Posts Tagged ‘Simon & Garfunkel’

Time To Rake Some Leaves

June 1, 2012

Originally posted on April 17, 2009

Our home sits on a fairly large lot, probably the equivalent of half a city block, as a guess. The other day, as I wandered across the lawn, I counted thirty-four oak trees. And there are a few others: one ash tree, some evergreens and two elms that have somehow managed to survive the ravages of Dutch elm disease. And there’s still room for a few shrubs. It’s a pretty good-sized patch of ground for one house in the city.

A couple of weeks ago, after winter retreated and the snow disappeared, the Texas Gal and I looked out at the leaves that had been buried under the snow and the branches that had fallen during the winter. It was quite a mess. And she, with the burden of work and school, and I, with my lame leg, looked at each other. “We need to get some rakes,” she said.

I nodded glumly. For some reason, there are few chores of yard work quite as daunting to me as raking. If I could stand to be in the exhaust fumes, I wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn. (As it happens, though, the fumes from almost any engine put me to sleep.) I won’t mind watering the few flowers we’ll have this summer, and a small vegetable plot, if we decide to invest in some peppers and tomatoes. (Of course, having been apartment dwellers, we’ll need to get gardening tools and a hose. We are lamentably unprepared for tending our garden.)

But the thought of trying to rake a lawn as large as ours filled me with something close to despair. It needed to be done, I agreed. I wondered if we should call our landlord and ask what’s been done in other years. We could, the Texas Gal said. Or we could go ahead and start working, little bits by little bits, and if our landlord showed up to clear the leaves, well, he’d know we had some initiative and that we care about the place.

So one of the tasks scheduled for this weekend is a trip to Handyman’s, our nifty East Side hardware store, for a rake. As it turns out, we won’t have to do the entire lawn. Late the other afternoon, as the Texas Gal came home from work, our landlord pulled up into the driveway with his lawn tractor, and he spent a couple of hours clearing the leaves and branches. The lawn looks pretty good, with the grass beginning to green.

We’ll still need a rake. There are still leaves packed into the flower beds, and there are a few piles of leaves close to the house that we’ll have to deal with. And I imagine we’ll soon make some decisions about what we might want to tend in our garden this summer.

A Six-Pack for Yard & Garden
“Sticks & Stones” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]
“Tall Trees” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela, Uni 55066 [1968]
“Leaves That Are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence [1966]
“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty from Wildflowers [1994]
“Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the Shondells, Roulette 7028 [1968]

“Sticks & Stones” is Cocker’s live cover of the Ray Charles tune from 1960, with Leon Russell and the best big rock band ever assembled racing Cocker to see who can get to the end of the song first.

I’ve heard/read the label “Beatlesque” attached so many times to the 1980s and 1990s work of Crowded House that it’s ceased to mean anything. (I acknowledge that I may have attached said label to said work myself and thus contributed to my own confusion.) If the label is shorthand for “concise, melodic songs that insinuate themselves into the listener’s brain and heart,” then the label-users have it right.

I’ve written before about working at the state trapshoot, sitting in the little concrete hut and putting targets on the machine while listening to the radio. I wasn’t entirely familiar with everything I heard during my first trapshoot in 1968, but the cowbell announcing Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” soon became a familiar and welcome sound. And I imagine I had a few chances to hear it over the four days I sat there: The record was No. 1 for two weeks in late July, right about the time of the trapshoot.

I’m actually not that big a fan of either the Simon & Garfunkel or Tom Petty tracks offered here. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either song or either record. In the case of “Leaves That Are Green,” I think I overdosed on the song during my early days of listening to Simon & Garfunkel, and in the case of the Petty tune, it came along at a time when I wasn’t listening to his stuff. In addition, both S&G and Petty had so many offerings that were better than these two. But these two had titles that fit into today’s package.

The occasionally cryptic lyric of “Crimson and Clover” fit in perfectly in the late 1960s and is still kind of goofily fun today. The record was one of several big hits for James and the Shondells (“Hanky Panky,” “ Mony Mony,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” as well as “Draggin’ the Line” for James on his own), and it spent a couple weeks at No. 1 in February 1969. Beyond the lyric, some of the record’s other vestiges of the time, like the phasing, might not have aged as well. Still, as I said, it’s fun.

Reposts
Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars [1977]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1978]
American Son by Levon Helm [1980]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1982]
Original post here.

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 Write What We Know

June 1, 2011

Originally posted December 28, 2007

It was a year ago this week that I got my USB turntable, which means I’ve been involved in this blogging adventure for almost a year now. For about a month after I got the turntable and was happily ripping vinyl to mp3s, I was posting the results only at two bulletin boards I frequent. At the same time, however, I was digging deeper into the music blogs I knew about, and began to think . . .

For a month, I looked carefully at the blogs I visited regularly, trying to figure out if I could find a niche that was uninhabited and assessing how I should present my own commentary. I decided that when I posted full albums, they were going to be almost always out of print or at least hard to get, and when I posted collections of singles, they would mostly be from the years before 1990.

But what was I going to write about? I’ve taught some writing – mostly in the venue of teaching journalism – and I’ve had several friends who have taught college composition and creative writing. And for most of the students involved, the first instruction is to write what you know. And in the context of music, what I knew was what I liked, how the music I liked came to be, and how it was that I came to know about that music in the first place. And that’s what I wrote about, in contexts as varied as the music I listen to.

I wondered sometimes if there was too much of me in my posts, but a comment I received one day from JB, the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, helped me clarify things. JB said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that when he began his blog, he thought that there would be posts so personal that no one save himself would be interested in them. He soon found, he said, that it’s impossible to handicap readers in blogworld: frequently, the posts he thought would be ignored generated traffic and comments, and the posts that he thought would be hot stuff weren’t. He basically told me: Do what you do and let others sort it out.

So I did. And I found myself having more fun than at almost any time in my life.

So, my thanks to JB, and to the other bloggers in my links list, who share their lives and their music in various proportions. With only a few days left in 2007, I’m looking forward to 2008 and to sharing more music. One of my hopes for the year is to get an external hard drive for my music, so I have room to expand and no longer have to go though the process, every six months or so, of deleting about 10,000 MB of music after burning it onto CDs, just to keep a comfortable amount of free space on my internal hard drive.

(One of those humorous laws of human behavior – I forget which one it is – notes that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. I guess that’s true. I guess whiteray’s corollary to that law says: Music always expands to fill the space allotted to it. And thank goodness it does!)

Here are fifteen random stops from the years 1950-1999:

A Walk Through whiteray’s Junkyard
“Traveling Blues” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Think It Over” by Buddy Holly from The Buddy Holly Story, 1959

“ABC” by the Jackson Five, Motown single 1163, 1970

“Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 641, 1970

“Payday” by Mississippi Heat from Handyman, 1999

“Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes from Havin’ A Party With Southside Johnny, 1979

“Don’t Take Away My Heaven” by Aaron Neville from The Grand Tour, 1993

“Day is Done” by Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros. single 7279, 1969

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence, 1966

“Another Lonesome Morning” by the Cox Family from Beyond the City, 1995

“Prayer in Open D” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Let Love Carry You Along” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale from Troubadour, 1976

“The Rumor” by The Band from Rock of Ages, 1972

“Nitty Gritty Mississippi” by Jim Dickinson from the Crossroads soundtrack, 1986

A few notes on the songs and the artists:

I’ve mentioned Spencer Bohren here before. He’s good, if not all that well-known, and if you like rootsy music – generally far more rootsy than today’s offering of his work – you’d be doing yourself a huge favor if checked him out. Here’s his website.

Mississippi Heat is a group formed in the Chicago in 1992 with the aim of resurrecting the sounds of 1950s Chicago-style blues. Handyman is the fourth of eight albums the group has issued, and it’s representative of the group’s efforts, which are always listenable and sometimes inspired.

Because of their common place of origin and some common personnel, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes will forever be linked in the minds of casual listeners with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. All-Music Guide notes that Johnny and the Jukes are more of a “white R&B horn band in the Memphis Stax Records tradition” than anything like the Boss and his band. Still, the influences are there, especially when Springsteen so frequently provided production assistance and material. The track offered here, for instance, came from the pens of Springsteen and one-time Asbury Juke Steve VanZandt.

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” is one of the lesser tracks on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence album, an album put together rapidly in the wake of the radio success of the duo’s single, “The Sound of Silence.” Lesser track or not, it’s still one of my favorite tracks on the album, along with “A Most Peculiar Man” and the lovely “Kathy’s Song.”

The Cox Family hails from Louisiana and has been performing since 1976. In 1990, the group came to the attention of Alison Krauss, who brought the group to Rounder Records, for whom the Cox Family recorded a couple of albums. One of those was Beyond the City, with its combination of neo-folk and progressive bluegrass elements. “Another Lonesome Morning” is pretty representative.

When one hears in these days “Cocaine,” J.J, Cale’s cryptic ode to excess, one realizes how greatly the world has changed in twenty-eight years. A great riff, a great song, yet utterly out of synch with the times, one would think. Oh, the activity is still out there, sure, but we act like we don’t notice, and we don’t sing about it anymore. To steal a line from the late – and mourned – Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Winter

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2007

Through the window, I hear the skrik-skrik of someone scraping ice from a vehicle in the parking lot. We got another six inches of snow yesterday afternoon (on top of the six or so inches from Saturday), and it came in the afternoon, causing havoc during what passes for rush hour here in St. Cloud.

It looks like this winter is going to be a tougher one than the past few have been. At least, it’s starting out that way, with two six-inch snowfalls in four days and another storm heading our direction for tomorrow. The past few years haven’t seen much snow at all, and it’s generally come later in the season. And some of those winters have seemed to bring fewer days of sub-zero cold, the kind of cold that makes snow squeak under your feet and makes your cheeks burn.

Were winters colder when I was a kid? I don’t know. I remember walking in some pretty cold weather during my elementary school days. For the seven years I went to Lincoln School (kindergarten through sixth grade), I walked the five blocks from Kilian Boulevard to the school almost every day. On those winter days when the wind came from the north or northwest, we’d turn around and back our way to school, whole clusters of kids walking in reverse along Fifth Avenue Southeast.

(One very clear recollection that points out how times have changed is that the girls were still required to wear skirts or dresses in school. They could wear slacks under their dresses or skirts when they walked to school, but those slacks had to come off once they got inside.)

On very frigid days, those snow-squeaking days when the temperature was at twenty below zero or colder (that’s about twenty-nine degrees below zero Celsius), my mom or dad would drive us – my sister was three years ahead of me – the five blocks to school, often picking up classmates of ours along the way. And on occasion during my first few years of elementary school, I’d get a ride to school from Ed, the college fellow who lived in the next block and was the quarterback for the St. Cloud State Huskies football team.

Do kids still walk to school in any season? I don’t know. I do have a sense that kids no longer do as much outdoors as we used to do. Forty years ago, there were two city-maintained outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of our house: one right across the highway from Lincoln School (with a walking bridge over the highway providing easy access), and another about six blocks south of us on Kilian Boulevard. I was never a very good skater, but I spent my time with Rick and the other neighborhood kids scuffling around the two rinks. And on occasion, we’d go downtown where the city maintained a skating surface on Lake George.

And once every couple of weeks, we’d grab our saucer sleds and head down to the big hill in Riverside Park for a weekend afternoon of sliding, coming home cold and wet, tired and happy.

The rink on Kilian is long gone now, its location having become part of a permanent rose garden. I don’t think there’s a rink near Lincoln anymore. The open area that was flooded each winter is still there, but the warming house is long gone. And the old warming house on Lake George came down years ago, too. I suppose kids who want to skate do so in the ice arenas that were built during the years I was gone.

I would imagine, though, that kids still slide down the hill in Riverside Park. I hope so. And this year, it looks as if there will be plenty of snow for them.

A Baker’s Dozen of Winter

“The First Chill of Winter” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Winterlude” by Bob Dylan from New Morning, 1970

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends, 1968

“Song of Winter” by Françoise Hardy from One Nine Seven Zero, 1970

“Winterlong” by Neil Young, unreleased, 1974

“Wintery Feeling” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side, 1978

“The Coldest Winter in Memory” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“In The Winter” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Song For A Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot from The Way I Feel, 1967

“The Winter is Cold” by Wendy & Bonnie from Genesis, 1969

“Lion in Winter” by the Bee Gees from Trafalgar, 1971

“Winter Winds’ by Fotheringay from Fotheringay, 1970

“Sometimes In Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

I’ve posted the Hewerdine and Smith album Evidence here before, but I could not resist starting this list with “The First Chill of Winter,” which is one of my favorite songs.

The album One Nine Seven Zero, the source of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “Song of Winter,” was originally released in 1969 in South Africa under the title of English 3. A year later, it was released in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as One Nine Seven Zero. In the U.S. and Canada, the album’s title was Alone. I don’t think there’s any difference between the albums, but the source I had for the album called it One Nine Seven Zero, so that’s what I’ve called it.

The Neil Young track, “Winterlong” was included on Decade, his 1977 retrospective. The only other place the song shows up officially is on the 2006 release, Live at the Fillmore East, which documents a 1970 performance by Young with Crazy Horse.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night” may be more familiar in a version by Sarah McLachlan. Her nicely done cover of the song was released on the soundtrack of a 1994 remake of the Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street, although the recording was not used in the film.

“The Winter Is Cold” comes from one of the more remarkable one-shot recordings of the 1960s. Genesis came from San Francisco-based sisters, Wendy and Bonnie Flowers, who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, at the time. It was released on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the record to gain any attention. “The Winter Is Cold” is one of the lesser tracks on the album, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968, Vol. 2

May 4, 2011

Originally posted August 8, 2007

We didn’t take a lot of vacation trips when I was a kid.

Oh, Dad had vacations from his work at St. Cloud State, but we rarely traveled. We might spend a few days at a rental cabin on a lake somewhere north of St. Cloud. Frequently, August found my mother, my sister and I spending two weeks – with Dad coming down for the second week – at Grandpa’s farm in southwestern Minnesota, picking and freezing corn and green beans, canning tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables and butchering chickens.

We did make one major trip, however, in the late summer of 1968. My sister had spent eight weeks studying in France that summer and was scheduled to fly into Philadelphia on her return. My mom’s sister and her family lived in Reading, Pennsylvania, not far at all from Philly, so about a week before my sister’s return, Mom and Dad and I hopped into that same Ford Custom and headed southeast through Wisconsin.

We drove through Wisconsin Dells, with its souvenir shops and snack stands and its gaudy signs advertising boat tours and duck rides and treats, my head turning this way and that as we drove the city’s main street. (The city remains much the same, based on a 2006 visit; the only difference is that water parks abound on the city’s outskirts, along the I-94 route that I’m not sure existed in 1968.)

We made our way along turnpikes through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In a hotel room in Morton’s Grove, we watched on television as the Democratic Party selected its vice-presidential candidate in downtown Chicago – just a few miles distant – while outside the convention hall, police clubbed and savaged protesters in what was later categorized as a “police riot.”

Among the stops as we made our way to Reading were Notre Dame University and its Golden Dome in Indiana; Blue Hole and Mystery Hill in Ohio (the first a pond said to be too deep to measure and the second one of those places where gravity is said to be skewed and water and other things run uphill); the birthplaces of Thomas Edison in Ohio and President James Buchanan in western Pennsylvania.

We toured for a few hours the Civil War battlefield at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and spent half a day at the battlefield at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The ebb and flow of the 1862 battle at Antietam was too complex for me to grasp it as we drove from site to site there, but the next day, at Gettysburg, I stood on Cemetery Ridge and looked west to where, in 1863, the Confederate lines had been and from where Gen. George Pickett’s men had marched in the charge that has since been named for him.

The air had that odd stillness that seems to descend on every battlefield. It’s a quiet that seems to touch every place where too many men have fallen in defense of one ideal or another. And it weighed heavily at Gettysburg, especially at that point where Pickett’s Charge broke on the Union line, the Confederate soldiers having come nearly a mile through a storm of cannon shells and rifle balls.

That stillness, that weight of history, had gathered at some of the other places we saw on that trip, whether en route, in Pennsylvania, or on our way back to Minnesota. Few places were as somber or as haunting as Gettysburg, though. With my cousins, we visited Valley Forge near Philadelphia and then toured the historic sites in the city: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross house, Benjamin Franklin’s grave. A couple of days later, with my sister safely returned, the four of us left Reading and went to Washington, D.C., for a day.

We toured the White House and wandered freely through the Capitol building (something that is sadly unthinkable today, I would guess), saw our nation’s founding documents at the National Archives and some of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums. But the most sobering moments had been late in the afternoon the day before at Arlington National Cemetery, another place where that silence descends, most notably at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, assassinated less than five years earlier.

From Washington, we drove west, heading across the midsections of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. We visited friends and saw sites related to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, and then toured several places related to author Mark Twain in the touristy but congenial small town of Hannibal, Missouri. From there, we headed north toward home.

It was a lot to absorb for a teenage boy, even one as tuned to history as I was. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy of Bruce Catton’s short history of the Civil War and dug into that when we got home. (Catton’s longer works are still on my list of things to read, as is Shelby Foote’s history of the conflict.) And as I read, I sorted through the places we’d seen, things I’d learned on that long trip. I guess, almost forty years later, I’m still sorting.

And when Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” popped up while I was compiling a random selection of songs from 1968, I was at first amused. Then it seemed appropriate to hear “We’ve all gone to look for America.” That’s what we were doing in the late summer of 1968, I guess – looking for America – and I think that’s what many of us are still doing today.

As always, bit rates will vary. Enjoy!

A Baker’s Dozen From 1968

“My Days Are Numbered” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Child is Father to the Man

“I Am A Pilgrim” by the Byrds from Sweetheart of the Rodeo

“Roll With It” by the Steve Miller Band from Children of the Future

“Handbags & Gladrags” by Love Affair from Everlasting Love Affair

“Rocky Raccoon” by the Beatles from The Beatles

“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Jerry Butler from The Soul Goes On

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters from Electric Mud

“Good Feelin’” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from For Children of All Ages

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends

“Through An Old Storybook by Sweetwater from Sweetwater

“I Got You Babe” by Etta James from the Tell Mama sessions

“Do You Know The Way To San Jose?” by Dionne Warwick, Scepter single 12216

“The Weight” by the Staple Singers from Soul Folk In Action

A few notes on some of the songs:

In Friday’s post on horn bands, I mentioned Blood, Sweat & Tears’ debut album, Child is Father to the Man. “My Days Are Numbered” is one of the better tracks on the album and, to my mind, gives a good example of Al Kooper’s hopes for the band before some of the other band members jettisoned him.

The Love Affair’s version of “Handbags & Gladrags” is not the best version out there of that great song; I like Chris Farlowe’s take on the song, and Rod Stewart’s version might be definitive. But the little-remembered Love Affair at least battled the song to a draw.

Electric Mud was Chess Records’ attempt to make Muddy Waters more current, putting the venerable bluesman together with what All-Music Guide calls “Hendrix-inspired psychedelic blues arrangements.” The record sold fairly well, but Waters didn’t like it, and the results are more of a curio than anything substantial today. (Chess did the same thing in 1968 with Howlin’ Wolf, and the results were, if anything, less good.)

Sweetwater was an odd band that featured flute, congas and cello as well as the traditional trappings of a rock band, and its music reflects that, with results ranging from remarkable to “What in the hell were they thinking?” Sweetwater was the group’s debut album, but in 1969 – during which the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock – lead singer Nansi Nevins was injured in a car crash and required years of physical therapy. The group recorded two albums without her and then faded away until 1997, when Nevins and some of the other original members reunited.

A Baker’s Dozen For Minneapolis

April 30, 2011

Originally posted August 3, 2007

Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. Bridges aren’t supposed to fall down.

No, we didn’t lose anyone. No relatives or friends were on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis Wednesday evening when it groaned and tumbled into the Mississippi River. But in the larger sense that I think everyone out there understands, those were our friends and neighbors: those who stood dazed on a section of highway sitting on the water, those who helped get the crying children out of that precariously perched school bus, those who crawled up the steep remnants of the bridge and helped others do the same, and yes, those – evidently and thankfully few – who remain lost and in the water still.

The Texas Gal’s sister called us about 6:30 Wednesday evening, asking if we were okay, adding that she knew that sometimes the Texas Gal has to go to Minneapolis for her work. I was confused by her question. We were watching the news, but we were running about fifteen minutes behind, as I’d put the television on pause while we got dinner together. When she told me what had happened, all I could say was “What?” The words made no sense.

Listening, I carried the phone into the living room. The Texas Gal said later that from the look on my face, she thought that someone in one of our families had died. We changed the channel to bring the television up to current time, said goodbye and hung up. Then the Texas Gal and I sat there, stunned, and watched the news for more than three hours.

I called my sister’s house and talked to my brother-in-law. Everyone was safe. We got a couple more calls from Texas, friends seeing if we were okay. And we were, of course. Except that we weren’t. From time to time, things happen that shred the verities in our lives: The doctor has bad news. Someone swallows something the wrong way. A summer storm spawns tornadoes. A car runs a red light into another car’s path. And a bridge falls into the river.

We live less than a mile from the Mississippi River and cross it frequently – the Texas Gal does so everyday and I do a couple times a week. When I lived in Minneapolis eight years ago, I drove on the I-35W bridge every day on my way to work. Crossing the river safely is something we’ve taken for granted, just like those folks who were driving on Interstate 35W Wednesday night took it for granted. We might not for a while. So we – like most Minnesotans and like our friends all around the country – weren’t entirely okay. We were better off than those souls caught in the horror and better off than their families and friends, certainly, but we were shaken.

Now, all the various agencies will go about their jobs. In not that long a time, the last unfortunates will be found and identified. The shattered and twisted bridge will be removed and studied. A new one will be designed and begin to rise. People will point fingers in blame, some in honest outrage and some, sadly, for political gain.

And as all of those things happen, shock and grief will eventually wane – not for some time yet, but eventually – and the wounded will heal. We’ll move forward, having been reminded that every day, we are all no more than one instant from disaster. We always have been and we always will be. It sometimes takes something like a bridge falling into a river to remind us of that and thus to remind us to take nothing for granted, ever.

So if you have children, if you have parents, if you have brothers and sisters, if you have friends, then let them know how much they matter to you. Today.

A Baker’s Dozen for Minneapolis:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

“Follow” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag (1968)

“East of Ginger Trees” by Seals & Crofts from Summer Breeze (1972)

“Every Grain of Sand” by Bob Dylan from Shot of Love (1981)

“The Circle Game” by Tom Rush from The Circle Game (1968)

“Whispering Pines” by The Band from The Band (1969)

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin from Pearl (1970)

“Long As I Can See The Light” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 645 (1970)

“Page 43” by Graham Nash & David Crosby from Graham Nash/David Crosby (1973)

“We Are Not Helpless” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills (1970)

“Seems Like A Long Time” by Rod Stewart from Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

“I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker from With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

“Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End” by the Beatles from Abbey Road (1969)

Saturday Single No. 21

April 26, 2011

Originally posted July 14, 2007

I got one of those special offers in the mail the other day, inviting me to join a CD club. I already belong to one – Yourmusic.com, which I mentioned the other week. But as I also indicated not long ago, I am in the process of trying to replicate on CD as much of my LP collection of classic rock as I can.

So I joined, and I spent a happy hour or two sorting through the new club’s online catalog, looking for relative rarities or for albums that sit high on my list of things to listen to and to put onto the computer in better sound quality than I already had.

For my first seven albums, I came up with a list that I thought was not bad:

Allman Brothers Band – Brothers and Sisters (1973)

Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears (1969)

Chicago – Chicago III (1971)

Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way Of The World (1975)

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Neil Young – Comes A Time (1978)

So, since the package arrived Thursday, I’ve been sorting through my collection of mp3s, deleting previous versions made from those albums and starting the process – in between other tasks – of ripping new versions. I have to admit that I don’t know Chicago III as well as I do the group’s first two albums, so I’m going to be doing some careful listening to that, and – as I think about it – it’s been a while since I heard any of these in their entirety. So I think that, as well as ripping them for mp3s, I’ll also be popping them in for full listens over the weekend.

When it came to posting something today, I thought it should come from those CDs I just got, those reminders to me of other times: the years when I finished high school, went to college and headed out into the adult world, oftentimes not feeling very much like an adult at all. But none of the tracks I thought about from those seven CDs spoke very loudly to those things, at least not on quick review.

So I decided just to post a song that had a nice groove to it, one of those that made me widen my eyes and drop my jaw the first time I head it. And it’s one that I hope the folks at the music club keep in mind in their dealings with me. For those reasons, that’s why Simon and Garfunkel’s “Keep the Customer Satisfied” is this week’s Saturday Single.

Simon and Garfunkel – “Keep The Customer Satisfied” [1970]