Posts Tagged ‘Orleans’

Autumn At Its Peak

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 27, 2009

I spent three autumns – those of 1983, 1984 and 1990 – in Columbia, Missouri, a city just far enough south that autumn is a beautiful and lengthy season, warm and colorful into November. There was no sense of impending chill, for the most part, but then Missouri is far enough south that in normal years, the oncoming winter is neither overly chilly nor markedly drear. It was as if the beauty of autumn came free, a season of change and color and mellow mood for which no winter payment was demanded.

In Minnesota, I think, autumn is viewed in two ways. (I imagine there are those who don’t spend any time thinking about the meaning of autumn or of any of the seasons; I do not understand such folk, and I pity them.) Autumn to some of us is a borrowed joy, a season of oranges, reds and browns tinged with enough melancholy to make it pleasant, a pageant of waning sunlight and cool air for which we pay during the long Northland winter.

Or else autumn is a gift of nature, a bonus time of sunlit afternoons and chill, misty mornings, the seasonal equivalent of a two-minute warning, with Nature telling us that our temperate times are soon to end and if we have things to accomplish, we best do them today: Rake the lawn, clean the gutters, gaze at the long Vs of geese heading south, and then look at the half-moon attended by Jupiter and feel the chill of the breeze from the north.

So which is it? Do we borrow autumn’s subtle spectacle and pay for it later, when the wind carries the empty chill of Arctic air instead of the scent of brown and gold leaves? Or is autumn a gift, a season of time passing that levies no obligation but to cherish it?

I think the season may be both gift and obligation at the same time. If autumn does have a price, though, it’s not just winter’s winds. I think that price is closely related to the weight of autumns gone by. The season is my favorite, and as I wander through my fifty-seventh autumn, I carry with me much of what transpired in those previous fifty-six autumnal seasons. This is not heavy baggage; it’s a backpack’s worth at most. And not all of the memories stuffed into the backpack are sad ones: This week, for instance, brings the Texas Gal and me the joy of the second anniversary of our wedding. Last week, I realized that my father would have turned ninety, were he still among us. That’s he’s not is a sorrow; that he was here for so many years, until he was eighty-three, was a joy, and both of those thoughts, too, belong in the autumnal backpack.

When rummaging through that backpack, one does find years when autumn was a series of troubles, but one also finds years when autumn was one bit of joy following another for months. When those troubles and joys come in consecutive years, their impact is huge, even though more than thirty years have passed. As autumn began in 1974, I was still recovering from the lung ailment that had taken most of my summer away. In late September, my father had a heart attack, one from which he fully recovered, but we had no way to know at the time. And a month later came a horrific traffic accident in which I was badly injured and lost a dear friend. For a long time, the only thing I knew about the future was that it would arrive and would eventually bring another autumn. Whether that next autumn would be better was not something I was willing to assume.

It was better. If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. Dad was healthy, I was healthy. My classes – the last I’d take on campus before my internship and graduation – fascinated me, and two of them were instrumental in my learning to be a writer. I still spent a great deal of time at The Table in the student union, though as some folks had graduated, the cast of characters was evolving. I was also spending a lot of time with my pal Murl, whom I’d met that summer.

It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. (That healing was a process, of course, and had started some seasons earlier, but it was during that autumn of 1975 that I truly began to feel mended.) My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss. And here are some of the friends I heard.

A Six-Pack From A Golden Autumn (1975)
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship from Red Octopus
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 456261
“Sky High” by Jigsaw from Sky High
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian from Watercolors
“My Little Town” by Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia 10230
“SOS” by ABBA, Atlantic 3265

None of these, of course, are anything near obscure, but there are a couple of them that don’t get aired all that frequently on oldies radio. I heard the intro to “Miracles” on the radio the other day while I was out on some errands; it was the first time in a long time I’d heard the song on the radio, I thought. I ended up taking a longer path home than normal, just to hear the whole thing.

Along with “Miracles,” I think that “Sky High” and “At Seventeen” are also a little bit ignored and maybe forgotten, which is too bad. All six of these did well on the charts, with five of them hitting the Top Ten: An edit of “Miracles” went to No. 3; “Dance With Me” topped at No. 6; “Sky High” went to No. 3; “At Seventeen” also reached No. 3, “My Little Town” got as high as No. 9; and “SOS” peaked at No. 15.

These records aren’t necessarily the best sounds from the autumn of 1975, but they are among the ones that come to mind most quickly when I think of that season. More to the point, when I hear any of them, I am reminded of the healing golden-orange light of the autumn of 1975 and the renewal I felt all through that season. And I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): “Miracles” and “Dance With Me.”

(I think that the three I’ve tagged as singles – the ABBA, the Simon & Garfunkel and the Orleans – are in fact the single edits, but I’m not anywhere near certain about that. Information to the contrary would be appreciated.)

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.

We’re Halfway Home

June 2, 2010

This is the nineteenth segment, out of a planned thirty-eight, in which I’m exploring the records that would belong in what I call my Ultimate Jukebox. That means we’re halfway home. And I find it entirely fitting that one of the two songs that sparked this idea comes along this week by happenstance.

Last October, I wrote, in a meditation on autumn (and specifically on the autumn of 1975):

If there is a shining season during the years I spent on the campus of St. Cloud State, it is the autumn of 1975. . . .  It was a golden time, one that seems more rich in memory with each passing year. But there were concrete reasons for that sense of goodness: Hope and renewal found me for the first time in a year. . . . My smile returned. And all around me – my home, my car, the student union, downtown bars and everywhere else – music was a friend once more, instead of a reminder of loss.”

Among the six songs I offered that day were selections from Jefferson Starship and Orleans, and as I wrote about those six, I said: “I think two of them would make my all-time jukebox (a mental exercise at this point, but perhaps the basis for a series of posts in the future): ‘Miracles’ and ‘Dance With Me.’”

Well, both of those did make the final list. “Miracles” will come along in a few weeks, but this week’s six selections are anchored by Orleans’ “Dance With Me.” As you likely know, it’s a sweet love song, written by the group’s John Hall and his wife, Johanna, and produced and performed nicely. In one sense, that’s all there is to say for it: It’s a nice tune and a nice record, and it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 6.

But for me – as some songs are for everyone who loves music, I imagine (or at least hope) – “Dance With Me” is magic. In memory, it seems like I heard it everywhere I went during that sweet autumn as I figuratively danced through my classes and my work and my free time. As that quarter began – and the record began its time in the Top 40 – there was no special person to whom I could extend the invitation to dance; by the time the record was about to fall out of the Top 40 in early November, there was.

And almost thirty-five years later, after changes upon changes, there’s still someone to invite to the dance, as “Dance With Me” is also one of the Texas Gal’s favorite records.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 19
“Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass, Checker 1120 [1965]
“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra, Reprise 05090 [1966]
“Anyday” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs [1970]
“Dance With Me” by Orleans, Asylum 45261 [1975]
“(Don’t) Fear the Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult from Agents of Fortune [1976]
“Wall of Death” by Richard & Linda Thompson from Shoot Out The Lights [1982]

The most accurate description, for me, of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” comes – as is so often the case – from Dave Marsh, who called the record the “[b]est non-Aretha Aretha ever,” noting that the sound was not surprising, as Bass’ mother was gospel music star Martha Bass, who got her own start with the Clara Ward Singers, who traveled with Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. In any case, “Rescue Me” is a fine slice of mid-Sixties R&B from the Chess studios in Chicago. The record went to No. 4 during the autumn of 1965 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the R&B chart.

Even though the record pre-dates the time when I gave full attention to the Top 40, I’m certain I heard Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” during 1966, when it went to No. 25 (and spent one week at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart). I imagine that if nothing else, I heard it late one evening as our household was turning in for the night: For about twenty minutes as we got ready for bed, Dad would turn on the transistor radio on his bedside table. The radio – which Dad had appropriated from my sister, although she didn’t seem to care – was almost always tuned to KFAM, the station on the west side of town, and our twenty minutes of music at bedtime was very definitely middle of the road, not like that rock and roll that the station nearest us, WJON, played. (I wonder now if KFAM’s format might have been called adult contemporary?) In any case, I’m certain that my faint memory of having heard “Summer Wind” comes from one of those evenings during the autumn of 1966. So why does it show up here? Because it’s a good record with a subtle performance by Sinatra, and it reminds me of my dad.

I love “Layla.” I have since I first heard it in 1970, and I dug it more when it was re-released as a single in 1972. But its familiarity worked against it when I was sorting through titles to list here. The burning riff that opens “Layla” would certainly wake up the denizens of any coffeehouse in which I installed my hypothetical jukebox, but I think that after that opening burst, folks would think, “Oh, yeah, ‘Layla,’” and push the music into the background. My choice from the Layla album is instead “Anyday,” which has almost as arresting an opening and, I’m thinking, wouldn’t be quite as familiar nor as easily dismissed. Even if I’m wrong about that, “Anyday” is a tremendous piece of rock, with the descending bass line that always intrigues me and great vocals by both Eric Clapton and co-writer Bobby Whitlock.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which went to No. 12 during the autumn of 1976, is pretty much all I really know about Blue Öyster Cult. I’ve got the Agents of Fortune LP and I have mp3s of some of the group’s other stuff, but it all tends to get lost in the (literal) shuffle. That just puts the group’s work onto a (long) list of music I need to pay more attention to, and the list gets longer every week. But the loping, looping introduction to “Reaper” commands my attention whenever it pops up on the computer or on the Zen player, and the “la-la-la-la-la” refrain remains chilling. According to Wikipedia, writer Donald Roeser – better known as Buck Dharma – says the song is not, as is often supposed, about death but about eternal love. That may be what he thinks, but I know how it feels to me, and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” feels like an invitation to step through a door I’ve seen once and am not nearly ready to see again.

“Wall of Death,” the closing song on Richard and Linda Thompson’s grim and tense 1982 masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights, is, if one would believe the lyrics, about an amusement park ride. Given the real-life circumstances of the recording sessions – from what I’ve read, the Thompsons’ marriage was crumbling rapidly at the time – one can find all sorts of metaphors in the song. I’m reminded as I write of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 single “Tunnel of Love,” which also used an amusement park ride as a metaphor for the circumstances of his failing marriage to Julianne Phillips. Somehow “Wall of Death” seems darker than that, though: “On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me. On the Wall Of Death it’s the nearest to being free. . . . You can waste your time on the other rides. This is the nearest to being alive. Oh, let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.”  Or it just could be Richard Thompson’s voice, which has a much more somber cast. Either way, it’s an arresting song: