The River's Badge

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Maybe it's a facet of getting older. I'm generally a pretty even-keel person, or maybe I'm just in denial. I do know that I now get too upset by workplace irritations and I'm not necessarily handling them well. You know, the usual -- people who ignore emails, someone taking over a room I've had reserved for two weeks and expecting me to find other accommodations. People declining to shoulder their share of the burden and being pissy in their refusal.

The person I live with obsesses over the teeniest inconsequential tidbits, and expects me to respond to his ravings with feigned interest. But sometimes I'm just tired. Sometimes my own anxieties are crushing me. No wonder I don't sleep.

I read:  Sustained or chronic stress, in particular, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the "stress hormone," and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression. (link) I didn't think I was depressed, but maybe I am. Even if I am, what am I supposed to do with that? I have to continue to "deal", because that's how life goes.

Now I have a dog who needs an operation. I think I could deal with that pretty well, but I live with an obsessive-compulsive person who will freak out over every aspect of the after-care. Thus, I will sleep on the floor for two weeks while my dog wears her cone, because...well, somebody's got to do it, and that somebody must be me.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be selfish, to not be beholden to anyone. I think it would be heaven for a while. I would settle for just a tiny bit of fun. To be honest, I think I've forgotten what fun is. I asked myself, what would I do that would be fun? The first thing that popped into my mind Dance like an idiot. Wave my arms in the air and swivel my hips like a bad Elvis impersonator and clap my hands over my head. Stomp my feet to the beat. Get those pheromones whizzing.

Music rarely fails to lighten my mood. Tonight it kind of failed me. The first song I heard that even registered was this one (thank you, Brian Wilson):

If I was alone on a dance floor and nobody was watching, I wonder what I would dance to....

Okay, I feel better now.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Don't Buy This Book

Writing a memoir is a tricky endeavor. There's the right (interesting) way and the wrong ("WTF") way. I think I wrote my memoir the right way, and I'm not even a professional.

I'd always heard that Jimmy Webb was a master songwriter, and as a songwriter myself, I was naturally interested in reading his story. Let me expand on that a bit: Truthfully, I never thought Webb was a "master" songwriter, but everybody says he is. I hated "Wichita Lineman" when it was first released in 1968. I like it now and I appreciate the writer's craft. "Galveston" wasn't as good, but it was good. Webb obviously thought he was good. One doesn't really know much about that, however, in this memoir. One does learn a lot about the properties of various street drugs. I guess I could write a history of my love of nicotine, but you really had to be there.

It's kind of sad if one's legacy consists of naked orchestral concerts performed after swallowing random little white pills. Let's just say the anecdote doesn't heighten my admiration.

"The Cake And The Rain" is a drug book.

I'm no prude. I'm a live and let live kind of gal. But again, I prefer not to define my life by my cigarette addiction. Jimmy revels in his pharmaceutical dependence. At his (advanced) age, one would expect a bit of clearheaded wisdom.

Here's a synopsis of the book (so you don't have to buy it): he had affairs with various married women and one of his concubines inspired one of the goofiest songs of all time:

I think Webb mentioned that he brought the song to the Association at one of their recording sessions, and their combined reaction to it was, WTF?? Kind of a universal sentiment.

Also, balloons.

I mean, come on... 

I think I borrowed the book from my library (I thankfully didn't purchase it) because Glen Campbell had recently passed away and I was feeling sentimental. This book just made me feel icky.

The author comes across as glib and severely out of touch. But he did buy drugs for Nillson and John Lennon, so there's that...

I don't know why I read the book the whole way through. I was perhaps hoping for a morsel of hard-fought wisdom. I didn't find it.

There's one thing I found admirable about Jimmy's songwriting -- and it was only found in the index -- apparently not worth but a cursory mention:

I'm told this book was only Chapter One. 

Good luck there, Jimmy. I don't know what else is left to say, but I won't be finding out. 

You should read mine sometime. It's actually interesting, and I'm not even famous.

Don Williams

Readers of this blog know that the nineteen seventies were not my favorite musical era. Regardless, the seventies were rather a momentous time of my life. I graduated from high school, got my first "real" job, got married, and most of all, gave birth to both of my children. It's unfortunate that my soundtrack of the decade is so lackluster.

Don Williams was one of those singers who was always "there" -- there on the radio, there occasionally on '45's. In the world of country music in the seventies, Don Williams was an anomaly. I like my music kickin'. Number one on my list is a good beat. Add to that some two-part harmony. Fiddles are always good, steel guitar is a given. I love a good piano. Those things were not, for the most part, present in the country music of the decade. I wasn't a big acoustic fan. Willie's "Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain" was okay. I didn't rush right out to buy the single.

Then there was Don Williams.

Before Waylon ever got hold of it, Don recorded this song. And to me, it's the superior version:

Don was like your favorite uncle -- not the loud, brash one who was too fond of hugs; but the quiet one you ran to when you skinned your knee, because he'd soothe you; dry your tears.

I think I purchased a total of two singles by Don Williams in my life. It wasn't that I didn't like him or that I didn't have eighty-nine cents to spend. Unlike my mom, however, I didn't pick up a '45 just because it was listed on the chart pasted to the end cap of the Woolworth's aisle. I was choosy. I was never one to buy mass quantities of music just because. Perhaps it was a holdover from my days as a girl when singles cost an insane one dollar and it took me a couple of months to save up that much money. My choice was thus very important. I had to be particular. I guess that's why Don got beaten out by others, even when my monetary circumstances became less dire.

The first version of "Tulsa Time" I heard was the one recorded by Don Williams. It was a departure for him -- a song with an actual beat! Later I heard the Eric Clapton recording and thought, wow, am I lame -- it's an Eric Clapton song! Actually, it wasn't. Don recorded it first. Eric liked Don Williams so much, he decided to do his own rendition.

That was the first Don Williams single I purchased.

As the nineteen seventies faded away, never to be remembered for anything musically other than disco and Urban Cowboy, Don recorded my favorite, and the second Williams single I plunked down my pennies for:


Looking back, there's something to be said for the quiet music. I wish I could say that in my old age I've become a fan of Mantovani, but I still like a good beat. Nevertheless, I have learned to appreciate each song for what it is and to find value..and yes, warmth, in Don Williams' music.

Rest in peace, Don Williams. Thank you for being our favorite uncle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

They Did Have Music In 1975


I was confused in many ways in 1975. I'd forgotten that until I took a glance at the top hits of the year, and then it all came back.

I was twenty years old, newly married; torn between my new home and my old, dysfunctional life. Funny thing about dysfunction -- you think you yearn to get away from it, but it pulls you back because that's your "normal". The thing regular people don't understand about kids of alcoholics is, you glom onto the familiar, as awful as it is, for dear life; because that's what you know. It's safe -- in a psychotic way.

I kept coming back. I'd tried the real world and didn't like it much. I'd had a regular job for a year; a job that pulled me deep into new dysfunction. I didn't know if it followed me like a heavy cloud or if the whole world was crazy. (In hindsight, I realize that, yes, the whole world is crazy; but I was young and naive.) Nevertheless, I fled -- back to the waiting arms of my parents who didn't exactly welcome me home, but who needed an able-bodied motel maid who could pick up the task with no training.

I wasn't ready to live my own life. I was scared of the world. I no longer had a best friend who'd slay the dragons for me. My marriage was one of convenience; a couple of kids who thought they could do no better. I had no connection to my husband. We struggled to tolerate one another. Mom and Dad were nuts, but they were at least nuts that I knew intimately.
Musically, life revolved around songs that other people liked. It wasn't that I didn't have definite tastes of my own, but I sublimated those, because I was a scared coward and afraid of being scorned if I expressed an opinion.

Mom and Dad had a long walnut console stereo in the corner of the living room. Dad was enthralled, for a while, with a guy who made a record imitating Richard Nixon -- David Frye, I think his name was. Dad thought Frye was hilarious. I found it tedious after the hundredth listen. 

The stereo also had a slot where one could shove eight-track tapes in. Eight-tracks were one of those failed musical experiments. Eight-tracks came on the scene just prior to cassette tapes. They were portable, if one had an automobile that accommodated them. The big drawback of eight-tracks was that the tape stopped smack-dab in the middle of a song and one had to flip the tape over and re-shove it into the slot to hear the rest of the song. That sort of ruined the whole musical experience. Dad had Ray Stevens and a couple of other artists I no longer remember. In total, he owned three eight-track tapes, so I heard Ray Stevens over and over and over.

In an effort to imitate a normal life, Mom purchased LP's that she played on the console. In my opinion then, Mom didn't actually like music -- she was a pretender. Today I have decided to give Mom a break. Who actually doesn't like music? Everybody likes music in some form. She did, though, seem a slave to the charts; as if she had no musical opinions of her own and had to rely on the words of the local DJ to tell her what was good. In reality, she was in love with Ray Price, who she considered a "hunk". I, on the other hand, didn't judge music by how the artist looked. Shoot, I thought Eddie Rabbitt was a country god, and he was ugly as sin.

My mom and dad played singles like this on their ugly coffin-like stereo console:

Mom was always buying records by artists like Billy "Crash" Craddock and Conway Twitty and Mac Davis. Usually they weren't even number one songs. I have somehow come into possession of all Mom's singles and I recognize only a paltry few. I think maybe she was simply a '45 collector.

Dad loved this next song. One of his idiosyncrasies was that he loved Latin music; all the better if the lyrics were in Spanish. Dad knew no Spanish, but I guess it just sounded nice to him.  

Thanks to one of Dad's three eight-track tapes, I love this next track still today:

After my work day was done, or after one of our interminable family gatherings, I went home and played the singles I liked -- on my own crappy (JC Penney) stereo -- which was, of course, better because it had detachable speakers and it didn't look like someone had just been sprinkled with holy water inside it.

Best song, bar none, of 1975:

Weirdly, Tanya Tucker has very few live performance videos on YouTube. Who does she think she is -- Prince? Nevertheless, in '75, Tanya was still a hot artist. I like this one (with guest vocals by Glen):

There was this new girl who appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. She was doing old songs (old songs -- even ones I didn't know). I bought her first album because I liked her sound; I knew nothing about her. Here is a sample (with guest appearance on mandolin by a very young Vince Gill):

Merle was still going strong. Unfortunately there are no live videos of this song, just like all of Merle's seventies hits. I don't know where he went, but he wasn't appearing on TV anymore. 

I won't feature songs by Ronnie Milsap and Gary Stewart, because I've recently featured them in other posts, but suffice it to say, the three big artists for me in 1975 were Gene, Ronnie, and Gary.

And, of course, Glen Campbell had the number one hit of the year, but if you want more of Glen, please see Still On The Line

Now, the elephant in the room:

Like many (most) country fans in 1975, I resented interlopers swooping in and collecting country awards. They were trying to change country. I didn't want country changed. I liked it just fine, thank you. It started in 1974 with a girl who had three names -- and she wasn't even American! Sure, "If You Love Me, Let Me Know" was catchy. She didn't, however, have a tear in her voice; and where was the twang? Yea, she would later go on to star in one of the guiltiest of movie pleasures of all time, but I didn't know that! I wasn't telepathic! And she won the 1974 CMA female vocalist of the year award! Over Loretta Lynn and Tanya!

Then it got only worse. In 1975, previous Entertainer of the Year Charlie Rich fetched a lighter out of his pocket and set fire to the card that announced the new award winner. (I just gotta say, that was one of the very best entertainment spectacles of all time. Kudos, Charlie!) 

I had an intense, fiery hatred for the new guy. I didn't know what he was supposed to be -- was he country or folk or some weird hybrid? He seemed to me like a pretender -- somebody who was trolling for award trophies. The very last time I talked to Alice on the phone, she informed me that she was really "into" this new guy, and I thought scornfully, well, she's gone over to the other side. How ironic. The person who'd originally tugged me into the bright light that was country had now become a turncoat. Thanks, and, oh -- enjoy your Roberta Flack records.

I can't say that I ever became a huge John Denver fan, but I grew to appreciate him. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is a sublime song (although not written by John). This, however, made JD soar to the heights of country music stardom:

This post could have ended with John Denver, but oh no....

Much like eight-track tapes, 1975 was the year of completely unnecessary inventions. Remember those old K-Tel commercials for things nobody knew they wanted, and actually didn't want? The pocket fisherman was probably my favorite. Because one never knows when they'll be strolling down a sunny path on their break from the business meeting and thinks, damn! If only I had a fishing rod, I could reel in some of those tasty trout! 

And don't forget Mr. Microphone!

Well, CB radios were just as useless! From what I can gather, long-haul truckers used CB radios to tell other truckers where the "smokies" were hiding out. Not really germane for someone like me, who traversed The Strip about seven miles from home to work. And not exactly relevant for anyone. Regardless, CB's became the latest fad. They were like Rubik's cubes -- completely pointless and needlessly aggravating. The mid-seventies were a time of bumpkins who would fall for anything. Seriously. We loved lime green and orange. And afghans, preferably in orange and lime green hues. And shiny, slippery polyester. Honestly, the seventies, in my mind, are a low-hanging, foreboding cloud. They're best forgotten, as if they'd never happened.

Without further comment, here is "Convoy":

Can I be blamed for being confused in '75? It was a confusing, confounding time. I wasn't quite an adult, although I pretended to be -- yearned to be. Music was a bridge, albeit tottering, from my old life to my new. 

And it was about to get worse....

Saturday, August 26, 2017

1986 In Country Music - A Renaissance

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when country music "came back". I'd long been a sap for stone country -- give me a Ray Price two-step any day. That high harmony pierced my heart. Alas, Ray had surrendered sometime around 1970 to Chet Atkins' country-pop. Gone were the twin fiddles; here were the violins. Merle was always reliable, but even he eventually decided he wanted to do something a bit different. Then the pre-fab artists took over. Sylvia is probably a very good...writer, and while I have nothing against her personally, "your nobody called today" is like a pounding tension headache. And several artists continued to ride the shirttails of Urban Cowboy -- Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee. It was a movie, people! The most enduring remnant of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack is "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", and that's not even Charlie Daniels' best song.

Along about 1981 a new revolutionary channel showed up. It was called MTV. No longer did I have to conjure musical scenarios in my head. They were all flayed out before me on my TV screen. An added plus -- the songs were actual music -- not rewarmed pop songs with a faint glaze of steel guitar or an album of duets starring the long-dead Jim Reeves and the latest country Pop Tart. Country had given up, so I gave up, too.

I think I was sitting behind the wheel in front of my kids' elementary school one nice fall day, rocking out to songs on Y93 when a track came on that I didn't really like, so, with time to kill, I twisted the dial on my radio to the country station just for kicks. I heard this:

Who the heck is this, I asked nobody (I was alone in my car, after all). My immediate thought was, I need to buy some country cassettes (yes, they were cassettes). Surprisingly (maybe because I didn't know who the heck had sung that song), the first cassette I bought was by the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. 

Later, again on 12th Street, awaiting the school bell, I heard some guy on my new country station who sang real perrty, with a country cry in his voice (and he had fiddles and steel guitar!):


I had so much to catch up on!

There was this four-piece band consisting of names like Cactus and a twirling blonde lead singer who was (supposedly) from North Dakota, who could sing like nobody else. 

Another band who'd bored the hell out of me with their "Mister Bojangles" had suddenly become as country as country could be:

This music was a revelation! It took my going away for it to replenish itself -- and it came back loud and country.

The very best ballad of 1986 has no live performance videos (I don't know whatever happened to Earl Thomas Conley), but dang!

From that point on I was hooked. And there would only be more good to come. Even today, in 2017, I am in love with Dwight and with George. I never quite gave up on my MTV -- I lived a dual musical existence. The eighties were awesome, musically.

There will never again be a time like it.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Buying Country Albums Was An Exercise In Futility

...yet I bought them.

Most people probably can't relate to my particular musical circumstances. I was one of the diehard country fans in the nineteen seventies who was not enamored with Johnny Cash. That left me options that were paltry. Johnny Cash was a persona. He wasn't a country artist; he was a folk singer. His three-chord ditties could be done by anyone -- heck, even I did them and I was a putrid guitar player. His songs were boom-chicka, boom-chicka, boom-chicka, boom-chicka. That's it. If it wasn't for the man that Cash was, he probably wouldn't have even gotten a recording contract. Country music, to me, was twin fiddles, steel guitar, and a voice that cried. I was a purist in a sea of muddy productions that yearned to be "relevant", which wasn't the allure of country music at all.

Looking back, John Denver was probably more country than the so-called country artists of the era. The Eagles were more country than the country hit-makers. No wonder Olivia Newton-John won Female Vocalist of the Year at the 1974 CMA's.

I liked Connie Smith, Faron Young, Merle, Johnny Rodriguez, and Gene Watson. In my early twenties, I was a fossil.

The new gal, Barbara Mandrell, had potential. There's no denying she was cute. She was tiny with huge hair. She could actually play an instrument. She liked real country, until she didn't. By the time she was sleeping single in a double bed, I was over her. Before that, though, she did songs that were "updated" country -- still country, but bowing to the hipness of the nineteen seventies. I wanted to be hip, too, so I decided Barbara would be my new go-to girl.

She did songs like this:

And this:

So I bought the Midnight Angel album. It had one good song, and that was the title track. That was my life of buying country albums, yet I persisted. It was apparently important to have that album cover on one's shelf. 

I bought Dave and Sugar. That's a relic of the seventies, if ever there was one.

Country albums were a retail lie. Stick the number one single on it and the rubes will buy it. Three dollars and ninety-nine cents in the bank!

The only artist who was making actual albums in the seventies was Merle. 

You can't count "Wanted:  The Outlaws". That was a slapped-together conglomeration of outtakes, the brainchild of a prescient record producer.

Certainly there were some other stellar albums released during the decade.

...but sadly, very few.

If one was to purchase albums, to, I guess, have on their shelf (singles were so much more prudent -- no waste -- and by the seventies, marked down to eighty-nine cents), here are some of the better bets:

Folks who don't know think the seventies were Kenny Rogers and Willie and Dolly. In fact, those artists were "almost eighties". There was a long-spanning decade between Tammy Wynette and Janie Fricke. One had to root out the Crystals and the Sylvias from the Gene Watsons. And trust me, there was a world of difference. If only for Gene Watson, the seventies were worth the pain.

Music is music is music. The vast majority of it is bad. We need to remember the jewels.

I still don't know what I'll ever do with my Barbara Mandrell albums, though.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Was Country In 1981 Really That Bad?

 Memories are strange, wondrous things. Sometimes a memory of a particular time in one's life is colored by a general "feeling"; perhaps a feeling of melancholy or boredom or apathy. At the ripe old age of twenty-six, I'd grown indifferent toward music. I'd actually begun listening to "oldies", which in that year consisted of fifties music I'd never heard the first time around. I know I'd grown cranky with country music, and it wasn't my fault. The production was sluggish -- soft tinkling pianos, a faint whiff of a violin; everything very quiet -- and producers were bending toward remakes of pop songs. Nashville wasn't even trying anymore; yet they expected me to buy their crap.

Granted, our country was as sluggish as the Nashville music scene, which didn't help. I might still be paying off the twenty-one per cent interest rate on my credit card purchases; I'm not sure. Anything I needed to buy -- for my kids or for the house -- essentially required a bank loan, which was nigh impossible to obtain, seeing as how everybody was defaulting so they could afford to fill their tanks with gas (thanks, Jimmy Carter). I could have done a better job running the country, and I was a dolt. Just when I was at my absolute poorest, our president was on TV lecturing me that it was my own damn fault, and that I just had a bad attitude. Just what I needed in my circumstances -- a stern lecture. He was like my mom. We had hostages in Iran, which Ted Koppel reminded us of every night on Nightline. "This is day four hundred and three."

MTV was created in 1981, but it hadn't hit my airwaves yet. Soon I would abandon country music for Dire Straits and Phil Collins.

What we remember from a particular year isn't necessarily what Google tells us to remember. In browsing the number one country hits from 1981, I find lots of gems. Why don't I remember those, instead of singles by Charly McClain and Sylvia and Crystal Gayle and Alabama? I don't think it's my fault. I blame my radio. It was as if the disc jockeys got together and conspired to play the absolute worst tracks over and over, because, frankly, they hated country and they needed to teach us a lesson. In hindsight, I turned away from country just as country was turning, and I missed the renaissance. I missed George Strait because of those damn DJ's. They kept feeding me, "Your nobody called today" until I found myself bent over the toilet bowl.

Here is a sampling of what the disc jockeys chose not to play over and over:

David Frizzell and Shelly West:

 Rosanne Cash:

The Oak Ridge Boys:

Eddie Rabbitt:

Anne Murray (sorry, no live performance video to be found, but I really like this):

Ronnie Milsap:

TG Sheppard (again, no live performance worth posting, but worth hearing in its glory):

Yes, Barbara Mandrell, when she was still country (when it wasn't cool):

This is what we (I) remember from 1981. Granted, I had a subscription to HBO and a second shift job, so I watched this movie approximately two thousand and fifty-one times in the pre-work afternoons, but the fact remains that this is what, like it or loathe it, will forever represent country music at that precise time:

Dolly Parton:


Country music in 1981 was better than I remember it, no thanks to my local DJ's. Truthfully, I would list at least three of these singles as classics. Which, once again, proves that my memory is woefully deficient and that Jimmy Carter messed with my brain.

I'm giving 1981 one thumb up.