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.