The River's Badge

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sharing Music


It occurred to me tonight that throughout my life, the majority of my music-listening has been solitary. It's not that I'm anti-social (though sometimes I am), but sharing music is a gamble. I like what I like, and I don't need somebody telling me, "That song sucks." Maybe it does, but maybe there's a reason I like it that you wouldn't understand. Maybe it takes me back to a special time in my life that you can't relate to, because you weren't there. I was never one to say, "Hey, listen to this," because if I loved a song and the other person didn't get it, my feelings would be hurt. Thus, my musical "sharing" happened organically.

I can say essentially that there were three periods in my life when I shared music.

1. My big brother

Okay, technically, I didn't share music with my brother. He shared with me. Honestly, if it wasn't for my big brother, I think my musical life would have been paltry -- sort of like those old dudes driving big Cadillacs, puffing on big cigars, who slip a CD into the changer to show you how "hip" they are -- and the CD is by John Mayer.

Before I even knew what music was, my big brother pointed at the big radio in our kitchen and schooled me in good music and bad. I was little more than five years old.

The first song he taught me was "good" was by a group called the Tornados. I believe the year was 1962.


Technology, as people naively called it then, was the next big thing. I didn't know that Telstar was a satellite. I thought it was some kind of rocket ship. My big brother was a teenager, so phenomenons like John Glenn going 'round and 'round the earth was a revelation. I watched Glenn's blast-off (or whatever they called it) on a tiny black and white TV in my first-grade classroom and I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I guess one needed to be older and more mature, like my fifteen-year-old brother, to truly grasp the magnitude of the event.

My big brother introduced me to Bob Dylan, who he told me was really Robert Zimmerman, from Hibbing, Minnesota. I was confused why Robert Zimmerman wanted to change his name, but I was proud that he was from Minnesota, just like me. My brother chuckled over this song. I figured it was because it was so ragtime. 


The thing my brother did that sent me flying toward the rest of my life was to clue me in to albums. I was a singles girl -- I rarely could gather enough spare change to purchase one measly '45 at Poplar's Music, and at that, my indecision was excruciating. It was a monumental choice; one that my whole life depended on. If I chose wrong, my existence would be ruined. My big brother, on the other hand, slipped albums 'neath his coat like he'd just popped a stick of Black Jack chewing gum between his gums. 

My big brother showed me a brown and white LP called "The Beatles Second Album". I thought the Beatles were awesome and such good songwriters -- with songs like this:


Granted, it was 1964 and I had no knowledge of musical history. Thus, I naturally assumed the songs on the album were all originals.

Later, my brother would show me LP's like "Help!" and "Rubber Soul". By then I was gone -- besotted -- immersed. 

If I have anyone to thank for my lot in life, and I surely do, it was MY BIG BROTHER.

2. My grade school best friend

The early sixties was a time that was innocent in its naivete. What did we know at age ten? We thought the whole wide world rained exquisite songs. And it did, then. Superb singles were as abundant as the lacy snowflakes we caught on our tongues. 

We were so jaded then. "This song is great, but I can't wait for the next one." "Yea, the Beach Boys. They're so nineteen-sixty-three." My best friend, Cathy, and I, traversed the Louis Murray Bridge on sultry summer Saturdays to partake in the YWCA dances, which consisted of twenty-six gangly fifth-grade girls doing the Jerk to singles buzzed on a record player, like:


3. Alice

Alice and I dragged Main Street in 1973 in her mud-brown Chrysler.  Alice was the best friend I didn't deserve to have. If she were still living, I'd think about asking her what she ever saw in me. I brought nothing of import to the table. Perhaps I had a good sense of humor and she appreciated that. Other than that, I got nothin'. 

In 1973, we were about to turn eighteen -- the magic number. Life was a soon-to-be-devoured feast we'd yet to conjure. We shared the music blaring out of the tinny AM car radio, the wide-open windows tossing our hair in the breeze. The nights were starry and still. Country fanatics that we were, it's strange that we had the radio tuned to KFYR, the local rock station. I think maybe rock was more apropos for the timbre of the times, more befitting the nights.

There are songs from then, from 1973, that remind me of those nights. Here are the ones I remember most because they were played the most:










All that aside, there were two songs -- two songs -- that crystallized 1973 for Alice and me. Here is the first:


And here is our anthem. 

We sang along with it, over and over and over. We were in love with it. The stars, the blade-sharp black sky. The hot, yet cool, arm-tingling promise of the night. If I close my eyes I can see Alice now, gliding the car down the double-strip street, her blue eyes sparkling with a giggle, her blonde bangs fluttering in her eyes . We sang bad harmony -- she was the singer; I was the pretender. We sang at the top of our lungs; sang at the sleepy denizens whose misfortune it was to dwell in second-story apartments above Conlin's Furniture Store, in apartments in the top stories of the old Patterson Hotel.

We sang along with:



Music alone is fine. I can conjure my own memories. The trouble with that is, nobody else knows. And sometimes I get weary of no one else knowing; of pretending that that one special person is in the room with me as the song unwinds, but they're not.

If you find that special song, life is superb if someone else knows it's special, too.








Still On The Line


In the late sixties, FM radio suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It's hard to fathom now, but back then, AM radio ruled, static and all. AM radio was Top 40 -- if one waited a few brief minutes, she would be sure to hear "Kicks" by Paul Revere and the Raiders or even better, "The Letter" by the Box Tops. It was guaranteed. The Top Ten Countdown was the highlight of a preteen's Saturday night.

FM was "experimental". Sure, it had a nice deep bass sound, but no one knew quite what to do with it. Nobody was actually listening. Local disc jockeys, as was their wont, didn't particularly care for the genre of music they'd been hired to spin. Thus (since no one was listening anyway) the "country" DJ's chose to skirt the outer rims of country music. I was thirteen and ensconced in a closet-sized bedroom I shared with my little brother and sister, who were thankfully never there, so in the evenings I'd click the button on my newfangled AM/FM radio to the FM band and be subjected to "country" such as "Me and Paul" by a guy whose voice I hated -- Willie Nelson -- and to the sugary-sweet strings of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"; one of the worst songs ever written (thanks, Jimmy Webb!). Because I despised that song so much, I developed a burning hatred for Glen Campbell. I refused to even admit to myself that "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston" were tunes worthy of a cursory listen. I knew nothing of Glen Campbell, other than that he'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere and that he recorded crappy songs.  Honestly, hearing a Glen Campbell song caused me to grind my teeth.

Then he had that summer fill-in show for the Smothers Brothers. He was hokily earnest. "Hi!! I'm Glen CAMPBELL!" Well, yee-haw. His chubby cheeks had a rubish pink hue. He was far too enthusiastic for someone who could croon drivel like "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". Naturally, I watched the show. We had the Big Three networks; that's it. It was either watch the crumbs of "country" music or turn the TV off; and we couldn't turn the TV off -- we were children of the sixties, after all.

I begrudgingly admitted I liked this one (written by John Hartford):


It wasn't until decades later that I learned Glen had been a stellar member of the Wrecking Crew, and had played on all the sixties songs I worshiped.  Who knew? This guy? This geeky hayseed?

The sixties rolled on into the seventies. Glen Campbell turned into another "oldies" act in my mind. I'd moved on from my bunk-bedded bedroom and was all "grown up"; married and desperate for decent music that I scratched and clawed to unearth.  There were stories about Glen and Tanya Tucker. Tabloid stories. It was all tawdry -- the teenage country princess and the dirty old man. Glen was someone whose time had come and gone. It was the mid-seventies when this next single hit the airwaves. It was a curious song; sort of bittersweet, but possessed of a voice that conjured something deep in the recesses of my brain; a voice sweetly familiar:



Suddenly Glen Campbell was everywhere:





Suddenly I was remembering things I liked about Glen Campbell, like this:




Then I forgot about him.

Life goes on and we get older. We shed the things that once mattered, because there are new things.

My dad died from Alzheimer's Disease in 2001. I lived miles away and I didn't see my dad except for that one last time when he was still speaking -- albeit to his imaginary friend -- but that was okay with me. I wish now that I'd had the chance to rub his arm when he was bedridden in the nursing home, at the end. He wouldn't have known me, but I would have known him. My dad didn't have any muscle-memory skills except the ability to speak French. He wasn't a guitar virtuoso. Learning that Glen Campbell had Alzheimer's hit me harder than I expected. I wanted to feel that the essence of Glen still remained, if only for a little while, so I bought "Ghost On The Canvas" and it made me cry, as I thought it would -- although the album was far better than the sorrow I wanted to wallow in.



If I could travel back in time, I would sit with my dad every day, for every one of his last days. I wouldn't care that he didn't know me -- I knew him. In the last dream I had of my dad, he was young - fifty-ish maybe; vigorous; traversing a long hallway wearing his ubiquitous short-sleeved white dress shirt, on his way to a hotel banquet room to find his friends and acquaintances. He passed right by me; didn't see me. I called out to him but he didn't even take a backward glance. My dad didn't have any backward glances at the end. There were no backward glances to take.

I watched the documentary, I'll Be Me, again the other night. I'll probably watch it again.

Oh, and by the way, thanks, Jimmy Webb. I actually do like these songs: 



Bye, Glen.

Say "hi" to my dad.














Saturday, July 29, 2017

What Is It About THAT Song?


Subliminally, I know the elements of a song that cause my heart to flutter. I choose, though, not to dissect it. A treatise on why humans love music would be supremely boring -- at least without a soundtrack.

I love lots of types of music. Sometimes my favorite song by a particular artist isn't the one that necessarily sears me. Generally, it's the one I hadn't thought about, at least consciously, in forever. But there it is, playing on my radio, and maybe it's the familiarity or maybe it evokes a memory I'd forgotten I had. Maybe it just feels like home, whatever home is.

Then there are the songs that I admit to liking, but not liking too much, but when I hear them, there's just something...

That's where the mystery lies. If someone was to ask me what my favorite Eagles song is, I would probably go with Take It To The Limit.

Except there's this one:


The best Roy Orbison song is "In Dreams", right? Then why do I always choose to play this one?


I don't know why, and I choose not to examine, why I like this next song so much. The nineteen seventies was an appalling decade for music. The nineteen seventies was an appalling decade, period. We had Jimmy Carter and Olivia Newton-John and Whip Inflation Now (WIN!) and seventeen per cent interest rates and disco. Men wearing polyester leisure suits with gold medallions. Jumpsuits. Platform shoes. Still, I like England Dan and John Ford Coley:


Country music is a category all its own. Yes, I have five-star favorites in country music, but let's be frank: country music doesn't fit with rock. You can't combine them. Country is a whole different vibe. Weird thing about music:  styles don't jibe. One must be in a particular frame of mind to listen to each of them. I'm a peculiar hybrid, and maybe lucky; because I love -- love -- both genres. But I don't feel comfortable featuring both of them here. So, perhaps in another post, I'll talk about the country songs that subliminally pierce my heart. 

But back to rock, here are the songs that don't:

1.  Brown-Eyed Girl
2.  American Pie
3.  Rose Garden
4.  Anything written by Jimmy Webb
5.  Honey

In closing, there is a song that has been my earworm for approximately two straight years. It was recently almost replaced by "Creeque Alley", for whatever reason. 

I am not saying that I love this song. I am saying that something is going on here. I don't think it's something good. Obviously a sociologist could discern why this particular song won't exit my brain. I've decided to label it an affliction. I'm hoping by posting it here, I may, one day, get relief. And I really like Trisha Yearwood (no offense). 






Friday, July 21, 2017

If You're Going To San Francisco


There are a lot of fables in popular culture about the sixties. I was there.

The Summer of Love is represented in TV montages by young girls with garlands of daisies in their hair dancing about (not really dancing, but rather, floating on a marijuana cloud). Apparently teens in the late sixties were endeavoring to blot out the cruel world of reality. Frankly, I don't remember reality being all that awful. That's not true, of course. I was twelve in 1967 and life for me was a minefield of evading my mom's bitching and cursing and my dad's tipsy staggering across the parking lot of our motel. Luckily for me on that front, I rarely saw my dad.

Too, if one watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, things were definitely not fine. Young boys were getting killed in Viet Nam for no Godly reason. Truth was, though, Viet Nam was so far away, and we were safe and sound beside the pool, slathering Coppertone on our legs; white-framed sunglasses shading our eyes -- it was easy to get hypnotized by the summer sun and by Jim Morrison wanting to light our fire.

Nineteen sixty-seven was the summer of denial.

Despite, or maybe because of, my family issues, I let the July sun warm me; bake me; anesthetize me. The Rascals wafting from my transistor's speaker turned everything all right. "Groovin" helped me forget.

Much like today, I think the more "politically active" teens protested simply for something to do. It's not as if they were political science experts -- I learned more by just keeping my head down and studying actual civics than they did from holding "be-ins".  And geographically, things were just different. In the semi-rural Midwest, we watched these strange beings frolicking on our TV screens and saw them as otherworldly. They were apparently "Communists" -- today known as "Socialists", or "Idiots". Yes, life would be sublime if we could all just gather together on our communes and barter our organically-grown lettuce for a used radio. Sure, everything is groovy until human nature kicks in, as it inevitably does; and bad things like "jealousy", "greed", and "betrayal" rear their ugly heads. Changing the human essence is a losing battle.

Nevertheless, all we really needed to make this world a better place was:


"Love" was a very important word in 1967 (unlike now). Everything, every life's goal, was to obtain "love". The Jefferson Airplane sang about love, but it sounded angry, sort of like the "love" I experienced in my family; which was not a desirable state:


"Love" actually sucked, and it was phony. Perhaps that's the issue I have with 1967 -- its artifice. Frankly, I could have just as well worn flowers in my hair and have been equally happy:


And, naturally, it was the Age of Aquarius, which is another way of saying I'm a gullible imbecile who reads my horoscope every day in the newspaper and believes it. Of course, I have to barter away my hemp-woven moccasins for a newspaper, but still, it's well worth it. The Fifth Dimension, in retrospect, was just trying to make a living in show business, and they hitched their wagon to little Jimmy Webb, who, while on an acid trip, wrote a song about balloons:


Truth be told, there were a lot of crappy songs that were hits in 1967. By the same token, there were a bunch of good tracks, the ones we rubes really liked. But that's for another day, another post. Listening to these "hits", though, kind of makes me feel icky -- takes me back to a time and a place I don't care to remember. That's why I prefer the "nice" songs. 

Stay tuned...







Friday, July 14, 2017

Viva!


As a music sociologist, I try to understand popular music from before my time. For example, I now like Frank Sinatra. I'm a Big Band fan, which took no effort on my part, to be honest. I truly appreciate fifties roots music -- I love, love Jerry Lee Lewis; doo-wop is great; Buddy Holly was a man before his time; the whole Little Richard screamin' thing had a primal honesty. Carl Perkins doesn't get his due.

Elvis? I've really tried. To be honest, all of Elvis's popularity wasn't before my time. I remember "Return To Sender", which I, as a young child, misinterpreted as "Return To Cinda", which I thought was a derivation of the name "Cindy". My dad liked "Wooden Heart", but he was sentimental that way. Since my best friend, Cathy, and I, as obedient Catholic schoolgirls, attended only the Sunday matinees that our church bulletin labeled as "A" movies (although we really wanted to see the "B's"), we saw practically every stupid movie Elvis ever made, so I definitely remember this one (which wasn't bad, in the larger scheme of his expansive catalog):


Generally, however, when an Elvis song comes on my (Sirius) radio, my first thought is, "Is this a parody?" Elvis was one of the few artists who truly became parodies of themselves. I know the whole back story -- he was controlled by an opportunistic manager (who called himself a "colonel") who forced him to record dreck. And then, of course, there were the pills. However, I'm a big believer in controlling one's own destiny, and therefore, Elvis, to me, was complicit in the trashing of his own career.

This is the song that set me off tonight:


Sure, he's got "the look", but what's with the Bing Crosby buh-buh-buh's

At least "Return To Cinda" had something:



People say, well, if you knew him when -- but actually, that's not true. When was "when"? Hound Dog? "Blue Suede Shoes" was done better, and more honestly, by its writer, Carl Perkins.

Truly, we kids in the early sixties were just supposed to like Elvis. It was decreed. Elvis was "the guy", so we had to like him. No matter that Roy Orbison's voice soared like the heavens. Elvis was everywhere. He was on our movie screens. He was there, in black and white, on the twelve-inch TV in our bedroom. Elvis was a staple, like the wide-lined paper we were forced to write on, even though it was beige and ugly and scratchy.

I will, however, begrudgingly concede "Jailhouse Rock":


...even though it was "jailhouse" like 50's movies starring Sal Mineo were jailhouse. "Ooh, is he whipping out his comb? No! It's a switchblade! Look out!"

Maybe what bothers me about Elvis is that he was so fake. I've read that what he truly loved was gospel music. Then that's what he should have gone with.

The best Elvis songs were sung by others:





My older sisters loved Elvis. I would never denigrate their memories. But the Elvis I remember was fat and bloated, and yes, a parody. Sweaty. Elvis never sent a chill up my spine like the Beatles did. And he never once wrote a song. Elvis was the Steve Lawrence of popular music -- good for the old soft shoe and a straw-brimmed hat. 

I try -- really try -- to understand music that came before my time. Unfortunately, Elvis, to me, will always be a mixture of a sunglassed rogue pulling up on the beach in a white convertible, his eyes shaded by Ray-Bans, ready for a clambake; and a man squeezed inside a white spangled jumpsuit, performing half-conscious Karate moves.

The song by Elvis I always liked more than any other (no offense to Cinda) wasn't even a single. There's just something about:


He could sing, given a chance. But one makes their own chances in life. Elvis chose the money and the bennies. I think if he'd lived, he might have matured into his own man. There's no denying his talent.

I think I might have liked the man he would have become.





Sunday, July 2, 2017

1989 In Country Music Was Damn Good


Sometimes I wonder if my life can be measured by the jobs I've held. I sincerely hope that's not true. But when I think back to 1989, I remember my work life being in flux. I'd left eight comfortable years of being the girl behind the desk on the medical floor of our local hospital, and I distinctly remember why I left. Monday evenings were a flurry of activity on the medical floor. Folks who'd been sick all weekend, but who'd told themselves, just hold on -- maybe I'll be better by Monday -- had finally given in and made an appointment to visit their personal physician, and found out, why yes, I really am sick! Sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, in fact. Thus, admissions came fast and furious on late Monday afternoons. The medical floor had three wings. One was for telemetry (heart) patients, and the other two -- Central and West -- were for general illness. I juggled admissions as best I could between the available wings. The nurses were sorely overworked and I endeavored to rotate new patients so none of the RN's and LPN's became overwhelmed. Sometimes that was an impossible task. I guess my final room assignment was the last straw for one of the RN's who I'd considered a friend. She took a moment out of her whir of vitals and wheelchairs and sputum cups to voice her displeasure. Essentially, her position was that I was deliberately tormenting her and she was disappointed and disillusioned with me. I don't think I said a word in response; I just stared at her, feeling like a bug she keenly wanted to stomp beneath her white oxfords. She and I had shared breaks -- sat in the nurses' lounge and smoked our cigarettes on moonless nights -- laughed together about goofy goings-on in the Pharmacy Department; shared anecdotes about our kids. And now she hated me. I left the hospital at the end of my shift and went home to my torture chamber bed and tossed and scrunched around most of the night. I felt unjustly accused. I had simply done my job the best I could, in impossible circumstances.

The next day I scanned the hospital bulletin board for open positions and promptly applied for one in the Admissions Department. I was hired in a flash. The medical center had a policy of filling jobs from within. Thus, I sat in a high-backed chair in an office with three open-air slots, evening after evening, right next to the switchboard operator's glass-encased cubicle, and awaited new "check-ins". Every department within the facility had its specific wardrobe requirements, so I switched from navy blue polyester uniforms to some kind of baby blue stiff starched linen. I guess that was how one could be readily identified -- slotted in, as it were. I hated registering new patients. I felt clumsy and asked the wrong questions or inevitably forgot to check a specific box on the admission form. I couldn't remember which forms I was supposed to stamp beneath the heavy iron contraption, and creating the little plastic identification cards with a "C" for Catholic and remembering to include the "Mrs." before Verna Schuffeltd's name seemed beyond my brain's capacity. The truth was, I simply hated my new job. I missed knowing what I was doing; missed the breezy efficiency with which I'd whipped out lab orders and missed the nurses I'd come to know so intimately. I hated the stilted quiet of the admissions office and longed for the familiar cacophony of real life.

I lasted a week or so in my new position, and then I lied and told my new supervisor some tale about how the schedule wasn't working for my family.

If I hadn't been shot through the heart, maybe I'd still be at that hospital today. I'd be the elderly gray-stranded woman everyone allows to cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, because, you know, she reminds me of my grandma!

I padded across the sliding-door threshold of the hospital one final time. I had no plan. I had no options.

In my small town, the newspaper's want ads for "clerical work" encompassed a line space approximately the width of my thumb. I innocently assumed I could always get a job with the State Government -- my fallback. I'd begun my "career" working for the State, and trust me, they'd hire practically anyone they could confirm was actually drawing breath. And I sort of did get hired by the State, but it was a downtown (not at the State Capitol) temporary part-time job as a receptionist for the Teachers Retirement Fund. My duties consisted of passing out mail and typing occasional letters on an IBM Selectric with a correctable ribbon. No more Wite-Out for me! No sirreee! I worked from eight a.m. to noon and couldn't wait to escape that soul-sucking receptionist's desk when the big hand clicked on the twelve. Between mail delivery and the two letters per day I was required to type, I had approximately three hours of non-productive time. I don't recall how I filled those hours -- I'll guess by jamming a Kleenex between the numbers on the switchboard and whisking away the dust. If one wants to achieve invisibility, she should get a job as a receptionist. Most of the staff to which I delivered mail rarely bothered to show up for work, so I had no clue what they actually looked like. They were simply names on a business-sized envelope. Thus, I was taken aback when I finally found what I thought would be a better position -- and full-time! -- and hovered in the doorway of my anonymous supervisor's office to give my notice, and this woman, Mary Smith (as far as I was concerned) expressed dismay and told me they'd been thinking of offering me a permanent full-time position. What? And why? I only had fifteen minutes worth of work to do in the first place. But who knows? If I'd hung around, maybe I'd be the soon-to-retire director of that God-awful place today. I honestly still don't know what they actually did there.

I saw an ad in the newspaper for a medical transcriptionist. No, technically I'd never transcribed medical records, but I did know medical terminology and I certainly knew how to type. Voila, I was hired. This job did not work out well. The owner assured me that a "transcribing machine" was on order and I would settle into my new position just as soon as it arrived. In 1989, a transcribing machine was a 21-inch television-sized word processor. I don't know what was packed inside that behemoth, but knowing technology as I do today, I'm guessing it was a pile of lead plates that served no discernible purpose other than to make the contraption a hernia-inducing heave up a flight of stairs for two unfortunate delivery persons.  Alas, the transcribing machine was a mirage. I sorted mail (yep!) for months into individual slots, drank gallons of coffee, drove to the McDonald's window for a hamburger every day at twelve, came back and tossled envelopes around for a few more hours before checking out and heading home. I know transcribing machines actually existed, because the company had two busily-finger-tapping transcriptionists I envied daily for the fact that they actually had something to do. The highlight of that position was the company's annual trip to Kansas City for, I guess, a transcribing convention. I boarded the plane to KC with the two actual typists and proceeded to get sloshed. Once there, after our sirloin steak dinner, one of the girls (I'll call her "Jill" because I have absolutely no recollection of her actual name) cornered the company's CEO and vented all her frustrations about our boss. Jill then pointed to me and promised I could vouch for everything she was saying. I think I drunkenly muttered something about "not getting my machine". The next day we flew home. Come Monday, each of the three of us typists got called in separately to the boss's office to discuss our Kansas City faux paus. When it was my turn, the office maven asked me if I was dissatisfied there. I piped up that I still hadn't gotten "my machine". "I told you it's on order!" she huffed. "Well, it has been six months," I responded timidly. She then asked me if I wanted to retain my employment with the company. "Well....no," I said. And thus I tromped down the stairway and out the front door. That was the last day I had a single burger and a small fry for lunch from McDonald's.

My job prospects were dire. My family was incomprehensibly understanding. If I'd been a bystander, I wouldn't have been so patient. I compare the employment opportunities at that time to a choice between three entrees that are all putrid -- let's say, liver, seared cow brains, and boiled chicken hearts. Hmmm, what to choose? Okay, I'll take the liver. Maybe I can at least choke that down. Before long, I found a posting for a "Farm Records Secretary". I had no idea what that was, but I understood the three words, singly. I figured stringing the words together would produce a job I could perform, albeit begrudgingly. The Farm Credit office was located on the far edge of a different city from the one in which I resided, but there really was no such thing as "traffic" -- the interstate highway was clear and the morning drive was rather lovely. I could zone out and listen to the radio as the sun rose behind me. I did have a bias against the word, "secretary", since in my experience, secretary meant shuttling a mug of coffee to a man who didn't take the trouble to glance up from his paperwork and make eye contact. Fortunately, my new boss wasn't a man, but a woman who didn't take the trouble to glance up from her paperwork and make eye contact. She was prim. And awkward. Conversation didn't come easily to her. She'd migrated years before from someplace like Oklahoma and hadn't yet lost her Okie accent. Transcribing her recorded correspondence was a challenge. At first I would ask her to clarify a word, but later, finding our interactions less than scintillating, I simply typed the word that seemed to fit best. The previous secretary, who had recently been promoted, trained me, and she was impatient. She kindly ignored me when not giving orders. I didn't like her...at all. In a couple of months, we would become the best of friends. I'm not sure how things like that happen. Maybe we had a common enemy....Mrs. Park. I spent half of 1988 and the entirety of 1989 doing my farm secretary duties. One winter morn, as I endeavored to cajole my rear-wheel drive Ford up the steep hill to the FCS office, I found myself sliding backwards. I flipped the butt of the car into a roadside snowbank and tried again...and again. We'd had a rare freezing rain storm and I was not a well-lit bulb. After about fifteen minutes of fruitlessly trying to push up the hill, I gave up and backed/slid down to the intersection, parked and found a nearby telephone. I called up the guy whose office abutted my receptionist desk -- an older guy who spent his days jawing with ranchers -- kind of a dad-like prince of a man. He soldiered out to where I sat shivering in my Taurus and loaded me in his pickup and shuttled us to the office. As much as may hate our circumstances, there are always angels. Farm Credit Services was full to the brim with nice, nice people. Had it not been for Mrs. Hateful, I might have stayed. But I was basically miserable.

Thus, the music of 1989 was my salve. The Dakota Lounge was full of sawdust and regional bands and a loud juke box. Fridays and sometimes Saturday nights we ventured there, and here are the songs I remember:






 
 



I wonder if this was the number one country single of 1989. I'm going to guess yes:


I haven't left out the king. I wanted to give him a special place of honor, because in 1989 he released one of his top two best albums, "Beyond The Blue Neon"





Ahh, 1989 in country music was damn good.


Friday, June 23, 2017

1983 Was Not A Red-Letter Year In Country Music


In 1983 I was still driving my '76 Chevy Malibu. I liked it. It fit. It was also the first brand-new car I'd ever owned, so I felt like I had moved up in the world. I'd graduated from a used powder blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala to a they-saw-me-coming '74 Chevy Vega hatchback with the hue and texture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup. Each of those cars had cost a couple hundred dollars at the most; the Malibu I had to finance! Sign papers for! The Malibu had a sometimes-it-works air conditioning system and tan folding faux leather seats. It was perfect, and it wasn't orange!

I didn't have far to travel in my tiny town -- my longest drive was north along Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's house; a fifteen-minute cruise if the stoplights didn't hit just right. I visited Mom and Dad a lot on sunny afternoons  -- my kids were in elementary school and I worked second shift. My days were free and Dad and Mom were my tether. Easing the Malibu into their driveway and spying Dad bent over in the front yard, yanking weeds from the flower bed, felt like home, even though I'd never ever lived in that house. I knew Mom would be upstairs in the kitchen, running a damp rag across the counter top, checking the Mr. Coffee to determine if it'd stopped dripping. I'd pull out a chair from the dining room table and Mom would offer me coffee and a slice of pie and we'd talk about nothing much. Dad would broach the stairs, swiping a handkerchief across his brow; pour himself a cup and ease his butt into an adjoining seat. I have no recollection of what those conversations entailed, but I remember that when I turned to go home, I always felt better -- stronger somehow.

Music was in the doldrums. I was on the verge of giving up on country, and soon I would. Shelly West was still basking in the after-glow of the Urban Cowboy fad and Crystal Gayle was a novelty, famous for her ridiculously long hair and the fact that she was Loretta Lynn's little sister. Sylvia was a producer's creation -- another try at Chet's Nashville Sound that was a long-time gone and hardly lamented. Alabama was still hanging around, as they were wont to do. Merle was on a down-slide; Charley Pride was still grasping onto the tattered shreds of his once-red-hot career. Even the artists I loved, like Ronnie Milsap and the Oaks, were looking at their careers in the rear-view mirror. John Conlee had exhausted his one big hit. Much like the late sixties, producers paired male and female voices, but the result was pop pap; as opposed to "After The Fire Is Gone". Country was lost and needed someone to save it. That someone hadn't yet ridden over the horizon.

Still, like any year in music, there were gems.

Alabama was on it's next-to-last gasp:


I think the first time I became aware of the Oak Ridge Boys was when they recorded Rodney Crowell's "Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight". Then I did a bit of digging and found that they were once a gospel band. As a Midwesterner, I was oblivious to gospel music. Alice and I, though, had seen the Statesmen as an opening act at one of the many country concerts we'd attended, and we'd gotten on board. The deep bass voice, the tenor, and the harmony parts had roped us in. The call and response.

For a time, country gospel became our new obsession. Of course, we were fourteen, so everything to us was brand new.

That history cemented my love for the Oak Ridge Boys, who had this hit song in 1983:


Along about July, a couple of old hands rode to the rescue:


Along about 1979, I talked Mom into attending an indoor rodeo with me. I told her that a new country artist would be performing in between the barrel racing and the calf roping. In the west, rodeos were not considered weird or corny. I'd been to lots of rodeos -- I was familiar with the eight-second rule for bull riders. It's not so much that I was a rodeo fan, but that live entertainment was sorely lacking in our town. We went to whatever the box office put forth. I was, however, enamored with Reba McEntire and had never seen her in person, so....


 Later, I would resent Reba for unnaturally expanding the boundaries of what could be called "country". She took advantage of her fame. She loved on-stage costume changes and male background dancers. But she was country once, and I'm happy I could introduce Mom to her voice.

The Number Eighty-Seven song of the year flew past me, because I'd by then long abandoned country music (as it had abandoned me).  It's funny how life works. Eighty-seven? Truly? This song rests firmly within my top twenty country songs of all time, and it only reached eighty-seven on the charts? Country fans needed a firm shake. (And speaking of rodeos):


The truth, though, sad as it may be, is that on my drive up Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's, with the seventeen-story Capitol Building casting its shadow across my sun visor, is that THIS is the song that 1983 will be remembered for. 

I remember that drive, and that day, so succinctly. I remember muttering to myself, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm going to stab my radio with a serrated carving knife."

Funny how time works. The song doesn't seem so bad now, thirty-four years after the fact.