Posts Tagged ‘Style Council’

‘Things’

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 5, 2009

A long-time friend stopped by for dinner the other evening. We talked about our cats (five between the two households) and about K’s work in online education – she teaches students all over the world from her home in Nevada. We talked about our families and about the Texas Gal’s current college coursework. We talked a bit about books, and we shared the nuggets of news that folks do when they’re catching up.

As we were dipping into dessert, K began to look around the dining room/library, then craned her neck to peer into the living room. “Where are they?” she asked.

I was puzzled. “Where are what?”

“The penguins.”

I laughed. For years, I collected penguins, mostly ceramic, and at one point – when I lived in Minot, North Dakota – had a collection of about twenty-five, maybe thirty. I also had penguin bathroom accessories – wastebasket, shower curtain and soap dish – and there were other penguin things around my home.

It was an accidental collection. In 1976 or so, I was sharing pictures from my time in Denmark with my then-fiancée’s family. One of the pictures was of a fountain on the pedestrian mall in downtown Fredericia, a fountain decorated with statues of penguins. My future mother-in-law thought it was odd that I’d take a picture of something so prosaic; from then on, during nearly every visit to her home before and during my marriage to her daughter, she gave me a ceramic penguin figurine or something with penguins on it. The collection grew, and other folks – family and friends – gave me occasional gifts of penguin stuff.

I liked my penguins, and I happily displayed them in two homes in Monticello and then in my apartment in Minot, after the marriage had ended with a sigh of exhaustion. I think that’s where K saw them, during one of her visits to Minot. I might also have had them on display in my next place, in Anoka, Minnesota, where she was a regular dinner guest.

But the penguins are no longer on display. I’m not even sure where the collection is, whether it’s in a box nested in another box on the shelves in the basement or whether I gave them away sometime in the past twenty years. I still have a few penguinish things: A stapler, four newer figurines on the mantel, a sweet powder blue Pittsburgh Penguins cap and a few other items here and there. But my days of collecting all things penguin are gone. I do wonder a little bit about the whereabouts of the ceramic penguins. Some of them were quite nice, and I imagine some had some value as collectibles. But I honestly don’t remember what I did with them.

They were, after all, just things. Nice things, yes, but just things. And as I thought about my penguins this week, I also thought – and not for the first time – about how we here in the U.S. have let our things become so important to us. We collect, accumulate and want more things, whether they’re automobiles, backyard decks, bracelets, books, cookware sets, CDs, sweaters, power boats, coffee-makers or any of the other desirable bits and pieces with which we seem to clutter our lives.

Clutter? Yeah, sometimes – a lot of the time – I think so. We’re not rich, the Texas Gal and I. But we sometimes look around our home and realize how much stuff we have, stuff that decorates our lives and makes them more pleasant. It’s nice to have those things, but in the end, they’re not essential. They’re things. I sometimes think that we can examine our priorities by thinking about what we would make sure to take out of our homes if they were on fire.

Even during the times I had them on display, my penguin figurines would have been far down that list. What’s at the top of the list? Obviously, the Texas Gal and the three cats come first. Then the box that contains documents like our birth certificates, marriage license and so on. Then would come our financial records, which we’ve made easily accessible and portable. Then, if there were time, the Texas Gal would probably grab as many of our photos as she could, and I’d grab my journal from my year in Denmark and my external hard drive, where I keep my writing projects (as well as my mp3s). In a fire, I think we’d be lucky to get that much. And if all we got out was ourselves and the cats, well, the rest of it – all of it, no matter how dear some of it may be to us – is just things.

Are those things irreplaceable? Some of them truly are, and we would grieve those losses. But in the end, we’d be safe and whole and they’re just things.

A Six-Pack Of Things
“A Thing Going On” by J.J. Cale from Grasshopper [1982]
“You’re The Best Thing” by the Style Council from Cafe Bleu [1984]
“All These Things We Dream” by the Living Daylights from The Living Daylights [1996]
“Bags and Things” by Dennis Lambert from Bags and Things [1972]
“Things Yet To Come” by Sweathog from Sweathog [1971]
“If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” by the Staple Singers from City in the Sky [1974]

All I’m going to say about these songs today is that, even though a couple of them are by lesser-known artists, they’re all worth hearing.

The Inevitable Kodachrome Reference

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 22, 2009

News from Rochester, N.Y., this morning: The Eastman Kodak Co. is retiring Kodachrome. The film will no longer be produced.

According to an Associated Press piece filed this morning, sales of the film – sold by the company for seventy-four years – now account for less than one percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture film. And, notes AP, only one commercial lab in the world – in, oddly enough, Parsons, Kansas – still processes Kodachrome.

The AP reporter, Carolyn Thompson, led the story with, almost inevitably, a reference to Paul Simon: “Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.”

Well, I likely would have done the same. And the news makes life just a little easier for me this morning, as I’ve been trying to figure out how to ease into a six-song random selection from the years 1960-1999. Now I have an obvious place to start:

A Six-Pack of Mostly Random Tunes
“Kodachrome” by Paul Simon, Columbia 45859 [1973]
“Down In The Seine” by the Style Council from Our Favourite Shop [1985]
“Alone” by Wishbone Ash from Pilgrimage [1971]
“Go Back” by Crabby Appleton, Elektra 45687 [1970]
“Comes A Time” by Neil Young from Comes A Time [1978]
“Song For the High Mountain” by Jorma Kaukonen from Jorma [1979]

I imagine the story of “Kodachrome” is available somewhere (and I’ve never really looked), but I’ve wondered occasionally since 1973 about the genesis of the song. What sparked “Kodachrome”? Its infectious melody, sparkling production (at Muscle Shoals) and somewhat off-beat lyrics made it a No. 2 hit in 1973. In some ways, I suppose the song shows that Simon could write a song about anything. In any case, it’s a great piece of pop that became a cultural touchstone, as the lead to the AP story shows.

I continue my explorations of Paul Weller: Our Favourite Shop was the Style Council’s second true album, if I read things right. U.S. releases were slightly different than those in Britain, which makes the whole thing a mess; as an example, Our Favourite Shop was released in the U.S. as Internationalists after the track “Our Favourite Shop” was removed. I imagine there was a reason, but . . . Anyway, “Down In The Seine” seems to be a typical Weller conglomeration: some soul touches, some jazz touches, some odd bits – the accordion – all tossed together. On some tracks, the approach didn’t work very well; in this case, it did.

Every time something pops up on the player from Wishbone Ash’s first three albums – Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage or Argus – I find myself wishing I’d been a little more adventurous in my listening habits as high school ended and college began. I was on a different listening track entirely, and it was one that served me well, but hearing some Wishbone Ash and a few things in that vein might also have served me well. “Alone” is an instrumental that’s a lot more mellow than the rest of Pilgrimage.

A true One-Hit Wonder, Crabby Appleton was a Los Angeles-based group, and its one hit, “Go Back” was actually a pretty good piece of pop-rock when it rolled out of the speakers during the summer of 1970. The single spent five weeks in the Top 40 but stalled at No. 36, which means that the record rarely pops up on radio, even in the deepest oldies playlists. All that does, from my view, is make the record sound more fresh when it does surface, and I like it a lot. The group also released a self-titled album that featured the single, but the record didn’t sell well. Nor did any of the follow-up singles or the band’s 1971 album, Rotten to the Core, sell very well.

Neil Young has recorded many albums that rank higher in critics’ eyes than does Comes A Time. It’s not a particularly challenging album, for Young or for the listener. And yet, it remains my favorite, and I’m not entirely certain why that is. The one thought I have – and it popped up again the other day when the CD was in the player as I sat nearby with a book – is that throughout the entire album, Young sounds like he’s happy. And that’s a rare sound.

Jorma Kaukonen played guitar for Jefferson Airplane and then, when the Airplane broke up in 1973, focused on solo work and his work with Jack Cassady as Hot Tuna. Jorma was released a year after Hot Tuna broke up and it’s quite a nice album, as I hear it. Critical assessment says it’s not as good as Kaukonen’s work with Cassady or even his earlier solo album, Quah, released in 1974. I’ve always thought, though, that Jorma was the sound of a musician taking a figurative deep breath and exhaling, figuring out where he wants to go next, now that things are quieting down.

Edited slightly on archival posting.