’t seem to pull together to be as compelling as one would like it to be.