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