I know not how I sink or swim

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Surely it was heartbreak that fueled his devotion to the cause, this once-sanguine young man whose quiet despair now accompanied him thousands of miles from home. That this, my great (x 4) grandfather, was prepared to die is made abundantly clear in a hand-written message, dated August 16, 1776:

I, Shadrach Winslow, of Rehoboth, in the State of Massachusetts Bay, being sensible, although now in a comfortable state of health, that life is uncertain, and being bound on a cruise in the privateer sloop-of-war called the Joseph against the enemies of the United American States, and knowing the many contingencies that in the Course of Divine Providence daily must and do await mankind in every age and station of life, and willing that those temporal goods, and such estate as God has blessed me with, should be so disposed of in case I should not return, as would be most satisfactory to me; Do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament, recommending myself through Christ, first of all, to that merciful being who gave mine and what I possess, and hoping through him to enjoy felicity hereafter.

Upon reading this I had no choice but to delve deeper into the story of Shadrach Winslow MD. So I turned to our family genealogy and learned that the good doctor was a devout Calvinist and superior Latinist who graduated from Yale, Class of 1771. Then, with the outbreak of Revolution

“… his patriotic feelings were aroused to the highest pitch and he resolved to do all that was possible for the cause. Being a gentleman of means he contributed largely to the outfitting of a warship to attack the enemy on the high seas and went aboard her as a surgeon … The ship was captured off the coast of Spain and all onboard were taken prisoner and brought to Wallabout Bay off Brooklyn and placed aboard the dismal prison ships … Here Dr. Winslow was detained as a POW about one year and suffered much. He never fully recovered from the damage to his health, aboard these prison ships where 12,000 soldiers and sailors perished.”

That he did return is certainly “most satisfactory to me” and mine, because he went on to marry the pleasant Elizabeth Robbins, with whom he fathered ten children as was then common, including my great (x 3) grandfather, Isaac.

I could have left it with that. But I didn’t, and so learned of a love story that never quite made it into the family history.

The hand-written will was referenced in an 1878 centennial address for the Town of Foxborough.  Given by the son of one of Isaac’s brothers, John Winslow (who had a penchant for lame Calvinist jokes), the speaker also recounted a conversation he’d had with an old man who knew Shadrach well and spoke of the winsome Betsy Peck to whom the young doctor, just out of college, was soon to marry.

Sadly, young Betsy was “suddenly removed by death” and his inability to save his truelove “produced a deep and lasting influence upon Shadrach’s sensibility.”

Though the romance was cut tragically short leaving little time for love to fade away like morning dew, when I think of that pensive crossing, I’m reminded of this variation of a popular 17th century Scottish ballad, sung by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff.

In 1776 the strapping young doctor was the same age my son is now. Throwing himself into the cause of independence surely helped to assuage his anguish, and though there are no records the old man spoke of Shadrach’s wanderings in France, Turkey, Portugal, and Spain, using his Latin to communicate, prior to his capture and ghastly imprisonment.

When at last he was released, emaciated and rather cynical, his great good fortune in meeting Elizabeth is the stuff of legend. Not only was she amiable and attractive, but she was a woman capable of such fathomless, redeeming compassion that their first child was named Betsy Peck Winslow. 

The Water is Wide

The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

And neither I have wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row – my love and I

Now love is gentle, and love is kind

The sweetest flower when first it’s new

But love grows old, and waxes cold

And fades away like morning dew

There is a ship, she sails the sea

She’s loaded deep as deep can be

But not as deep as the love I’m in

I know not how I sink or swim

The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

And neither I have wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row – my love and I

And both shall row – my love and I.

 

We will yell with all of our might

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With a number of chapters nearly complete I have come to one of those “cutting” stages on my current book project, where entire passages are cut for the sake of flow. Sometimes they’ll find their way in elsewhere, sometimes they won’t. Since what follows is unlikely to see the light of day anywhere else I thought I’d give it a good send-off here.

…By all outward appearances our ever-adaptable family had left the storm behind. Wheeling along like the cogs of my father’s career we moved from Ashland in ’61 – to Concord, NH in ’62 – to New Bedford in ’63 – to Evansville, Indiana in 1965.

Now we were “Hoosiers.”  As if to underscore that fact our suburban split-level house was next to a cornfield.

Situated across the Ohio from Kentucky, the locals spoke with a twangy drawl, often dropping in a genial “y’all” for good measure and once we figured out we had them, we hastened to moderate our Yankee accents. What we called “soda,” they called “pop;” “bag” (as in lunch bag) was “sack.”

Back in New England we’d had our milk (or “melk” as they pronounced it) delivered in bottles by a milkman. Here it came in cartons purchased at the grocery store. The “melkman’s” demise had already occurred.

Not that there wasn’t a prevailing respect for traditional values. Nearly everyone went to church and we began to attend the First Presbyterian Church of Evansville.

In general people seemed friendlier and more open here. Neighbors actually said “hello” and it was easy to meet kids in the suburban complex that was our neighborhood. Most of them introduced themselves to us.

That’s how we met the Johnsons across the street.  As it turned out Mrs. Johnson was a friend of Miss Winnie.

Many will remember the children’s TV series, Romper Room. A national program geared toward the 5-and-under crowd, Romper Room was franchised out to local affiliates who generally used the same script but with resident hostesses.

In Massachusetts it had been “Miss Jean” who, like every Romper Room hostess, ended the broadcast with a look through her magic mirror while she recounted the names of all the children she “saw” out in Televisionland. For some reason she never saw ‘Winslow.’

Miss Winnie was Evansville’s Romper Room hostess.  Although I no longer watched it my younger brother, Warren did.  It was a big deal when she came to call in her floral poema dress and held court on a patio chair in the Johnson’s back yard.

Instructed to be on our best behavior, we were formally presented and had the honor of shaking her hand. Only later – after we’d  grabbed some cookies and wandered back home – did it occur to me that I’d blown my chance to ask her why she and Miss Jean never saw me, or Warren for that matter, through those magic mirrors of theirs…

Cut. So much for that. Perhaps your name was never called out either.  Here’s something at least to bring you back to a simpler time.

Formed in North London as the Dave Clark Quintet in 1957, the Dave Clark Five were the second “British Invasion” group to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, two weeks after the Beatles in 1964. Thanks to the impeccable timing they were more popular in the States (for  a while) than they were in England.

Written by drummer, Dave Clark and guitarist, Lenny Davidson, this song was released in 1965, hitting Number 4 on the US charts and Number 5 in the UK. After the Beatles struck lucky with their film, “A Hard Day’s Night” it also served as theme song for the DC5’s cinematic response, “Catch Us if You Can.” So let’s get those fingers snapping, mmmm-mm-mm…

Catch Us If You Can

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm

Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm

Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Now we gotta run, mmmm-mm-mm

No more time for fun, mmmm-mm-mm

When we’re gettin’ angry, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Here they come again, mmmm-mm-mm

Catch us if you can, mmmm-mm-mm

Time to get a move on, mmmm-mm-mm

We will yell with all of our might

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can

Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?

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Wednesday, August 24,1988. I was sitting in my office on Connecticut Avenue when time began to pick up speed. It was 4:59 p.m. and the receptionist had just announced the  arrival of my ‘ol mates, Giles and Tony. “Why, they’re as cute as buttons,” said a passing co-worker.

Perhaps, but having arrived from England they were also ready for the weekend to begin, starting with some supper.  So off we went, to the Occidental Grill for “handcrafted” cocktails and swordfish club sandwiches, followed by a visit to the Hotel Washington’s roof bar for a few more rounds while the sun set over the White House.  The weekend had begun.

A hailed cab after dark, a quick visit to a liquor store in the National Press Building, and our next stop was Union Station where the Night Owl was ready to board. Overnight sleepers had been plying the rails between Washington and Boston since the days of the Federal Express in 1912, and Amtrak’s 1980s version was first rate, complete with showers, room service, and obliging porters who accepted the early vestiges of a wedding party.

Departing promptly at 10:30 p.m. with stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, and Philadelphia, the train took an hour layover in New York before wending its way along the coast to Stamford, New Haven, Providence and finally Boston. Replaced by the more “modular” Twilight Express in the ’90s, the marvelous old-school service was dropped altogether (along with the fanicful naming of train routes) with the advent of high-speed rail in the 2000s.

Ah, but that was years away.  On this night we had our own compartment, to play cards, drink scotch whisky and, while the Night Owl lumbered through the gloom, to raise a toast to each new state we entered. Although the actual number was eight, our glasses clinked over a dozen times just to make sure.

Since my bride-to-be was to meet us in Boston I wanted to be fresh.  But somehow we didn’t manage to turn-in until after the train had departed from New York’s Penn Station at 3:17 a.m, and when the Night Owl pulled in to South Station at 8:05 a.m. “fresh” was not one of the better ways to describe us. “We have an appointment with the minister,” Linda blithely reminded me, “and Sweety, the smell of booze is oozing through your pores.”

This was Thursday, and with early arrivals and last minute arrangements (not to mention a quick shower) the logistics were intense. This was also the date that my best man, Sterling, had selected for the bachelor party, thereby providing a buffer for the groom and some much-needed peace of mind for the mother of the bride … and the bride herself.  Held at Doyles in Jamaica Plain, with the elevated ‘T’ rumbling overhead and two-dozen types of beer rumbling through Doyles’ taps, the toasting began anew and carried on through the after-party at Sterling’s West Roxbury home,

Now it was Friday, and once the rumbling in my skull had subsided, things got really, really busy: there were more arrivals; and a rehearsal at the Concord church that Linda’s family has attended for over 50 years, followed by a rehearsal dinner at Indian Meadows in Westborough. Then, while Linda and her retinue returned to her parents’ home in Concord, me and mine – including assorted friends and mirth-making family members  – headed to my father’s place for what amounted to a pool party in Southborough.  27 years later, It’s a blur to me, but at some point I made it to bed.

And then it was Saturday, August 27, with each moment passing at hypersonic speed.  The memories come in snippets: of stepping out of a steamy morning shower and just wrapping on my towel before my sister and brother-in-law burst through the door for a finger-twirling rendition of Going to the Chapel; and of my father’s expressed concern that wearing morning attire for a 4:00 p.m. wedding was surely pushing the limits of propriety; and of the arrival of my old pal, McGill in his parent’s new station wagon; and a telegram delivered by Western Union from Terry, a far-off friend; and the arrival of my groomsman and cousin, Bradley, who wondered where my best man was (so did I!); and at long last, the arrival of Sterling, who’d had car trouble; … and then, just in from London, here was Claude wearing a morning suit and a top hat.

The world was in a spin but somehow everyone made it to Concord (Claude, who rode with McGill was very impressed with this ‘station wagon’), and as if in a dream I found myself at the alter facing a sanctuary packed with some of the finest people on earth, each looking my way and smiling…

…Until the first notes of Thine is the Glory came thundering over the ancient pipe organ – set to a popular Handel tune, a choir had sung this hymn when I proposed to Linda on the steps of Sacré-Cœur – and thine WAS the glory when all the air was sucked from the room in a single gasp while my stunningly beautiful bride came striding down the aisle in her father’s arm. The spree that led to it may have been epic but nothing in my life has ever compared to this!

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Although we wrote our own vows I have scant recollection as to what transpired between “dearly beloved,” and “you may kiss the bride.”  As for the kiss itself?  That was unforgettable. Now we were one, and it was as if time – which would soon return to joyous hyperspeed at the reception – had settled into a comfortable pace, because all was well,  very well, for Mr. & Mrs. P.

It’s a sentiment that’s reflected by this song. Written by Noel Paul Stookey who served as best man at (his Peter, Paul and Mary bandmate) Peter Yarrow’s wedding. Yarrow, who was raised in the liberal Jewish tradition was marrying  (Eugene McCarthy’s niece) Marybeth McCarthy, a Catholic, and he asked Stookey, who had recently become born again to “bless our wedding with a song.”  After praying about it, Stookey is said to have ‘received’ the lyrics and melody in response.

With New and Old Testament references, specifically Matthew 18:20 (“For whenever two or more of you are gathered…”) and Genesis 2:24 (“A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home.”), Stookey duly performed the song at the couple’s Minnesota wedding with no intention of releasing it commercially. But the newlyweds convinced him to change his mind and this version of Wedding Song, with Stookey singing and playing a 12 string guitar, was featured on his first solo album, “Paul and…” in 1971.

Unwilling to take credit for what he saw as a divine gift, Stookey insisted that authorship should not be provided on the record or sheet music. Instead the copyright was (and is) held by the Public Domain Foundation, which he established to receive the songwriting and publishing royalties and distribute them to various charities.

“Into every songwriter’s life comes a song,”  Stookey later wrote, “the source of which cannot be explained by personal experience.” 

Wedding Song

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts

Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part

The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain

For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name

There is love, there is love

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home

And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one

As it was in the beginning is now and ’til the end

Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again

And there is Love, there is love

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?

Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?

And if loving is the answer then who’s the giving for?

Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?

Oh there’s love, there is love

Oh, the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain

For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name

There is love, there is love

We’ll dress him up warmly and we’ll send him to school…

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While helping my son pack (and later unpack) during his recent move from Denver to Austin, I somehow managed to reign supreme over the music selection. Naturally I didn’t stint in dragging up the old-school stuff (after all, it’s been a long time since I did the stroll…), which has always been a reliable balm to life’s slightly wistful occasions.

Or at least it used to be. When this old favorite came around I was struck by certain parallels … Substitute 1991 for 1951 in “He was born on a summer day in 1951″ and ‘93 for ’53 “In the summer of ’53 his mother brought him a sister” and the song could be about my own kids … except that Giles was never a “lonely boy” who “thought he was the only one.” And he and Mary have always (well, almost always) been great friends.

Back in 1977, when Lonely Boy reached Number 7 on the Billboard charts (Number 11 in the UK), I’d assumed that it was autobiographical and was fascinated to learn that the songwriter’s mother had required a great deal of reassurance that he’d made it all up.  Yes, he was born on a summer day in 1951, and yes, he left home on a winter’s day in 1969 (Giles left home in 2009, by the way) but he promised up and down that it had never occurred to him that anyone would actually think the lyrics were true.

On the other hand, his sister – a psychotherapist (really) born in the summer of ’53 – opined that the story went a long way in explaining her brother’s great success, adding, “When Andy felt deeply he would just make it a song.”

Born the eldest of three in Burbank, California in August of 1951, Andrew Maurice Gold,  had parents who excelled at teaching him what they’d learned. His father, Ernest, was an Academy Award-winning composer (for the 1960 film Exodus). His mother was Marni Nixon, who famously provided the singing voices for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (“Oh wouldn’t it be loverly…”), Natalie Wood in West Side Story (“I feel pretty…”) and Deborah Kerr in The King and I (“Shall we dance…”)

Indeed, nobody’s fool, “Andy” – who died of complications from renal cancer in 2011, just shy of his 60th birthday – would grow up to be a talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumental musician, producer, arranger, and sound engineer, whose versatility kept him busy for the rest of his life.  Much sought after for his session work, his favored instruments included: keyboards, guitar, bass, accordion, saxophone, harmonica, flute, drums, percussion, musette, harmonium, and ukulele.

After serving as an engineer on Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, he backed Linda Ronstadt through much of her 1970s peak, playing most of the instruments on such hits as Heart Like a Wheel, You’re No Good, When Will I Be Loved, and Heat Wave.

Andrew Gold also recorded and/or toured with James Taylor, Carly Simon, Maria Muldaur, Jackson Browne, Loudon Wainwright III, the Eagles, America, Stephen Bishop, Neil Diamond, Eric Carmen, Juice Newton, Leo Sayer, Roy Orbison, Don Henley, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Art Garfunkel, Brian Wilson, Cher, and three out of four of the former Beatles: John, Paul, and Ringo, among others.

As a solo singer/songwriter he released over a dozen albums, memorably charting with Thank You For Being A Friend and Never Let Her Slip Away, on which his friend, Freddie Mercury harmonized as an uncredited background singer.

Then there’s this onefirst featured as a track (with Ronstadt providing backing vocals) on Gold’s 1976 album, What’s Wrong With This Picture. Released at a time when album covers were fun, the self-designed picture included no less than 32 anomalies (e.g. a guitar that’s plugged into a phone, red wine in the glass, white wine in the bottle, a
 closed window with billowing curtains, and open window with still curtains, etc.).  The album itself had no title track.

gold_wrongWhile Lonely Boy would prove to be Andrew Gold’s biggest hit, as the father of three he came to slightly regret the similarities between the lyrics and his life. “Maybe it was a mistake to do that,” he once said, “but I simply put in those details because it was convenient. I hadn’t been a lonely boy at all — I had a very happy childhood.”

Lonely Boy

He was born on a summer day, 1951

And with the slap of a hand

He had landed as an only son

His mother and father said “what a lovely boy”

We’ll teach him what we learned

Ah yes, just what we learned

We’ll dress him up warmly and

We’ll send him to school

We’ll teach him how to fight

To be nobody’s fool

Oh, oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

In the summer of ’53 his mother

Brought him a sister

But she told him “we must attend to her needs”

“She’s so much younger than you”

Well, he ran down the hall and he cried

Oh, how could his parents have lied

When they said he was an only son

He thought he was the only one

Oh, oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

He left home on a winter day, 1969

And he hoped to find all the love

He had lost in that earlier time

Well, his sister grew up

And she married a man

He gave her a son

Ah yes, a lovely son

They dressed him up warmly

They sent him to school

It taught him how to fight

To be nobody’s fool

Oh, oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven?

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What is it that can make half a century pass in the blink of an eye? That’s how long it has been since I was a small boy who, some months after my mother’s death, awoke with a fright in the night. I don’t remember why, must have been a nightmare.

But in the rustic Lake Sunapee cottage that my uncle and grandfather had built by hand, and with three young sons of her own to care for, my mom’s sister was there by my bedside to rub my belly and to lull me with one of life’s more disarming nicknames, “Oh Pooh.”

It was a remarkably calming moment at a topsy-turvy time. I had my dad, and my sisters and brothers, and my grandparents and cousins … and with her reassuringly rich Yankee accent I had my Auntie Peggy. I loved, and was loved, and have had the great fortune of feeling that way ever since.

Even here in my middle age it seemed she’d always be there – of course that’s not how it works, which is why we observe Memorial Day – and when she passed away this week from complications after a fall,  it took a while for the news to sink in.

Then I began to see her presence in others: the spry seamstress at the dry cleaners, my nimble ophthalmologist, the sprightly crossing guard …. and suddenly my spry, nimble, sprightly aunt, who didn’t much like venturing over the Massachusetts border but could outpace her (one-time) All-State Athlete husband over every hill and dale in the Granite State, seemed to be everywhere.  If only that were so.

Born in Claremont, on the New Hampshire (“New-Hamp-sha”) side of the Connecticut River, Auntie (“Ahn-tee”) Peggy went to school in Springfield on the Vermont side, and married her high school sweetheart, Bernie Dunbar, while both attended Keene State Teachers College.

After moving to the Capitol City of Concord they planned their lives around the school year and that Sunapee cottage (which had been their first home) became the Dunbar family’s summer camp, a mere 45 minutes up I-89 and a short walk to my grandparents’ place on the Georges Mills end of the lake.

Meanwhile, my dad had re-married (a truly wonderful woman) and as a construction engineer, moved the family to wherever the next project was, a fascinating lifestyle but one that lacked a permanent sense of place.

No matter, there was always Georges Mills whenever we could make it there, which meant fun with my cousins and grandparents and time to “visit” (as she called it) with my diminutive aunt, who my siblings referred to as Big Peggy – as opposed to my sister who was then known as Little Peggy – and who could make it seem like she had all the time in the world for you.

Ready to listen, quick to laugh and encourage, as I got older I came to admire her lack of pretention, and to recognize how firm she could be in her beliefs, which included a staunch loyalty to those she loved.

As is the way of life, there would come times of triumph and times of tragedy, and in grief we remained close.  “Oh Pooh,” she’d sigh.

But there were also times of adventure and sometimes we’d manage to meet up in places like Athens and London, where with an inquisitive nature she’d want to tour every site.  On the day we all visited Portobello Market, a movie crew was filming a scene.  Years later, while watching a rather forgettable movie on the tellie (“Who Dares Wins”) that very scene appeared and there she was!  Strolling through one of the stalls in the background looking at tea pots.

Eventually I settled down myself – unsurprisingly, she knew my future wife before I did – and when it came time to meet Linda’s parents it was Auntie Peggy who soothed my jitters by assuring me what fine people they were.  Of course she was right.

When our kids arrived there were no finer role models than Peggy and Bernie Dunbar, who’d been known as  the “cool” parents, spending lots of time with their boys and getting to know each of their friends.

And even when their boys had grown and the grandkids began to call, the door still remained open for this moony old nephew to make his way north for an occasional hug and an all-too-rare but highly treasured visit. For that I am forever grateful.

This universally admired song was written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings in 1991, after the tragic loss of Clapton’s four-year-old son, who fell from the window of a 53rd floor apartment in New York. Clapton went on to receive six Grammy Awards for it and this, his “unplugged” version reached number one the Billboard charts.

But along with “My Father’s Eyes,” Clapton stopped playing it in 2004. “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs,” he said. “I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now.”

That’s good for Eric Clapton, and thankfully this recording remains. Even the most skeptical among us have their own idea of Heaven and if by some miracle I ever make it to mine you can be sure that I’ll be listening for a much cherished nickname, spoken with a rich and vibrant Yankee accent.

Tears in Heaven

Would you know my name

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would it be the same

If I saw you in Heaven?

I must be strong and carry on

‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in Heaven

Would you hold my hand

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would you help me stand

If I saw you in Heaven?

I’ll find my way through night and day

‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in Heaven

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees

Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure

And I know there’ll be no more tears in Heaven

Would you know my name

If I saw you in Heaven?

Would it be the same

If I saw you in Heaven?

I must be strong and carry on

Cause I know I don’t belong here in Heaven

Flowers in the morn, freshly born – come let’s drift together

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Rivaled only by when she said “I do,” life has offered no finer moments to me than bearing witness while my dear wife first experienced motherhood, and then experienced it again. And such different times they were.

The first was on a fine April morning in 1991, when as Canadian residents we enjoyed the benefits of OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) along with – as we would come to realize – some rather liberal birthing amenities.

Amongst the information provided by Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital was a list of ‘Things to Bring’ for the ordeal. And we followed it closely, including: a cooler with some beer to “encourage lactation,”  sandwiches for the expectant dad in case it was a long wait, and a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion.

Also recommended were extra pillows, a telephone to be plugged in so that we could share the news from the birthing room, a deck of playing cards in case “labour was extended” (and how!) and a portable radio/cassette player to listen to our favourite music during the birth.

Nineteen hours – and countless walks around the maternity ward – later, the baby was finally on its way, and although not quite as planned everything had come in handy, except for those cards because we were both too excited to concentrate on our game.

The beer, alas, had been consumed with the sandwiches by this attendant father prior to any hope of lactation, while the rotary phone we’d brought provided a means of casting a bet in the family pool regarding the child’s birth date (which I still have yet to collect on); and the pillows did indeed provide comfort for us both.

At some point after midnight Linda elected for epidural pain relief and suddenly became a comedian. Meanwhile I’d been instructed to wear a mask and, providing much needed comedic fodder, nearly passed out from hyperventilation while encouraging her to breath/pant like we’d learned in Child Birth Class…

After regaining full consciousness I became aware of this piece being played over our radio/cassette player and am thrilled to affirm that I was fully present and clear-headed enough – at 01:22 on Wednesday 17 April – to witness the birth of Giles William Pettingell to the strands of The Flower Duet ... which here takes about seven seconds to cue…

After Giles had been weighed, and his digits had all been counted, and after his grandparents had been informed by phone, Linda and I popped the champagne and toasted to family-hood, leaving the remainder of the bottle for the nurses whose shift was about the end.

Later I recall handing out $5 bills to every street person I encountered on my way home, and I only wish it were more. Although there were neonatal complications and mother and child wouldn’t come home for nearly a week, our only out-of-pocket expense in the end was Giles’ $6 ID necklace … ah the wonders of publicly funded health care.

Yes, but our daughter is a Bostonian and it was around midnight on a May Saturday night in 1993, once Giles had been scooped up by his grandparents, that Linda was admitted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I don’t recall which private medical plan we had back then (there’ve been many through the years) but it provided few of the amenities we’d enjoyed in Toronto. Nor were we encouraged to bring a cooler with beer, sandwiches, champagne, or a radio/cassette player.

Still, the Brigham and Women’s birthing room had its own phone, and in the wee hours of a Sunday morning the maternity ward was an impressive place to be. After a quick and friendly admission we found ourselves on what looked like a circular delivery floor, with half a dozen birthing rooms and a nurse’s station serving as the hub. Again it was thumbs up with the epidural and my hilarious wife, the comedian, was back again.

Nonetheless the comfy chair with a pullout footrest held a particular allure for me, considering the hour, and when Linda began to doze, I too nodded off. Awakened sometime later by the nurse during her periodic examination, I again fell asleep, only to be  woken once more by an urgent appeal from my wife to get the doctor, because  “the baby’s on it’s way!”

But the nurse, who now wasn’t at her station, had said that it would still be a few hours. As I returned to remind Linda of that assessment I was stopped in my tracks by perhaps the most urgent expression I have ever encountered.  My next words were, “Hey, my wife’s having her baby!”

The nurse quickly appeared and began to assure me that she was only partially dilated … until I opened the door wide enough for her to see Linda’s expression.  Her next words were, “I’ll get the doctor!”

The Doc may as well have been wearing a catcher’s mitt when he arrived because – for the first time but certainly not the last – Mary Bartlett Pettingell had expressed her sincere desire and determination, and was born (on the dot ) at 08:30 on Sunday 23 May. Though there was no radio/cassette player this time, the strands of The Flower Duet once again wafted through my mind.

After Mary had been weighed, and her digits had been counted, and after the grandparents had been informed, Linda and I toasted with apple juice to family-hood.  And mother and daughter came home the very next day.

Dôme épais de jamin (The Flower Duet) is a duet for sopranos from Léo Delibes’ 1883 three-act opera, Lakmé. Written in the era of the British Raj, when Hindus were forced to practice their religion secretly, the high priest Nilkantha has gone to a Brahmin temple to perform his sacred rites, leaving his daughter, Lakmé and her servant, Mallika to go down to the river to gather flowers…

With musical performance by Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, the duet is sung here by the great Dame Joan Sutherland and Jane Berbié.

And to every mother, and despite the poor translation, may you too have occasion today to drift ‘neath the leafy dome, where the jasmine white, blends with the rose ….

Dôme épais de jamin / Flower Duet

LAKMÉ & MALLIKA:

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin

À la rose s’assemble

Sur la rive en fleurs,

Riant au matin

Viens, descendons ensemble.

Doucement glissons de son flot charmant

Suivons le courant fuyant

Dans l’onde frémissante

D’une main nonchalante

Viens, gagnons le bord,

Où la source dort et

L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin,

Nous appellent

Ensemble!

Ah! descendons

Ensemble!

‘Neath the leafy dome,

Where the jasmine white

Blends with the rose,

Flowers in the morn, freshly born,

Come let’s drift together!

Ah! Let’s glide along,

Let us gently glide along;

For its enchanting flow,

The current so strong,

The water is shimmering.

Hand skims the surface nonchalantly

On the rippling surface.

Come, let’s go to the shore

Where the bird sings,

Where the spring sleeps

‘Neath the dome rowers unite,

‘Neath the leafy dome, where the jasmine white,

Calls us together!

Ah! Let’s drift together!

LAKMÉ:

Mais, je ne sais quelle crainte subite
s’empare de moi.

Quand mon père va seul à leur ville maudite,


Je tremble, je tremble d’effroi!

But, an eerie feeling of distress overcomes me

When my father goes into their accursed city

I tremble, I tremble with fright!

MALLIKA:

Pour que le Dieu Ganeça le protège,


Jusqu’à l’étang où s’ébattent joyeux


Les cygnes aux ailes de neige,


Allons cueillir les lotus bleus.

May the god, Ganesh, keep him from dangers,

Till he arrives at the joyous pool just in view,

Where with wings of snow the swans are swimming.

Come, let us pick blue lotuses.

LAKMÉ:

Oui, près des cygnes aux ailes de neige,


Allons cueillir les lotus bleus. 

Oh yes, let’s go near the swans with wings of snow,

And pick blue lotuses.

LAKMÉ & MALLIKA:

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin

À la rose s’assemble

Sur la rive en fleurs,

Riant au matin

Viens, descendons ensemble.

Doucement glissons de son flot charmant

Suivons le courant fuyant

Dans l’onde frémissante

D’une main nonchalante

Viens, gagnons le bord,

Où la source dort et

L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin,

Nous appellent

Ensemble!

Ah! descendons

Ensemble!

‘Neath the leafy dome,

Where the jasmine white

Blends with the rose,

River flowers in the morn – freshly born

Come let’s drift together!

Ah! Let’s glide along,

Let us gently glide along;

For its enchanting flow,

The current so strong,

The water is shimmering.

Hand skims the surface nonchalantly

On the rippling surface.

Come, let’s go to the shore

Where the bird sings,

Where the spring sleeps

‘Neath the dome rowers unite,

‘Neath the leafy dome, where the jasmine white,

Calls us together!

Ah! Let’s drift together!

LAKMÉ & MALLIKA:

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin

Nous appellent

Ensemble!

Ah! descendons

Ensemble!

‘Neath the leafy dome,

Where the jasmine white…

Calls us together!

Ah! Let’s drift together!

White Bird Must Fly or She Will Die

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Barreling into the atmosphere at 17,500 mph, they were the largest group of people ever to travel in a single spacecraft, eight in all.  And with its collective 987 orbits around the good Earth, they would soon close the book on the Challenger’s ninth successful mission. Tragically it would be the last.

Young, footloose and a little disgruntled, I too was there on that crisp November day in 1985, a face in the crowd. After attending a wedding near San Francisco I’d managed to secure an awesome Auto Driveaway car to make my way back east, a pristine ‘69 Plymouth “Gold Duster,” and then proceeded to post vacancies on the ride boards of every college campus in the Bay area in hopes of finding someone to split the cost of gas.

That evening I received a call from a pair of convivial Danish girls, looking to catch a ride to Denver – this was going to be great! – and after a lively conversation I hung up feeling as though I’d been on the phone with the enchanting Freya herself, free-spirited goddess of love, beauty and destiny, and fellow traveler of the Valkyries.

But turning that Plymouth Duster into a frolicsome chariot just wasn’t meant to be. When I went to sign the Driveaway agreement I was provided with a carefully calculated route – no major deviations allowed: south through the San Joaquin Valley, east on I-40 to Oklahoma City, then south to Dallas and east on I-20 to my stated destination, Atlanta.

By the time I hit Mojave (just past Bakersfield and about a thousand miles from Denver) it was getting late.  With no clear signals on the radio there was plenty of incentive to mutter, and mutter I did. Taking the Denver route would have added a few hundred extra miles to the odometer, so what? What could they have done? Hell, I even knew a Scandinavian toast!

Somewhere within the AM static came a random announcement that Challenger would be landing at Edwards in the morning. I continued to mutter.  Then a sign came into view: EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE – SPACE SHUTTLE LANDING SIGHT.  Say, what was it that announcer had said? I pulled in to a roadside convenience store.

“Follow the signs,” said the woman behind the counter who was used to such enquiries but had never managed to see for herself. “You won’t be alone out on the flat. Maybe you’ll find a party.”

I envisioned a gathering of likeminded souls huddled ‘round a beer keg. It was getting pretty nippy, but as anyone who’s attended a high school football party can attest, that’s not cold enough to keep from celebrating. I kept my eyes open for a bonfire.

The Space Shuttle program had come a long way in the four years since the maiden flight of Columbia on April 12, 1981. Just two astronauts rode in that one, Young and Crippen, whose task was to demonstrate a safe launch into orbit and a safe return. They landed here at Edwards, and soon-after Columbia was fully operational for straight-out missions.

The second Orbiter, as Shuttles were officially called, became operational in April of ’83. Named after a renowned 1870s British research vessel, and with a moniker also used by the last lunar module to land on the moon (Apollo 17), it was christened Challenger, and Challenger would deliver some impressive NASA firsts. Its second mission featured Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. Its third mission was piloted by Guion Bluford, the first African American to orbit the earth.

In 1984 Discovery joined the fleet, followed by Atlantis in 1985, and Orbiter crews became increasingly diverse, with U.S. congressmen and even a Saudi prince along for the ride as guest travellers. By the program’s eleventh mission in April 1984, Challenger astronauts were able to repair a disabled satellite, another first, which set a precedent that would save NASA millions of dollars through the years.

After so many successes and nary a failure the Space Shuttle program was at its zenith that chilly morning of November 6.  Which couldn’t be said for me. The dirt road I was now on was a study in tortuousness and with the moon in its final quarter the Duster’s headlights barely pierced the murk.

At looooooong last I saw a hand-painted sign pointing away from the road and, though visibility was merely a concept, gladly made the bumpy turnoff.  In an instant it felt as if I were driving across a never-ending parking lot. This (I later learned) was Rogers Dry Lake, an endorheic saltpan that forms the central part of Edwards Air Force Base.

Smooth, but save for my headlights I remained enveloped in darkness … except for a faint glow in the distance. I accelerated. Aiming for that I was soon able to make out a cluster of beacons in the middle of what looked like a glimmering string of pearls. It was like a scene from Close Encounters. I accelerated some more.

Growing in intensity as I approached, the image was only shattered when I finally entered the bright expanse and found myself – well after midnight in the middle of a dry lake bed – amidst a long row of vending stalls, all open and offering Space Shuttle badges, hats, tee-shirts, postcards and other memorabilia. The “string of pearls” turned out to be a long line, over a mile, of RVs (recreational vehicles), all meticulously parked side-by-side and facing in the same direction. Barring the vendors there wasn’t a soul in sight. They’d all gone to bed.

The only sound, besides my engine, was the singular hum of the portable generators that served all the lights. After driving up the front side and down the back (not a party in sight), I finally parked between a couple of Winnebagos, buttoned up my jacket, pushed down the seat back, and tried to get some sleep.

Daylight, when it finally arrived, brought a different story. With the sun up I could see in every direction, as far as the distant bordering hills, and three-quarters of the flat was cordoned off for the landing.

Military personnel patrolled the area, chatting amiably with onlookers, many of them RV owners of a certain age sporting Space Shuttle ball caps and aviator sunglasses. Others ambled about with camper kitchen mugs and admired one another’s Coachman Classics, Holiday Ramblers, Georgie Boy Swingers and Bluebird Wanderlodges.

The retired couple in the Winnebago to my left had made Chinese lanterns from plastic detergent bottles, all the rage, which they hung with pride from the rear overhang. But after I stumbled out of the car, stretched, and began to stroll in the direction of the port-a-potties I noticed that “The Mrs.” was keeping a close eye on her creations and me. Admittedly, I was in bad need of a shave.

While people began to line up along the cordon, like spectators at a big parade, I made my way to a now-crowded vending stall for a cup of breathtakingly over-priced instant coffee and moseyed on.  Further along, I noticed a German flag – as seen in the picture above.

The eighth person on this flight was German astronaut Ernst Messerschmid of the European Space Agency’s Spacelab program. As there was only accommodation for seven in the crew compartment, Messerschmid had to sleep in the Spacelab module itself, which was housed in the pressurized payload area. Despite the discomfort it had been a successful mission, except for one mishap concerning a few dozen rats in a holding pen. Apparently floating rat feces and food crumbs had found their way into the crew compartment and the Mission Transcripts reveal an abnormal barrage of serious swearing as a result.

Fortunately by the final descent everything, including the crew’s language, had been cleaned up and radios throughout the crowd were relaying Shuttle/Ground Control communication with an occasional announcement about the Orbiter’s location. Some Shuttle-spotting veterans began to aim their telescopic lenses at the precise spot where they expected it to come into view.

Meanwhile the RV crowd was now comfortably settled into lawn chairs on the roofs of their rigs with radios and binoculars at the ready. Although the thoroughfare was becoming increasingly packed, most were deep in conversation with their neighbors, ten feet above the fray.

The excitement level was raised a few notches with the announcement that the spacecraft, with radio communications disrupted, was now re-entering the upper atmosphere at the speed of Mach 24, a velocity at which atmospheric friction induces temperatures of over 3,000° F!

By the time communication was re-established, Challenger, having rolled through the stratosphere, was over Hawaii. Then the Shuttle commander announced that he could see the landing sight … and a hush stilled the crowd.

BOOM! BOOM! Everybody jumped  as the decelerating craft broke the sound barrier, and with mouths agape every face turned skyward. “There it is!” An eagle-eyed fellow spotted it without a telescope, and one by one those around me saw it as well. I squinted, cursed my myopia, and at long last saw it too … a drifting white dot, like a tiny toy balloon in the indigo sky.

Designed to carry 65,000-pound payloads to an orbit of 230 miles above the earth and land with payloads of 32,000 pounds (including small satellites), this was no toy however. In fact, with a wingspan of 80 feet and a length of 120 feet, the Shuttle – now leisurely making a major U-turn while it continued its descent – was immense.

While the pilot and Ground Control bantered over every move, “…air speed 300 mph…landing gear down…,” the craft, now easily visible with the naked eye, also became easier to define until even I could make out the famous plane-like profile. I tried to capture the moment with my Instamatic. But the closer it got to the ground, the faster it seemed to travel, and when it touched down at 09:44:51 and quickly deployed its billowing brake chute, it was still too far away for a decent shot.

Once the Orbiter had rolled to a halt everyone cheered. Some (like me) were star struck, much as our grandparents might have been after witnessing their first airplane landing.  But for others it had already become routine, and many now referred to it as “the space liner.” Only a few months later, with Challenger’s next mission, that would change of course, and 73 seconds after liftoff this “great white bird” would be obliterated in one of history’s most infamous explosions.

As for me it was time to hit the road, and the rush to the exit took on Grand Prix proportions. While the Duster cranked along at 50 mph, hundreds of other cars did the same, like so many scurrying cockroaches heading in one direction. But the enormous flat easily accommodated us all and Air Force personnel adeptly directed traffic back on to the main road.

Yes, I missed my chance to make merry under Freya’s gaze. But 30 years on, myth or no myth, I can’t help but to reflect on how I was once in the appraising presence of the Valkyries, swooping through the freshly torn firmament as a harbinger of things to come.

And what better tune than this to bring it all back? Although it never received the acclaim of the Grateful Dead, or Jefferson Airplane or Santana, It’s a Beautiful Day was one of the first San Francisco bands to emerge from the celebrated “Summer of Love” in 1967.

Featured on the band’s self-titled debut album in 1969 this, their signature song, was apparently inspired by the experiences of lead singer, David LaFlamme and his wife (keyboardist) Linda, while living in the attic of an old house in Seattle.

“We were like caged birds in that attic,” LaFlamme later recalled. “We had no money, no transportation and the weather was miserable.  It was quite an experience but it was very creative in a way….” White Bird was one of the last songs performed at Fillmore West before it’s closing in 1971.

White Bird

White bird

In a golden cage

On a winter’s day

In the rain

White bird

In a golden cage

Alone

The leaves blow

Across the long black road

To the darkened skies

In its rage

But the white bird just sits in her cage

Unknown

White bird must fly

Or she will die

White bird

Dreams of the aspen trees

With their dying leaves

Turning gold

But the white bird just sits in her cage

Growing old.

White bird must fly or she will die

White bird must fly or she will die

The sunsets come, the sunsets go

The clouds roll by and the earth turns old

And the young bird’s eyes do always glow

She must fly

She must fly

She must fly

White bird

In a golden cage

On a winter’s day, in the rain

White bird

In a golden cage alone

White bird must fly or she will die

White bird must fly or she will die

White bird must fly or she will die

This is a story that began long, long ago

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Partly it’s because a day finally came when I could restack my woodpile and the “wealdy” subject of this song appealed to me. Partly it’s because it’s Easter time and the song touches on resurrection. Mainly it’s because it’s nice to listen to a new singer and song and instantly like them both – something that seems to happen less and less.  Pandora, that reliable venue for discovering new recording artists, came through once again.

And so here you have Elliott Park, whose father (Ernie Park) was an offensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders, and who was raised in Clyde, Texas (population 3,345). While in college he taught himself to play piano and began to write songs, naming Willie Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, Roger Miller, the Eagles, and Glen Campbell as influences.

For the next ten years his music career proceeded less than apace … until, he was introduced to Nashville songwriter, Walt Aldridge, with whom he co-wrote “I Loved Her First.” Recorded by the band, Heartland it reached Number One on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 2006. Four years later he released “Flyboy,” his first album, which I downloaded as soon as the shed door was locked.

Now working on his second album, Park is the father of four and seems to have the rather endearing quality of regularly singing to/for/about his wife and kids. As one critic notes, “His lyrics draw you down a pleasant road – into an unpretentious world of honest smiles, open hearts, and a few tears along the way.”

Eclectic and fun, there are half a dozen songs on “Flyboy” that I could have put forth here, and I must concur with his five (!?) Amazon reviewers and 925 Facebook “likes.” As another critic puts it, “His music is a seamless blend of genres presented in an honest and endearing way. Elliott Park’s vocals are weathered and truthful as someone at the end of a pilgrimage. His lyrics are colorful and sometimes odd, but always approachable. His genre is life.”

Nice genre if you can get it.

The Soldier and the Oak

This is a story that began long, long ago

I was a young oak tree in dark Missouri soil

And like all other saplings I had dreams of growing

Strong and tall

But one day a rebel with a bullet in his chest

Hung his rifle on my limbs and laid to rest

And there beside me as the blood soaked to my roots

The soldier sang

A song of grace

The heavy rifle bowed me over to the ground

Two years I stayed this way until the rifle fell

And in this manner for a hundred years I grew

All my dreams

Not meant to be

And then one day two men came with a cross cut saw

They spoke of how my arch would hold a weight so strong

And I feared not the blade for such a worthy cause

And so I fell

I gladly fell

Three winter days aboard a northbound train

Three more beneath the hewer’s careful blade

And while he worked he praised my rich red grain

Perhaps it was the soldier’s blood that day

Now I’m the wooden arch that holds a mighty bell

Three stocks before me cracked but I shall never fail

Up in a tall cathedral high above my dreams

Of long ago

And on Sunday mornings when I hear that sweet refrain

I see the soldier’s face like it was yesterday

Calling angels down from heaven with that hymn he softly sang

Of God’s good grace

And even if you lose yourself and don’t know what to do …

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He appears to have been a man who never quite shook the insecurities of his youth, and the soaring trajectory of his career looks remarkably like the flight of Icarus, who as legend has it … “got crazy once and tried to touch the sun.”

If, like me, you were rather fond of his music back in the day, it meant bucking the tide to embrace a wildly popular singer/song-writer who, no matter their genre, was looked upon with scorn by many of the music industry’s more “authentic” troubadours.

Sometimes such derision was displayed in a big way, as when Charlie Rich, the presenter of 1975’s Country Music Entertainer of the Year Award set fire to the envelope after reading his name.  Then there was the time in 1985 when he was “disinvited” to participate in the “We Are the World” music video, for fear that his image would hurt the song’s credibility.

Granted, his visage in those years was rather Muppet-centric, but the USA for Africa crowd’s gesture remains breathtakingly ironic. Not only was he already an outspoken proponent for AIDS relief in Africa, he was also a key supporter of Save the Children, a spokesman for UNICEF, and a co-founder of the World Hunger Project who’d personally been appointed by Jimmy Cater to a Presidential Commission on World and Domestic Hunger. In fact, before 1985 was over he’d also been presented with the Presidential World Without Hunger Award by Ronald Reagan.

A spirited environmental activist, he was a major supporter of Friends of the Earth, the Cousteau Society, and was co-founder of the Windstar Foundation for wildlife preservation. All of which led to his becoming one of only ten recipients – ever – of the Albert Schweitzer Music Award for Humanitarianism. The other nine being: violinist, Isaac Stern; dancer/choreographer, Katherine Dunham; pianist, Van Cliburn; opera singers José Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and Anna Moffo; and Maestros Mstislav Rostropovich and Leonard Bernstein. Not bad for a man with an image problem.

Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. on New Year’s Eve, 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico, his no-nonsense father was an acclaimed Air Force pilot whose name is now enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

As noted in a previous posting: Shy, rather introverted and ever the “new kid” (as a military brat) Henry, Jr had a difficult time making friends.  Recognizing this, his grandmother presented the (then) eleven year old with a well-worn guitar, to help him to focus his attention on something he might enjoy, and just maybe to help him to fit in … https://thisrightbrain.com/2012/03/20/i-guess-it-broke-her-heart/

Clearly it helped. By the time he was a Fort Worth high school student it was his fervent desire to make it as a musician, which led him to take his father’s car and drive to L.A. to begin his career. This in turn led Henry, Sr. to fly in on borrowed a jet to convince his son to come home and finish school.

Back in L.A. a few years later, and performing as John Denver (in honor of his favorite state), he began to land gigs on the folk circuit. His first big break came in 1965, when he joined the popular Chad Mitchell Trio, who performed on university campuses throughout the country. This included Gustavaus Adolphus College in Minnesota, where he met sophomore, Annie Martell.  Married the following year, they bought a house in Aspen.

By the time he’d written “Annie’s Song” (composed for his wife in 10 minutes, while on an Aspen ski lift) in 1974, John Denver was one of the most successful and recognizable recording artists on the planet, whom the Governor of Colorado had officially proclaimed as the state’s poet laureate. And in the years that followed he seemed to be everywhere, starring in TV specials, hosting the Grammy Awards (five times), acting in films, and even standing in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show (15 times).

An avid skier, he served as a skiing commentator for ABC at the 1984 Winter Olympic games in Sarajevo, for which he also composed the theme song. And after a rigorous selection process he was a finalist for NASA’s first citizen trip on the Space Shuttle, a seat ominously taken by schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe.

Although deeply affected by the Challenger disaster, aviation remained an abiding passion. Echoing his father, he too became an accomplished pilot with ratings that ranged from jets to bi-planes to gliders  The man whose first hit song (as sung by Peter, Paul & Mary) was “Leaving on a Jet Plane” preferred to fly his own.

Yet now approaching his 50s, his career was in free fall.  While the humanitarian work  continued, the music was melting away, and his personal life unraveling.

There were bouts of depression, tales of infidelity and domestic discord. He and Annie parted ways. He remarried. It didn’t last. “Before our short-lived marriage ended in divorce, she managed to make a fool of me from one end of the valley to the other,” he said of his second wife.

There was a DUI charge, then another, which involved wrapping his Porsche around a tree. And so it went until that fateful day in ’97 when John Denver plummeted into the sea and perished.

“A lot of people write him off as lightweight, but he articulated a kind of optimism, and he brought acoustic music to the forefront, bridging folk, pop, and country in a fresh way… People forget how huge he was worldwide,” said country/blue grass performer Kathy Mattea in an Entertainment Weekly interview.

All tolled John Denver recorded and released nearly 300 songs, having written around 200 of them himself. While some have fallen by the wayside, others have stood the test of time – and they’re not necessarily his biggest hits. Take this one, for instance. When it was released as a duet with Placid Domingo (on Domingo’s album of the same title in 1981) there were many among us who found it pretentious, overblown and unlistenable.

But then, to mark the 10th anniversary of his death, in 2007, Denver’s family released Live in the USSR, a set of “unplugged” recordings from a number of 1985 concert performances in the Soviet Union (he would return a few years later to perform in aid – of couse – of the victims of the Chernobyl disaster).

Written for his wife, Annie after their separation, she later reflected that while she “felt blessed by ‘Annie’s Song,’” this was her favorite song of all.

 Perhaps Love

Perhaps love is like a resting place

A shelter from the storm

It exists to give you comfort

It is there to keep you warm

And in those times of trouble

When you are most alone

The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window

Perhaps an open door

It invites you to come close

It wants to show you more

And even if you lose yourself

And don’t know what to do

The memory of love will see you through

Oh, love to some is like a cloud

To some as strong as steel

For some a way of living

For some a way to feel

And some say love is holding on

And some say letting go

And some say love is everything

And some say they don’t know

Perhaps love is like the ocean

Full of conflict, full of change

Like a fire when its cold outside

Or thunder when it rains

If I should live forever

And all my dreams come true

My memories of love will be of you

“My, My,” they sigh

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Entering through the tall, leather-clad doors you were instantly humbled. This was a sacred place, a citadel of world literature, a bulwark of British history constructed in an era when studious inquiry was less diverse and a Kingdom’s National Museum and Library were sensibly cloistered together … unlike the knowable world of today, which branches into uncountable disciplines. There will never be another place like it.

Pictured is my second Reader’s Ticket for the British Museum Reading Room, duly granted by the Principal Librarian in January of 1985. It is purposely non-descript, I suppose, because access was restricted only to registered researchers who’d received their credential through written request. In truth my serious research days were over, unlike a few years earlier when I was a proper habitué working on a dissertation.  By the time it expired I was living another life on another continent.

British Library

Still, it transports me back to the smell of ancient books and old leather; and the spectral drifting of aging academics entranced by the esoterica of their subject matter; and to shafts of daylight filtering down from the great windows encircling the room’s magnificent dome. And to the hushed murmur of the catalogers at the Centre Desk, where the occasional clap of a closing book softly echoed through the vast expanse above our heads. It especially takes me back to a bygone time of Victorian grace.

”It seems to me one cannot sit down in that place without a heart full of grateful reverence,” wrote William Thackeray. ”I own to have said my grace at the table, and to have thanked Heaven for this my English birthright.”

Inspired by the domed Pantheon in Rome, the circular Reading Room was a triumph of mid-19th century technology with the latest in heating and ventilation systems, a gorgeous papier-mâché suspended ceiling, and nearly 25 miles of shelving for its cast iron stacks.

Those leather-clad doors were first opened in 1857 to all who could present a Reader’s Ticket, and for the next 140 years it served as workplace and refuge for an astonishing array of scholars, researchers, and such writers as: Kipling, Carlyle, Browning, Darwin, Dickens, Yeats, Shaw, and Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, T.S. Elliot, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, and Mohandas Gandhi.

Oh, and Virginia Woolf, whose A Room of One’s Own proclaimed, ”If truth is not to be found on the shelves of the British Museum, where I asked myself … is truth?”

There were also those bent on a specific kind of truth. ‘‘The fact of a man’s being a political exile does not exclude him from the Reading Room,” stated the Library’s 1866 Handbook for Readers … and the exiles appeared.

For 30 years Karl Marx toiled away at Das Kapital at Desk O7, which Sun Yat-sen would later read in the very same room, as would Vladimir Lenin at Desk J8, who obtained his ticket (with a reference from the General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions) under the pseudonym, Jacob Richter. “It is a remarkable institution, especially that exceptional reference section,” he wrote, “Let me tell you, there is no better library than the British Museum.”

While desks could not be reserved, determined regulars, some of whom would be pacing in front of the Museum’s columned entrance, could gain admission with the flash of their ticket before the Museum’s official opening at 9:30 and claim their cherished spot.  Mine was G3.

Whereas most had a specific agenda, not everyone was able to retain focus – to put it charitably – and the Reading Room had its share of credentialed eccentrics. Stories abound of the middle aged Reader who’d submitted the same Master’s thesis for over a decade, merely rearranging the paragraphs with each submission; and of the Reader who’d use a rope to lower an anchor to the floor before beginning; and of the prominent occultist who claimed that while her astral body was in the Reading Room her material self was off lecturing in America.

Then there was the celebrated “Miss McDonald” who, for 50 years, bicycled in from Highgate wearing white Bermuda shorts and plimsolls (sneakers) before settling in at Lenin’s favored desk, where she’d hang some twine between the reading lamps from which she’d dangle anti-Papist tracts. While her work entailed translating Virgil into French no one actually knew what she was working on, nor did they really care.

In truth the place itself was rather eccentric. Rest assured that a book of regulations accompanied that Reader’s Ticket, with highly specific MUSTs – e.g. Readers MUST conduct themselves in an orderly manner at all times while on the library premises; and remain silent while at desks; and return all issued books to an assistant at the Centre Desk, where they must reclaim the application slips by which they obtained them before leaving the room.

And even more specific MUST NOTs – Readers MUST NOT eat sweets or any other kind of food, or drink anything, or chew gum; or remove any book or other property of the British Library from the room in which it was used; or allow any book to come into contact with writing materials, rubber bands, paper clips or pins; or bring in any materials or objects which could damage a book, including food, paste and glue, ink in bottles, adhesive tapes, scissors, and knives; or use cameras or electrostatic copying machines; or behave in any way likely to disturb other readers….

To request a book you’d consult the printed catalogue and fill out a form on carbon-triplicate paper. Next you’d “post” the form through a little wooden window at the Centre Desk and watch while it was placed in a small cylindrical capsule, which was whisked away (with a ghostly whoooooshhhh) through a pneumatic tube. In time your books were delivered to your numbered desk on an antique trolley, with a carbon tucked between the pages.

This was always an intoxicating moment. Although I didn’t need to, in addition to a latter-day edition with its useful foreword and essential footnotes, I’d always order up a first edition of whatever volume I was referencing, As a result I could sit at my prodigious desk with its padded blue leather and matching shelf (designed to fold-out and cradle a book while the reader took notes) and hold in my hands the first editions of Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Emerson’s Nature … and Thoreau’s Walden.

As with Miss McDonald, nobody knew or cared what I was doing, but beyond the random flight of fancy (at one point I was actually set on learning ancient Greek) I managed to avoid her fate, with a comfortable routine of working ’til noon, then breaking for tea and a sandwich, followed by a quick visit to the Rosetta Stone, or the Elgin Marbles, or (especially) the grand Clock Room, before returning to my desk until closing. Time flew in those days, just as it does now.

The British Museum Reading Room closed in 1997 when most of its resources were moved to the (now separate) British Library’s state-of-the-art repository near St. Pancras Station. It reopened to ALL visitors in 2000 and housed a modern information center reading material that focused on world cultures represented in the Museum.

Closing again in 2007,  this time the old desks were boarded over and the space used for temporary exhibitions. When the British Museum opened its World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre in 2014, the Reading Room lost even its temporary function and its future now remains undecided.

I brought my son for a visit in the summer of 2006, prior to that final closing, and was thoroughly amazed at the wondrous transformation. When it was built, the Reading Room (designed by Sydney Smirke) had displaced the British Museum’s original Great Court (designed by Sydney’s older brother, Robert).  But with the late 1990s renovation the Great Court was at last revived, and the Reading Room intriguingly encapsulated in its center.  At over two acres, it is now the largest covered public square in Europe and truly an architectural triumph.

British_Museum_Great_Court,_London,_UK_-_Diliff

And yet my sense of wonder was tinged with wistfulness. Here was still another piece of the past, my past, that was no longer there to be shown to my kids. At least I could still stand at that familiar columned entrance and relive this memory:

Upon stepping off the Northern Line and rising up into the hurly-burly of Tottenham Court Road, it was a 4-minute walk from Goodge Street Station – once a deep-level Word War II air raid shelter from which some would indeed come “smashing into neon streets in their stonedness,” – to this very spot in the heart of leafy Bloomsbury. And I never once failed to conjure up this song, albeit Judy Collin’s version.

Looking back I think Donovan Philips Leitch got a bum rap. Widely referred to as the “Poor Man’s Dylan,” partly because the two were influenced by many of the same folk sources but mostly as a result of their 1964 Dylan-centric meeting as seen in Don’t Look Back, Donovan’s distinctive style was actually far more eclectic, blending folk, jazz, psychedelia, pop, calypso, and world music. Released on his second album, Fairyland in 1965, Dylan never sounded like this.

Sunny Goodge Street

On the firefly platform on sunny Goodge Street

Violent hash-smoker shook a chocolate machine

Involved in an eating scene

Smashing into neon streets in their stonedness

Smearing their eyes on the crazy cult goddess

Listenin’ to sounds of Mingus mellow fantastic

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” they sigh

In doll house rooms with colored lights swingin’

Strange music boxes sadly tinklin’

Drinkin’ the sun shining all around you

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” they sigh

The magician, he sparkles in satin and velvet

You gaze at his splendor with eyes you’ve not used yet

I tell you, his name is Love, Love, Love

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” they sigh

“My, my,” sigh

Calling everyone to ride along to another shore

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As anyone who has ventured near a dance floor knows, the right kind of music makes for an emotionally charged social experience. Those who have watched a few Super Bowl commercials can well attest that big money advertisers have figured this out.

No surprise, then, that Madison Avenue has also come to understand the concept of “reminiscence bumps,” which (as studies have shown) are specific memories that remain vivid as we get older. Enduring throughout our lives, these autobiographical “spots of time” are forged during the raging hormonal soup of adolescence and slightly beyond, and are  generally based on the profound connection between our youthful quest for identity and aesthetic, and the music we listen to at the time.

After reading about this concept I thought I’d put it to the test with a song that harkens back to my own adolescence … and truly the reminiscence bumps abound. Perhaps the same holds true for you.

It was 1970, a year when Kent State, My Lai, and Apollo 13 made headline news, Solzhenitsyn won his Nobel Prize, Toffler published Future Shock, and Doonesbury made its first appearance. In New York the North Tower of the World Trade Center became the tallest building in the world (the South Tower would join it the following year) and Pan Am began the first commercial 747 service, between JFK and London Heathrow.

On the Isle of Wight 600,000+ people attended the largest rock festival of all time. Having played one of their finest performances there, The Who went on to become the first rock act to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House (Tommy yes we heard you). And while Jimi (in London) and Janis (in LA) OD’d in a purple haze that year, and the Beatles called it quits, the eponymous Elton John featured the rising star’s first top ten hit, Your Song.

Back in New York Monday Night Football debuted with Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell and in Boston the Big Bad Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1941, with Bobby Orr scoring a goal for the ages, 40 seconds into overtime. Are we there yet?

Recorded by Tampa-based Blues Image and featured on its 1970 album, Open, this song reached Number 4 on the Billboard Singles chart. Co-written by keyboardist Skip Konte and singer-guitarist Mike Pinera on his Rhodes electric piano, Pinera was looking for a way to start when it occurred to him that his piano had 73 keys. “I went, ’73 men sailed up, from the San Francisco Bay,’” he later said, “The song sort of just wrote itself from there.”  Let the bumps begin.

Ride Captain Ride

Seventy-three men sailed up

From the San Francisco Bay,

Rolled off of their ship

And here’s what they had to say.

“We’re callin’ everyone to ride along

To another shore,

We can laugh our lives away

and be free once more.”

But no one heard them callin’,

No one came at all,

‘Cause they were too busy watchin’

Those old raindrops fall.

As a storm was blowin’

Out on the peaceful sea,

Seventy-three men sailed off

To history.

Ride, captain ride

Upon your mystery ship,

Be amazed at the friends

You have here on your trip.

Ride captain ride

Upon your mystery ship,

On your way to a world

That others might have missed.

Seventy-three men sailed up

From the San Francisco Bay,

Got off their ship

And here’s what they had to say.

“We’re callin’ everyone to ride along

To another shore,

We can laugh our lives away

And be free once more.”

Ride, captain ride

Upon your mystery ship,

Be amazed at the friends

You have here on your trip.

Ride, captain ride

Upon your mystery ship,

On your way to a world

That others might have missed.

Ride, captain ride

Upon your mystery ship,

Be amazed at the friends

You have here on your trip.

Marooned in a Blizzard of Lies…

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There are fibs and little white lies, and there are big lies and half-truths. There is lying to oneself. There’s confabulation caused by faulty recollection and there’s perjury under oath. There are polite lies and noble lies, untruths and exaggerated puffery. There’s tactical bluffing, hyperbole, and rhetorical bullshit.

There’s equivocation and misrepresentation, propaganda and political spin, dissemblance and disinformation. There is speaking with forked tongue, being economical with the truth, making false and misleading statements, and there’s bald-faced lying… I could go on.

The capacity to lie convincingly is an essential part of our human development which, as every parent learns, generally occurs somewhere between the ages of four and five. By then the average child will have accrued enough experience to know that lying is a way to avoid punishment. In varying degrees, moral comprehension comes later.

In matters of mistruth there are those who subscribe to the beliefs of Aristotle (anyone who advocates lying can never be believed) or St. Augustine (there are no circumstances in which one may ethically lie … lying is a perversion of the natural faculty of speech), who simply could not countenance willing deception.

While others lean toward Machiavelli (appearances can be deceiving, and they should be deceiving … sometimes words must serve to veil the facts) or Nietzsche (some tell the truth only out of weakness … because it’s difficult to maintain a lie), who my have countenanced it a bit too much.

And yet we humans aren’t the only ones to verbally deceive. Perhaps you’ve heard of Koko the gorilla, who is said to understand nearly 2,000 words of spoken English and can communicate with her caretakers in American Sign Language. A number of years ago Koko was given a kitten as a pet to help sooth her nurturing instinct, which was very much in evidence except for the time when she somehow ripped a sink out of the wall. When asked what happened Koko’s response was unequivocally more Nature than Nurture. In crisp, clear signage she affirmed, “The cat did it.”

Cabaret fans will surely recognize the name, David Frishberg. Once a Journalism Major at University of Minnesota, he landed in Greenwich Village as a jazz pianist after a stint in the Air Force, and played for the likes of Carmen McRae, Gene Krupa and Zoot Sims.

Frishberg’s songs have since been performed by such luminaries as Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Diana Krall, and Susannah McCorkle – who actually covered this one. Still, his most popular number was memorably featured in an animated episode of Schoolhouse Rock in which he cleverly un-spun the legislative process with, I’m Just a Bill.

Blizzard of Lies

We must have lunch real soon. Your luggage is checked through.

We’ve got inflation licked. I’ll get right back to you.

It’s just a standard form. Tomorrow without fail.

Pleased to meet you. Thanks a lot. Your check is in the mail.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Your toes and knees aren’t all you’ll freeze

When you’re in it up to your thighs.

It looks like snow, but you never know

When you’re marooned in a blizzard of lies.

You may have won a prize. Won’t wrinkle, shrink or peel.

Your secret’s safe with me. This is a real good deal.

It’s finger lickin’ good. Strictly by the book.

What’s fair is fair. I’ll be right there. I am not a crook.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Better watch your step when your old dog Shep

Can’t even look you in the eyes.

You’re cold and lost and you’re double crossed

When you’re marooned in a blizzard of lies.

We’ll send someone right out. Now this won’t hurt a bit.

He’s in a meeting now. The coat’s a perfect fit.

It’s strictly fresh today. Service with a smile.

I’ll love you darling ’till I die. We’ll keep your name on file.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.

And you’re in for a big surprise.

When you’re marooned, marooned, marooned

marooned, marooned, marooned,

marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.

A blizzard of lies.

Last thing I remember was the freezing cold …

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His name was John Shaw Torrington, a Royal Navy Petty Officer, and a member of Sir John Franklin’s “lost expedition” sent to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and navigate the Northwest Passage.  At the age of 22, he was the first to perish.

Buried on Nunavut’s Beechey Island for 138 years, the last thing startled forensic scientists expected when they dug down into the permafrost and peered into his grave, was for John Shaw Torrington to be staring back at them!  With eyes and facial features completely preserved, and his thawed limbs fully flexible, anthropologist Owen Beattie later reported that lifting the diminutive engine-stoker from his coffin was like moving someone who was unconscious rather than dead.

Setting out from England (far from any permafrost) in May of 1845, it had been a promising start for the 129-member crew.  Provisions were ample, including 33,000 pounds of tinned meat and vegetables, while the expedition’s two sturdy ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus featured such cutting-edge technology as steam engines, screw propellers, reinforced beams, and internal steam heating. Yet within months all would be lost.

After the Admiralty posted a £20,000 reward, a massive search began, both by sea and land, and in 1850 a stone hut, tins of food and three graves were discovered on Beechey Island, containing the remains of Torrington and two others who had died early in the voyage.

But that was pretty much it, and it wasn’t until the 1980s, when Beattie and his team were dispatched, that one of modern history’s great anthropological cold cases would be resolved. The culprit? A lack of quality control.

Awarded the contract a few weeks before departure, the food provisioner was known to have cut corners during the rudimentary canning process and haphazard lead soldering contaminated everything with the tins as a result, as evidenced by those near the graves. Although an autopsy revealed that Torrington had died from pneumonia, the severe physical and mental symptoms of lead poisoning proved to be a significant contributing factor.

Pressed for time, Beattie’s team was only able to briefly examine another of the bodies, but combined with other evidence it was firmly concluded that although the expedition continued on, lead poisoning – and eventually tuberculosis, starvation, and hypothermia – ultimately spelled the demise of all.

Hailed as heroes in Victorian times, the Franklin Expedition inspired a multitude of artistic, musical, and literary works (for example, Terror and Erebus are referenced in both Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness), a trend that would be reborn after pictures of Torrington’s remarkably preserved remains were widely circulated in the 1980s.

Sheenagh Pugh’s Envying Owen Beattie, Margaret Atwood’s The Age of Lead, and Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here, all find there genesis with the story as does Iron Maiden’s Stranger in a Strange Land … and this whimsical track for a cold winter’s day, as featured on James Taylor 13th album, New Moon Shine in 1991.

The Frozen Man

 Last thing I remember is the freezing cold

Water reaching up just to swallow me whole

Ice in the rigging and howling wind

Shock to my body as we tumbled in

Then my brothers and the others are lost at sea

I alone am returned to tell thee

Hidden in ice for a century

To walk the world again

Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Next words that were spoken to me

Nurse asked me what my name might be

She was all in white at the foot of my bed

I said Angel of Mercy, I’m alive! Or am I dead?

My name is William James McPhee

I was born in 1843

Raised in Liverpool by the sea

But that ain’t who I am

Lord have mercy I’m the frozen man

 It took a lot of money to start my heart

To peg my leg and buy my eyes

The newspapers call me “state of the art”

And the children, when they see me, cry

 I thought it would be nice just to visit my grave

See what kind of tombstone I might have

I saw my wife and my daughter and it seemed so strange

Both of them dead and gone from extreme old age

See here, when I die make sure I’m gone

Don’t leave ‘em nothin’ to work on

You can raise your arm, you can wiggle your hand (not unlike myself)

And you can wave goodbye to the frozen man

 I know what it means to freeze to death

To lose a little life with every breath

To say goodbye to life on earth

And come around again

Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Let’s take that road before us, and sing a chorus or two…

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Taken by a Globe photographer in the mid-70s, this is a picture of Boston’s annual Christmas tree lighting. Then held at the Prudential Center, the big draw was the presence of Arthur Fiedler who, with the help of a local chorus, was there to lead everyone in singing carols.  In 1976, having convinced my college buddy, Perry to join me, I was there too.

In the days of Hi Fi consoles, the Boston Pops were like musical guests in our house and when the Evening at Pops series began on PBS, they were like televised musical guests.  In fact, going to Symphony Hall to see Arthur Fiedler and the Pops was every bit as exciting as going to the Boston Garden to see Bobby Orr and the Bruins. A thrill indeed.

On this particular evening the plan was to see the Maestro up close and personal. Unfortunately it hadn’t occurred to us that half of Boston might have the same idea. Nor were we prepared for the cold, and while the final carol was being sung we inched our way into the Pru to find some warmth.

Huddled near a bank of elevators we were considering where to go next when in tramped the entire chorus, on their way – as we quickly learned – to an after-event for some cookies and hot chocolate. Well “Ho, Ho, Ho, Who Wouldn’t Go?” 

With just enough room on one of the elevators, Perry and I soon found ourselves in a partially crowded room filled with tables. On one end there was a stage, on the other was a welcoming spread of cocoa and cookies. Nobody seemed to mind so we helped ourselves and, finding it empty, sat at a table that abutted the stage.

We were feeling very pleased with ourselves until a man in a red, white and blue lumberman’s jacket brushed past and clambered onto the stage. It was Arthur Fiedler and he wanted everyone to get up and sing a few more carols!

And there we were, with everyone looking our way (so that’s why the table was empty) including the great man himself.  Down went the cookies and up we rose, while not five feet away Arthur Fiedler began to lead the room in a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells, followed by this song.

Conceived during a heat wave in July, Sleigh Ride was written by Fiedler’s good friend Leroy Anderson in the late 1940s. Anderson, as any Evening at Pops fan may recall,  occasionally appeared as a musical guest to conduct some of his own works, such as The Syncopated Clock, Bugler’s Holiday, and (my favorite) The Typewriter, in which Fiedler would roll up his sleeves and dawn a green eyeshade to “play” an old typewriter while the orchestra played behind him.

But it’s Sleigh Ride that has served as the Pops seasonal signature tune since its initial release (on red vinyl no less) as a single in 1949. With Fiedler conducting, it was the first orchestral piece ever to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Music chart. Written by Mitchell Parish, the lyrics were published the following year.

Despite an “unusually modulated middle section” that’s difficult to sing (the section is omitted in many recordings, such as the Ronnettes’ version produced by Phil Spector), Sleigh Ride has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.

While Johnny Mathis’ version is the most popular, this track from (1961’s) Holiday Sing Along With Mitch was the version heard (and sung) in our house. In fact, after the Boston Pops, Mitch Miller (who occasionally conducted the Pops in Fiedler’s absence) and the Gang were easily the most prominently featured artists in the console.

Perhaps you remember Sing Along With Mitch, the television show which (“Please, don’t just sit there, come on and sing”), featured lyrics at the bottom of the screen. If so, you might be surprised to learn that contrary to popular memory, the show did NOT have a bouncing ball to keep time.

Only featured in movie theatre sing-alongs (and the occasional cartoon), Perry and I certainly could have used one of those. Instead we lip-sang with all the gusto we could muster and, with cookies in our pockets and nerves a-jingling more than any sleigh bell, made a beeline for the door as soon as Arthur Fiedler had left the stage.

Sleigh Ride

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling,

Ring-ting-tingling too,

Come on, it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you,

Outside the snow is falling

And friends are calling, “Yoo hoo”,

Come on, it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up,

Let’s go…let’s look at the show,

We’re riding in a wonderland of snow.

Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up,

It’s grand… just holding your hand,

We’re riding along with a song

Of a wintry fairy land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy,

And comfy cozy are we,

We’re snuggled up together

Like two birds of a feather would be,

Let’s take that road before us,

And sing a chorus or two,

Come on, it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you.

There’s a birthday party

At the home of Farmer Gray,

It’ll be the perfect ending of a perfect day,

We’ll be singing the songs

We love to sing without a single stop,

At the fireplace while we watch

The chestnuts pop; Pop! Pop! Pop!

There’s a happy feeling

Nothing in this world can buy,

When they pass around the coffee

And the pumpkin pie,

It’ll nearly be like a picture print

By Currier and Ives,

These wonderful things are the things

We remember all through our lives!

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling,

Ring-ting-tingling too,

Come on, it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you,

Outside the snow is falling

And friends are calling, “Yoo hoo”,

Come on, it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up,

Let’s go…let’s look at the show,

We’re riding in a wonderland of snow.

Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up,

It’s grand…just holding your hand,

We’re riding along with a song

Of a wintry fairy land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy,

And comfy cozy are we,

We’re snuggled up together

Like two birds of a feather would be,

Let’s take that road before us

And sing a chorus or two,

Come on it’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you.

It’s lovely weather

For a sleigh ride together with you.

If that private eye can’t see, he’d better not take the ring from me

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Arthur Fiedler, Laurence Olivier, Muddy Waters … there are certain celestial-types whose soaring careers were so enduring that a youthful countenance isn’t what comes to mind when their names are mentioned.  And to these you can add an artist who, like Fiedler, rather amazingly began as a violinist.

Born in Mississippi in 1928, Ellas Otha Bates was raised by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel (Ellas McDaniel would be his songwriting name) in the South Side of Chicago. As a teen he not only studied the violin, he actually learned how to make them at a local vocational school.

Then he saw John Lee Hooker perform and the aspiring musician put down his bow and, with a voc-made guitar in hand, joined some friends in a street-corner band. It took a few years, but by 1951 young Ellas had developed a signature playing style and was offered a regular gig at a nearby club.  All he needed was a solid stage name, which he found in a colloquial phrase (whose literal meaning is ‘absolutely nothing’), “Bo Diddley.”

Bo-Diddley

Revered for the powerful, rhythmic, “jingle-jangle” beat that remains a Hip-Hop staple to this day, the inventive Blues/Rockabilly guitarist would come to cast a powerful influence over legions of music legends in the years ahead, among them: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones (and the Beatles for that matter), Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground, and Parliament Funkadelic.

Bo Diddley’s trademark instrument was the cigar-box shaped “Twang Machine” that he designed after a memorable performance early in his career. While leaping around the stage with a traditional Gibson guitar he injured himself in the groin and quickly decided to come up with something a little “less restrictive” to keep the good-time acrobatics alive.

Paired with “I’m a Man” as its B-side, this song (named for the performer, not the writer) impressively became a Two-Sided Number One (!) R&B hit in 1955 … which led to a much coveted appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Unfortunately the short-fused Sullivan was expecting a rendition of (the Tennessee Ernie Ford hit) “Sixteen Tons” and was so furious when Bo Diddley played “Bo Diddley” that he never invited him back again. “Ed Sullivan said that I was the first black boy to ever double-cross him on the show,” Diddley later recalled. “ He said I wouldn’t last six months.”

Fortunately, for those of us who took a while to discover him, that prediction fell slightly shy of the mark and the great Bo Diddley’s career lasted for another 52 years, with tracks that would be covered by the likes of: Bruce Springsteen, CCR, Aerosmith, The Clash, The Kinks, The Who, Tom Petty, The Zombies, The Animals, Bob Seger, The Yardbirds, The Grateful Dead, The Doors…

“I used to get mad about people recording my things,” said Diddley late in his career. “But now I got a new thing going. I don’t get mad about them recording my material because they keep me alive.”

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring

If that diamond ring don’t shine

He gonna take it to a private eye

If that private eye can’t see

He’d better not take the ring from me

Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat

To make his pretty baby a Sunday coat

Bo Diddley caught a bearcat

To make his pretty baby a Sunday hat

Mojo come to my house, ya black cat bone

Take my baby away from home

Ugly ol’ Mojo, where ya been?

Up your house and gone again

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley have you heard?

My pretty baby said she was a bird…

I still haven’t shaken it

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“As a folk duo, how much could recording costs be?” asked the record producer who had been brought in to help Paul Simon get back into the studio during a bout of writer’s block. Unfortunately for Columbia Records the recording costs for Simon & Garfunkel could be memorable.

It was the summer of ’67, the Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper, and the “duo” were working on a concept album of their own (exploring the cycle of life) called Bookends. 

The first session was for this track and after percussionists, brass and viola players had been brought in, everyone worked through the night to find just the right sound. Greatly influenced by Strawberry Fields Forever and Tomorrow Never Knows, the outcome is said to lyrically reflect Simon’s tenuous working relationship with his lifelong “frenemy,” Art Garfunkel.

The woman “entering” the tailor shop was folk singer Beverley Martyn, an associate of Simon’s who was good friends with (“the Scottish Dylan”) Donovan, whose last name is Leitch, hence the tailor’s name. Apparently Simon had wondered what his vocation might have been had he lived a century earlier and concluded that he surely would have been a tailor in Vienna or Budapest. Only later did he learn that his grandfather, whose name was also Paul Simon, actually was a tailor who’d lived in Vienna a century earlier.

Released as a single in June 1967 (the album itself was released the following year) the song’s running time is 3 minutes and 14 seconds, but since AM stations resisted anything that ran longer than 3 minutes, Simon slyly faked the time printed on the label to read 2:74.

Fakin’ It

When she goes, she’s gone

If she stays, she stays here

The girl does what she wants to do,

She knows what she wants to do

And I know I’m fakin’ it,

I’m not really makin’ it.

 I’m such a dubious soul

And a walk in the garden

Wears me down.

Tangled in the fallen vines,

Pickin’ up the punch lines,

I’ve just been fakin’ it,

Not really makin’ it.

 Is there any danger?

No, no not really,

Just lean on me.

Takin’ time to treat,

Your friendly neighbors honestly.

I’ve just been fakin’ it,

I’m not really makin’ it,

This feeling of fakin’ it.

I still haven’t shaken it.

 Prior to this lifetime

I surely was a tailor, look at me.

[Good morning, Mr. Leitch.

Have you had a busy day?]

I own the tailor’s face and hands

I am the tailor’s face and hands and

I know I’m fakin’ it

I’m not really makin’ it

This feeling of fakin’ it

I still haven’t shaken it.

When key ingredients were unobtainable a worthy substitution would be found

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As a festive occasion, the fourth Thursday of November remains a favorite holiday. We each have our special Thanksgiving memories and mine flow in abundance, but the most gleeful of these reach back to England in the early 1980s. No one observes tradition as intensely as an expatriate and I held a Thanksgiving gathering on the fourth Friday of November (to accommodate those unaccustomed to having the day off) for the six years I lived in London.

Using New England recipes from an old church cookbook for the puddings and pies (except that brandy was added to everything) preparation began on Wednesday. When key ingredients were unobtainable a worthy substitution would be found. For instance, West Indian pumpkin was used for the pie.  Or I’d start from scratch, grinding my own “maize” into meal, using a coffee grinder, for the Indian Pudding and corn bread.  Or I’d concoct something new, as with my “signature” oyster/chestnut/pita stuffing.

Then I’d look to Harrods’ great Food Hall for the finest turkey that would fit the dimensions of my meager oven, and even more meager budget … and set to work.

The other essential ingredient was wine of course and my guests would bring “buckets” of it, invariably of dubious vintage (as if it mattered). Carving commenced promptly at 19:00 and after dessert we’d crank the stereo and slowly get up to dance.

The gathering grew more popular with every year and by the sixth go-round, with attendance approaching that of a wedding reception, I was no longer able to manage all my own cooking and some of the charm, alas, was lost. The “middle years” had the best celebrations with guests in the mere dozens and my culinary skills at their humble peak.

Some who read this may especially recall a particular soiree at my girlfriend’s large Battersea flat. The autumn moon was nearly full, and we ate – and we drank – and we danced – and we drank – and we laughed … a lot, late, late into that clear Albion night. As some of us were going through an early jazz phase that’s what dominated the play list, including this lively number. I give thanks for the recollection.

Born in New Orleans in 1885, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, aka Jelly Roll Morton, was a pivotal pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger. His “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first jazz composition to be published, in 1915, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential spirit, even when notated.

With laughter provided by comedian “Laughing” Lew Lamar, who specialized in animal noises and provided the goat sound for Jelly’s “Billy Goat Stomp” in the same session, “The Hyena Stomp” was recorded with the Red Hot Peppers on the 4th of July 1927. What better way to wish you and yours a most JOVIAL Thanksgiving?

… one of those days for taking a walk outside

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“Life is not linear, it’s organic,” affirms education revisionist Sir Kenneth Robinson and although it was linear thinking that made me think of this song on a balmy autumn Sunday (after listening to one of Robinson’s popular TED talks), its actual genesis is about as meanderingly organic as you can get … much as this posting.

In the early years of the last century a new genre of dance music that blended military marches, African rhythms, and field hollers (among other influences) with spirituals and syncopated jazz took hold in the red light district of Memphis. The musicians were of the medicine show/street corner variety and their home-crafted instruments regularly featured: banjos made with metal pie-plates and discarded guitar necks, washboards, stovepipe or washtub basses, guitars fashioned from flattened gourds, spoons, comb and tissue kazoos, and the stoneware “instruments” that gave the genre its name, Jug band music.

Roundly recorded in the early 1920s, many a future Jazz and Swing great began in a Jug band, including: Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Jack Teagarden, and Glen Miller.

Although it fell out of favor during the Depression, new life was blown into the genre during the Folk era of the mid-to-late ’50s at the same time that a strikingly similar resurgence, minus the jug, took place in Britain. There it was called Skiffle and many a future rock star cobbled together his own instrument and joined a Skiffle band: Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Ronnie Wood, Jimmy Page, Robin Trower, David Gilmour, and Graham Nash.

Back in the States, the Jug band resurgence hit its peak in the early ’60s, with the Rooftop Singers’ Number 1 hit, Walk Right In, and, yes, many a well-known act would evolve from its homespun origins: The Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, The Mommas and the Papas, and after she married Geoff Muldaur of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Maria Muldaur of the Even Jug Band.

This song, so well suited for a balmy Sunday morning, was one of many written by Maria’s former Even Jug bandmate, John Sebastian, after he’d formed the Lovin’ Spoonful in 1964. Released on the group’s second album of the same name, it reached Number 2 on the Billboard Charts in 1966.

It is very much an organic chain of events that, later that year, led to the first track of the second side of the most famous ex-Skiffle band of them all’s seminal album, Revolver … (This) was our favourite record of theirs,” says Paul McCartney about the Lovin’ Spoonful song.  “Good Day Sunshine was me trying to write something similar to Daydream.” 

Daydream

What a day for a daydream

What a day for a day dreamin’ boy.

And I’m lost in a daydream

Dreamin’ ’bout my bundle of joy.

And even if time ain’t really on my side

It’s one of those days for taking a walk outside

I’m blowing the day to take a walk in the sun

And fall on my face on somebody’s new-mown lawn

I’ve been having a sweet dream

I’ve been dreaming since I woke up today.

It’s starring me and my sweet thing

‘Cause she’s the one makes me feel this way.

And even if time is passing me by a lot

I couldn’t care less about the dues you say I got.

Tomorrow I’ll pay the dues for dropping my load

A pie in the face for being a sleepy bo-joe.

And you can be sure that if you’re feeling right

A daydream will last long into the night.

Tomorrow at breakfast you may prick up your ears

Or you may be daydreaming for a thousand years.

 What a day for a daydream

Custom made for a daydreaming boy.

And I’m lost in a daydream

Dreaming ’bout my bundle of joy.

Those gentle voices I hear, explain it all with a sigh …

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Rest assured, I waited until both my kids were 21 before candidly responding to their questions about this topic. In looking back I’m neither proud nor ashamed. I’m in no position to moralize, except to say that it made me a scofflaw (imagine the sniggers that have accompanied that statement) and I do my best not to rationalize, except to say that it was a different era.

And so I dabbled recreationally with: Phenylalanine, Benzoylmethylecgonine, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, Tetrahydrocannabinol and other stimulants, which long before leaving college I also left behind, because they made me too self-conscious, or diminished my sense of control, or because the euphoric effect never outweighed the after effect, or – especially – because they didn’t help my grade point average.

Occasionally certain songs will bring me back to those callow, capricious days, such as this track from The Moody Blues’ first concept album, Days of Future Past, released in 1967. Written by Justin Hayward at a time when he was experimenting with LSD, it strikes me as an accurate depiction of what it was like. More baroque than cosmic in nature (at least for me), you find yourself being pulled along, while looking for an answer to some imponderable question or riddle. I even wrote about it once *as excerpted from an old copy of The Daily Free Press below.

Although I never experienced a “bad trip,” I did pay in other ways. It invariably took a couple of days to recover and more than once I ran into somebody I knew while in an embarrassingly inexplicable state. Then, some years later, there was the lost job opportunity with a certain government agency. The interview proceeded swimmingly until, with a polygraph in the offing, I answered truthfully when asked if I’d ever taken hallucinogens (they were very specific). Although it ended politely, the interview was over as quickly as you can say flashback.

Still flashback free, I’m now exceedingly grateful for the way things have gone. And I certainly don’t believe that I’d be a better man had I not (to steal a Nilsson line) “done what I did when I was a kid” … a brighter man perhaps, but not a better one.

 Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)

 Tuesday, afternoon,

I’m just beginning to see,

Now I’m on my way,

It doesn’t matter to me,

Chasing the clouds away.

Something, calls to me,

The trees are drawing me near,

I’ve got to find out why

Those gentle voices I hear

Explain it all with a sigh.

I’m looking at myself, reflections of my mind,

It’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind,

So gently swaying thru the fairy-land of love,

If you’ll just come with me and see the beauty of

Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday afternoon.

 Tuesday, afternoon,

I’m just beginning to see,

Now I’m on my way,

It doesn’t matter to me,

Chasing the clouds away.

Something, calls to me,

The trees are drawing me near,

I’ve got to find out why

Those gentle voices I hear

Explain it all with a sigh.

*January 1978 – The initial reaction comes about an hour after ingestion, when a squirrel on a tree starts to spin like a clock before scurrying on its way. It’s winter in Boston, and the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide that came across the river from MIT is said to be the best in the east. Meandering down Commonwealth Avenue the Prudential Building illuminates the gray sky at dusk. Like the Emerald City, it attracts.

And lo, an enormous green scuttle-bug with a big ‘T’ rumbles up. Perhaps the driver has pulled the reigns too tight because the great creature squeals as it slides to a stop. Then, much like Jonah and the Whale, one stumbles inside. Again the pained beast squeals and bucks with a vengeance, while those not seated tumble deeper into its bowels as it rumbles down the avenue. It’s actually kind of hilarious, but no one else laughs.

Eventually it descends into a murky catacomb and proceeds underground, stopping at well-lit caverns along the way with the words KENMORE then AUDITORIUM painted on their walls. By now a warm glow emanates from inside the skull and the metal handrail feels like running water ‘neath clutching fingers. Surrounded by voices that seem to be spoken through old-time megaphones, one wonders if this is all a movie.

The subterranean zoon rumbles through the darkness, stopping next at COPLEY, where spacemen bundled in survival jackets shuffle off and, amidst their verbal echoes, others shuffle on. It’s cramped and stuffy by the time ARLINGTON comes into view, and it’s now apparent that the stop for OZ must be on another line. Suddenly there’s an urge to walk … no … march … through the crowd, down the platform, up the stairs and out into the frigid night air.

Here looms the Public Gardens, where George Washington sits atop a sculpted horse. The horse wants a sugar cube but a snowball thrown into its open mouth is the best one can do before marching on to Beacon Hill. When the sidewalk begins to ripple there’s cause for alarm and people begin to stare. But there’s money for a cab … except that what appears to be a taxi is actually a police car, which thankfully doesn’t stop as the hand that hails is quickly shoved into a pocket.

Then visual forms become a blur, city sounds a whir, and passing cars become streaks that go whoosh. Green streaks, blue streaks, yellow streaks trail by, while leafless tree branches become oscillating genie fingers and sights, sounds, smells and sensations blend together. Total disorientation leads to aimless ambulation … until some time later when some semblance of familiarity arises on the Esplanade by river. In the distance the Citgo sign flashes over Kenmore Square. Beyond is the warmth and comfort of home. Drifting along, memories and plans sporadically throb through the mind, and problems work themselves out.

A rest at the BU boat dock offers an opportunity to look back at the “Hub of the Universe” brilliantly lit like a birthday cake. Tears well up with the notion that thousands are living their lives unaware that someone out here is watching.

Home at last. Greeted by friends. The rest of the night is spent listening for new symbolism in old rock songs on the turntable. Sleep comes at dawn.

… I’m never coming down

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New love will get you there. Then there are those phases in life when, living from moment to whimsical moment, you’re especially open to its embrace. Euphoria, without it the sporting life would hold meager reward. Without it there would be no vice.

But intense and transcendent joy can come to us in many ways, and for those in touch with their innermost selves it can come coupled with tremendous contentment. Many faiths are dedicated to such pursuit, some through prayer or meditation … some through spinning, as practiced by those Sufi mystics known as Dervishes.

When a Dervish is in a traditional whirl it’s to search for the source of all perfection, by symbolically imitating the planets orbiting the sun. With the left foot planted firmly on the ground and the right foot providing the momentum the “whirling Dervish” revolves round the heart, from right to left, his eyes affixed on his left hand, which is turned toward the earth, his right hand open to the sky. All the while his arms remain fully stretched and ready to embrace all of humanity with love.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1946, Syreeta Wright seems to have taken to the marvels of spinning naturally, with dreams of becoming a ballerina. After her father’s death in the Korean War, she and her sisters moved with their mother to Detroit where, as a talented dancer with no money for formal training, she chose to sing and, much as singer Martha Reeves had done, landed a secretarial position at Motown Records.

Soon she was stepping in as a background vocalist for Martha and the Vandellas, and for the Supremes, for whom she became a “demo” singer, recording potential Supremes songs on behalf of the label. By the time Berry Gordy had signed her as an artist in her own right, she had begun to date label mate, Stevie Wonder, who sought her collaboration as a songwriter. Reaching Number 14 on the Billboard charts, their first effort “It’s a Shame” was performed by … The Spinners.

Also co-writing and singing background on such hits as she “Signed Sealed, Delivered” and “If You Really Love Me,” she married Wonder in 1969. Divorced a few years later (Wonder’s album “Talking Book” largely features autobiographical detail about the rise and fall of their marriage), the two remained friends and would continue to collaborate for decades.

In addition to releasing a number of studio albums, Syreeta went on to work with Billy Preston and Smokey Robinson, and would eventually join the national touring cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the role of Mary Magdalene, before succumbing to breast cancer in 2004.

Written by a woman who clearly knew how to spin, this is the second track from the 1974 album, “Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta”

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Painting the town, I’m never coming down

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

I’m out on the town, I’m never coming down

God Almighty I wanna’ live

A man will shower me with expensive gifts

And of course there’s his love

I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be

Just another feather in a cap you see

So if you offer me, know that I want to be

Just Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Painting the town, I’m never coming down

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Out on the town, I’m never coming down

 Not that I want everything

Just a few of those little precious things

That there’re smiles in my eyes

I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be

Just another toy that is put away

So I’m glad I am free, know that I’m on the wild

And I’ll be Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Give me one or two compliments

Tell me that my love is heaven sent

And that living is free

Free enough to go everywhere

Just to drop a dime and we’re in the air

Yes of course there is love

Wonder how much I’ll see…

And I’ll go Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Painting the town, I’m never coming down

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’ around

Out on the town, I’m never coming down….

Being good isn’t always easy

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With her blond bouffant and panda eyes she was a veritable “Swingin’ ’60s” icon, at the very forefront of the British Invasion, having hit the American Billboard’s Hot 100 a mere week after the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand. She was also one of the finest white soul singers of her (or any) era.

But by 1968 the invasion was over. Popular music had changed. Though long accustomed to recording (and often self-producing) in England, she made the bold move of crossing over to American-based Atlantic Records, and headed down to Memphis with something different in mind. Now enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame as one of the greatest albums of all time, Dusty in Memphis was all that and more … Then again, this wasn’t the first time Dusty Springfield had been to Tennessee.

Born into a musically-inclined family in 1939, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien earned her nickname early, while playing football with the boys in her North London neighborhood. By the time she was 18 “Dusty” and her brother, Tom had become folk club regulars, eventually forming a trio with fellow singer, Tim Feild, and using a name they’d come up with while rehearsing in a Somerset field one spring day: the Springfields.

Looking for an “authentic” Appalachian sound, they soon travelled to Nashville, only to become deeply influenced by the R&B scene instead.  The result was a pop-folk style that helped to make them Britain’s top vocal group until the Springfields’ disbandment in 1963. Then, while Tom continued to produce and write songs (including “Georgy Girl”) and Tim became a renowned Sufi mystic (really), Dusty Springfield came into her own with “I Only Want to Be With You,” one of the first singles to be played on BBC-TV’s legendary Top of the Pops.

An uncompromising perfectionist who deplored the quality of her record company’s London studios, she preferred to record in the ladies room where the acoustics were better. Nor would she compromise on her sense of justice, and was famously deported from South Africa after performing for an integrated audience near Cape Town.

Voted Britain’s top female singer throughout the ‘60s, Springfield loved to sing backup for other performers too, using the pseudonym, Glady’s Thong on recordings by Elton John, Kikki Dee, Anne Murray, and (her own one-time backup singer) Madeline Bell.

It was Elton John, in fact, who helped to induct Dusty Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, two weeks after her death from breast cancer in 1999, saying, “I’m biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been … Every song she sang, she claimed as her own.”

That would include this, the third track on Dusty in Memphis, written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins.  A top ten hit in both the US and UK, it was originally offered to Aretha Franklin, who eventually recorded it after hearing this version. 

Post Scriptus: During her Memphis sessions Springfield urged Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler to sign on a newly formed group that included one of her favorite session musicians, John Paul Jones. The group was Led Zeppelin, whom the label signed to an historic contract – sight unseen, according to Wexler – based largely on the recommendation of Dusty Springfield.

Son Of A Preacher Man

Billy-Ray was a preacher’s son

And when his daddy would visit he’d come along

When they gathered round and started talkin’

That’s when Billy would take me walkin’

A-through the backyard we’d go walkin’

Then he’d look into my eyes

Lord knows to my surprise

The only one who could ever reach me

Was the son of a preacher man

The only boy who could ever teach me

Was the son of a preacher man

Yes he was, he was

Ooh, yes he was

Being good isn’t always easy

No matter how hard I try

When he started sweet-talkin’ to me

He’d come and tell me everything is all right

He’d kiss and tell me everything is all right

Can I get away again tonight?

The only one who could ever reach me

Was the son of a preacher man

The only boy who could ever teach me

Was the son of a preacher man

Yes he was, he was

Lord knows he was

Yes he was

How well I remember

The look that was in his eyes

Stealin’ kisses from me on the sly

Takin’ time to make time

Tellin’ me that he’s all mine

Learnin’ from each other’s knowing

Lookin’ to see how much we’ve grown

And the only one who could ever reach me

Was the son of a preacher man

The only boy who could ever teach me

Was the son of a preacher man

Yes he was, he was

Ooh, yes he was

The only one who could ever reach me

He was the sweet-talking son of a preacher man

The only boy who could ever teach me

I kissed the son of a preacher man

The only one who could ever move me

The sweet-lovin’ son of a preacher man

The only one who could ever groove me

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

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Having secured a cheap room (thumbs up for Hollywood’s La Brea Motel) I had the opportunity to stroll down Hollywood Boulevard a while back.  A life-long ambition, there were no illusions that this was “Hollywood,” the metonym for the celluloid dream factory. I treated the adventure much as one would a visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg (thumbs up for Gettysburg’s Hickory Branch Guesthouse) and was in search of more tangible apparitions, such as an actual chariot wheel from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

I was also there to eat and drink, of course, and although the Brown Derby, Schwab’s Pharmacy and Sardi’s are long gone, I did have a nice meal (but lousy martini) at Musso and Frank Grill, a one-time haunt for the likes of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Orson Welles. I also managed a few beers at the Pig ‘N Whistle (inspecting each and every star on the Walk of Fame can be thirsty work), favored by Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Carry Grant, etc, which abuts the Egyptian Theatre, current home to the American Cinematheque and where the first-ever Hollywood premiere (for Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks) was held.

Yes, and I also enjoyed a quirky breakfast at the unkempt and wonderful Snow White Café, which first opened when Walt Disney was looking for a place to hold the after-party for the premiere of Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Disney is said to have sent his animators over to paint murals of the film’s characters on its walls and ceilings. Hiding in plain sight on the boulevard, it has long since become an insider’s dive-bar (ignored by tourists) with a happy hour that runs from 1 to 7 p.m!

But there remained much else to gawk at, including the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first – and shortest – Academy Award ceremony was held, and where Marilyn Monroe began her modeling career, posing by the pool whose lining was painted by David Hockney. Next door was the El Capitan Theatre, where Citizen Kane had its premiere and which is now owned and operated by… Disney. And down the street I had to see the designed-for-Vaudeville, Pantages Theatre, another past-venue for the Academy Awards. Once owned by RKO, Howard Hughes had his offices here.

Shuffling past hordes of tourists, tour guides, and costumed characters, I later spent a few harried moments at the sadly mundane Hollywood & Highland Center. Intriguingly topped with remnants from the set of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 classic, Intolerance, it remains a Gap/ California Pizza Kitchen/Victoria’s Secret kind of place (albeit one that employs thousands in a once-seedy neighborhood) and connects Ocar’s new home, the Kodak Theatre, with another of its old homes, the Chinese Theatre.

Built by Sid Grauman, who also built the Egyptian across the street, it was Grauman who came up with the idea of having stars place their footprints/handprints in cement, beginning with Mary Pickford.  The grand, old movie palace has since seen more movie premieres than any other venue anywhere.

A number of the actors in those premiered films now reside in the unrepentantly kitschy Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where you can buy a map in the flower shop to find the final resting places of John Huston, Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks (and Fairbanks Jr.), Jayne Mansfield, Fay Wray, Mel Blanc, Peter Lorre, Tyrone Power, as well as Cecil B. DeMille, Don Adams, Dee-Dee and Johnny Ramone among other entertainment legends, not to mention (my favorite stop) Rudolph Valentino.

After sneaking into the nearby Hollywood Bowl and driving up to the Griffith Observatory (“You can wake up now, the universe has ended,” said James Dean to Natalie Wood), where I got as close as I could to the Hollywood sign, I looked out over the valley and thought of Sergeant Joe Friday “…this is the city.”  Still, there was one more sight to see before I wended my way back to the freeway.

Built in 1956 with a blinking light atop its tower that forever spells-out the word, “Hollywood” in Morse code, and featuring subterranean echo chambers designed by the great Les Paul, the Capitol Records Building houses studios that have recorded such luminaries as Sinatra, Streisand, Bacharach, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Mary McCaslin (who?).

Mentioned a few times in this blog, McCaslin toured regularly with her husband, Jim Ringer throughout the ’70s, including Passim in Harvard Square. Born near Indianapolis in 1946, her family moved to Los Angeles in the early ‘50s, where she became fascinated with television westerns and Native American lore. Having bought her first guitar at 15, she became a regular on the West Coast coffee house circuit while still a teen, cutting her first album for Capitol Records in 1968.

After meeting and marrying Ringer she cut her second album, Way Out West, for the newly formed Philo folk label in 1972.  Co-written by Bob Simpson, this nod to the fact that not every Hollywood cowboy finds redemption through a good woman is the album’s opening track.

 Music Strings/Oh Hollywood

I’ve played on the music strings of my life,

Their silver thread melodies take me away.

My life lies to cling to in stealth and strife,

Weaving my passage through starlight and day…

I dreamed I was a cowboy out on the western plains,

Yodle-ay-dee I’ve been lately feeling weirdly and quite strange.

Whoopi-ti I try to make it by on cornbread and spare change,

I think I’ve had enough of California and its ways.

I mosey down the streets at night and look at all the faces,

Trying to keep my mind on other times and other places.

I go down to the saloon on the chance that I might find,

Someone there to comfort me and give me peace of mind.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

I look up through the palm trees and I try to find the stars,

To guide me on my travels for I’ve strayed and wandered far.

The stars are in the sidewalks I walk I read the names,

Like never ending tombstones from some forgotten day.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range.

California lasses with their asses bound in leather,

Fancy vests upon their breasts and nothing on their minds.

Remind me of so long ago when I was very young,

I tried to be a cowboy but I could not hold a gun.

Oh I wander down the neon streets with no one else to blame,

Oh Hollywood my home away from home on the range

Outrageous, alarming, courageous, charming

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It took an autumn day in Concord to bring me back to this blog. Devoted to stories, some personal, most not, about popular songs, my stated goal is to post 365, one for each day of the year. I’m at #320 but since this is a re-posted song, alas, it doesn’t count. Surely I’ll get there in the end.

Perhaps my greatest joy is to watch my kids, now in their 20s, live their lives with a “fist full of gusto,” to steal a line from an old beer commercial. I was much the same at that age, which goes some way to explain this thankfully washed-out picture (considering the poor excuse for a beard), taken in Istanbul in the fall of 1980, not long after that year’s coup d’état.

That’s me, sixth from the left, on the deck of a fishing boat just-in from the Sea of Marmara. Jumping into scenes like this was the kind of thing I did back then and, as their friends may concur, the apples haven’t fallen far from the tree.

Since the enforcement of martial law, hotel rooms had become quite affordable that season, and despite a midnight curfew the supper clubs remained open. Though there was no coffee to be had due to an embargo, there was still plenty of high-test (absinthe-like) Turkish raki or “lion’s milk” as it was called, which leads us, hours later, to the dance floor of an old town establishment known for its belly dancing show.

Featuring a small orchestra, its musicians swaying back and forth in their fezzes, and a conjuror with magic orbs and rings of fire, between sets, and starring a marvel of a belly dancer, whose tummy moved in more directions than a three-cycle washing machine, it didn’t disappoint. Then, when the show was over we in the audience had the opportunity to grab a piece of the floor for ourselves while the music played on.

Somewhere along the way a Portuguese girl, named Maria, made it her mission to teach me the Bailarico, a folk dance where the girl backs up and the boy moves forward with little bouncing steps, then you raise your hands up high, before you embrace, and spin in place, then to one side, and then the other, and then…well, you get the picture. Everything was proceeding splendidly until the lights were thrown on and it was announced that 30 minutes remained before curfew.

The music may have stopped but with “lion’s milk” coursing through our veins the urge to dance had not. Maria and I, as it turned out, were staying at the same hotel; and so (I swear this is all true) we danced all the way home.

Perhaps you too have songs you like to sing to yourself from time to time. I know I do, and as an accompaniment to the Bailarico this one works perfectly … “I may go out tomorrow…” Hands in the air… “If I can borrow a coat to wear…” Embrace and spin … around a lamppost… “Oh I’d step out in style…” Step, step, step … down the street through an intersection with blinking traffic lights… “With my sincere smile and my dancing bear…”

When at last we spun through the hotel’s revolving door… “Making the grandest entrances it’s Sim-on Smith and the Ama-zing Dan-cing Bear….” at two minutes before midnight we’d been through the song at least half a dozen times. It’s funny how you suddenly remember these things.

Written by Randy Newman this song was first popularized by Alan Price in 1967, then Harry Nilsson in 1970. Newman finally released his own version on his 1972 album, “Sail Away”. It’s nearly half a century since he wrote it and I’ll bet he still doesn’t realize how nicely it accompanies the Bailarico.

Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear

I may go out tomorrow, if I can borrow a coat to wear,

Oh I’d step out in style with my sincere smile and my dancing bear,

Outrageous, alarming, courageous, charming

Oh who would think a boy and bear

Could be well accepted everywhere

It’s just amazing how fair people can be.

Seen at the nicest places where well-fed faces all stop to stare

Making the grandest entrance it’s Simon Smith and his dancing bear.

They’ll love us, won’t they?

They feed us, don’t they?

Oh, who would think a boy and bear

Could be well accepted everywhere

It’s just amazing how fair people can be.

Who needs money when you’re funny?

The big attraction everywhere

Will be Simon Smith and his dancing bear

It’s Simon Smith and the amazing dancing bear

All suffering and sorrow will be no more

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While “Decoration Day” was observed to commemorate fallen soldiers after the Civil War, the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers stretches back into the mists of antiquity. By the end of the Second World War the preferred name was Memorial Day, which only became an official holiday after the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968.

Now seen as an occasion to remember all who have departed, once again I remember in particular a man who overcame a few challenges to work his way into combat.

 READ: Like his brother he will be cool, thoughtful and devoted in any crisis.

After a battlefield commission the old boy survived the War in the Pacific and came home a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 594th Boat and Shore Regiment. Soon after he married his sweetheart and went on to father six children, of which I am proudly one.

This song, written and performed by Peter Skellern (backed up by the choral group, Libra) was composed to commemorate Remembrance Day, observed by British Commonwealth countries since the end of The Great War to remember those who died in the line of duty.

Though the imagery isn’t exactly Unitarian Universalist in sentiment, it’s rather splendid none-the-less … “for all who need comfort, for all those who mourn …”

LISTEN: Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory

For all who need comfort, for all those who mourn

All those whom we cherished will be reborn.

All those whom we love but see no more

They are not perished, but gone before,

And lie in the tender arms of he who died for us all to set us free

From hatred and anger and cruel tyranny.

May they Rest in Peace – and Rise in Glory.

All suffering and sorrow will be no more

They’ll vanish like shadows at heaven’s door.

All anguish and grieving will one day be healed

When all of God’s purpose will be revealed.

Though now for a season lost from sight

The innocent slain in the blindness of “Right”

Are now in the warmth of God’s glorious light

Where they Rest in Peace – and Rise in Glory

Lord give me wisdom to comprehend why I survive and not my friend

And teach me compassion so I may live, all my enemies to forgive.

For all who need comfort for all those who mourn

All those whom we cherished will be reborn.

All those whom we love but see no more

They are not perished but gone before.

Lord keep them safe in your embrace

And fill their souls with your good grace

For now they see you face to face

Where they Rest in Peace – and Rise in Glory.

Can’t believe how time flies by

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Been away for a season or two and am still working on this fascinating book project, but as everyone knows, regardless of the spirit’s strength, the flesh remains weak.  So even if it means stealing time from my two remaining chapters, I…just..had…to…dash…this…off. And it’s all because I made the mistake of leaving the car radio on while picking up some takeaway Chinese.

Naturally it was tuned to my daughter’s station (why is it that every car I drive is tuned to my daughter’s station?) and I heard this song for the first time.  It’s kind of country but with an equal share of pop/rock too.  In fact my initial reaction was that Taylor Swift has finally grown up and found an extra cache of talent. Instead I am positively delighted to say that it’s actually the San Francisco-based group “Train” with Knoxville, Tennessee born Ashley Monroe singing along.

Of course it was released nearly a year ago (it’s still 2013 right?) and despite the fact that it didn’t break any records on anybody’s charts, you probably have already heard it.  But from the confines of this carpal tunnel racked cave of mine it resonates very nicely, with an upbeat tempo and clever lyrics…“Bruises” is credited to Train’s vocalist Pat Monahan along with Norwegian songwriting team Espen Lind and Amund Bjorklund, who also produced the group’s sixth studio album on which it was released, “California 37”.

Can’t say that I can concur with the line about gravity (at least from my end), but I can chime in with the one about how “you’re not alone in the way you’ve been.”Then again,  “everybody loses?”  This song (listen to it here) surely makes one feel precisely the opposite.

 Bruises

 Haven’t seen you since high school

Good to see you’re still beautiful

Gravity hasn’t started to pull

Quite yet, I bet you’re rich as hell

 One that’s five, and one that’s three

Been two years since he left me

Good to know that you got free

That town I know was keeping you down on your knees

 These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to let you in again

You’re not alone in how you’ve been

Everybody loses, we all got bruises

We all got bruises

Have you seen him? Not in years

How about her? No but I hear

She’s in Queens with the man of her dreams

Funny back then she said that about you

 Que sera you’ll never guess who I saw

Remember Johnny B, remember him we were best friends practically

Let’s do this soon again, ten years is that what it’s been?

Can’t believe how time flies by

Leaving you makes me wanna’ cry

 These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to let you in again

You’re not alone in how you’ve been

Everybody loses, we all got bruises

We all got bruises

 I would love to fix it all for you

I would love to fix you too

Please don’t fix a thing whatever you do

 These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to know you’ve got a friend

That you remember now and then

Everybody loses

These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to let you in again

You’re not alone in how you’ve been

Everybody loses, everybody loses, everybody loses

We all got bruises, We all got bruises, We all got bruises

As simple as do-re-mi, A-B-C, 1-2-3…

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“It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.” ~ John Green from “Will Grayson, Will Grayson”

It was about a year ago that my friend, Robert and I first grabbed a cup of coffee for the sake of networking.  Although I’d seen him around town for years we’d only recently been introduced and had the chance to discover that we share similar clientele.  But we never got around to discussing business that day because halfway through the first cup of coffee it suddenly occurred to me that I had met Robert once before…in 1981 at a party in Barcelona.

One wonders which is more amazing, the fact that here we were now or, ‘though he was a little more foggy about it at first, that I remembered him distinctly after more than 30 years.  I’m inclined to lean toward the latter although I was in a much better position for impressions as he’d been living and teaching there, while I was visiting some mutual friends of ours named Jim and Jeanne.  In fact, if I hadn’t broken my camera the next day I’m pretty sure I would have been able to show him a picture or two taken during the party…the one above, of Jim and Jeanne on Las Ramblas, is one of the few surviving photos from that visit.

The party was held at their commodious old apartment in a once “notorious” neighborhood known for its…uhm… lively nightlife. There were about 20 of us and the libation of choice was cheap red wine poured from jugs that everyone took turns refilling at a bodega on the corner.  Anyway I fondly recall that, thanks to a sensible siesta, we all managed to keep going until breakfast time (that bodega kept us supplied all night) and I clearly remember Robert merrily dancing (with his future wife) to this very song, exuding from the single speaker of one of those ‘70s era cassette players with the volume turned way up loud…

 Loathe to admit it but I enjoyed the Jackson Five’s “ABC” when it knocked the Beatles’ “Let it Be” off the Number 1 spot in 1970.  Not that you would have ever actually caught me listening to that “bubblegum stuff” in high school or even college.  But here and now, sometime before dawn in Catalonia, it was perfect music for the occasion. And doing my best imitation of the young Michael Jackson on American Bandstand I was dancing too.  What’s more, I’ve unabashedly danced to it at countless parties ever since.

ABC

You went to school to learn girl

Things you never, never knew before

Like “I” before “E” except after “C”

And why 2 plus 2 makes 4

Now, now, now

I’m gonna teach you

Teach you, teach you

All about love girl

All about love

Sit yourself down, take a seat

All you gotta’ do is repeat after me

 A B C

It’s easy as, 1 2 3

As simple as, do re mi

A B C, 1 2 3

Baby, you and me girl

A B C

It’s easy as, 1 2 3

As simple as, do re mi

A B C, 1 2 3

Baby, you and me girl

 Come on and love me just a little bit

Come on and love me just a little bit

I’m gonna teach you how to sing it out

Come on, come on, come on

Let me tell you what it’s all about

Reading, writing, arithmetic

Are the branches of the learning tree

But without the roots of love everyday girl

Your education ain’t complete

T-T-Teacher’s gonna’ show you

(She’s gonna show you)

How to get an “A” (na-na-na-naaaaaa)

How to spell “me”, “you”, add the two

Listen to me, baby

That’s all you got to do

Oh, A B C

It’s easy as, 1 2 3

As simple as, do re mi

A B C, 1 2 3

Baby, you and me girl

A B C it’s easy,

It’s like counting up to 3

Sing a simple melody

That’s how easy love can be

That’s how easy love can be

Sing a simple melody

1 2 3 baby

You and me

 Sit down girl,

I think I love ya’

No, get up girl

Show me what you can do

Shake it, shake it baby, come on now

Shake it, shake it baby, oooh, oooh

Shake it, shake it baby, yeah

1 2 3 baby, oooh oooh

A B C baby, ah, ah

Do re mi baby, wow

That’s how easy love can be

A B C it’s easy

It’s like counting up to 3

Sing a simple melody

That’s how easy love can be

I’m gonna teach you

How to sing it out

Come-a, come-a, come-a

Let me show you what’s it’s all about

A B C it’s easy

It’s like counting up to 3

Sing a simple melody

That’s how easy love can be

 I’m gonna teach you

How to sing it out

Sing it out, sing it out

Sing it, sing it

A B C it’s easy

It’s like counting up to 3

Sing a simple melody

That’s how easy love can be

 

 

Well I don’t know how, but you’re a big boy now

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My son’s turning 22. Birthday wishes aren’t supposed to come freighted with a dark cloud and although I already had something written up it got scrapped.  I’m keeping the same song though. Written and performed right here by John Sebastian for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1967 film of the same name, with the lyrics below, it’s “Your a Big Boy Now.”  And despite a strong urge to “go there” and use a picture of the kids when they were eight and six, I’m keeping the same picture too.  Not to get all bookish, but  in addition to making a political statement the goals of terrorism, according to Robert A, Schwarz in his “Tools for Transforming Trauma” are to “disconnect people from resourceful positive states of consciousness and to connect them instead to non-resourceful fearful states of consciousness.”  Nope not going there.

While most of us have been or will be exposed to life-threatening situations at some point in our lives, the carnage and destruction that comes with terrorism is truly traumatic, even when we’re not there.  We are wise to avoid the sensationalized pictures and sound bites that come rushing from certain sources, at least after we’ve seen them three or four times.  It’s far better to become educated on the situation by seeking factual information.

It’s also wise to realize that after the disbelief has passed, some semblance of disorientation and grief are sure to follow, as is the eventual need to reassess the world around us, along with our own beliefs, and re-establish life’s true priorities.  All sound familiar? While it’s not always easy to cope with the results of a terrorist act in all its misguided insanity, if we’re able to garner a little resilience we may even discover an opportunity for reflection and personal growth.

By now it’s probably obvious that a sagacious (rather preachy) tack doesn’t come all that naturally, although it’s the one I’ve decided to adopt in order to offer my son some fatherly advice. Of course none of it’s outlandishly new.  In fact it has been unashamedly pilfered from the WWW (I’m certain my sources don’t hold a copyright either)… but at least I’m not saying it was written by Kurt Vonnegut.

  1. Remember that advice is seldom welcome and those who need it most, like it least
  2. Watch a sunrise at least a few times a year
  3. Never take action when you are angry
  4. Make it a habit to say “Thank You”
  5. Make it a habit to say “Please”
  6. Over-tip breakfast waitresses
  7. Look people in the eyes
  8. Compliment three people each day
  9. Live beneath your means
  10. Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards
  11. Treat everyone you meet as you want to be treated
  12. Donate two pints of blood every year
  13. Make new friends but cherish the old ones
  14. Keep secrets
  15. Don’t waste time learning the tricks of the trade. Instead learn the trade
  16. Admit your mistakes
  17. Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference
  18. Choose a charity in your community and support it generously with your time and money
  19. Read this nation’s Bill of Rights
  20. Use credit cards only for convenience, never for credit
  21. Give yourself a year and read any great book you have always wanted to read cover to cover
  22. Give yourself a year and read the Bible cover to cover
  23. Learn to listen
  24. Pray not for things but for wisdom and courage
  25. Have good posture
  26. Enter a room with purpose and confidence
  27. Don’t discuss business in elevators
  28. Never pay for work before it’s completed
  29. Be willing to lose a battle in order to win the war
  30. Don’t gossip
  31. Beware of the person who has nothing to lose
  32. When facing a difficult task act as though it is impossible to fail
  33. Don’t spread yourself too thin
  34. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness
  35. Instead of using the word ‘Problem’, try substituting the word ‘Opportunity’
  36. Never walk out on a quarrel with your mate
  37. Regarding furniture and clothes, if you think you will be using them five years or longer, buy the best you can afford
  38. When you look back on your life you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did
  39. Forget committees. New, noble, world-changing ideas always come from one person working alone
  40. Street musicians are a treasure. Stop for a moment and listen, then leave a small donation
  41. When faced with a serious health problem, get at least three medical opinions
  42. Wage war against littering
  43. After encountering inferior service, food or products, bring it to the attention of the person in charge. Good managers will appreciate knowing
  44. Learn to say ‘No’ politely and quickly
  45. Park your car at the end of a row or under a light at the far end of a parking lot
  46. Never get into your car without looking into it first
  47. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all he or she has
  48. Be bold and courageous
  49. Don’t expect life to be fair
  50. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly

You’re a Big Boy Now

I know there’s things you never thought before

That have to do with walkin’ out old doors

You’ve been prepared as long as time allowed

Well I don’t know how

But you’re a big boy now

Come on and take a bow

Cause you’re a big boy now

 You know the girls are taking notice of you

They say your hair is getting curly too

So shave today you’ll shave tomorrow as well

You’re run by you, and not a class-room bell

And I don’t know how

But you’re a big boy now

 And the great big world daddy threw before you

With the pretty faces and the claws that tore you

And it’s all so different when you get to sources

And love will make you strong
 as a team of wild horses

I know there’s things you never thought before

That have to do with walkin’ out old doors

You’ve been prepared as long as time allowed

Well I don’t know how

But you’re a big boy now

Come on and take a bow

Cause you’re a big boy now

They came three thousand miles, and died, to keep the Past upon its throne

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Ah yes another Patriots Day, when the Marathoners run and the Red Sox play and here in Concord we pause to reflect…

From: “The British Grenadiers” ~ A Traditional Marching Song

“Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules

Of Hector and Lysander, and some of Miltiades

But of all the world’s brave heroes, there’s none that can compare

With a tow row row row row

To the British grenadiers…”

From: “Concord Hymn” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled


Here once the embattled farmers stood


And fired the shot heard round the world…”


From: “Lines suggested by the graves of the two English soldiers on Concord Battleground” ~ James Russell Lowell

“What brought them here they never knew, 


They fought as suits the English breed: 


They came three thousand miles, and died, 


To keep the Past upon its throne: 


Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, 


Their English mother made her moan…”

This song is a track from E.L. Kurtz’s 2007 album,  “A Soldier’s Journey” 

Here are all the lines in full:

“The British Grenadiers”

“Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules,

Of Hector and Lysander, and some of Meltiades.

But of all the world’s brave heros, there’s none that can compare

With a tow row row row row

To the British grenadiers.

 Now none of these ancient heros ever saw a cannon ball

Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal,

But our brave boys do now them and banish all their fears

With a tow row row row row

To the British grenadiers

 Whenever we are commanded to storm the palisades

Our leaders march with fusils and we with hand grenades

We hurl them from the glacis, about our enemies’ ears

With a tow row row row row

To the British grenadiers

 The God of War was pleased and great Bellona smiles

To see these noble heroes of our British Isles

And all the Gods celestial, descending from their spheres,

Beheld with adoration

The British grenadiers

 Now let us crown a bumper and drink a health to those,

Who carry caps and pouches and wear the loup’ed clothes

May they and their commanders live happy all their years

With a tow row row row row

To the British grenadiers

“Concord Hymn”

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

 The foe long since in silence slept;

Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;

And Time the ruined bridge has swept

Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

 On this green bank, by this soft stream,

We set to-day a votive stone;

That memory may their deed redeem,

When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

 Spirit, that made those spirits dare,

To die, and leave their children free,

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

The shaft we raise to them and thee.

“Lines suggested by the graves of the two English soldiers on Concord Battleground”

The same good blood that now refills

The dotard Orient’s shrunken veins,

The same whose vigor westward thrills,

Bursting Nevada’s silver chains,

Poured here upon the April grass,

Freckled with red the herbage new;

On reeled the battle’s trampling mass,

Back to the ash the bluebird flew.

Poured here in vain; — that sturdy blood

Was meant to make the earth more green,

But in a higher, gentler mood

Than broke this April noon serene;

Two graves are here: to mark the place,

At head and foot, an unhewn stone,

O’er which the herald lichens trace

The blazon of Oblivion.

These men were brave enough, and true,

To the hired soldier’s bull-dog creed;

What brought them here they never knew,

They fought as suits the English breed:

They came three thousand miles, and died,

To keep the Past upon its throne;

Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,

Their English mother made her moan.

The turf that covers them no thrill

Sends up to fire the heart and brain;

No stronger purpose nerves the will,

No hope renews its youth again:

From farm to farm the Concord glides,

And trails my fancy with its flow;

O’erheard the balanced hen-hawk slides,

Twinned in the river’s heaven below.

But go, whose Bay State bosom stirs,

Proud of thy birth and neighbor’s right,

Where sleep the heroic villagers

Borne red and stiff from Concord flight;

Thought Reuben, snatching down his gun,

Or Seth, as ebbed the life away,

What earthquake rifts would shoot and run

World-wide from that short April fray?

What then?

With heart and hand they wrought,

According to their village light:

‘T was for the Future that they fought,

Their rustic faith in what was right.

Upon earth’s tragic stage they burst

Unsummoned, in the humble sock;

Theirs the fifth act; the curtain first

Rose long ago on Charles’s block.

Their graves have voices; if they threw

Dice charged with fates beyond their ken,

Yet to their instincts they were true,

And had the genius to be men.

Fine privilege of Freedom’s host,

Of humblest soldiers for the Right! —

Age after age ye hold your post,

Your graves send courage forth, and might.

When streams are ripe and swelled with rain…

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“Very often we write down a sentence too early, then another too late; what we have to do is write it down at the proper time, otherwise it’s lost, ”  says Thomas Bernhard.

Although Paul Simon first wrote this song in 1965, for his British released “Paul Simon Songbook, ” his “moment” was clearly on the rise and not only was “April Come She Will” released on Simon & Garfunkel’s breakthrough album, “The Sounds of Silence” in 1966, it was also memorably included in Mike Nichol’s 1967 film, “The Graduate”. 

So glad it took a while for Benjamin Braddock et al. to change their tune, during that legendary June.

THE SONG’S RIGHT HERE….

 April Come She Will

April come she will

When streams are ripe and swelled with rain;

May, she will stay,

Resting in my arms again

June, she´ll change her tune,

In restless walks she´ll prowl the night;

July, she will fly

And give no warning to her flight.

 August, die she must,

The autumn winds blow chilly and cold;

September I´ll remember.

A love once new has now grown old.

Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’

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When William Goldman received $400,000 for the script, it was double what the 20th Century Fox board had authorized.  Of course all was forgiven, until the next time, after (the originally named) “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy” went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

With Paul Newman cast as the Sundance Kid, the role of Butch Cassidy was offered to Steve McQueen, who signed on but then left over a billing dispute.  Then it was offered to Jack Lemmon, but he didn’t like riding horses, next up was Warren Beatty, then Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman.

Although the 20th Century Fox board disapproved, Newman ultimately switched to the Butch Cassidy role and at director Roy Hill’s insistence Robert Redford was hired to play Sundance.  Of course, after the 1969 production became the year’s top grossing film and Redford’s performance made him a bankable star all was forgiven by the members of the board, but to paraphrase Butch… who were those guys?

Also winning Academy Awards both for Best Original Score and Best Original Song were Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote this song with Bob Dylan in mind but settled for BJ Thomas after Dylan turned it down. It took seven takes, but Thomas’ version topped the Billboard Charts for four weeks in 1970.

 LISTEN TO THIS RAINY DAY SONG – Wednesday 11 April 

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head

And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed

Nothin’ seems to fit

Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head

They keep fallin’

 So I just did me some talkin’ to the sun

And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done

Sleepin’ on the job

Those raindrops are fallin’ on my head

They keep fallin’

But there’s one thing I know

The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me

It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head

But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red

Cryin’s not for me

‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’

Because I’m free

Nothin’s worryin’ me

 It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head

But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red

Cryin’s not for me

‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’

Because I’m free

Nothin’s worryin’ me

Here’s wishing a Joyous Easter to “Linuses and Lucies” everywhere

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We never did make it to the Sunrise Service.  Truth be-known, we never have.  But we did make it out for a delightful morning walk in time to observe some jolly neighborhood Easter egg hunts-in-the-making, just waiting for the kids/grandkids to arrive.  Gotta’ admit, I miss those years.

Looking for the perfect melody for such a day, I figured there must have been a Vince Guaraldi-themed Peanuts Easter special, and I was right, “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” was first broadcast in 1974.  But the problem with Peanuts specials from the ‘70s is that none of Guaraldi’s music is readily available. The best I could come up with was a 2008 release, “Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from Charlie Brown Television Specials, Volume 2” but the two Easter tracks just don’t fit the bill.

Born in (“zow”) San Francisco’s North Beach in 1928 and having served as an Army cook in the Korean War, Jazz pianist, guitarist, singer-song writer Vincent Anthony Guaraldi had already released a dozen albums when, in 1964, the producer of the upcoming (and very first) Peanuts special (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”) was riding over the Golden Gate Bridge in a taxicab and heard the Vince Guaraldi Trio on the radio …a few weeks later Guaraldi was performing his first “Peanuts” composition, “Linus and Lucy” over the telephone for that same producer, and the die was cast.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Easter Sunday 31 March

Guaraldi went on to compose the scores for 15 Peanuts television specials, including those for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Election Day, Summer and (of course) Halloween, and had just finished recording “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown” in 1976 when he died at the age of 47 from an aortic aneurism.

If nothing else, this is a day about resurrection and surely Vince Guaraldi’s music will continue to do just that with our childhood memories for ages to come. Here’s wishing a Joyous Easter to “Linuses and Lucies” everywhere.

Or is this burning an eternal flame?

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Globally there are 150 or so that are open to the public, with fully a third situated in the United States…including Elvis’ at Graceland and Jerry Falwell’s at Liberty University.   But as a long-held tradition in various cultures and religions, there are countless eternal flames throughout the world.

For example, it’s a Jewish tradition to have an eternal lamp set above the ark in many synagogues, while Hindu temples frequently feature them as well, some having burned for centuries. Eternal flames are also common in East Asia, carefully placed before a household’s spirit tablet in veneration of departed ancestors.

Often used to commemorate an event of national significance or to serve as a reminder of universal aspirations such as world peace, the first public eternal flame to honor a (known)  individual was the one consecrated in 1967 at the gravesite of JFK, a practice that has since become more customary.  Of course, many eternal flames were also lit in the decades following the Second World War, some to serve as a reminder of the Holocaust, others to commemorate a land’s unknown soldiers.

Which was the case in this picture, taken by the Kremlin Wall during the short Soviet premiership of Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko.  To be exact, it was Wednesday 31 October 1984 and it never even occurred to me that somewhere far away, people were celebrating Halloween.

I’d happened along having just shuffled through a winding line full of weeping people to (sigh) satisfy my morbid curiosity and check in with the waxen but amazingly well preserved Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. But with its eternal flame illuminating a bronze inscription that (translated) read, “Your name is unknown, your deed is immortal,” this was by far the more poignant tomb.

The remains of the unknown soldier within had once been interred in a mass grave at the 41st km marker on the Leningrad Highway, an infamous landmark representing the Nazi invaders’ closest proximity to Moscow (in 1941) during the worst days of the “Great Patriotic War” as it is referred to there.

These newlyweds were actually part of a veritable procession of such couples who had come to lay flowers before the flame on their wedding day, a tradition that began in the days of Stalin when church weddings were very rare and visiting an eternal flame (which many Russian cities still have) was a fitting way to satisfy a basic, spiritual urge on such a supernal occasion.

Nowadays, with that benighted era long relegated to “the ash heap of history,” the honor guard, which once stood vigil outside Lenin’s Tomb, now stands vigil outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  As for those wedding day visits to the eternal flame… they continue as one of the few Soviet-era customs to be embraced by Russians to this day.

Written by Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly and Susanna Hoffs and topping the American charts when the Bangles released it in 1989, this song was very much inspired by an eternal flame.  According to Steinberg, Hofts had recently visited Graceland and seen the eternal flame there… “and as soon as those words were mentioned, I thought of the synagogue in the town of Palm Springs, where I grew up. I remember (how) they would walk us through the sanctuary. There was one little red light and they told us it was called the eternal flame.”

It also topped the British charts when Atomic Kitten released their version in 2001. First manufactured…I mean…established in 1997, the three-member girl-group was formed in Liverpool (where an eternal flame burns in remembrance of the 96 people who died in the stadium-related Hillsborough disaster in ‘89) and with a slightly shifting line-up through the years, Atomic Kitten had a number of hits throughout Europe, Asia and South Africa.

Here are two versions of the song.  The first was recorded live in 2004 at Atomic Kitten’s final concert. The second was the Bangles original release in 1989.

ATOMIC KITTEN LIVE VERSION – Thursday 28 March

BANGLES’ ORIGINAL VERSION – Thursday 28 March

Eternal Flame

 Call my name

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same or am I only dreaming?

Is this burning an eternal flame?

 I believe it’s meant to be, darling

I watch when you are sleeping, you belong with me

Do you feel the same or am I only dreaming

Is this burning an eternal flame?

 Say my name, sun shines through the rain

A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain

I don’t want to lose this feeling

 Call my name

Say my name, sun shines through the rain

A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain

I don’t want to lose this feeling

 Close your eyes and give me your hand

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming

Or is this burning an eternal flame?

 Is this burning an eternal flame?

An eternal flame?

 (Close your eyes and give me your hand

Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?

Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming

Or is this burning an eternal flame?)

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

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Here’s another one of those “Who Knew?” performers. A three-time National Science Foundation summer scholar, he skipped two grades and graduated from high school at age sixteen to study Physics at Notre Dame.  In later life he would become an internationally recognized environmental activist, who (from 2007 to 2011) served as U.S. Representative for New York’s 19th Congressional District.

Born in Baltimore in 1948 to a father with a PhD in Electrical Engineering and a mother with an MA in Divinity, John Joseph Hall, also took to music. Starting with piano at age 4, he went on to study French horn and taught himself guitar and bass. Along with creative writing it was an affinity that eventually derailed his future in Physics and after quitting college, Hall began to play in clubs in Georgetown and Greenwich Village.

He also composed music for a minor Broadway production and served as either songwriter or session musician for: Janis Joplin, Seals & Crofts, Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt.  In 1972, after moving to upstate New York, John Hall co-founded the group, Orleans.

Written with his first wife, Johanna this song was featured on Orleans fourth album, “Waking and Dreaming” in 1976.  Despite being featured on a record with one of the most dreadful album covers of all time (five unphotogenic ‘70s dudes posing up-close and rather too personal in their birthday suits) “Still the One” reached No. 5 on the Billboard Charts in the summer of that Bicentennial Year.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Tuesday 26 March 

Still the One

We’ve been together since way back when

Sometimes I never want to see you again

But I want you to know, after all these years

You’re still the one I want whisperin’ in my ear

You’re still the one — I want to talk to in bed

Still the one — that turns my head

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

I looked at your face every day

But I never saw it ’til I went away

When winter came, I just wanted to go (wanted to go)

Deep in the desert, I longed for the snow

You’re still the one — that makes me laugh

Still the one — that’s my better half

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

You’re still the one — that makes me strong

Still the one — I want to take along

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one (yes you are)

Changing, our love is going gold

Even though we grow old, it grows new

You’re still the one — that I love to touch

Still the one — and I can’t get enough

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

You’re still the one — who can scratch my itch

Still the one — and I wouldn’t switch

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

You are still the one — that makes me shout

Still the one — that I dream about

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

You’re still the one, yeah still the one

We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one

There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation

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“He was the Third World’s first pop superstar. He was the man who introduced the world to the mystic power of reggae. He was a true rocker at heart, and as a songwriter, he brought the lyrical force of Bob Dylan, the personal charisma of John Lennon, and the essential vocal stylings of Smokey Robinson into one voice.” — Jann Werner at Bob Marley’s 1994 posthumous introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Born as Nesta Robert Marley in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica in 1945, his white father, who would die from a heat attack when the boy was ten, was a 60-year-old plantation overseer from Sussex, England when he married the 18-year-old Afro-Jamaican woman who would become Marley’s mother.

Marley met “Bunny Wailer” Livingston a few years later after Bunny’s father had a daughter with Marley’s mother; and the two started to play music while still at school. When Marley was 12 he and his mother moved to Trench Town and there he again met up with Bunny who was accompanying him in a jam session when they met Peter Tosh. In 1963, the three rude buys formed the core of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

To this day, Marley remains the best-selling most popular Reggae performer ever. His messages of finding redemption and overcoming oppression still reverberate with indigenous communities around the world, including Australian Aborigines, Native Americans and citizens throughout the Indian subcontinent.

First recorded in a Ska style in 1966, and then included on the 1977 album “Exodus,” this song contains a “sampling” of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and was finally published as  “One Love/People Get Ready,” giving co-authorship credits to both Marley and Mayfield.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Sunday 24 March

The YouTube version was released in 2004 as one of Playing For Change’s initial recordings.  With a mission to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music” the creators of the project (producer/sound engineer Mark Johnson and producer/musician Enzo Buono) traveled the world, recording local musicians who would perform the same song, but interpret it in their own style.

Very much keeping in the spirit of Marley’s message it was the second release after “Stand by Me” (which has received over 40 million YouTube hits) and features musicians based in: USA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Israel, South Africa, India, Italy, Nepal and Zimbabwe.

“One Love/People Get Ready”

 One love, one heart

Let’s get together and feel all right

Hear the children crying (One love)

Hear the children crying (One heart)

Sayin’, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”

Sayin’, “Let’s get together and feel all right.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa

 Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One love)

There is one question I’d really love to ask (One heart)

Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?

Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?

Believe me

 One love, one heart

Let’s get together and feel all right

As it was in the beginning (One love)

So shall it be in the end (One heart)

All right, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”

“Let’s get together and feel all right.”

One more thing

 Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love)

So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One song)

Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner

There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation

 Sayin’, “One love, one heart

Let’s get together and feel all right.”

I’m pleading to mankind (One love)

Oh, Lord (One heart) Whoa.

 “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”

Let’s get together and feel all right.

 “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”

Let’s get together and feel all right.

And in private to her mirror did she whisper…saviorette?

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Never mind the channel, I wish I could remember that radio station’s call sign. With a transmitter somewhere around the Boston area It was one of those low power AM stations with a license to broadcast only during daytime due to ionospheric changes at night.  Nearly forty years on and at least I remember their slogan – “The station you can’t hear in the dark.”

Working five, sometimes six mornings a week in college as a breakfast cook I’d amble in at a little before 6:00 and (perhaps your morning routine is similarly ingrained): 1- Change into my whites, 2- Tie back my hair, 3- Top it all off with a paper hat and apron, and 4- Find my station on the transistor radio, just signing on the air.

Wonderfully provocative, at least for a college student, I guess you could call its programming “coffee house blend,” with plenty of local artists and whoever was playing at Passim’s that month, along with the likes of Martin Mull, with selections like “Marian, Who’s Not the Marryin’ Kind” (she’d lost her ring finger), or the marvelously satirical Rootboy Slim and the Sex Change Band, singing “I’m Not Too Old For You” (with the line, “When you turn 17, I’ll just be 32….”), and then there was Dory Previn.

Born in 1925 into a strict Irish Catholic family (as Dorothy Veronica Langan) and raised in northern New Jersey she toured as a chorus line dancer and began to write songs after high school.  Upon marrying conductor and composer Andre Previn in the late ‘50s, she and her husband began to collaborate on writing motion picture songs and received several Oscar nominations in the 1960s.

After divorcing her husband (who had fathered Mia Farrow’s newborn), Previn set out on a solo career as a singer-songwriter.  With typically ironic lyrics that focus on sexuality, psychology and religion she released seven albums during the 1970s, before stepping away from the music industry for a time to concentrate on her writing.

This song, which I have yet to hear in the dark, was dauntlessly featured on her 1974 album, “Dory Previn” …and to answer your question, some Biblical scholars say yes, while others say no.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Saturday 23 March

Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?

 Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?

Was she bitter?

Was she sweet?

Did she wind up in a convent?

Did she end up on the street?

On the run?

On the stage?

Did she dance?

Did he have a sister?

A little baby sister?

Did Jesus have a sister?

Did they give her a chance?

 Did he have a baby sister?

Could she speak out, by and large?

Or was she told by Mother Mary

Ask your brother he’s in charge

He’s the chief

He’s the whipped cream

On the cake

Did he have a sister?

A little baby sister?

Did Jesus have a sister?

Did they give her a break?

Her brother’s

Birth announcement

It was pretty big

Pretty big, I guess

While she got precious

Little notice

In the local press

 Her mother was the Virgin

When she carried him

Carried him, therein

If the little girl came later, then

Was she conceived in sin?

And in sorrow?

And in suffering?

And in shame?

Did Jesus have a sister?

What was her name?

 Did she long to be the savior

Saving everyone she met?

And in private to her mirror

Did she whisper…saviorette?

Saviorwoman?

Saviorperson?

Save your breath!

Did he have a sister?

A little baby sister

Did Jesus have a sister?

Was she there at his death?

And did she cry for Mary’s comfort

As she watched him

On the cross?

And was Mary too despairing?

Ask your brother

He’s the boss

He’s the chief

He’s the man

He’s the show

 Did he have a sister?

A little baby sister?

Did Jesus have a sister?

Doesn’t anyone know?

Long ago and oh so far away

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“I’ve seen enough groupies hanging around to sense their loneliness, even though they usually don’t show it. I can’t really understand them, but I just tried to feel empathy and I guess that’s what came across in the song.” – Karen Carpenter, referring to her lack of personal experience with the song she and her brother had just had a huge hit with, in a 1972 interview.

With the title “Groupie (Superstar)” when it was first released in 1969 the song was originally credited to Delaney & Bonnie and Friends featuring Eric Clapton.  Though not mentioned by name, among those “friends” were Leon Russell and then-backup singer, Rita Coolidge, who is believed to have provided the inspiration for the song and whose version (now called, “Superstar”) was featured on Joe Cocker’s live album, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in 1970.

Although he was unaware of either version of the song, Richard Carpenter heard Bette Midler perform it on the “Tonight Show” and despite the fact that his sister had heard the other versions and didn’t much care for it, Carpenter could barely wait to arrange it…while altering a few lyrics to make it less risqué.

Recorded in L.A. with the almighty “Wrecking Crew” backing her up for the session, Karen Carpenter used the lyrics her brother had scribbled on a napkin and recorded her vocal in a single take, which is normally referred to as the “work lead” and is what the other musicians usually use for guidance iafter they’ve been through it once.  No matter, The Carpenters version rose all the way to Number 2 on the Billboard Charts in 1971.

A decade later, in 1981, Sonic Youth was formed in New York, its name chosen in response to the popular Reggae trend of featuring “Youth” in a band’s name, and to honor the recently departed Fred “Sonic” Smith of the metal group, MC5. Now considered to be among “the first wave of American noise rock groups,” the members of Sonic Youth claimed to have been greatly influenced by Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Iggy Pop and ……The Carpenters (!)

This rather interesting (and idiosyncratic) version of the song first credited to Delaney & Bonnie and Friends et al. was featured on the 1994 tribute album  “If I Were a Carpenter”.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Friday 22 March 

 Superstar

Long ago

And oh so far away

I fell in love with you

Before the second show

Your guitar

It sounds so sweet and clear

But you’re not really there

It’s just the radio

 Don’t you remember you told me you love me Baby?

You said you’d be coming back this way again Baby

Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, oh Baby

I love you, I really do

Loneliness, is such a sad affair

And I can hardly wait

To be with you again

What to say

To make you come again

Come back to me again

And play your sad guitar

 Don’t you remember you told me you love me Baby?

You said you’d be coming back this way again Baby

Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, oh Baby

I love you, I really do

 Don’t you remember you told me you love me Baby?

You said you’d be coming back this way again Baby

Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, oh Baby

I love you, I really do

Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser

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Having regularly posted pictures online for a few years now, while seeing others do the same, it has often amazed me how readily the subjects in the pictures can travel back and forth through time.  One minute they’re one age and the next they’ve either grown older or (miraculously) younger.

With a blog that begs for a different picture each day (which somehow is meant to tie-in with a line from the featured song), this has certainly been the case with me, and of course it’s part of the fun.  But after posting yesterday’s Paul McCartney song that focused on the topic of…well…”yesterday” and the subsequent process of aging, another Paul McCartney-related song came to mind, as did the niggling question: What or when is a person’s actual Optimal Age?

Never mind the “peak this, or maximum that” of your teenaged years.  On the face of it (and barring any misadventure) it’s hard to argue with the mid-20s, an enchanted time when those cognitive pistons are finally firing in unison, and one is fully able to celebrate the cocksure “Body Electric.” …And yet argue I will.

Because when it comes to judgment, emotional intelligence and if not wisdom at least decades of perspective, and despite a noticeably depreciating mortal coil (and since having the body of a 25 year old isn’t an option) I’ll take the mid-50s anytime. How about you?

By this age one has pretty much proven what one is going to prove (although not totally) and although confidence in the “Body” (electric or otherwise) may not be what it was, confidence in the “Self” more than makes up for it. What’s more and genetics willing, optimism prevails about the future as well.

Research (and personal observation) shows that even waaaay late in life, and fully in the face of the havocs of age, the potential exists for physical, mental and social growth if the proverbial “woof,” in the form of an active appreciation of the wonders-of-this-life, is willfully aligned with a genetic and cultural “warp” that enables one to do so.

Although it fatalistically veers from my point (and I suppose I can’t blame it), “Those Were the Days” was originally written in Russian by poet, Konstantin Podrevskii, with music by Boris Fomin, and later translated by Folk musician, Gene Raskin. It was none other than Paul McCartney (of course) who heard Raskin perform it at a club in London and with Mary Hopkin in mind, duly had his agent purchase the song rights.

The 18 year-old Welsh singer had recently signed with Apple Records and with McCartney serving as producer this, her debut single, topped the UK charts, while reaching Number 2 in the US.  With studio time remaining , it’s interesting to note that the 26 year-old McCartney (whose Optimal Age seems to have been between the ages of 20 and now) also had Hopkins record alternate versions of “Those Were the Days” in Spanish (“Que Tiempo Tan Feliz”), German (“An jenem Tag”), French (“Le temps des fleurs”) and finally in Italian (“Quelli Erano Giorni”).

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Wednesday 20 March 

Those Were The Days

 Once upon a time there was a tavern

Where we used to raise a glass or two

Remember how we laughed away the hours

And dreamed of all the great things we would do

 Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way

La la la la…

 Then the busy years went rushing by us

We lost our starry notions on the way

If by chance I’d see you in the tavern

We’d smile at one another and we’d say

 Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

La la la la…

 Just tonight I stood before the tavern

Nothing seemed the way it used to be

In the glass I saw a strange reflection

Was that lonely woman really me

 Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

La la la la…

Through the door there came familiar laughter

I saw your face and heard you call my name

Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser

For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

 Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

La la la la…

 

 

 

There’s a shadow hanging over me

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Shortly before his death in 1980, John Lennon noted that the lyrics are “…good, but if you read the whole song, it doesn’t say anything. You don’t know what happened. She left and he wishes it were yesterday, that much you get, but it doesn’t really resolve… I don’t believe in yesterday. Life begins at 40, so they promise, and I believe it. What’s going to come?”

Officially credited to “Lennon/McCartney” the song with “Scrambled Eggs” as its working title, was written solely by Paul McCartney, whose initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarized someone else’s work.  When nobody claimed it he began to tinker with it and write lyrics to suit while the Beatles were working on “Help,” which apparently annoyed director Richard Lester, who told McCartney to finish with it or he would have the piano that had been placed on the film’s sound stages removed.

“Blimey,” said George Harrison, “he’s always talking about that song. You’d think he was Beethoven or somebody.”

Accompanied by a string quartet, the succinctly titled “Yesterday” was finally recorded at Abbey Road Studios, four days before his 23rd birthday in 1965.  As McCartney was the only Beatle to appear on the track it was essentially a solo performance.  As a result, the other band members refused to permit its release as a single in the UK.

Their veto didn’t hold sway in the US, however and not only did the resulting single top the Billboard Charts for a full month, it went on to become the most played song on America’s airwaves for a consecutive eight years.  By the time “Yesterday” finally hit the British charts a full ten months after the premier of “Help,” English crooner, Matt Monro had already had a top ten UK hit with his, the first of many, cover versions.  In fact, “Yesterday” remains one of the most covered and recorded songs in history; voted as the Best Song of the 20th Century by a BBC Radio 2 expert listener poll, and the Number One Pop Song Ever by both MTV and Rolling Stone.

Not that it hasn’t received it’ share of criticism.  The freewheelin’ but sometimes inscrutable Bob Dylan claimed not to like it.  “If you go into the Library of Congress, you can find a lot better than that. There are millions of songs like “Michelle” and “Yesterday” written in Tin Pan Alley.”  Dylan is said to have recorded his own version but it was never released.

Recorded by ABC TV (and distributed by ITV) as a promotion for “Help” on the 1 August 1965 broadcast of “Blackpool Night Out,” this was McCartney and the lads’ first performance of  “Yesterday” on British television.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Tuesday 19 March

 Yesterday

 Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay

Oh, I believe in yesterday

 Suddenly, I’m not half to man I used to be

There’s a shadow hanging over me

Oh, yesterday came suddenly

 Why she had to go I don’t know she wouldn’t say

I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play

Now I need a place to hide away

Oh, I believe in yesterday

 

And South America stole our name…let’s drop the big one, there’ll be no one left to blame us…

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Even in the face of inflation my research is of the two-penny variety, so it’s a good thing we’re not wasting any paper here.  But it’s interesting to note that Satire, easily the snarkiest form of humor, is widely regarded (along with Irony) as one of the earliest forms of literary expression. As a result, it readily beats out such disciplines as history and anthropology as a means of comprehending an earlier society’s collective values.

But there’s more! Not only is Satire a powerful way to understand contemporary or antediluvian issues, but it has also been known to have clairvoyant qualities. For example, and maybe you even remember this from 1975 when, after Gillette introduced its Twin-blade Trac-II razor, the very first episode of Saturday Night Live satirically featured a mock ad for a triple blade razor (called Triple-Trac). It took a few years, but Gillette’s Mach3 triple-blade cartridge was introduced in 1998.

Then in 2004 “The Onion” satirized the promotion of multiplying blades with its “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades” piece…and this time it only took Gillette two years to introduce its Fusion cartridge with…five-blades.

Satire, Yesterday and Today.  Speaking of which, back in ’75 one of the featured artists during the second week’s episode of SNL was (one of our favorites) Randy Newman, who sang “Sail Away” from his 1972 album of the same name. The song as you may recall, takes the form of a “pitch” being made by a slave trader to a poor, unfortunate sole in Africa and the host of that week’s show was Paul Simon, who introduced the performance by saying that he wished he’d written it himself.

Because there’s always room for a little satire, here’s another track from the same album, which Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys actually credited for briefly keeping him from sliding into further depression at the time of its release.  Sound satire will do that for you.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Monday 18 March

Political Science

No one likes us, I don’t know why

We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try

But all around, even our old friends put us down

Let’s drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money-but are they grateful?

No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful

They don’t respect us-so let’s surprise them

We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them

 Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old

Africa is far too hot

And Canada’s too cold

And South America stole our name

Let’s drop the big one

There’ll be no one left to blame us

 We’ll save Australia

Don’t wanna’ hurt no kangaroo

We’ll build an All American amusement park there

They got surfin’ too

Boom goes London and boom Paris

More room for you and more room for me

And every city the whole world round

Will just be another American town

Oh, how peaceful it will be

We’ll set everybody free

You’ll wear a Japanese kimono babe

And there’ll be Italian shoes for me

 They all hate us anyhow

So let’s drop the big one now

Let’s drop the big one now

She’s the Belle of Belfast City

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St. George is Patron Saint of England, and St. Andrew is Scotland’s, and St. David is Wales’ Saint, and everyone knows who the Patron Saint of Ireland is.  But who do you suppose is Patron Saint of Northern Ireland?

Here’s a hint, his remains are said to rest in Downpatrick (i.e. “Patrick’s stronghold”) about 20 miles from Belfast.  And here’s another, in addition to the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, St. Patrick’s is the third cross featured on the Union Jack.  Trick question and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Born in Roman Britain and carried into slavery by Irish raiders when he was 16, St. Patrick (as he has been known for way-more than a millennium) worked as an Irish herdsman for six years before escaping back to Britain where he became a person of the cloth. Eventually returning to northern Ireland as an ordained bishop-on-a-mission, he is believed to have founded his first church in a barn near Downpatrick in AD 432 and then to have set up the center of his Christian teachings in the northern Irish township of Armagh.

Dedicated to spreading the gospel to all throughout that Emerald Isle, he gained renown for training pastors, planting churches, healing the sick and “casting out demons.”  But since the modern scholarly mind has little tolerance for ancient miracles, it is frequently speculated that his most famous deed, the banishment of all snakes from Ireland, is actually a metaphor for the expulsion of pagan beliefs.

Although never formally canonized by the Pope, St. Patrick is honored by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran Churches and ‘though he is indelibly associated with the Republic of Ireland he is roundly celebrated in his “home base” of Northern Ireland (with a population that’s 41 percent Catholic and 14 percent Anglican), whose largest city, Belfast is in the thick of its annual four-day St. Patrick’s Festival at this very moment.

Also known as “I’ll Tell me Ma”, this song is most assuredly playing somewhere within those city limits as you read these lines. Although it originated in the streets of Belfast as a children’s skipping song, its lyrics were long ago adapted to suit other locations where it is sung as well. For example, there are versions where the Belle comes from Brisbane or London or Dublin or the “Golden City” of Edinburgh.

It’s performed here by Lick the Tins, an ‘80s Celtic/Folk/Rock band from London, best known for its spirited rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”. Although the group broke up soon after this release, rest assured that in Belfast (and everywhere else that celebrates the legendary St. Paddy this weekend), as long as there are those who’ll wear the green, there will be boys who forever and a day… “won’t leave the girls alone.”

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – St. Patrick’s Day 2013

The Belle of Belfast City

Tell my ma when I go home,

The boys won’t leave the girls alone,

They pulled my hair and stole my comb,

But that’s all right ’till I go home.

She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city,

She is courting, one, two, three

Please won’t you tell me who is she?

 Albert Mooney says he loves her,

All the boys are fighting for her,

Knock on the door and they ring the bell

Oh my true love, are you well?

Here she comes, as white as snow,

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

Old Johnny Mary she says she’ll die

If she doesn’t get the boy with the roving eye.

Tell my ma when I go home,

The boys won’t leave the girls alone,

They pulled my hair and stole my comb,

But that’s all right ’till I go home.

 She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city,

She is courting, one two three

Please won’t you tell me who is she?

 Let the wind and the rain and the hail blow high

And the snow come tumbling from the sky

She’s as nice as apple pie

She’ll get her own boy, by and by

When she gets a lad of her own,

She won’t tell her ma ’till she comes home,

Let the boys stay as they will,

For it’s Albert Mooney she loves still.

 Tell my ma when I go home,

The boys won’t leave the girls alone,

They pulled my hair and stole my comb,

But that’s all right ’till I go home.

She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city,

She is courting, one two three

Please won’t you tell me who is she?

Tell my ma when I go home,

The boys won’t leave the girls alone,

They pulled my hair and stole my comb,

But that’s all right ’till I go home.

She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city,

She is courting, one two three

Please won’t you tell me who is she?

Tell my ma when I go home,

The boys won’t leave the girls alone,

They pulled my hair and stole my comb,

But that’s all right ’till I go home.

She is handsome, she is pretty

She is the belle of Belfast city,

She is courting, one two three

Please won’t you tell me who is she

 

But I miss the land where I was born

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As with YOUR family’s history (whether you know it or not) our well-thumbed genealogy (unambiguously entitled, “A New England Family”) contains some rather compelling stories.  Take the tale of mystery and romance that surrounded my great, great grandfather.

Known to all as “the Squire,” and an esteemed citizen of Newburyport, Mass., he had an outsized personality, counting Nathaniel Hawthorne and Franklin Pierce among his personal friends. He was also exceedingly pious, attending services every day (twice on Sundays) at the Old South Presbyterian Church.  But only in recent years can it be comfortably affirmed that the Squire was born out of scandal.

In 1776 a Revolutionary War soldier named Moses Pettingell returned to Newbury (later part of Newburyport) where he joined his brother Eleazer in a “house with brick ends” that they had inherited from their father.  In good weather they fished, in winter they made shoes.  Which remained their practice in 1791, when the two men hired on a housekeeper named Sally Beckett, who had come from Exeter, NH seeking employment.

Four years later, on 6 June 1795, records indicate that Sally and Eleazer were married.  They also indicate that a son was born the following month.  The resulting gossip was only intensified when the child was given the name Moses. Never mind the timing, cryptic speculation would be whispered in family circles for generations regarding the matter of paternity.

Yet what strikes one as remarkable was the subsequent conduct of the three household elders, who came rolling out of Calvinistic 18th Century Massachusetts to share equally in young Moses’ care and upbringing. Although they were common people, unschooled and socially unversed, a course of action was set in place.  No further children were born, the senior Moses remained unmarried and together they worked, saved and methodically prepared young Moses for a life far beyond their own experience.

As indicated by the quality of the writing found in the Squire’s diaries it’s apparent that his schooling was more extensive than the ordinary child, and that Presbyterianism was a major influence from a young age. When he was 15 in 1810, his uncle/parents built a new house that was markedly larger in size, quality and pretension than the humble brick. Conspicuously situated near the mouth of the Merrimack River, their intention was manifestly to furnish the boy with the grandest, most expensive house in the community.

Kind, generous to a fault, and with no discernible bad habits, Moses Pettingell never seemed bothered by the circumstances of his birth, becoming a bastion of his community, while ever-maintaining the instilled belief that he was marked for a special place in life… That he would turn out to be an abysmal businessman and an even worse investor is an account for another time.  Never mind his dim view of Unitarians.

Perhaps I’m wrong in thinking that such a musty old story typifies a uniquely regional sensibility. But for me it remains another reason… (like these provided by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers back in 1976) …why I love New England.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Thursday 14 March 

…New England

See, I come from Boston

I’m gonna tell you about how I love New England

It’s my favorite place

I’ve been all around the world, but I love New England best

I might be prejudiced

But it’s true, I love New England best

Well, now…

You know, ladies and gentlemen

I’ve already been to Paris

Already been to Rome

And what did I do but miss my home?

 I have been out west to Californ’

But I miss the land where I was born

I can’t help it

 Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

I have seen old Israel’s arid plain

It’s magnificent, but so’s Maine

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

 Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, I love New England…

I know of a fool you see

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Before Michael Jackson, before the Amazing Little Stevie Wonder, there was Frankie Lymon.  And just like Jackson and Wonder, he got his professional start at the age of 13.

Born into a poor Harlem family in 1942, Franklin Joseph Lymon, was working as a grocery boy at the age of ten and, with a knowledge of the world well beyond his years, soon began to augment his income by hustling prostitutes.

While still 12 he became enthralled with a Doo-Wop group called the Premiers at a local talent contest and didn’t hesitate to introduce himself as a singer.  After participating in a jam session Lymon was invited to join the group by lead vocalist Herman Santiago, just before they changed their name to the Teenagers and landed a recording audition with a newly created record label.

Santiago and the group’s tenor, Jimmy Merchant, had completed a song for the occasion, which was inspired by some love letters that a friend had received from his girlfriend and shared with them, including the line, “Why do birds sing so gay?”

On the day of the audition Santiago had a sore throat and was unable to sing lead so the precocious Lymon happily stepped in and added his own embellishments. Released as “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by “Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers,” the song was an instant hit in 1956, reaching Number 6 on the Billboard Charts and Number One in the UK, the first chart topping single there by an American Rock & Roll group. Other hits followed but the limelight was short lived.

Although Santiago had graciously stepped aside as lead, Frankie Lymon soon left the Teenagers to embark upon a solo career that was sadly hampered by a heroin addiction that would take his life at the age of 25.  The Teenagers, who struggled on with other lead singers, finally disbanded in 1961, leaving behind a high-voiced signature sound that at its early best proved to be hugely influential on the wave of girl-groups to follow, while serving as a veritable blueprint for many of Motown’s most successful recordings.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Wednesday 13 March 

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Oh wah, oh wah, oh wah

Oh wah, oh wah, oh wah

Why do fools fall in love?

Why do birds sing so gay?

And lovers await the break of day?

Why do they fall in love?

Why does the rain fall from above?

Why do fools fall in love?

Why do they fall in love?

Love is a losing game

And love can be a shame

I know of a fool you see, for that fool is me

Tell me why, why, why, tell me why

Why do birds sing so gay?

And lovers await the break of day?

Why do they fall in love?

 Why does the rain fall from above?

Why do fools fall in love?

Why do they fall in love?

 Why does my heart skip a crazy beat?

Before I know it will reach defeat

Tell me why, why, why

Why do fools fall in love?

Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall

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I think I understand why John Ford disliked the song and don’t believe it was a generational thing between the 68-year-old film director and Gene Pitney, the 22-year-old teen idol who had been hired to sing it.  I say it was a case of a proposed theme song that cut across the deep aesthetic grain of a rare artist who remains the only person ever to win four Best Director Oscars.

Although his major awards were won for adaptations of iconic 20th Century novels, he is best remembered for his acute feel for the 19th Century American frontier. In addition to customarily breathtaking cinematography and a consistently clear visual style, Ford was highly adept at incorporating a film’s musical score into the story. So much so that it sometimes took on greater importance than dialogue.

So despite the many merits of a pop song that had been commissioned by the studio for what would prove to be Ford’s last great film, in 1962, it didn’t blend well with the director’s elegaic vision.  And John Ford wasn’t one who liked to be told what to do, as one studio executive famously learned when he complained that one of Ford’s films was falling behind schedule.  The accomplished director quietly held up the script and tore out an entire scene saying, “There, now we’re all caught up!”  True to his word the scene was never filmed.

Nor was the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” written by a couple of Brill Building collaborators named Burt Bacharach & Hal David, used in the now classic film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Instead, Ford opted for the “Ann Rutledge Theme” from his 1938 film,” Young Mr. Lincoln,” starring Henry Fonda.

Not that it was a tragic decision. Evocatively filmed in Black & White and starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, the movie was a huge success and, peaking at Number 4 on the Billboard Charts, so was the song.  Be sure to listen for those two shots after “…shot Liberty Valance,” if you’re in any doubt about the bravest of them all.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Tuesday 12 March 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

When Liberty Valance rode to town the womenfolk would hide, they’d hide

When Liberty Valance walked around the men would step aside

‘Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When it came to shootin’ straight and fast, he was mighty good

 From out of the East a stranger came, a law book in his hand, a man

The kind of a man the West would need to tame a troubled land

‘Cause the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When it came to shootin’ straight and fast, he was mighty good

Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

The love of a girl can make a man stay on when he should go, stay on

Just tryin’ to build a peaceful life where love is free to grow

But the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood

When the final showdown came at last, a law book was no good

Alone and afraid she prayed that he’d return that fateful night, awww that night

When nothin’ she said could keep her man from goin’ out to fight

From the moment a girl gets to be full-grown the very first thing she learns

When two men go out to face each other, only one returrrrns

 Everyone heard two shots ring out, a shot made Liberty fall

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

The man who shot Liberty Valance, he shot Liberty Valance

He was the bravest of them all

Get up, get up, get out of bed

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I’ve always preferred Nantucket myself, but soon after we were married Linda and I took the short ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for a delightful stay with her elderly aunt.  A fascinating woman, Auntie Mary and her husband, Uncle Clement, had purchased the oldest house in what was then known as Gay Head back in the 1930s.  Although it was rather rustic compared to the homes that have sprouted since, it commanded an incredible view of the western end of the island, jutting into Vineyard Sound.

Officially known as Aquinnah since 1997, the area is a cultural center of the Wampanoags, who represent a third of the population there. Many of them were Auntie Mary’s friends and with no children of her own she would come to leave the better part of her property to the Wampanoag Tribe when she died.

Despite incurring one of the worst sunburns of my life (as red as the lobsters we later steamed) it was meeting some of the local characters that I now remember best during that visit, including an aging historian who lived across Lighthouse Road and wrote books about ship wrecks and Indian legends.  I also remember having a gander at some of the surrounding properties, particularly those owned by the Taylors.  Down to the right there was James’ place, then Kate’s house, and although I’m not sure about Alex, just over here was younger brother Hugh’s establishment, The Outermost Inn.

Personally I’ve never been comfortable around celebrities, particularly when I’m a fan.  Really, what does one have to say?  And I found it interesting that the only one of those siblings who didn’t seem to have a residence within view was the one I was most familiar with, Livingston, whom I’d seen in concert on countless occasions. His place was farther down the road.

Born in Boston (in 1950) and raised in Chapel Hill where his father was Dean of the UNC Medical School, like his brother and sister, he endured debilitating depression as a teen, receiving his diploma from Arlington High School, which had a program especially affiliated with McLean Hospital.  As was the case with his siblings, learning to play the guitar was apparently therapeutic.

When James appeared on the cover of Time in 1971, mention was made of a possible Taylor musical dynasty and although that never came to pass it meant that Livingston was far more accessible and invariably that his concerts were a lot more fun. Anyone of a certain age who lived in Boston in the ‘70s may well remember him as a coffeehouse and college campus regular, sometimes performing with a band, sometimes solo, sometimes with his sister, Kate.

I contend that although he doesn’t quite have his brother’s phenomenal writing chops, Livingston is a better performer, whose professorship at the Berklee College of Music seems to suit him to a tee.  Still recording and still touring, we even see him perform here in the wilds of Concord on occasion.  And as long as there isn’t any uncomfortable meet-the-celebrity chitchat afterwards, they’re shows that I’m always happy to attend.

Serving as the first track on Taylor’s second album, “Liv,” released in 1971, this is a perfect song for a Monday morning.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Monday 11 March 

Get Up, Get Out Of Bed

 There’s a festival today

Come and see it’s all so fine

People who are not my kind are here

There’s a festival today

The world is changing fresh and new

It’s mostly green with bits of blue

 But it’s all here for you

And here’s all you have to do

 Get up, get up, get out of bed

Let the sunshine fill your head

Listen to what your friends have said

Get up, get out of bed

 Morning with a quick yawn

I’ll be gone

I’ll be hurrying on my way

I hear there’s a bad cat

On your back

 And you’d best stay in today

And tomorrow I’m here to say

 Get up, get up, get out of bed

Let the sunshine fill your head

Listen to what your friends have said

Get up, get out of bed

 Can you see me clearly?

Lover, I do not know

Can you hear me nearly?

Oh, and I do think so

Then you ain’t got far to go

 Get up, get up, get out of bed

Let the sunshine fill your head

Listen to what your friends have said

Get up, get out of bed

We skipped a light fandango; turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor

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Recognized as the most played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years, more than 1,000 cover versions have been recorded by other artists.  And as one might imagine it all began at a party when non-musician lyricist, Keith Reid overheard someone say to a rather inebriated woman, “you’ve turned a whiter shade of pale.”

When it’s not alluding to Chaucer’s story of courtly love in “The Miller’s Tale” the song blends Reid’s intimations of drunken seduction with vocalist and keyboardist, Gary Brooker’s Bach-inspired melody.  Organist Matthew Fisher also received belated credit and it’s interesting to note that “A Whiter Shade of Pale” doesn’t actually crib from Bach’s “Air on the G String” as much as it does Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”.

Formed in Southend-on-Sea in 1967, Procol Harum (not Harem) got its name from a friend’s Burmese cat, which itself got the name from its owner’s poor Latin translation of “beyond these things.”  Perhaps the first group to incorporate a lyricist as a full member of the band (King Crimson later did the same), “Whiter Shade of Pale” was Procol Harum’s debut release, reaching Number One in the UK and Number Five in the US during that groovy Summer of Love.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Sunday 10 March 

A Whiter Shade of Pale

 We skipped a light fandango

Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor

I was feeling kind of seasick

But the crowd called out for more

The room was humming harder

As the ceiling flew away

When we called out for another drink

The waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later

As the miller told his tale

That her face at first just ghostly

Turned a whiter shade of pale

 She said there is no reason

And the truth is plain to see

That I wandered through my playing cards

And would not let her be

One of sixteen vestal virgins

Who were leaving for the coast

And although my eyes were open

They might just as well have been closed

And so it was later

As the miller told his tale

That her face at first just ghostly

Turned a whiter shade of pale

Put us back on the train 


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They all knew one another as students at Kent State University and were decidedly affected by the events of that sad, sad day in 1970.  But while Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale  took a snarky, industrial route to form Devo (Casale was standing mere yards away from two friends when they were killed), Chrissie Hynde saved her shekels and moved to England.

Born in Akron in 1951, Hynde, who had studied art in college tried writing for a while but eventually found herself working in Malcolm McLaren’s London clothing store.  It was there that she met teenaged Sid Vicious and tried to convince him to marry her so that she could claim permanent residency.

No luck with that and after time spent in Paris and Cleveland (such a juxtaposition) Hynde managed to make her way back to London where she played for early versions of The Clash and The Damned before finally forming a group of her own in 1978.  Of course the group needed a name, especially after a series of song demos began to be passed around, and in honor of The Platters’ “The Great Pretender” Hynde dubbed it, “Pretenders.”

First released as a single in 1982, when it reached Number 17 on the UK charts and Number 5 on the American Billboard Charts, this song was originally meant to be about Hynde’s ex, Ray Davies of the Kinks, with whom she had a daughter.  But before it could be recorded the focus changed after the group’s guitarist (James Honeyman-Scott) died of a drug overdose.

Purposely reflecting Sam Cooke’s 1960 hit “Chain Gang” with its memorable chain-gang chant, “Back on the Chain Gang” would eventually find its way onto the reorganized group’s third album, “Learning to Crawl” in 1984.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Friday 8 March

Back on the Chain Gang

 I found a picture of you,

Oh oh oh oh

What hijacked my world that night?

To a place in the past

We’ve been cast out of?

Oh oh oh oh

Now we’re back in the fight

We’re back on the train

Oh, back on the chain gang

 A circumstance beyond our control,

Oh oh oh oh

The phone, the TV and the news of the world

Got in the house like a pigeon from hell,

Oh oh oh oh

Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train

Oh, back on the chain gang

 The powers that be

That force us to live like we do

Bring me to my knees

When I see what they’ve done to you

But I’ll die as I stand here today

Knowing that deep in my heart

They’ll fall to ruin one day

For making us part

 I found a picture of you,

Oh oh oh oh

Those were the happiest days of my life

Like a break in the battle was your part,

Oh oh oh oh 
in the wretched life of a lonely heart

Now we’re back on the train

Oh, back on the chain gang

Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going

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It was the first recording by a non-British artist on Apple Records and it was called, quite simply, James Taylor.  Beset by heroin addiction and clinical depression, the then-unknown Taylor had been signed-on by Peter Asher who, in 1968, was head of A&R (artists and repertoire) for the new label.

Once part of the English duo, Peter and Gordon, it was Asher’s incredible fortune to be the older brother of Jane, who was Paul McCartney’s girlfriend in the mid-‘60s.  As a result Peter and Gordon ended up with a number of Lennon-McCartney discards, including their biggest hit, “World Without Love”.  After the duo disbanded Asher, who read philosophy at King’s College London (shameless plug), went on to Apple Records.

Upon signing Taylor, Asher agreed to produce the album (and perform as a backup vocalist as well) and although it wasn’t a commercial success he had such faith in the young American’s potential that he moved to the States and became his manager.  Asher also produced many of Taylor’s recordings between 1970 and 1985, beginning with “Sweet Baby James”.

Produced at Trident Studio, then the most technologically advanced studio in England, “James Taylor” was recorded using session time that had been booked by the Beatles, who were then recording “The White Album.” Paul McCartney and George Harrison showed particular interest in what Taylor was doing… and Taylor, of course, was mindful of them.

So much so that he changed the name of one of the songs from the original “I Feel Fine” (also the name of the Beatle’s eighth single) to “Something in the Way She Moves.” Irony of ironies the retitled song then served as the starting point for the first (and most successful) Beatle’s track that Harrison ever wrote.  Note Taylor’s song title, and then think of the first line to Harrison’s “Something.”

McCartney and Harrison also guested on this number, which poignantly refers to Taylor’s affliction but also includes the line “with a holy host of others standing ’round me,” referring to the Beatles in the room. Mainly however, “Carolina in My Mind” refers to his increasing homesickness for the tranquil Piedmont where he spent his formative years, a sentiment that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Although born in Boston, James Taylor was raised in Chapel Hill, where his father was dean of UNC’s School of Medicine and every year the UNC graduating class sings it during commencement.  In fact, nearly a half a century after those days when he felt as if he was on “the dark side of the moon,” the song is recognized as the Tarheel State’s unofficial anthem. And no surprise, it’s a favorite of the neighboring Palmetto State too.

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Tuesday 5 March

Carolina in My Mind

 In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind

Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

Karen she’s a silver sun

You best walk her way and watch it shine

Watch her watch the mornin’ come

A silver tear appearing now I’m cryin’ ain’t I?

I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

 There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind

That love’s the finest thing around

Whisper something soft and kind

And hey babe the sky’s on fire, I’m dyin’ ain’t I?

I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind

Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

 Dark and silent late last night

I think I might have heard the highway call

Geese in flight and dogs that bite

Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going

Gone to Carolina in my mind

Now with a holy host of others standing ’round me

Still I’m on the dark side of the moon

And it looks like it goes on like this forever

You must forgive me

If it’s up and…

In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

And ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind

Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

 In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind

Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

 Better make it back home again soon

Gotta’ get back to Carolina soon

Gotta’ make it back on home again soon

Gotta’ get back to Carolina soon

Carolina yeah

Gotta’ get back home soon

Can’t hang around no more, babe

Gotta’ get back on home again….

This here spot is more than hot, in fact the joint is jumpin’

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Having just about recovered from a random case of colitis (something I’d never even heard of ’til last weekend) I was thanking heaven for intravenous therapy, sophisticated antibiotics and for the nursing profession in general when it occurred to me that despite its drawbacks we do live in an enchanted age.

2013 may not have the dash and brio of times gone by but at least our odds of remaining sentient are better. Hey, if William Henry Harrison hadn’t caught pneumonia while taking the oath of office he may have been a great president, and if Thomas Wright Waller had made it beyond the age of 40 his name would surely be as tip-of-the-tongue as that of Louis Armstrong.

Born in Harlem in 1904 to a preacher father and a church organist mother, Waller was playing piano at six and composing organ music at fourteen.  Having learned the “stride” style he turned professional at fifteen (against his father’s wishes) and between his first recording session in 1922 (on piano roll) and his last in 1943, recorded well over 600 jazz, ragtime, swing and classical “sides.”

Everything about him was legendary: his appetite for food and liquor (hence the name “Fats”); his ability to master any keyboard he saw, from pipe organ (which he called the “God box”) to celesta; his facility for fitting in to any performance role (e.g. as soloist, sideman or as the leader of a crackerjack ensemble); his otherworldly ability to lay down recordings in a single take; his comedic timing; his generosity and easygoing disposition; and especially his room-filling vivacity.  You get the feeling Fats Waller was fun to be around.

Right through the ‘20s and ‘30s the man had a lead foot for life, flinging aside racial handicaps to become one of the most popular performers of his time both at home and abroad. Certainly that was the case in 1926 when he was kidnapped after a performance in Chicago.

Forced into a darkened building with a gun at his back, he quickly discovered himself to be the guest entertainer for Al Capone’s birthday bash, already in full swing. Delighted to know that the gangsters weren’t going to kill him he played for three days, finally arriving back at his hotel in a drunken stupor with thousands of dollars of tips in his pocket.

All the while, Waller was writing songs (over 400 were copyrighted, while others were not) and adding more than a page or two to today’s book of jazz standards. “Both big in body and in mind…(he was) a bubbling bundle of joy,” recalled one collaborator.

By 1943, he was just breaking into film (alongside Lena Horne and Cab Calloway in “Stormy Weather”) when it all came to an end on the eastbound Super Chief one December night. Recovering from a bout of influenza, Fats Waller succumbed to pneumonia and died just prior to the train’s arrival in Kansas City. Word swept through the station so quickly that his dear friend Louis Armstrong, a passenger on the unboarding/boarding westbound train, heard the news then and there…and cried for hours on end.

Recorded by Fats Waller and His Rhythm in 1937, “The Joint is Jumpin’” is about a Prohibition era Rent Party. Said to have played a major role in the development of early jazz and blues music and particular to Harlem, where local musicians were at a premium, tenants would throw a party (sometimes hiring competing musicians who would take turns trying to outdo each other) and pass the hat to help pay their rents.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Saturday 2 March 

The Joint is Jumpin’

They have a new expression along old Harlem way

That tells you when a party is ten times more than gay

To say that things are jumpin’ leaves not a single doubt

That everything is in full swing when you hear someone shout.

Here ’tis:

The joint is jumpin’

It’s really jumpin’

Come in, cats, and check your hats

I mean this joint is jumpin’

The piano’s thumpin’

The dancers are bumpin’

This here spot is more than hot

In fact, the joint is jumpin’

Check your weapons at the door

Be sure to pay your quarter

Burn your leather on the floor

Grab anybody’s daughter

The roof is rockin’

The neighbors knockin’

We’re all bums when the wagon comes

I mean, this joint is jumpin’

Let it be! Yes!

 Burn this joint, boy! 

 Yes!

Oh, my! Yes!

Don’t you hit that chick, that’s my broad

Where’d you get that stuff at?

Why, I’ll knock you to your knees! What?

Put this cat out of here! What?

Get rid of that pistol! Get rid of that pistol!

Yeah!  Get rid of it, Yes! Yeah!

That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Ha, ha! Yes!  

Now it’s really ready! 

No, baby, not now, I can’t come over there right now

Yeah, let’s do it!

 The joint is jumpin’

It’s really jumpin’

Every Mose is on his toes

I mean this joint is jumpin’

Uh-oh! No time for talkin’

This place is walkin’, yes

Get your jug and cut the rug

I think the joint is jumpin’, Listen

Get your pig feet, bread and gin

There’s plenty in the kitchen

Who is that that just came in

Just look at the way he’s switchin’

Aw, mercy,

Don’t mind the hour, I’m in power

I’ve got bail if we go to jail

I mean this joint is jumpin’

Don’t give your right name, no, no, no, no

Winnie the Pooh doesn’t know what to do

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I gave myself a year, and after a year I gave myself another. Now after another year I’m giving myself a number (but I’m not taking away my name).

It was 7:45 a.m. on 23 February 2011, in the middle of School Vacation Week and I had a good portion of the cast of Concord Carlisle High School’s pending production of “The Producer’s” asleep in my rec room. Figuring I wasn’t going to get any work done between then and 8:00 when it was time to holler “Rise and Shine!” and make everyone a healthy breakfast, I decided to start a simple hobby.

I thought it might be fun to see if I could come up with a year’s worth of interesting popular songs, which I could e-mail every day to a small group of friends.  I began with “House at Pooh Corner” by Kenny Loggins, figuring at the very least I’d end up with an interesting circuit of music.

I was pretty diligent and had posted 340 songs by the time 23 February 2012 had rolled around. Those 25 missed days represented time away from my desk.  Fervently hoping that a hobby that’s all about research and commentary without personal profit somehow squeezes into the “Fair Use Doctrine” of copyright law I decided to turn my hobby into a daily blog, Thisrightbrain.com.

I also decided to adopt Henry David Thoreau’s idea of taking two years worth of material and condensing it into one year’s worth of really good material, as he did with “Walden, or a Year in the Woods.”  Figuring to make one more circuit around the calendar, I selected the best songs from the previous year (let’s face it, there were some “misses”) while adding some new ones and burnishing my write-ups in hopes of coming up with one really good collection. It was also an opportunity to get creative with a lifetime’s worth of photographs by trying to match (mainly) old pictures with a lyric from that day’s song.

And now we’ve circled around to 23 February 2013 and this is posting Number 695.  This year there were 36 missed days (factoring in the leap year) again representing time away from the desk. But as the blog postings only amount to 295, my goal is to post 70 more songs and write-ups.  Considering I have three book projects going, some will be delighted to know that I then plan to take a break. In the mean time, what shall we cover today?

Released in 1994, “Return to Pooh Corner” is an album by Kenny Loggins. Described as “music for parents and children to enjoy together,” it features songs written by John Lennon, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon and Rickie Lee Jones among others, as well as several traditional children’s songs. Re-written for those parents among us (and featuring Amy Grant) this is an updated version of a once and future featured song…

 LISTEN TO THIS SELECTION – Sunday 24 February

Return to Pooh Corner

 Christopher Robin and I walked along

Under branches lit up by the moon

Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore

As our days disappeared all too soon

But I´ve wandered much further today than I should

And I can´t seem to find my way Back to the Wood

 So help me if you can I´ve got to get

Back to the House At Pooh Corner by one

You´d be surprised there´s so much to be done

Count all the bees in the hive

Chase all the clouds from the sky

Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

 innie the Pooh doesn´t know what to do

Got a honey jar stuck on his nose

He came to me asking help and advice

And from here no one knows where he goes

So I sent him to ask of the Owl if he’s there

How to loosen a jar from the nose of a bear

Help me if you can I’ve got to get

Back to the House at Pooh Corner by one

You’d be surprised there’s so much to be done

Count all the bees in the hive

Chase all the clouds from the sky

Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

 It’s hard to explain how a few precious things

Seem to follow throughout all our lives

After all’s said and done I was watching my son

Sleeping there with my bear by his side

So I tucked him in, I kissed him and as I was going

I swear that old bear whispered, “Boy, welcome home.”

 Believe me if you can I’ve finally come

Back to the House at Pooh Corner by one

What do you know there’s so much to be done

Count all the bees in the hive

Chase all the clouds from the sky

Back to the days of Christopher Robin

Back to the ways of Christopher Robin

Back to the days of Pooh

My head is stuck in the clouds

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Perhaps you too are “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious…” which is how one dictionary defines one who is a “Romantic.”  If so, you no doubt realize that Romanticism (which came in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution) is only a few hundred years old.

But what may surprise you is that the concept of romantic love itself (i.e. romance) isn’t much older, dating back only as far as the late Middle Ages, when “of the Roman style” referred to the advent of chivalry, which eventually incorporated the notion of courtly love. Prior to that there were fertility rites.

There may have been complex forms of courtship (and the ever-ready libido), but feelings of emotional intimacy and attraction, aka the “sweet new style” (as 14th century troubadours called it) is something rather new to our species.  So take heart you dreamers, you idealists, you modern romantics with your heads stuck in the clouds. You’re living in the right age and this song’s for you.

Written and sung by Tim Lopez of Chicago-based Plain White T’s, “Rhythm of Love” was included on the band’s six album “Wonders of the Younger” in 2010 and has since sold over a million copies. It marks Lopez’s first solo lead with the group.

Formed by high school friends Tom Higgenson (who normally sings lead) and Ken Fletcher in 1997, Plain White T’s spent much of their first decade generating an underground pop punk following.  All that changed in 2007 with the release of their Number 1 hit, “Hey There Delilah,” which Higgenson wrote as a romantic paean to nationally ranked steeplechase runner, Delilah DiCrescenzo… And the “sweet new style” soldiers on.

 

 LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Saturday 23 February

Rhythm of love

 My head is stuck in the clouds

She begs me to come down

Says, “Boy, quit foolin’ around”

I told her, “I love the view from up here

Warm sun and wind in my ear

We’ll watch the world from above

As it turns to the rhythm of love”

We may only have tonight

But ’til the morning sun

You’re mine, all mine

Play the music low

And sway to the rhythm of love

 Well, my heart beats like a drum

Guitar string to the strum

A beautiful song to be sung

She’s got blue eyes, deep like the sea

That roll back when she’s laughin’ at me

She rises up like the tide

The moment her lips meet mine

We may only have tonight

But ’til the morning sun

You’re mine, all mine

Play the music low

And sway to the rhythm of love

When the moon is low

We can dance in slow motion

And all your tears will subside

All your tears will dry

 And long after I’ve gone,

You’ll still be humming along

And I will keep you in my mind,

The way to make love so fine

 We may only have tonight

But ’til the morning sun

You’re mine, all mine

Play the music low

And sway to the rhythm of love

 Play the music low

And sway to the music of love

Yeah, sway to the music of love