The River's Badge

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. 










 










Friday, June 16, 2017

1987 And MTV


I know the old joke -- Remember when MTV played music?

In 1987, I was in that sweet spot -- thirty-two years old, with two kids who were still fun to be around. I had a job I still liked; second shift at the local hospital, a work schedule that suited our family's circumstances just fine.The Medical Floor had two wings, a modern robin's-egg blue-walled cubby with a softly-carpeted waiting area near the elevator, furnished with cushy magenta chairs and sunflower prints on the walls; and the old annex, with its scuffed linoleum and the clatter of every dropped dinner tray echoing off its cavernous walls. I believe in the thirties the old wing was used as a psychiatric cell. Our work schedules were hand-drawn three months in advance, so we worker drones would know where we belonged on any given day. I rotated between the old and new wings. I liked the old one. I can't explain it rationally -- I think it just felt more real. A hospital is a sad place, but we didn't give in to sorrow. We couldn't. We had our "regulars"; those who were admitted every couple of weeks or so -- the elders with emphysema, the teenage kids with cystic fibrosis, who were the most joyous humans on the planet. We all knew their timeline was approaching its end and we huddled together and dripped tears on the newspaper print when a sad obituary was flayed across the nurses' station.

I was a civilian -- a ward clerk who tended to the doctors' orders and the next-day's breakfast choices. I scheduled surgeries and made sure the lab techs drew blood for the appropriate tests. I filled water pitchers. I helped to turn the patients when the RN's were busy tending to a combative old man who had wrested out of his restraints.

Around lights-out, the nurses and I settled in at the station and worked on our craft projects. Cross-stitch became my salve, my Zen. We flipped up the volume on the radio dial and bounced a bit in our chairs to the latest hits. Ten o'clock, I zipped through the sliding doors in the lobby, keys in hand; breathed in the cool night air, and snuggled inside the warm leather for my short drift home.

Our radio station was Y93. I was alive. Our Minnesota Twins were on a tear. I adopted baseball in 1987. We could feel it -- this time they were going to win it all -- our ragtag heroes, Gaetti, Hrbek, Kirby, Frank Viola, Dan Gladden, Brunansky. I learned to call strikes. I became a fool baseball expert in 1987.

And the radio and MTV featured songs like this:


I remember calling our local station and requesting that song, and the supercilious woman disc jockey informing me that they didn't play "that crap". She only deigned to play ZZ Top and Eric Clapton, apparently. You know, the stuff you twirl the dial on your radio to get away from. Because, you know, one just can't get enough of "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)".

1987 was also the year a savant voice appeared; somebody who couldn't possibly be that good, but she was. She was but twenty-four years old and she put all the old dudes and dudettes to shame. The sun sparkled in her eyes. Just watch:


Is Wang Chung a weird name? It doesn't seem weird to me, in hindsight. I do, though, remember an episode of Cheers in which Fraser Crane recited these immortal words:

Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody Wang Chung tonight




Concert videos, even "fake" concert videos, were awesome to we MTV viewers.  It's like we're there! 

Okay, I understood the stagecraft, but that didn't detract from this song's impact. Although I will say the song would not be quite as fabulous if it weren't for the "ooh-wah ooh-wah" talkbox. Just sayin'.


Not to mention the hair. And flying into the crowd was a cool touch.

And speaking of hair, let's just say this: Yes, it was the eighties. Yes, we had big hair; even the boys. Height was the desired standard. I had essentially the same hairstyle that John Bon Jovi had. It wasn't weird, because everybody looked like that. Sure, in hindsight it's weird. Again, it was the eighties. We also wore eyeglasses with gigantic frames that stretched from the tip of our hairline down to just above our upper lip. Again, it was the eighties.

Also, we had music videos with super models flouncing across the hoods of cars:


Some Irish band (who'd never last) appeared on the scene in '87.


If you're a girl, you'll understand this next song. If you're not a girl, you will be flummoxed. I don't understand the male brain. I guess men like fast cars and big guns and quick scene flashes. I guess it's why my husband likes "Big Trouble In Little China", which, while we're watching it for the twentieth time, allows me time to take a quick snooze. I don't know why men don't feel the emotional impact of this (please disregard the crappy preview):


There are the purists who say that Peter Cetera ruined Chicago. Then there's me who says, who the F gave a damn about Chicago before Peter Cetera joined the group? I don't know what Peter Cetera is doing nowadays, but I assume he's sitting at home counting his wads of cash. Cetera was ubiquitous on 1980's movie soundtracks. Think "Karate Kid".

Peter Cetera teamed with Amy Grant for a big 1987 hit:




I don't know about you, but for me, 1987 is defined by Huey Lewis and the News. There was just something about Huey. He was geeky and not anyone one would associate with pop music. And yet it worked. Sorry this video is so badly constructed:



As a sorta country-pop geek, this was my VERY FAVORITE single from 1987, and I love it today:



Ahh, 1987 was a year. I love it for the tingling sensation of new untraveled roads. I miss it for the person I was then; wide-eyed, abashed.












Thursday, June 15, 2017

People Who Don't Like Country Music...


My husband, no country music fan, remarked the other day that the reason early-to-mid-sixties rock was so good was because of the harmonies. "That's when producers were still in charge," he said. His unspoken conclusion was that the rock artists of the late sixties weren't overly concerned with production. It's true. There were exceptions, but the late sixties were an anarchic time; artists were naive in their "let it all hang out" mindset toward music. Unlike now, which is essentially an anarchic time, too, but artists are now willing to bend a knee in worship of dollars and "likes". Perhaps that's why I find modern music tiresome -- it's so blatantly manipulative. I'll gladly take the naive badly produced song. At least it was honest.

But as my husband uttered the word, "harmonies", I thought, exactly! That's country music!

If the Everly Brothers had begun their career only a few years later than they did, they would have been country artists. Because country music is (or was) all about harmony.


There is an innate reason why humans are drawn to harmony. I'm not a scientist, so I don't know the reason for that. Maybe the answer is found in nature -- the way the flutter of the wind through the trees mingles with a bird's trills; and we feel alive and soft, cradled inside the earth's hands.

We're drawn to harmony and yearn to sing along. Even if we do it badly, it doesn't matter because it feels so good, so natural.

When I was sixteen or so, I'd recently purchased my first "real" reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I impressed myself with my wondrous ability to sing three-part harmony to this song, by bouncing tracks (the recording itself only featured two-part harmonies, but I said, let's go all out!):



In the early sixties, country music featured not only two-part, but three-part harmonies, where I no doubt got the idea for my "Silver Wings" rendition.

For example:


The absolute master of harmonies was Ray Price. Ray had his Cherokee Cowboys, of which a guy named Roger Miller was once a part. As an added bonus, Roger wrote this song and added his half-step to Ray's vocals:


And don't forget Buck Owens and Don Rich. In the early sixties, country music basically drizzled down to Buck Owens. The Grand Ol' Opry kept doing its thing, but nobody could compete with Bakersfield, and Nashville keenly knew it. If it wasn't for Don Rich, well...


There is no question what my favorite harmony song from the late sixties was. I know I recently featured this video in another post, but bear with me -- I can't find an original performance video of Mel Tillis doing:


From the Everlys to Porter and Dolly to Restless Heart to Brad and Dolly to Waylon and Willie, to Naomi and Wynonna, up to Vince and Patty, harmony is what country music is known for:



My visceral reaction to harmony singing, when it's good, is that it stabs me in the heart.

Everybody needs that little stab sometimes. That's how we know we're alive.








Saturday, June 10, 2017

"It's So Corny"


From the age of thirteen, when I took the deep dive into country music; which, honestly, I never would have done if not for my new best friend, I faced the quizzical, derisive expressions of anyone who ever asked me what kind of music I listened to -- if I chose to respond honestly. The truth was, I was kind of embarrassed, too. If I replied "country", the other person would say, "You mean like 'Folsom Prison Blues'?" Okay, yea, "Folsom Prison Blues", because that's the only country song the other person had ever heard of. Truthfully, I never liked that song. More truthfully, I never liked Johnny Cash, except for "I Still Miss Someone" and "Ring Of Fire". But the general (ignorant) wisdom was that anyone who listened to country music must love the brum brubb-a brum brum of Johnny Cash and his three-piece band. Because country fans were steeped in corn.

Or they'd say, "I really like that song, 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix'." Okay. That's another track on my mental list of songs I never, ever wanted to hear again. That was not country music.

If I'd taken the time to tick off the list of artists I listened to, nobody would have known who they were, so I instead let people think I was a die-hard Johnny Cash fan. Nobody'd ever heard of Merle Haggard, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Mel Tillis, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, or Marty Robbins.

The truth, though I never shared it with anyone, was that I had excellent taste in country music. I understood it was an acquired taste -- shoot, even I had to acquire a taste for it. On first listen, yes, it was corny. The thing about country, though, was that it wasn't the crossover hits that defined it. The crossover hits were watered down to appeal to a wide audience. Thus, they weren't real country. The crossovers were an amalgam of treacly strings combined with a southern accent. The worst of two worlds.

Being a country fan was like being a rock fan in the sixties. You didn't want to claim songs like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" or "I'm Henry VIII, I Am", but they were part of your posse, so if you liked "Strawberry Fields", you were thus tarnished with the stench of "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. It came with the territory. It didn't matter how much you protested, if you were a rock fan, you liked "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro. If you were a country fan...well...you liked "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro (trust me, nobody ever anywhere liked that song).

I included a pic of Loretta Lynn in this post for a reason. She was (is) a really talented artist and certainly knew how to write hits, but her songs were the epitome of corn. And in them she always wanted to start a fight with someone. Loretta Lynn was another of the country stars, like Johnny Cash, that I didn't bond with.

When I was about eight years old, I went with my parents to see Loretta Lynn at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. It was an odd scene -- folks had to bring their own booze in with them -- the hall only served "mix" (7-UP or whatever other accompaniment one wanted with their cocktail). Dinner was served at long tables with white tablecloths. Patrons shared a table with approximately thirty strangers. The waiters came by to take our orders -- I probably ordered a hot dog or fish sticks -- if they were on the menu. I remember the waiter asking me what kind of dressing I wanted on my salad and I replied, "none". He asked, "No salad?" and I said, "No, no dressing.". Yes, I ate bare lettuce mingled with carrot slivers and radish slices. I was a pathologically picky eater.

Be that as it may, we saw Loretta Lynn and her band perform, I guess in between the garlic bread and the baked potato. Someone in our party (which consisted of my parents and my sister and brother-in-law) went up and got Loretta's autograph. They brought the signed photo back to the table and I remarked, "It looks like it says 'Buffalo Lynn'." Henceforth, Loretta would always be known as Buffalo Lynn to me.

Later I would discover "Blue Kentucky Girl" and wonder why Loretta never sang more songs like that; songs that were plaintive and not pugilistic.

The pugilistic side was what country fans had to try to (or try not to) explain to rubes who scratched their heads when we admitted that we listened to country music.

So, let's rip off the Band-Aid:


I wonder whatever happened to old Henson Cargill:



I really can't convey the number of times this next song was played on the radio. Somewhere in the dark recesses of the stratosphere, there is a little satellite bouncing around, streaming this track. And little aliens are exclaiming, "If I have to hear this song one more time, I'm going to slit the sinewed tendons that attach my arm to my hand".


I give Bobby Goldsboro a lot of (deserved) grief for his 1968 hit, but really, is it any worse than this?


Okay, I know you've been waiting:



Here are the songs I was actually listening to:










But really, no one would get it.