Posts Tagged ‘Peter Gabriel’

Our Pictures Tell Our Stories

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 27, 2009

One of the things my sister and her family gave our mother for Christmas in December was a digital picture frame. Now at home on Mom’s dresser, its memory is loaded with pictures of our family, of Mom and Dad and of Mom’s family, going all the way back to the day her parents were married in 1915.

The selection of photos available to my sister was a little limited. Not that we don’t have family photos. We have a lot of them. One of the most pervasive mental images I have of my childhood is Dad aiming his camera during family gatherings, on vacation, or simply to record daily life. Every September, from the day my sister started kindergarten in 1955 until the day I started my last full year of college in 1975, he took pictures of us as we headed off for the first day of school. Early on, he used a Kodak 35mm camera; in the late 1960s, he got a Minolta single-lens reflex 35mm, and year after year, he took pictures.

But the vast majority of our pictures – from the time before my sister and I were born until the last years of Dad’s life – are on slides.

So one of the other gifts my sister and her family gave Mom last Christmas was a scanner that digitizes slides. My sister thought that we could dig into the boxes of slides and find some that Mom would want to display on her digital picture frame. Mom, of course, doesn’t have a computer. I do, and the minor task of learning how to use the scanner has fallen to me. So now that spring is here, Mom and I will head up to the storage unit in Sartell and see what we find.

But beyond finding pictures for Mom to display, my sister and I decided that it would be a good thing to digitize all of the family slides. The task is daunting: Dad put about half of his slides in special storage boxes; the rest remain in the little yellow boxes that came from Dan Marsh Drug, where we took our film for years. I’m guessing that there are thirty special storage boxes each holding at least 120 slides and about as many slides in the yellow boxes as there are in the special boxes. My basic math tells me that’s an estimated total of 7,200 slides. Many haven’t been looked at in years.

That wasn’t always the case. Every once in a while on a Sunday evening, Dad would put up the screen and get out his old Argus projector and we’d look at slides: birthdays and Christmases, family reunions and picnics, backyard silliness and flower gardens. And we’d see portraits and snapshots of my mom’s folks, and all of our aunts and uncles and cousins, many of whom are long gone now. I’ll see all of those and more as I convert those slides to digital files: Our family’s history.

We’ll soon go up to Sartell and get the first boxes of slides, and I will begin saving those pieces of history. But I needed to learn to use the scanner, and I needed as well to convert to digital files the slides I took during my long-ago college year away. So I’ve been practicing both conversion and editing. And here are two thirty-five year old photos: One of a twenty-year-old whiteray, snapped by an obliging Swede in Stockholm, and one of the many I took during my visit to Stonehenge.

A Six-Pack of Pictures
“Every Picture Tells A Story” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story, 1971
“Take Another Picture” by Quarterflash from Take Another Picture, 1983
“Picture Book” by Simply Red from Picture Book, 1985
“This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)” by Peter Gabriel from So, 1986
“All the Pictures on the Wall” by Paul Weller from Wild Wood, 1993
“Pictures of You” by the Cure from Disintegration, 1989

Bonus Track
“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, Apple 1865, 1973

Three of the albums from which these tracks come would rank fairly high in any all-time list I put together, certainly in the top one hundred, I think. (And that’s pretty high, considering.). Those three are Every Picture Tells A Story, So and Disintegration. (I think Wild Wood may rank that highly in time, but I’m still taking that one in and haven’t made my mind up yet.)

As to Quarterflash and Simply Red, well, the albums are good ones but ultimately less than great. Still, both albums provide good listening. I’m particularly struck by how well the music of Quarterflash has aged, from the radio-friendly 1981 single “Harden My Heart” onward. Of course, the defining sound of the group, for the most part, was Rindy Ross’ saxophone, and I’m a sucker for a good sax break.

What’s most interesting to me about this list of tunes is that five of them come from well beyond the spread of years where I find most of the music I offer. That might mean my horizons are being broadened through the give and take in conversation and sounds that occurs in the blogging community. Or is just might mean that there weren’t very many good songs about pictures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (And I don’t think that was the case.)

The best thing here? The Cure’s shimmering “Pictures of You,” without a doubt. The most inscrutable? Peter Gabriel’s “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).”

I threw the bonus track in at the last moment because it fit the theme, because it’s a marvelous piece of pop-rock, and because it gives me another chance to listen to Bobby Keys (credited this time as “Keyes”) play saxophone.

(I said in yesterday’s post that I’d share some music from 1974 today. I decided to go with the theme instead of the year, but one day very soon, I’ll have a tale from 1974 and will dip into a Billboard Hot 100 from that time.)

A Baker’s Dozen From 1986

May 12, 2011

Originally posted October 10, 2007

Well, 1986.

In late 1992, as the year was nearing its end, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth characterized it as the annus horribilis, or horrible year. As 1986 turned into 1987, I felt the same way.

The year had started all right. A consortium of weekly newspaper publishers for whom I’d been covering government in Wright County as a freelancer had decided in December, not unexpectedly, not to continue the arrangement into the new year. And as January approached, I sought new employment. It wasn’t urgent, as I was married at the time and had been house-husbanding while I was a freelancer. But I wanted to get back into the workforce on a more substantial basis.

I was already teaching one course – a weekly night class: Introduction to Mass Communication – at St. Cloud State, so in mid-January I drove from Monticello to St. Cloud and the campus to nose around for possible additional jobs there. I dropped in at the university’s public relations office, where the director was a long-time family acquaintance. (My father had retired only two years earlier after thirty-three years as a teacher and administrator.) He took my resume and told me, regretfully, that he didn’t foresee any openings in his operations.

The next day he called. The main writer in his office had given him a week’s notice, and he wondered if I would fill in while a search began for her replacement. He added that I could certainly apply for the permanent position. So the following Monday, the last in January, I began to commute to St. Cloud every day. The thirty-mile drive, I learned, gave me time to organize my day in the morning, and time to wind down from it in the evening.

On my second day in the public relations office, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated in the Florida sky just more than a minute after it was launched. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but that horrible event can be seen in retrospect as an omen. In about May, my life – not a bad one at the time, as these things go – began to disintegrate as well, unraveling at the seams like a poorly sewn garment.

I don’t want to rehash the events of 1986, and I don’t want to bore anyone else with them. Let it suffice to say that by the end of the year, I could sit in my easy chair in Monticello and see, figuratively, the tatters of my life on the floor. It took a long time to clean up the mess and an even longer time – with a couple of false starts – to create a new garment in which to live my life.

So I wasn’t listening much to music in 1986, having other things on my mind. And in retrospect, that was good. If I had been attentive to music, then many of the tunes from the year would carry a layer of grief with them and would be nearly intolerable to hear even today. As it turned out, I generally absorbed the music of 1986 at a later date, so listening to the year’s music is not an unhappy exercise.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1986

“Welcome to the Boomtown” by David & David, A&M single 2857

“Precious Memories” by Bob Dylan from Knocked Out Loaded

“I Ain’t Drunk” by Albert Collins from Cold Snap

“Shanghai Surprise” by George Harrison with Vicki Brown, Shanghai Surprise soundtrack

“All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics, Atlantic single 89450

“Under African Skies” by Paul Simon from Graceland

“Amanda” by Boston, MCA single 52756

“West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, EMI America single 8307

“The Spirit” by the Moody Blues from The Other Side Of Life

“Something So Strong” by Crowded House, Capitol single 5695

“Still Around” by Robert Cray from Strong Persuader

“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range from The Way It Is

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Welcome to the Boomtown” is one of the best singles that I think almost everyone forgets about. Its atmosphere, its story and its production values all sparkle as it tells its tale of dissolution, ennui and despair in the big city. Although Columbia, Missouri – which I’d left in 1985 – was no double for L.A., the reference to Denny’s always makes me think of the Denny’s along the freeway in Columbia. I would occasionally stop by for a late-night omelet, and the cast of characters I saw regularly there could easily populate a story set in any city about lives whirling into hard habits and out of control.

The Bob Dylan track is one of the lesser songs from one of his lesser albums. I had hoped that if a track from Knocked Out Loaded popped up during the random run, it would be “Brownsville Girl,” the eleven-minute epic Dylan wrote with playwright Sam Shepard. That track contains two of the more fascinating, disruptive and frankly strange verses ever to appear in a Dylan song:

“Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo.
“We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town about a mile.
“Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
“She said, ‘Henry ain’t here but you can come on in, he’ll be back in a little while.’
 
“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin’ of bummin’ a ride back to where she started.
“But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
“She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead.’ You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
“She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’”

Sounds like Bob Dylan meets Sam Shepard to me.

If you don’t recall “Shanghai Surprise” even though you’re old enough to do so, that’s not really startling. It was the title tune to a film starring Madonna and Sean Penn, then newlyweds. George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced it, which is how the one-time Beatle ended up doing the soundtrack, which was never released as an album. There are a few single-sided 45s of the title tune out there, selling for more than $1,000. “Shanghai Surprise,” along with “Zig-zag,” a song from the film that had been released as the b-side of the single “When We Was Fab,” ended up as bonus tracks on a 2004 CD reissue of Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine.

“Amanda” came from Third Stage, Boston’s long-awaited and long-delayed third album. In general, I have little affection for the music labeled arena rock. Boston, however, I like, and “Amanda” may be my favorite track by the group. Listening to it today for the first time in a while, though, I hear echoes of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from three years earlier.

The Robert Cray tune is an album track from Strong Persuader, the record that made Cray famous and, to my mind, signaled the blues boom that was to come in the 1990s. Cray’s R&B-tinged blues have aged well.

I was glad to see something from Peter Gabriel’s So show up during the random run. I was never much of a fan of Genesis, so I was surprised by the depth and beauty of the album. Even twenty-one years after its release, it remains fresh and truly beautiful at points, which is a rare thing.