The River's Badge

Saturday, October 14, 2017


By1981 I had settled into my new routine, working second shift at the hospital, which was the best job I'd ever had up to that point. As a dedicated scaredy-cat, I'd dipped my toe into the waters of a couple of unknowns -- a year in retail, another year as a government employee, until I stumbled upon my true calling.

My hard and fast rule was that I refused to accede the raising of my kids to a miscellaneous daycare worker. Thus, I was relegated to evening positions that involved the requisite changing of the guard -- a husband who came home from his day job at 3:00 and bluffingly assumed family responsibilities while I trundled off to my clinical night job.

I blithely assumed that a father would have his kids' best interests at heart -- until I came home one night at 10:00 and found the Christmas tree askew and its decorations oddly-placed. Disassembled and reassembled into a half-assed facsimile of the decor I'd lovingly put together but one day before. Apparently Dad had been engrossed in a telephone call with one of his friends while two toddlers laid waste to my painstaking bauble-hanging. Before I'd left for work that day, as the final scenes of the movie "Nine To Five" pranced across my TV screen, I'd admired my prodigious decorating skills, and had decided all was right with the world.

Everyone was asleep, so I didn't interrogate anyone, but two and four-year-olds tend to lie anyway. Trust me, little kids are natural-born liars.

I'd apparently semi-abandoned country music by that time, because the songs I remember from that year are almost entirely pop (or what we referred to as "rock").

For a rock pop fan in 1981, the offerings were awesome. I hate purists. I'm not even a purist and I, of anyone, have the bona fides to be one, if we're talking sixties country. I don't know what rock purists remember from that particular year -- The Who? I always hated The Who. The Stones? The Rolling Stones were already old by then, but they refused to pack it in. I never was a Stones fan, either. I've tried.

No, the best singles from 1981 are songs such as these:

(Still one of the best pop songs ever)

If anyone tries to tell you Hall and Oates are not sublime, they are wrong. Just wrong. 

I didn't even know who Bruce Springsteen was in 1981. I would watch the $20,000 Pyramid in the mornings (remember that?) It was hosted by Dick Clark. Some celebrity contestant -- I don't remember who -- was being interviewed by Dick. Clark asked the guy who his favorite rock artist was, and the dude replied that the best rock artist in the whole wide world was Bruce Springsteen. Dick said, "Well, that's your opinion. A lot of people would disagree with you." I was like, who? That was the first time I'd ever heard the name Bruce Springsteen. I still don't think Bruce is the best rock artist in the whole wide world. He's pretty good, though.

(I could give you the secret to why Springsteen's recordings are so good, but then I'd have to kill you.)

I think we'd gotten a special deal on HBO. At the time, HBO replayed the six same movies approximately ten thousand times. That was great if one really liked the movie. Ask me anything about "Nine To Five". Go ahead. Around that time, somebody (hopefully not Harvey Weinstein) convinced Neil Diamond that what he really needed to do was act. That somebody was sorely mistaken. I love Neil Diamond and I love, love George Strait, but neither of them should have ever taken one step in front of a movie camera. Nevertheless, "The Jazz Singer" became one of HBO's six featured movies, and I watched it and watched it again. Lucie Arnaz played the female lead. It was wallowingly schmaltzy, but it featured some good songs:

Two artists from 1981 would later go on to form a super-group. Here's Jeff Lynne:

In case you don't know, the other was George Harrison. George deserves his own damn post, and his hit from that year doesn't have a decent video. Don't take my omission as disrespecting George, because I respect him to pieces.

Country was fully represented in 1981. Those "purists" probably didn't appreciate these two hits, but they can go to hell. These two singles, especially the second one, will live on forever.

I awoke one cold December morning to my AM radio and a disc jockey saying words that seemed like an awful dream. I think he'd just played Ticket To Ride, and I thought, in my haze, well, that's a blast from the past. 

Then he said John was dead. 

I rolled over and flipped the volume dial on my radio. I still recall that green comforter tucked up to my chin and touching its white-etched flowers with my fingertip. 

And then he played this song. 

This song hurt so much because it was exactly, distinctly, the John who had transformed my life. From the tender age of nine, the very first time I'd heard him through my transistor speakers, John became my first love. 

I'd never lost anyone before I lost John. I was twenty-five years old. You don't lose somebody at twenty-five.

1981 was a good year in so many ways. I had two cute but incorrigible sons who romped around in blue-flannel pajamas. I loved my job. I was finally seeing a way out of crushing debt. Pop music was fun -- like music is supposed to be. 

Life doesn't really care how happy or sad we are:

Friday, October 13, 2017


Kids who grow up in a dysfunctional family can take one of two paths. Some become thrill-seekers, constantly on the lookout for something new, weird, unapproved. Others grab onto security with all their might -- wherever they can find it. There are downsides to both journeys. The daredevils can find themselves in over their heads, entangled in a life they don't know how they landed in, with no iota of a clue how to fight their way out. Safety nuts can be harshly judgmental and afraid to dip a toe into murky waters.

I grew up a scaredy-cat. I have veiled memories of family traditions from when I was a teeny kid -- holiday crisp-roasted turkey dinners, a pungent Christmas pine globbed with baby handfuls of shiny tinsel. By the time I turned eleven, there were no more traditions, unless one counts Dad passed out on the living room shag carpet as a sweet family memory. My parents did the best they could with what they had to work with. If I haven't completely forgiven them, I now at least understand. Kids are essentially bendable objects, though. I sussed out my own traditions from that time. Christmas Eve, once I retired behind the locked door of my bedroom, I unwrapped the gifts from my best friend, Alice, placed each of the two LP's on my turntable and marveled at my friend's exquisite taste. Sure, it was a solitary tradition, but once each of us had listened to the two albums we'd purchased for each other, we got on the phone and gushed for an hour or so.

I've been thinking about traditions this week and how the daredevils of the world want to rip them to shreds. I will never relate to that mindset. Traditions should be revered -- maybe because I have so few of them to claim.

Traditions can't be pre-planned. Did you ever set out to create one? It never works. "Hey, kids! Let's go out caroling in the neighborhood and then we'll come home and sip mugs of hot chocolate!" Year one, it's fun! Year two, one kid hangs back to stretch out on his bed and take a snooze. Year three, Kid Number Two lags a block behind, seething with resentment that Kid Number One gets a pass. He also wants to impress the cute girl from down the street and is certain that an a Capella rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful" will banish him to dweeb hell forever.

Traditions form organically.

Our annual family vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota featured lots of FM radio road songs. The songs that stuck were never the great ones. These were our two:

I will never hear either of these two songs without my mind flashing back to the tunnels of Needles Highway and a Chevy Malibu with its windows flayed wide open, the July winds whipping up mini-tornadoes as we traversed Highway 83 South.

Traditions could be as simple as a wintry stroll through a forest of trees tinged with frost; holding hands with the person you love -- and a fluffy white dog who is mesmerized by the scent of the decaying leaves that litter the ground. 

Traditions could be one alone on the night before Christmas, listening to Anne Murray's rendition of "I'll Be Home For Christmas". 

I don't understand those whose life goal is to banish traditions. What do they hold on to? 

"What are you doing for the holidays?"

"I don't know. Whatever."


If we have no traditions, we have nothing.

Take it from someone who had to invent her own. 

Maybe that's why I like this song so much:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Runnin' Down A Dream

I'm not a classic rock fan. I don't even know what the term, "classic rock" is supposed to mean. To me, classic rock is not the type of music they play on classic rock stations. Our local classic rock station has a playlist that consists of approximately nine songs. From what I can tell, classic rock consists of Aerosmith, ZZ Topp, The Who, and Tom Petty.

I am, however, a Tom Petty fan.

I honestly missed the Tom Petty era. The seventies were a lost decade of music for me. If it wasn't for my little sister, I wouldn't have any acquaintance with Tom at all. My sister turned me on to the album, "Full Moon Fever" in 1989. So I was only approximately ten years behind the times, in Tom Petty World.

What I knew about Tom Petty I could count on the fingers of one hand:  Full Moon Fever, his hat, The Traveling Wilburys. 

Lately I've been watching a Netflix documentary about Tom. I like him. He was a likeable guy. I was going along, liking him, and then he talked a bit about his childhood. And then I really liked him. I don't know why, but I'm continually surprised to learn that other people had crappy childhoods. I thought it was just me. I seriously did think that. Everybody I knew growing up seemed to live such serene lives. "Serene" is not a word I've used to describe myself -- ever. It makes me feel better to learn that somebody like Tom, who later touched the sky, started out as a messed-up kid. 

Musically, Tom will always be this to me:

Tom said, about this song, that each of the members of the group threw out lines, and they kept the best ones. I can pick out Dylan's words. Dylan's words, in general, are sublime. I would love to know which other words belonged to whom. 

George is gone, Roy (my heart) is long gone.

Now Tom is gone. It doesn't seem right somehow. It's too soon. I barely got to know him.

I'm ending this post this way, with joy. 

Bad Music For A Bad Day

It's counter-intuitive, but if I'm feeling bad and I have Sirius radio playing, I deliberately choose bad music. In my case tonight, it's the seventies channel.

I think perhaps it's because I'm not really listening to music -- I'm too busy wallowing. I don't want to be distracted by something semi-good.

I've chosen music in the past to match my feelings. When my dad died, I played Ray Price's "A Thing Called Sadness" over and over, loud. Dad and I loved that Ray Price album when I was growing up. It was fitting to say goodbye to him with music we had shared.

Sometimes a song says something at just the wrong time. George Strait's "You Can't Make A Heart Love Somebody" forced me to face what I preferred not to admit.

Did you ever have something gnawing on your brain, but you were too busy trying to get through the day to allow yourself to feel? I've been running non-stop for two weeks and I'm only halfway through my marathon. Tonight, it all hit me. I cried -- out of frustration and helplessness. They say everyone has choices in life, but it's not actually true.

So tonight, I'm listening to some of the worst songs ever recorded. Seventies music is great for that.

This post has no point, really. I think I will write another, if for no other reason than to try to make myself feel better.

And I think I will think about my dad....

Friday, October 6, 2017

Look At Us

In the summer of 1993 my mom and dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary was approaching. Clever as us six kids were, we determined we would surprise them with a secret party. I don't remember who first came up with the idea, but those of us who didn't live far away grabbed the reins of mega-party planning. It wasn't to be a big blowout -- just immediate family, which by that time included grandkids as well. Mom and Dad's brothers and sisters were far-flung, and we weren't about to impose upon them to travel (at their advanced age) the six hundred or so miles to the scene of a party they hardly cared about, because they had their own milestones to celebrate. Besides, we much preferred intimate gatherings. My two sisters who lived in Texas readily came on board. They agreed to show up "unexpectedly" for an impromptu visit. We arranged for a limo to pick up Dad and Mom to chauffeur them to the restaurant that we'd booked for their special dinner.

 I'm a pretty good organizer, and I'm a girl, which immediately deemed me one of the head planners. In actuality, my sister Rosie did the majority of the legwork. My older brother and my little brother no doubt had responsibilities, but I can't imagine or remember what those might have been.

For no logical reason, I decided I would be in charge of the "background" music for the dinner. This task I took very, very seriously. I apparently imagined that someone would actually care (no one did). I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. Because that's what I do. I am the "music person" of the family. That's my role.

Compiling fifty years of music of someone else's life is not an easy task. And it's rather presumptuous. I can't imagine that anyone could sum up fifty years of my life -- and I know they couldn't. How would they know which songs meant anything to me? It would be such an eclectic list.

However, I researched and scoured lists of music from all the decades. I went to Musicland (yes, it still existed then) and bought CD's that I needed in order to secure my masterpiece.

I had no idea whether this song meant anything to my parents, but if one thinks "forties", what else would they think but:

The fifties were trickier. The fifties were not a sublime decade for music. I was not about to go with "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window". I settled upon this:

The sixties were relatively easier. After all, I had this to fall back on:

Truly, I have no recollection of what I included for the seventies and the eighties. I'm sure, however, that it was awesome.

This, however, is the one that gets me every time:

This song was the coup de grĂ¢ce of my two-tape set. It summed up everything -- fifty years of happiness and heartache. I don't think anyone noticed or heard it that night, but I knew it was there. It was a tough one for me, because I'd witnessed it all when none of the other kids in my family had. I remembered everything. It's easy to gloss over the hard times when one doesn't have to live them. But optimist that I am, I still believed in happy endings. My mom and dad had one that night -- August nineteenth, nineteen ninety-three. 

When my mom passed away, my brother told all of us to take something that had meaning to us. I claimed that two-set cassette tape. I'd poured my heart into the making of it. Those amber ribbons were the only way I knew how to say, "I love you" to two people who were supremely complicated, but who shaped everything that I am.

I miss them. 

George Harrison claims they are still here. I don't know that I know that. I haven't talked to Dad in a long while. I don't think I've ever talked to Mom. Maybe they're still here. Maybe they care about the person I am now. Maybe they are saying, "she turned out okay".  

I'm happy I did what I did for them, on their fiftieth year. 

I did what I knew how to do.

Write For Yourself

Ever since Google stiffed me on my domain name, I lost my blog followers because no one knows how to find me. It seems that no one even finds my blog by accident -- I have received zero comments. To my regular readers it's as if I've simply disappeared. Nevertheless, I keep writing. I've had this blog since 2006 -- eleven years of meanderings; some fun, some sad. I'm a writer; that's what I do.

Introverts, they say, live inside their own heads. I don't think it's as simple as that. It's not as if I'm incapable of interacting with people. I once was -- when I was young. At one time, I was essentially mute. But one learns. I still prefer my own company, given a choice. I have things to think about. Not necessarily profound things -- just things. If I have time alone, it recharges me. Without that opportunity, I begin to flounder. I become clumsy -- running into walls, tipping over cups of coffee. I tipped over my coffee cup just this week -- soaked somebody's computer mouse. It's rather embarrassing, but it happened because my every waking moment has been pre-scheduled. Tonight is the first time I've been alone with my thoughts in a week.

All this is rather stream-of-consciousness. Since no one is reading, I just wanted to remind myself that writing for me is not a bad thing.

It's actually essential.

Now, back to the music...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Philadelphia Freedom

1975 was a bridge year for me. I'd gotten married in '74, one month shy of age nineteen. I was a "housewife" who still worked part-time for my parents -- because I was essentially afraid of the world. Plus, despite the courage I'd had to muster by age twelve due to the family dysfunction that had reared its ugly head, I'd lived a sheltered life. If sheltered means cloistered behind a sliding chain-lock in my room. I'd gone from high school to my first real job working for State government, which lasted as long as it took me to realize I was now ensconced in another maladjusted relationship, and I wasn't even related to these people! So I'd scurried back to the devil I knew.

Life was quiet. Sometimes we'd have breakfast at the Country Kitchen, when we could spare four dollars. We fished. Fishing sounds quaint and bucolic. In North Dakota, fishing is finding a path through the overgrowth of weeds snagging the shoreline of a "lake", which is in reality a slough at the end of a cow path smack-dab in the midst of brittle prairie grasses. We'd pack an insulated bag with Cokes and bologna sandwiches and Old Dutch potato chips, grab a ratty blanket, and off we'd go to the middle of nowhere. If I hadn't had my Kool cigarettes, I would have passed out from boredom. I learned how to cast a line, but I hoped to God I wouldn't catch anything, because then what would I do?

My husband's boss had talked him into joining the local Moose Lodge, so sometimes on a Friday night we'd drive over for a steak dinner. I hated steak (I had a beef revulsion at that time), but the price was right; something like $5.99, and it included a salad and a baked potato with those little chive sprinkles; and the lodge had a live band. I was a bad drinker. First of all, I never knew what kind of drink to order, so I'd go with a Tom Collins, which included a skewer with a cherry stuck in it. Two drinks and I would be babbling incoherently. I made many, many best friends at the Moose Lodge that I never again saw in my life after that night.

I'd planned out my first pregnancy. I would be married for two years (two years was the prescribed duration of newlywedness before a baby should appear. That was the lay of the land in the seventies.)

So, as I said, 1975 was my bridge year. In '76 I would become pregnant. Thus, I did those things one does when they have few responsibilities. I worked, I came home, I took a nap on the couch. I watched afternoon TV. I "cooked" dinner. (I was the world's worst cook. I knew how to make Kraft macaroni and cheese, which was fine by me until my other half complained that he wanted meat for supper. I abhorred meat, so that transition was a struggle.)  If nothing interesting was on TV, I'd snap on the radio that was a component of my faux-walnut console stereo system.

I was in that uncomfortable place, with one foot in the country world and the other in rock. Honestly, in the seventies it all blended together. Most music fans weren't snarky and judgmental. They accepted a track for what it was. Now, I'll grant you, we were maybe too accepting. We accepted a lot of shit in the seventies. One must understand, though, that we weren't in control of our entertainment -- it came to us. Aside from LP's, radio was king. TV, too. We put up with a lot of sleazy middle of the road trash that showed up on our screens, because what were we to do? Turn off the TV and go to bed?

Looking back at the top hits of 1975, I'm surprised I didn't just die.

Hits like this:

It's weird that I always thought this next song was a hit in 1976. My baby was a bicentennial baby. That was a big deal! And I have the red, white, and blue certificates from the hospital to prove it! Apparently Elton wanted to get out ahead of the curve, so he recorded this song just in time:

If you don't get the Bee Gees, then you weren't alive in the seventies. Barry latched onto a winning formula and wouldn't let go. Barry Gibb's vision took the trio through approximately two years of hits. This is not their most familiar, but the message here is essentially the same:

There was a little basement bar not far from my dad's motel that featured live acts sometimes. It was a tiny spot that couldn't have possibly made up the featured band's expenses in cover charges. I'm thinking Lee Merkel's bar lost money on that venture, but I saw a few acts there, really up-close, and I remember them all.  To be frank, I didn't know who the Doobie Brothers were. I didn't know a lot of things. They performed this song:

It's funny how memory deceives us. My husband would tell you that the premier act of 1975 was the Rolling Stones; yet they had no single in the top 100 of the year. 

Instead, it was this:

I guess we get to watch still pictures as we listen to the number sixty-one single of the year by Grand Funk Railroad:

Another aspect of 1975 was Barry Manilow. Scoff if you will, but Barry Manilow was huge in the seventies. I saw him in concert. I saw tons of acts. I saw anyone who came to town. 

One of my fondest memories is singing this next song with my little sister. We were on a road trip with countless family members -- my dad and my mom, my husband, a nephew or two; and Lissa and I were in the front seat with my dad. Everybody else was asleep in the back. Lissa and I did an awesome version of this song as it played on the car radio:

1975 wouldn't be complete without this song:

There are two songs that for me memorialize 1975. There is no rational reason -- they're not my favorite songs. They're just there -- there in my pea-brained memory. 

Here is the first:

And then -- ahhh -- this one:

1975 was a bridge. After that, life would be forever changed.