Whammer Jammer

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Little used for the better part of a decade, we called it Godwin, the 1980 Oldsmobile Brougham Sedan that my Dad signed-over as a wedding present. And once the lines and hoses had been checked, the gaskets replaced, the front plate – that said Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren – set aside, it was the perfect vehicle for an awesomely harrowing commute.

Paying the price in worn rotors, ball joints and brake pads, Godwin made it through two metropolitan rush hours each day, from Old Town Alexandria, south of Washington, to Hunt Valley, north of Baltimore, in around 90 minutes. Put to music with an immense 7-Eleven coffee in your cup holder, it’s not hard to imagine Magic Dick (J. Geils’ harmonica player) riding shotgun on any given weekday in the fall of ’88.

First you cruise south down the George Washington Parkway, then east on the Capital Beltway over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then, foot-decisively-on-gas, you exit for that topsy-turvy, white knuckle ride up the shoulderless Anacostia Freeway through notorious – as in the highest murder rate in America and lately they’ve been favoring automatic weapons – Southeast Washington, DC.

Bumpy, poorly maintained, occasionally desolate, you get used to it. It’s the most direct route and at least the morning drive isn’t in the dark. Soon enough you’re driving north on Kenilworth Avenue into leafy P.G. County, while the rest of the world heads south, then over the Capital Beltway and onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

In an age before texting (and barring the occasional idiot) it’s full-bore fast-lane sailing for another 30 miles until Godwin crosses under the Baltimore Beltway and, with the Bromo-Seltzer Tower dead ahead, into the very heart of Charm City. Someday this cluttered expanse around Russell Street will feature Oriole Park and M&T Stadium, but today it’s simply the Camden Industrial Park.

Time to pay attention. Right at the light onto Pratt, past the Inner Harbor, left on Gay, right on Baltimore Street, then left onto the elevated Jones Falls Expressway. Now go ahead and mash that thing. Chewing up the 10 miles of JFX pavement in 7 ½ minutes is a cinch as long as you brake before the Beltway. That’s where the Troopers lie in wait.

Go east for an exit, then north for another three, up the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway to Shawan Road and your destination, Executive Plaza III just off the ramp. Sixty-five miles on and totally amped, your day’s work awaits you, as does your evening commute.

Released in 1971, Whammer Jammer is the second track off the J. Geils Band’s second album, The Morning After. Little wonder that it’s far more enduring than poor Godwin.

When we traded it in a few years later, I asked the salesman what they’d do with it. “I dunno,” he shrugged. “Probably a demolition derby…” Never mind the grandkids. That car was a whammer-jammer to the end.

Home is wherever I’m with you

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Time is an ever-sliding puzzle. You piece together what you can in hopes that everything will fall into place, before it all slips away.

Having pieced together a continuing hodgepodge of permits and visas, such was my seventh year abroad. At long last I was on track for permanent UK residency. Just a couple more years as a self-employed writer and I could broaden my vocational horizons and forever remain. That was the plan.

As I’d discovered during my first time back in the States, home as I knew it no longer was. That world had moved on without me, and me without it.

Of course it was wonderful to see friends and family (who even expressed interest in my stories and pictures) but an odd melancholy soon replaced the novelty of this prodigal’s return. I was a marginal man, a cultural misfit suspended between two societies, who needed to get away. Not that I wasn’t also a misfit in England (still flew Old Glory on the 4th of July) but England was home.

Nowadays I lived in a South London terrace house with close friends who had a room to let. Residing on the third floor like some beatnik cousin the party never stopped, much to my liver’s dismay. Decidedly libertine at times, surprisingly genteel at others, it was some kind of life, with weekends in the country, holidays on the Continent, and evenings at the Lamb & Flag with the best mates there ever were.

Granted, some months were more flush than others. While the growing collage of rejection slips plastered to my wall (for unsolicited manuscripts) served as a colorful conversation piece, there were times when the random £100 payments for contract work barely covered rent, groceries, and enough paraffin for the heater to keep my typewriter keys from sticking in the cold of winter.

No matter, just a couple more years and I’d be home free. Then I met Linda.

Bright, lively, the very embodiment of the winsome girl-next-door, I first saw her across the floor at a wedding reception in New England of all places. Straightening out my consignment shop jacket and tie, I ventured over and struck up a conversation, which miraculously led to a date. She came for a visit in April, and a longer one in July, and now we were tangled in a crazy, long-distance relationship. “She’s got brains and beauty,” chided a friend. “What she sees in you I’ll never know.”

When thousands of miles of ocean and half a dozen time zones separate you, new love ain’t easy. In those pre-Skype/pre-Internet days all we had – barring an exorbitant international trunk call – were words on paper to pull us through. Here are a few excerpts from my end:

…It’s the morning after the great Thanksgiving celebration and I’m scratching my head all the way to Strasburg …I, Winslow Pettingell, have a HANGOVER! It went well, everyone had enough to eat and we were all able to shift ’round to more important things… like drinking. Though I cruised through the party with my usual “big boots” something was amiss this year. Friends noticed, couldn’t believe it; I tried to hide it (reputation and all) but my mind and heart were somewhere else… across the pond… with you….

 …Pity you missed the recent weather we’ve been having. There’s nothing on earth like a balmy day here in the Home Counties. The assuaging effect is magic. Now the roses are out in time for your return. With any luck the vegetables in the garden will be ready as well…

 …This is in response to the void in my heart whenever I walk past the flower lady and realize there’s nobody to buy a bunch of mums for…

Thirty years on, it’s plain to see where things were going, and by now there was only a year to go for that permanent residency. She promised she’d wait… but what did that mean? A change in my immigration status wasn’t going to change hers.

Despite a Stateside visit and a New Year’s in Dublin, the future remained uncertain. No demands were made, but romantic relationships are based on intimacy and growth. If you can’t evolve and build memories together, you eventually evolve apart.

I wasn’t afraid of commitment, not with Linda, but giving up these friends and this life would spell the end of a looooooong adventure. To complicate matters she’d been offered a new position down in Washington and … ever wonder how to make an impossible decision? Try changing your perspective.

With the slightest of tweaks the way was suddenly clear. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her, and Washington, DC could be a grand adventure for the both of us. True, abandoning this hallowed home would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but just what is “home” anyway?

Home is where you’re safe and can be yourself. Home is where know you belong. Home, in other words, was wherever I was when I was with Linda. And I’ve been there ever since.

 Home

Released in 2010 as a single from their album, Up from Below, this particular concept of Home was written and recorded (with Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos sharing vocals) by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my Ma and Pa
Not the way that I do love you
Well, holy moly me oh my
You’re the apple of my eye
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you
Man, oh, man, you’re my best friend
I scream it to the nothingness
There ain’t nothing that I need
Well, hot and heavy pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy, Jesus Christ
Ain’t nothing please me more than you
[Chorus:]
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
La la la la
Take me home
Mama, I’m coming home
I’ll follow you into the park,
Through the jungle, through the dark
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you
Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
Alleyways, and payphone calls
I been everywhere with you (that’s true)
Laugh until we think we’ll die,
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you
And in the streets you run afree,
Like it’s only you and me,
Geez, you’re something to see.
[Chorus]
La la la la
Take me home
Mama, I’m coming home
‒ Jade?
‒ Alexander?
‒ Do you remember that day you fell outta my window?
‒ I sure do‒you came jumping out after me.
‒ Well, you fell on the concrete, nearly broke your ass, and you were bleeding all over the place, and I rushed you out to the hospital, you remember that?
‒ Yes, I do.
‒ Well, there’s something I never told you about that night.
‒ What didn’t you tell me?
‒ Well, while you were sitting in the back seat smoking a cigarette you thought was gonna be your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you, and I never told you ’til just now!
[Chorus]
Home, let me come home,
Home is wherever I’m with you
Our home, yes, I am home,
Home is when I’m alone with you
Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my Ma and Pa
Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
Alleyways, and payphone calls
Home is when I’m alone with you!
Home is when I’m alone with you

 

 

‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around

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If you’re in the right place sometimes the world will revolve around you. In 1987 that was certainly my impression of the Blake Building in downtown DC. Rising above the Farragut North Metro Station, 1025 Connecticut Ave and its environs offered a perpetual brush with history.

It was the year of Broadcast News and the lunchtime pavement teemed with those who delivered the news – rumpled newsman David Brinkley for instance – and those who made it, such as Robert Bork. Nominated to the Supreme Court in July, by summer’s end rejection seemed imminent – as confirmed by his sullen expression while waiting for a ride.

This was also the summer of the Iran-Contra Scandal and during a quick nosh at Duke Zeibert’s across the street (that chicken-in-a-pot special of theirs ruined two of my favorite ties) I saw Colonel Oliver North’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan (“I’m not a potted plant. I’m here as the lawyer”) genially seated by… a potted plant.

As for Ollie himself, he was much slighter without the medals and ribbons. We’d regularly share an elevator in the Blake Building, where his offices were a few floors above mine. But while I churned out trade magazine pieces on a Canon Typestar 110 (“the latest in typewriter development”) and dreamed of the day when my company would spring for a DOS word processor, he and his fellow defendants were up there examining classified government documents with “tempest tested” spy-proof computers.

From an historical perspective, perhaps the most thrilling episode was when Soviet Premier Michael Gorbachev’s motorcade screeched to a halt on its way to the White House, right outside my window, and a smiling “Gorby” stepped out of his boxy ZIL limousine to shake hands with the crowd. I caught that one on camera.

Still, from a personal perspective, nothing compares to a revelation about a colleague in the office.

As writer and editor, I rarely got a chance to mingle with those in advertising sales. Then one day we were forced to evacuate our building. Whether it had something to do with the goings-on upstairs or the Secret Service field office discreetly located across the street, someone called in a threat and there went the next few hours.

Dapper, in his early 70s, and with an indiscernible accent, word had it that Ilya was a retired biochemist who spoke seven languages and had taught at Oxford. Intrigued, I suggested a cup of coffee down the street. “Oh I taught there for years,” he said, “and I still maintain a healthy income from patents on my soybean fermentation process, but Winslow, it’s important to keep your mind active. That’s why I’m here.”

I mentioned that I’d lived in England myself. “There are still some things to attend to in London, so my girlfriend, Linda and I are going back for a visit. But first we’re going to spend a few days in Paris, and (shhhh) I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“Of course you must propose in French.”

Since the one thing I can say in French is that I don’t speak it (Je ne parle pas Français) he grabbed a napkin and wrote out a little script, dropping by my office from time to time to see if I’d learned it by heart: Savez-vous pourquoi nous sommes ici? Je voudrais que tu sois ma femme (“Do you know why we’re here? I’d like you to be my wife.”).

It wasn’t quite how I’d have put it in English, but his was a more paternal generation and I didn’t have the wherewithal to soften it. I was therefore much relieved that producing a ring and phonetically reciting my script on the steps of Sacre Couer still resulted in a joyous, “Oui.” After we were married Linda and I moved to Toronto and I lost touch with Ilya.

Considering his age I wasn’t surprised to see that he’d died in 1995. What did surprise me however, was the astonishing number of Google listings his name brought up, starting with a 1949 issue of Life Magazine.

Entitled Mr. Lucky Has a Roman Holiday, there was an article about deported mobster, Lucky Luciano who shared a suite of rooms in one of Rome’s best hotels with a ballerina, Signora Igea Lissoni, and his “good friend Ilya, a onetime New York press agent” who was recuperating in bed after an auto crash … And there was Ilya, 40 years younger but eminently recognizable, being read to by the Godfather of Organized Crime.

Then there were the other assorted listings, mostly newspaper clippings, and it was with an increasingly jaundiced (though fascinated) eye that I worked my way through them.

Taking it all at face value one was to surmise that Ilya was born in London to parents who held Russian passports but were of English descent. As a violin prodigy at age eight, he toured Europe in concerts conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, and went on to study Philosophy at the Sorbonne.

By the mid-1930s, he was assistant conductor at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. Then he worked for a PR firm in New York, where he created a winning campaign for the Brazilian Coffee Import Bureau to convince Americans to drink more coffee.

In the decades that followed he was identified as a London-based music and stage director, the president of a major food processing company in Florida, an artist, a hotel/night club owner in Cozumel, a symphony composer, an Austin-based art promoter, a world-class chess tournament sponsor/organizer, a Washington-based auto dealer (in which he utilized his knowledge of Russian, Japanese, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese to sell Volvos to foreign diplomats), an Oxford professor and biochemist… C’est la vie.

At a time when truth and honesty have become increasingly elastic concepts it’s not hard for your garden variety cynic to separate what Ilya said he was from what he surely was – mobster, bon vivant, hotel/night club owner, art maven, car salesman, linguist, confidence man. I knew him when he was in advertising sales.

Whoever he was, his was an interesting journey and naturally I’m reminded of this Dean Kay/ Kelly Gordon song, most famously sung by Sinatra, who’d chummed around with Lucky Luciano himself, back in the day.

That’s Life

That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June

I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life (that’s life) that’s life
And I can’t deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shakin’ come here this July
I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die
My, my

 

 

These are the days…

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I came of age in our nation’s Bicentennial year. Celebrating with beloved friends and angels, I raised my glass to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which had recently granted 18 year olds the right to drink. If we were old enough to fight for our country, we were old enough to have a beer. But now the fighting was over, the draft abolished … it was a glad wrinkle in time.

It was also a time when people wrote letters and as a college freshman in Boston I maintained a lively correspondence with my sister in San Francisco.  Naturally the merest hint of an invitation was all it took to envisage myself rolling across the transcontinental pathway come summer like some latter day Woody Guthrie, or John Steinbeck, or Jack Kerouac…

Working double shifts in the dining hall,  I found a posting on the Student Union ride board.   Ella and her friend, Shirley were going to Eugene, Oregon and wanted someone to split the cost and share the driving. “You know it’s over 500 miles from San Francisco, don’t you?”  Hey, it looked close enough on a map. Figuring to hitch that final leg I was ready to roll.

Written years later by Natalie Merchant and Robert Buck, and performed by 10,000 Maniacs on their album, Our Time In Eden – and as an alternative to its intended meaning about falling in love – for me this song captures a bit of the venturesome euphoria found in tying your dad’s old army duffel to the roof of a careworn Plymouth Duster, with $200 in your pocket and a head full of unlikely notions…

These are the days.
These are days you’ll remember. 
Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this. 
And as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. 
It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you. 
These are days you’ll remember. 
When May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in 
Every hour. 
You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. 
It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you. 
These are days. 
These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break. 
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face. 
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be. 
See the signs and know their meaning. 
It’s true, you’ll know how it was meant to be. 
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.

That $200 represented my life’s savings so I’d planned to economize by fasting the entire way – I also just wanted to see if I could do it – until Ella asked if we could stop at her grandparents’ house in Scranton for lunch. Second helpings of stuffed lamb chops and green beans made up for any lost time in my book, and I have yet to get back to that fast. Even better, the stuffed gorilla that had taken up half the back seat all morning had been a present for Ella’s niece. Now there was room to stretch out….

Back on the road I came to appreciate just how looooooong the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is and was happy to take the wheel somewhere north of Pittsburgh. Relaxing in the cozy space I’d established in back, Ella began to roll a joint. “You smoke right?” I explained how it mucked up my situational awareness, said I’d pass, and regaled them with past escapades. Plenty of time for that. Around sunset we pulled into a Motel 6 in Youngstown, Ohio, split the $9 fare three ways, and took our turns – 25 cents “for your comfort and relaxation” – on the Magic Fingers vibrating bed.

The next morning the girls felt ill after a Stuckey’s stop. Thankful not to have gone with the Breakfast Special, I put in a good 10 hours of driving through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and into Iowa when the ‘herb superb’ appeared again to “settle the queasiness,” and Shirley said she felt okay to drive. Immediately falling asleep, I woke up when the car slowed to a crawl. “Everything okay?” Shirley was bent over the wheel looking at the sky.

“They’re talking about tornadoes on the radio,” she was more intent on watching the clouds on the horizon than the road beneath us. Even I could see that the distant sky was taking on a greenish-yellow hue. But ‘distant’ was the optimal word. I offered to take the wheel, stepped on it, and we made it all the way to Council Bluffs.

This time we pulled into a Depression-era motor court with a chain of cabins, each with an open-faced garage. Seeing that they charged by the head I told Ella to stay down in back while Shirley and I went in to register, which didn’t endear us to the canny proprietor. “And what about the person hiding in your car?” Like sneaking into drive-ins, this was not a Boy Scout move.

That motor court, those Magic Fingers, even some of the route numbers are now gone, as is a time of life when price and novelty took precedence over comfort and new-fashioned amenity.

Geographically we hadn’t hit the halfway point, but with the eastern traffic behind us we could go farther faster and set our sites on Salt Lake City, Utah, a day’s drive from Eugene. We might have made it too, had it not been for a blowout somewhere around the chilly Great Divide in Wyoming. Of course changing the tire meant emptying the trunk and I was reminded why my duffel was on the roof.

“I see you’ve got a tent.” I’d replaced the tire and was repacking the trunk. “It’s getting dark. Why not camp here and get an early start in the morning?”

Ella loaned me her sleeping bag and the girls slept in the relative warmth of the car. As there were no stakes I anchored the tent with some ski boots. This was no Boy Scout move either, but it worked, until the tent collapsed under half a foot of snow. “Hey,” I banged on the windshield, “remember what I said about that early start?”

There was heavy snowfall around Salt Lake City and our last 400 miles were spent on a two-lane highway (Route 20) through the Cascades. But we rolled into Eugene with time enough for beer, pizza, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in the bungalow the girls were sharing with friends. Up early, I made a sign for SAN FRAN over a cup of coffee and hugged Shirley goodbye. Then Ella gave me a lift to the I-5 onramp, hugged goodbye and – such is the way of the road – that was the last I’ve heard of them.

Five hundred miles seems a lot further when you’re looking at a road instead of a map.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I hoisted my sign, certainly not the rusty ’55 Chevy Bel Air with balding tires that immediately pulled over. Driven by a no-nonsense hippie chick who told me to throw my duffel in the trunk, there were also a couple of guys in the car. “How far are you going?” I eased into the back seat.

“All the way to San Francisco,” said the driver. “This thing has a habit of stalling and I could use the extra help to pop the clutch. Looks like we’re okay this time,” she pulled onto the highway. The guy in front told me he was a musician, while the older, bearded guy next to me said he was a hobo who’d “been everywhere.”

Cruising along at 60 mph there was surprisingly little conversation, except after a couple of rest breaks when we each manned an open door and, “one, two, three, push,” got the car rolling fast enough for the driver to pop the clutch.

At one point my hobo compatriot opened a loaf of Wonder Bread he’d picked up at the last stop and offered me a slice. “This reminds me of when I was kid,” he breathed in the aroma before rolling the bread into a ball and eating it like a roll. “It builds strong bodies 12 ways ya ‘know. Ain’t nothin’ like Wonder Bread, especially with a nice cold glass of milk.”  …These are days you’ll remember…

The sun was setting as we pushed the car through the Bay Bridge tollbooth. “California here I am!” Hopping out near the waterfront I found a dive bar, ordered a beer, took a deep quaff, and called my sister from a pay phone on the wall. “We’ll meet you there,” she said. “Enjoy that beer, and just so you know, in California the drinking age is 21.”

 

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance…

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I suppose you could call this another ‘tale of the venturesome gene’ in which dopamine receptor DRD4-7R, renders those splendid drips of madness that impel a certain percentage of us to want to “ask the world to dance.” I’ve written in the past about its sudden appearance in the human genome about 40,000 years ago. But where did it come from? Well, amid many competing theories here’s what I think:

If you’re of Asian or European descent it’s widely accepted that your early ancestors wandered out of Africa some 50 millennia ago. Stirred by adverse conditions, this particular group of “proto modern” Homo sapiens crossed the Arab Peninsula into Persia and encountered their distant Homo neanderthalensis cousins along the way.

Contrary to popular portrayal, Neanderthals – who’d inhabited Europe and Asia for thousands of years –had larger brains than the humans. They also used advanced tools, buried their dead, painted pictures, crafted jewelry, cooked vegetables with their meat, and even created musical instruments, including a precursor to the bagpipes. What forced their displacement is unknown, but paleontologists speculate that rather than dying in battle they may simply have lost out to humankind’s superior ability to copulate-and-repopulate.

Which brings us to the key issue at hand, S-E-X. Unless you’re of pure African descent, you’ve got a spot ‘o Neanderthal DNA in ‘yer makeup. And whether it was a massive orgy between the species or, after a steamy midnight on the oasis we all share the same Neanderthal grandparent to the 250th degree, the results were like a shot of Vitamin B-12 for much of the human race.

Within a tick of the evolutionary clock the speed of cultural progress accelerated from 0 to 100 when, farther along the migration route in the steppes of Central Asia, the appearance of straight-limbed, Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) spelled the beginning of a “great leap forward.” Taller, sturdier, and more muscular than their human forebears, with broad, upright faces and a cranial capacity greater than ours today, these amped AMH ladies and lads were by far the most adaptive, resourceful beings the world had thus far seen.

Theirs was truly modern human behavior, which included an ability to innovate and plan, and a capacity for abstract thought. With this they invented the concept of time, which they measured in lunar phases. And amidst the waxing and waning of many a moon they invented agricultural techniques, domesticated animals, engaged in religious rituals, and created various forms of art.

Galvanized by advances in technology and especially language, and with a righteous abundance of physical and mental energy, their immediate descendants displayed all the hallmarks of that venturesome gene. Beset by an urgent desire to explore, some journeyed west to populate Europe; others east to inhabit much of Asia; and still others north through Siberia and across the Bering land bridge to settle the Americas.

As geneticists will tell you, the quickest way to acquire an adaptive biological advantage is through introgression, i.e. the transfer of genetic information from one species to another. Though the best-held opinion has it that the “great leap” was fueled by just such a genetic “transfer” somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, additional coupling in later generations is also a possibility.

Along with other hominids, Neanderthals continued to co-exist with our randy AMH ancestors for another 10 millennia, until their species finally died out in the caves of Gibraltar around 24,000 years ago. Ranging from 1 to 4 percent of our genetic makeup, how much of their DNA remains in us varies – personally I’m in the 94th percentile of 23andMe customers – as does its significance to our contemporary lives. A biological trait survives the natural selection process because it offers an adaptive strength, but not all traits are favorable at all times.

Say you’ve inherited a certain venturesome streak and the world you inhabit no longer finds it laudable to throw caution to the wind and act on a sudden flash of insight, or has little need for that restless yearning to explore new places, practices, foods, libations, ideas, opportunities, and relationships.

In that case perhaps you’ll empathize with the frenzied sentiments of Billy Idol and Tony James in a song first performed in 1979 by their band, Generation X.  Oh, and here’s to Petra, one of the best dance partners ever.  None of this “dancing with myself” stuff back when we were in high school.

Dancing With Myself

On the floors of Tokyo

A-down in London Town’s a go go

A-with the record selection,

And the mirror’s reflection,

I’m a dancin’ with myself

A-when there’s no one else in sight,

A-in crowded lonely night

Well, I wait so long for my love vibration

And I’m dancing with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

If I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

Well if I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing a-with myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

Oh, oh, oh, oh oh

Oh, oh, oh dancin’ with myself.

Oh, oh, dancin’ with myself, oh, oh,

Sweat, sweat, etc.

 

Phase One, In Which Doris Gets Her Oats

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I really pushed the envelope on this one. Trying to patch up a failing relationship meant skipping out of work and hitchhiking to Tel Aviv. As time would tell, our memories were “longer than the road that stretches out ahead,” but that evening I felt pretty good when I caught the last southbound bus. Well, felt pretty good about the two of us at least.

My livelihood was now in serious jeopardy. Work started at 6:00 a.m. No excuses. I couldn’t afford to be late and this bus would barely get me a third of the way to the Ovda airbase construction site. From there I was on my own.

It was after 11:00 p.m. when I finally caught a ride on the outskirts of Be’er Sheva.  Fortunately the guy had a lead foot. Unfortunately he was only going as far as Mitzpe Ramon and when he heard my intentions he did a double take. “Hitchhike through the makhtesh? Tonight? I advise you not to do that. We have a hostel, you should stay there.”

I had no choice. It was after midnight when – with a shake of his head – he dropped me off near the edge of the makhtesh or as most of us called it, the Ramon Crater.

About 24 miles long and with a vertical drop of 1,600 feet, the crater has variously been described as a “combination of the Grand Canyon and the surface of Mars,” “a titanic optical illusion,” “a massive, twisting fantasy of orange and black,” and “an enormous panorama of what the Earth looked like 200 million years ago.”

I’d driven through here many times, always thinking, “what a hell of a place to get stuck.” Now here I was descending the deserted triple-hairpin road on foot beneath a waning crescent moon, while the mountainous wall sucked-in a little more ambient light with every downward step. From the inky darkness at the base it was a five mile walk to the other side, where the ascent was more gradual and the night sky brighter; then only 55 miles of barren desert and pitted two-lane blacktop to Ovda.

In times like this, exhausted and alone, I take comfort in song. And rest assured I sang – sometimes at the top of my voice – every song I could remember the lyrics to. Of particular resonance was this, the opening track to the Beatles’ Let it Be album, which I first heard on a reel-to-reel deck my brother brought back from Korea, after leaving the Army in 1970.

Written by Paul McCartney, who ostensibly dedicated it to his other half, Linda, some of the lyrics clearly refer to his other, other half John. Sharing the same microphone as they sang it, each surely understood that the storied Lennon/McCartney partnership had reached an end. The song was also a point of contention between Paul and George, as played out in the film of Let It Be:

Paul: It’s complicated now. We can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications.

George: It’s not complicated.

Paul: This one is like, shall we play guitars through Hey Jude. Well, I don’t think we should.

George: OK, well I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if  you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.

The finished version of Two of Us (as shown in the film) was performed live at Apple Studios on the last day of January 1969 and first broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show on March 1, 1970 as the Beatle’s final appearance.

Back in my world, it was around 4:00 a.m. on a July morning in 1981. With the prospect of salvation dimming I was encircled by wafting mirages – at least I think they were mirages – when lo, headlights appeared in the direction of the crater.

Coming into view was a derelict flatbed lorry, which – without completely stopping  -slowed enough for me to clamber on and join an Arab work crew huddling with their shovels on the back. “Ovda?” I called to the driver. He nodded.  In response to some quizzical expressions I mumbled one of the few Arabic words I knew, “Fatatan” (a girl). Wry smiles all around.

No time for sleep, but just maybe time for breakfast, I sat cross-legged in good company, nodding off to visions of buttered toast, fried eggs, coffee; hearkening again to the trill of Lennon’s whistle, while McCartney affirmed, “We’re going home, you better believe it…”

Two of Us

I Dig A Pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids.

Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats.

[Note: Charles Hawtrey was a British comedic actor,

and The Beatles called their Vox Amps “Deaf Aids.”]

Two of us riding nowhere

Spending someone’s

Hard earned pay

You and me Sunday driving

Not arriving

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

Two of us sending postcards

Writing letters

On my wall

You and me burning matches

Lifting latches

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

You and I have memories

Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats

Standing so low

In the sun

You and me chasing paper

Getting nowhere

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

You and I have memories

Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats

Standing so low

In the sun

You and me chasing paper

Getting nowhere

On our way back home

We’re on our way home

We’re on our way home

We’re going home

[We’re going home, you better believe it. Goodbye.]

Wish I Was At Home For Christmas

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Just how long has this lament been uttered by soldiers, sailors, students and expats of all stripes at this time of year?  By Jove, that’s an interesting question.

For over three centuries Easter was Christendom’s foremost holiday. Since there is no mention of Jesus’ birth date in the Bible, Christmas was an abstract notion until 350 AD when Pope Julius I decreed that a Feast of the Nativity be celebrated on December 25th.

It was a well-considered choice in an age when Christianity was not yet the official religion of Rome.  Observing Christmas on the Winter Solstice – which fell on the 25th under the Roman calendar – enabled the Church to convert legions of pagans with the assurance that, as Christians, they could still celebrate the ancient festival of Saturnalia.

Commencing with a human sacrifice before the Temple of Saturn, and then carrying on for a number of days, Saturnalia was beset with overeating, intoxication, gambling, nakedness (especially while singing  in the street), flagrant sexual indulgence, and – one mustn’t forget – gift giving, all of which ended on the 25th with the pagan rite of Natis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Sun God) that promised the return of daylight in the months ahead.

As Christianity supplanted paganism throughout Western Europe, the vestiges of this not-so-pious celebration tagged along (minus the human sacrifice and with Baby Jesus far outshining the Sun God) while adopting other pagan customs along the way.

Yule, for example, had long been celebrated in Scandinavia. For the great 12-day Solstice feast enormous Yule logs were burned and having festooned their homes with holly, ivy, and other evergreens in the spirit of rejuvenation, revelers feasted, sang, and danced in praise of light and life.

Christmas reached England in the 6th Century and by the reign of Henry VIII the holiday had become quite the Yuletide extravaganza with lavish pageants and sporting events, feasting and dancing, and the customary debauchery that squares so nicely with a Midnight Mass.

This midwinter bacchanal was merrily upheld by Henry’s Tudor and Stuart successors into the 17th Century until  – sigh, no party lasts forever – the rise of the Puritans and Lord Protector Cromwell, who forbade all religious festivals especially Christmas with its gluttony, drunkenness, promiscuity … and lewd caroling. Such distain was shared by the Pilgrims of New England, who demonstrated their contempt for the New World’s first Christmas (and those that followed) by treating it like any other working day.

Although it was modestly observed in the Southern Colonies, Christmas was out-and-out outlawed in Boston as it had been in England and Scotland. “The early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that month,” wrote the Reverend Increase Mather, “but because the heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”

Fortunately (for all those Whos in Whoville) Christmas did return, albeit as a ghost of its former self (goodbye gambling, drunkenness, promiscuity, and lewd caroling). It returned to England (but not for a long while to Scotland) after the coronation of Charles II. And with the advent of the Enlightenment, Christmas muddled along in the Colonies, where there was little agreement as to whether it should be seen as sacred, secular, or simply sacrilegious.

It wasn’t until after the American Revolution, when New Yorkers expressed an interest in the city’s non-English past, that Washington Irving began to make his indelible impact on the season. Published in 1809, his Knickerbocker’s History of New York, included a story about the Dutch Sinterklaas, aka St. Nicholas, who smoked a pipe and rode in a wagon over the tree tops to place gifts in the stockings that children had hung by the chimney.

Years later his friend, Clement Clarke Moore would further define the modern image of Santa Clause (and Father Christmas) by turning the wagon into a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer in his iconic poem that began with the lines“Twas the night before Christmas…” Yet by the time Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen had become household names with the publication of Moore’s poem in 1822, Irving had been instrumental once again in helping to shape the holiday as we know it.

While living in England he serially published his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819/20), which in addition to Rip Van Winkle and  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, featured tales of near-forgotten English holiday traditions such as the charitable ushering of the poor into the homes of the wealthy for dinner with all the trappings, and the essential ground rules regarding mistletoe.

“The mistletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and kitchens at Christmas,” he wrote, “and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases.”

Back home, Washington Irving’s countrymen delighted in his seasonal stories of hearth, home and humanity; as did another friend of his, Charles Dickens, who in 1843 hugely inspired his Victorian readership by capturing the spirit of goodwill, family gatherings, and festive generosity with A Christmas Carol.  And then there was the greatest doyen of Christmas Future, Queen Victoria herself.

The holiday may have endured a long fugue state in Britain and America but with its lovely caroles (carols), plätzchen (Christmas cookies), hexenhauses (gingerbread houses), glühwein (mulled wine), christstollen (fruitcake), and especially with its tannenbaums (Christmas trees), Christmas in der Fatherland had always remained clean and bright.

With a German mother (Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Victoria fondly remembered  childhood Christmases spent with her family opening presents around a beautifully ornamented tree; a tradition that was expanded upon by her beloved German husband, Prince Albert, who encouraged his family to decorate the tree themselves.

However, not until The Illustrated News (1848) published a rendering of the Royal Family with their Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, did many of her subjects even consider such a thing (a tree inside your home?).  Once they did, most clamored to get one too, as did many  of their fashion-conscious American cousins.

By the time Christmas became a recognized U.S. federal holiday in 1870, the jovial celebration with presents around the tree and a festive meal with turkey, goose, or ham followed by mince pie and plum pudding, was well on its way to becoming an All-American tradition.

Meanwhile across the waves, Christmas had become firmly re-established as Britannia’s most beloved holiday. Realizing this, Victoria – who felt great sympathy for those who fought for Queen and Country in the far reaches of her empire – began to send ornate tin boxes of chocolates as a present from their grateful sovereign. It was a practice that (even after her death) would be repeated on each Christmas day of the Great War (WWI).

Which finally brings us to this, Jona Lewie’s December 1980 song (peaking at Number 3 on the UK Singles charts) about the eternal plight of those who in this season of light, would rather be dancing in the arms of the ones they love…

Stop the Calvary

Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here

To say we’re doing splendidly

But it’s very cold out here in the snow,

Marching to win from the enemy

Oh I say it’s tough, I have had enough

Can you stop the cavalry?

I have had to fight, almost every night

Down throughout these centuries

That is when I say, oh yes yet again

Can you stop the cavalry?

Mary Bradley waits at home

In the nuclear fall-out zone

Wish I could be dancing now

In the arms of the girl I love

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Wish I was at home for Christmas

Bang! That’s another bomb on another town

While Luzar and Jim have tea

If I get home, live to tell the tale

I’ll run for all presidencies

If I get elected I’ll stop, I will stop the cavalry

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dub a dum dum

Dub a dub a dum

Dub a dum dum dub a dub

Dub a dub a dum

Wish I was at home for Christmas

Wish I could be dancing now

In the arms of the girl I love

Mary Bradley waits at home

She has been waiting two years long

Wish I was at home for Christmas

You’re 25, there’s money in your pocket, and this is London

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It’s 1984 on a Friday afternoon in Aberdeen, Scotland. After fourteen 12-hour shifts of offshore servitude you have two weeks to unleash the restless gene. Now with receipt of your paycheque your priorities are as simple as:

  1. Make a deposit and get some cash at the Barclays on Union Street,
  2. Slip into an off license for a bottle of whisky from one of this country’s 130 or so distilleries; one that you have yet to try,
  3. Secure a train ticket before joining your southbound crewmates in the railway bar and – “Here’s to the unwinnable race” – raising a glass to the station clock.

Departing at 2030 and stopping in Edinburgh, Newcastle (“So long Geordie lads!”), York, and Peterborough, British Rail’s Nightrider will be half-empty by the time it completes the ten-hour journey to London.

At £19 you can’t beat the inter-city fare, which is why the train is often packed on a Friday night with a mishmash of simpering geriatrics (bless them) and drunken ruffians. Occasionally this has included you, though your antics will never come close to the rugby players a few trips back who drank the bar car dry and rampaged through the carriage in the nude. A wild scene, they never made it beyond York.

Tonight you’re happy to stick to a few beers, unless the conversation turns philosophical and that whisky somehow maneuvers its way out of your duffle and around the compartment. In which case you’ll doze a bit after your lolling head thunks against the vibrating window.

And dozing is as good as it gets. At dawn the train pulls into King’s Cross Station and you take the Tube to South Kensington to catch a Number 45 bus, or a 49 if that appears first. Like most London busses, yours is a classic London Routemaster double-decker and at any other time you’d head straight upstairs to grab a front seat and observe the sceptered city from on high.

But with your work gear bulking out the duffle – along with some duty free perfume for your girlfriend and, hopefully, that bottle of single malt – you sprawl instead on an aisle-facing seat near the exit, trying to get comfortable as the bored conductor collects your fare and the “tick-tick-ticking” engine forever idles at the station. It’s early Saturday morning. You’re the only passenger. The world is in no hurry.

While the 49 trundles down the King’s Road past the Roebuck (where Johnny Rotten joined the Sex Pistols), the preferred 45 lumbers up Fulham Road by the ABC Cinema, which allows you to see what’s playing. Either bus will then cross over the Battersea Bridge and past a pub fittingly named the Prodigal’s Return. Nearly there, you grab the pole on the rear platform, lean out into the brisk air like Gene Kelly on a lamppost and – careful now – prepare to hop off when the bus brakes for a turn near the top of your street.

Home at last. Though you mean to spend this downtime profitably, to secure your future perhaps, that dopamine-deficient/ADHD tag team in your head, which won’t be diagnosed until some time in the next century, rarely recognizes such circumspection.

Instead it’s time to start the music – in this case the opening track to the Penguin Café Orchestra’s 1981 self-titled album – because nothing imparts the glorious, carefree sensation of going nowhere-and-everywhere while time rushes by like Air a Danser.

You’re 25. There’s money in your pocket, this is London and – oh what a mad existence – the world’s your oyster.

Canoodling with your sweetheart takes first priority of course, with the promise of evening strolls through the park and leisurely brunching over Sunday papers; and of experimentation in the kitchen after you re-acquaint yourself with the local butcher, baker, greengrocer, fishmonger, and deli man. Tonight there’s a party at Lesley’s. Tomorrow it’s tea at Trish and Michael’s. Nobody throws an afternoon tea like Trish.

There will be dinners with Heidi and Jürgen; maybe a fringe production with John and Jo; or a jazz performance in Brixton with Ann and Hans; and you’ve vowed to see that Cubist exhibit at the Victoria & Albert with Wendy and Lawrence.

Singly, there will be pints aplenty with Giles, a kindred spirit who once took an inebriated observation [“Why do you suppose lampposts have crossbars?”] and turned it into a two-man acrobatic act [“Not sure, but you know a chap’s not a chap until he hangs upside down by his knees from a crossbar. Shall we?”]

And Tony, who can adroitly hold fourth on topics ranging from folk music, to space travel, to the dynastic succession of China’s emperors, and whose cryptic ability to write backward was once featured on a national television programme;

And Terry who, in a rush to catch his train after last call at the Maple Leaf, gladly accepts a lift down the Mall on the handlebars of your bike while smoking a hand-rolled cigarette [“Oh look the Queen’s in. That’s her standard flying above the Palace. Hallo Ma’am.”]

One and all these are among the finest friends you’ll ever have. But they all have day jobs and your weekdays are free. So taking your cue from the copious listings in Time Out, and your 3-Speed Hercules Commuter (once a Metropolitan Police bike) from out of the shed, you live each day anew.

You see that Allen Ginsberg will be reciting a selection of William Blake poems while accompanying himself on squeezebox at Covent Garden. Can’t miss that. There’s a new Bergman film at the Chelsea Cinema, and – Boom! Crash! – the latest Spielberg blockbuster shown in 70mm Dolby Stereo at one of the massive Leicester Square movie houses.

Around and between your 14 offshore stints you’ll watch more than 60 films here in London, with evening extravaganzas like Abel Gance’s Napoleon (in triptych) at the Barbican Centre, and various screenings (such as the Brighton Film School 1895-1906) at the National Film Theatre and Institute of Contemporary Arts, along with retrospectives at the Ciné Lumière, Minema, and Gate Notting Hill, and late-night features at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road.

While every day begins as a reading and writing day, there’s often incentive to take in a matinee at one of the ABC/Classic/Cannon/Odeon cinemas around town. You’ve come to know them well, along with any notable public houses in their vicinity. Because there are few better ways to set the stage for viewing indulgence than a ploughman’s lunch and an (Imperial) pint of premium bitter in a venerated English pub.

Starting with your local, the Latchmere, and including such enduring haunts as the Lamb & Flag, the Grenadier, and the Windsor Castle on Campden Hill Road, you’ll visit upwards of 70 London pubs during your 18 months as a rig worker. Most of them named for some blood sport, distinguished Englishman, popular myth, heraldic badge, legendary countenance, celebrated fauna, time-honored vocation, religious symbol, exalted figure, historic event, found object, or whatever other folk rendering graces its signage.

But man cannot live by a ploughman’s and ale alone. Whether cockles and whelks at a stand in Cambridge Circus, or whitebait and roes-on-toast at Sweetings in the City, when you see seafood you like to partake. The same goes for Chinese takeaway – as at the superbly named Ho Lee Fook on King’s Road – and various dishes from the far reaches of the Empire, as those found at Eve’s Singapore Curry, Old Rangoon, The Last Days of the Raj, and especially at cavernous, cheap and bountiful Khan’s.

Relishing the restaurant reviews as readily as one might The Times Literary Supplement, you divine gastronomic themes, such as the “Cold War cuisine” enjoyed at Nikita’s (caviar and vodka), Luba’s (goulash and vodka), and Daquise (borscht, herring, and … vodka); and the “Franglais fare” found in London’s bistros (like Le Café du Jardin), patisseries (the Richoux chain), brasseries (the Dôme chain), and brassieres-that-serve-pizza (Kettner’s).

And though you occasionally resort to Anglicized takes on what you ate in college (Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, Café Pacifico) you firmly believe that the best way to experience a place and time is to dine like a local, especially if he or she happens to be among the London cabbies sitting down to a fry-up at Peter’s of Pimlico, or a serving of eels, pie, and mash at Harrington’s in Tooting.

By the arrival of a new weekend you’re truly steeped in the Englishness of it all, heading downriver for Thames Day at the Waterloo Bridge, or upriver for the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race with a side trip to Geale’s for the best fish and chips in town.

Now you’re off to Hyde Park for the sunrise start of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. And now you’re lazing in your local park – once part of Battersea Fields where the Duke of Wellington famously dueled the Earl of Winchilsea – for any number of cultural festivals (“Penny for the guy?”) within the shade of the iconic brick power station featured with a flying pig on the cover of that Pink Floyd album.

Here you’ve purchased return tickets from Paddington for a weekend in the Cotswolds. With rucksacks and bicycles stowed in the luggage car, your Ordinance Survey map is duly marked for a journey through the “Land of Counterpane” and its attendant farmhouse breakfasts, cream teas, and pub suppers.

And here you’ve purchased return tickets for the boat train from Victoria to Dieppe, for a long weekend in Rouen or Paris. Easily done when there’s a bank holiday and your girlfriend has Monday off.

Scotland too has its charms. You’ve wandered many of its city streets and, from the Kyle of Lochalsh, taken a bonnie boat to Skye. Just as you’ve rambled lonely in the Highlands and, in a leaky pup tent, camped across from Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.

You did the same in Orkney but (tied to some lobster pots on Stromness Point) the old tent sadly succumbed to a deluge, vividly reminding you of the drudgery you’ve experienced – and will anew – beneath those Caledonian skies. No, you much prefer the Home Counties of England where life is good … ’til the music ends and your time ticks away.

It’s 1984.  Yours is a rotational shift. In the words of Orwell’s doomed protagonist, Winston Smith, “the end was contained in the beginning.”  And while the 2230 Nightrider – half-empty on a Thursday night – pulls out of King’s Cross bound for Aberdeen, you contemplate the near-dystopian days ahead.

But not for long. This spinning through time has its merits for one who can rarely keep still.  A world in a whirl can be your oyster again.

I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels

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Half a lifetime later one wonders. What is it that incites you to do a jig on the Acropolis by the light of the Athenian moon; or the Bailarico down an Istanbul street with a girl named Maria, while trying to beat the curfew in the middle of a military coup?

What excites conduct that runs from unconventional – passing round a bottle of single malt on the southbound Night Rider after a fortnight on the North Sea rigs; or cueing up a tape cassette to play The Weight while pulling into Nazareth, Israel; or arriving in England on a dark and cheerless night as a bona fide tax exile – to perilous – sweating over another gun at your throat, this time up by the Burmese border; or chasing a thief down an alleyway in Rio de Janeiro; or witnessing your own personal good cop/bad cop routine as a murder suspect in Scotland?

Perhaps it’s a  latter day response to the hushed story of your mother’s passing, or to a youth spent wheeling along like the cogs of your father’s career with your siblings and new stepmom, from Ashland, Mass. in ’61 – to Concord, NH in ’62 – to New Bedford, Mass. in ’63 – to Evansville, Indiana in 1965. That might put ants in your pants.

But suppose you unearthed some old report cards and suddenly realized the “ants” were there all along? What revelation a modern lens can bring:  Winslow’s work is very erratic. He becomes easily distracted and loses interest when being helped. He is noisy getting in and out of the room (hall, toilet, etc.) … needs to hear and obey the bell … needs improvement with neatness … puts off doing his seatwork and doesn’t complete it on time … has a “don’t care” attitude…

For the record I did care, truly I did, and for the most part I enjoyed school, especially when getting a laugh from my classmates by making up alternative lyrics to the songs we sang in music class, or by doing something offbeat like showing up with one brown shoe and one black shoe. Some will understand.

My teachers appreciated none of this of course, and though I maintained a positive outlook, the ride grew bumpier by the year. By the dawning of the ‘70s we were in upstate New York and I’d become so well acquainted with failure that I barely made it through the eighth grade. But then from out of the bubbling hormonal chowder of adolescence something WILD occurred when I entered high school back in Massachusetts.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to  be  saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes “Awww!”   ~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road

 

While much of who we are is formed at the crossroads of environment and upbringing, it’s our DNA – like a ladder twisting through the mists of time – that is bred into our very bones. And if you too are inclined to “burn like a fabulous yellow roman candle” chances are it was an anomaly to the dopamine receptor gene, DRD4 that ignited the spark.

Dopamine is responsible for sensory stimulation and most people receive a “normal dosage” throughout their daily lives. But about 20 percent of us have the DRD4-7R allele (or variation), which provides a lower, less-gratifying amount of dopamine and, with our tanks running near empty we’re genetically inclined to seek-out stimulation from the world around us.

Popularly referred to as the “explorer” or “restless” gene, various studies have linked the allele to an overabundance of physical and mental energy (i.e. hyperactivity), a willingness to take risks, and an urgent desire to explore new places, foods, libations, relationships, ideas, opportunities, you name it.

Although not everyone who carries it has ADHD – genes have a way of turning on and off, and not all attention deficit disorder is inherited – geneticists really only began to study DRD4-7R because half of those diagnosed with ADHD have the allele as well.

To a Dharma Bum like Kerouac being mad-to-live-mad-to-talk-and-desirous-of-everything-at-the-same-time was (in beatnik-speak) like “everything plus” but what do geneticists themselves think?

Well, a biological trait survives the natural selection process because it offers some sort of adaptive strength and when DRD4-7R first emerged about 40,000 years ago, humanity was in a state of flux.

While a noxious plague or rapid change in climate might wipe out those inclined to hunker down in one place, those with the explorer gene were ever-vigilant, ready to roll, ultra resilient, and willing to adapt come what may. By leading the way, sometimes to other continents, they and their tribe survived.

Thousands of generations later, I find a lineage of restless souls in at least one branch of the family tree. There was my dad, who traveled the globe and moved his family 15 times in a 44-year construction career; and an ancestor who ventured to California on the heels of the gold rush before joining the Kansas Militia and later serving as a ship’s engineer during the New Orleans Campaign of 1862 and … well, he led an interesting life.

So did another ancestor who, with her five children, found safety only after making her way over 200 miles on foot through the northern wilderness in the winter of 1777 after her husband’s brutal murder. Then there were those who spent years before the mast, and those who were first to join whenever there was a war. It was bred in the bone.

Not that the qualities found in so successful an adaptation are advantageous all the time. In the confines of a modern classroom or office cubicle they’re “symptomatic of a clinical disorder,” where an abundance of energy is viewed as an inability to sit still, while a facility for noticing everything is called distractibility, and an aptitude for multitasking and continual deliberation is regarded as lack of focus, and the propensity to act quickly is called impulsiveness. In a topsy-turvy, one-size-fits-all world, the hard-wired predelection for hitting the road makes more sense than ever.

Although neither term existed when I was 17, the DRD4-7R/ADHD tag team had me firmly in its grips. As the very image of restlessness (and a blurry one at that) I chafed against the ordinary and delighted in the rush that resulted from throwing caution to the wind and acting on a flash of insight. But I could also see the big picture (another one of those “tag team” traits) and eventually even managed to earn an advanced degree.

By then I was in the thick of my dustbowl jet setting years, yielding at times to my inner Meatloaf (“all revved up with no place to go”) by taking on low level jobs in hardship posts to allow for the other side of the coin, the Robert Service/Men That Don’t Fit In side, in which you break the hearts of kith and kin (or so I liked to believe) and roam the world at will. And roam I did, leaving a wake of madcap encounters in curious places:

A vodka den in Leningrad; an overnight Baltic ferry; a Belfast pub; a hidden Red Sea inlet; a Barcelona party; a Singapore backstreet; a Ukrainian taxicab; a Tel Aviv beach; a Nogales taco stand; a Shropshire shooting party; the moonless Mojave Desert; a Norwegian diving vessel; a Tangier nightclub; a Pentagon squash court; a corner of the Kremlin; an Amsterdam broom closet; a gasthaus near the Berlin wall; a Bangkok barbershop; a desk in the British Library; a Toronto boardroom; a Venetian café; a South London shed …

It’s a list that goes on and on. If I’d had a theme song (and you who remember can sing along) it would surely be this 1977 release by Jackson Browne:

Running on Empty

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels

Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields

In ‘65 I was seventeen and running up 101

I don’t know where I’m running now; I’m just running on

 

Running on, running on empty

Running on, running blind

Running on, running into the sun

But I’m running behind

 

Gotta’ do what you can just to keep your love alive

Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

In ‘69 I was twenty-one and I called the road my own

I don’t know when that road turned into the road I’m on

 

Running on, running on empty

Running on, running blind

Running on, running into the sun

But I’m running behind

 

Everyone I know, everywhere I go

People need some reason to believe

I don’t know about anyone but me

If it takes all night, that’ll be all right

If I can get you to smile before I leave

 

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels

I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels

Look around for the friends that I used to turn to, to pull me through

Looking into their eyes I see them running too

 

Running on, running on empty

Running on, running blind

Running on, running into the sun

But I’m running behind

 

Honey you really tempt me

You know the way you look so kind

I’d love to stick around but I’m running behind

You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find

Running into the sun but I’m running behind

 

And so I roamed (sometimes on my own, sometimes with another) right into middle age. Now, still chafing against the ordinary, still in love with adventure – with heaven sent resilience to see me through – the restlessness has been quelled somewhat. But the DRD4-7R/ADHD tag team rages on.

With their energy and charisma; their warmth and infectious humor; and especially their passion for movement and adventure I see it in my kids. No apologies. The world may never quite be compatible but I know they’ll make it fit.

Now that I’ve figured it all out, I guess it’s time to write that book.

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…