Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rolling Stones – "Parachute Woman" (1968)

Parachute woman
Land on me tonight

Did you ever own a pair of hopsack Levi's?

Hopsack is a coarse, loosely-woven fabric made from cotton or other fibers.  It's a little like burlap.

Hopsack Levi's
Levis made hopsack jeans back in the sixties.  I recall having two pairs of hopsack Levi's in high school – one was navy, while the other was sort of mustard-ish.  Our high school's dress code didn't allow us to wear regular blue jeans, but the hopsack Levi's were acceptable.

By the time I started college, bell-bottom jeans had become de rigeur.  But Scott, my freshman roommate, continued to wear his narrow-leg hopsack jeans throughout our college years.

Scott was a pretty retro guy.  He wore white rubber-soled canvas tennis shoes and button-down Oxford cloth shirts with his narrow-leg jeans, and sported horn-rimmed, Buddy-Holly-style glasses at a time where everyone was switching over to contact lenses.

(No "bells" for Scott!)
Scott's eccentricities extended far beyond his fashion choices.  At a time when everyone else was blasting Led Zeppelin, Chicago, and King Crimson on their dorm-room stereos, Scott's favorite musician was the relatively obscure protest singer Phil Ochs – which was particularly odd because Scott was not at all political.

Scott didn't have long hair, he didn't take drugs, and he didn't drink alcohol.  (His beverage of choice was Donald Duck-brand frozen orange juice, which he had chosen based on its Consumer Reports ranking.)

Scott's beverage of choice
When we were juniors or seniors, Scott started skydiving at an airport in suburban Houston.  Skydiving quickly became a very important part of his life.

One Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1975, I took Scott to the offices of the law firm where I had a summer job to test drive LEXIS, a brand-new computerized legal research database.

LEXIS terminal (c. 1980)
Scott suggested I do a search for information about a lawsuit that arose from the worst recreational skydiving disaster in history.  

In 1967, a group of parachutists took off from an airfield in northern Ohio in a converted B-25 bomber.  The plan was for the skydivers to jump from 20,000 feet, a higher-than-usual altitude that would allow them to enjoy an usually long free fall before opening their parachutes.  

B-25 bomber
Unfortunately, an air traffic controller on the ground confused the B-25 with another plane on his radar, and told the pilot of the B-25 he was over the airfield when he was actually over Lake Erie.

The pilot signaled the skydivers that they were good to go, and they jumped.  They had no clue that were over the lake until they broke through a layer of clouds at 4000 feet.  Two of the skydivers survived but 16 others drowned.

Using LEXIS, I quickly found a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision holding that the federal government was liable to the families of the skydivers for the negligence of its employee, the air-traffic controller.  (I later found out to my horror that the cost of doing that search was a couple of hundred dollars, but I didn't get in any trouble as a result.)

Eight-man formation
Click here if you'd like to read that court decision.

Scott eventually joined a competitive skydiving team that was based in Los Angeles.  For some time, he was flying from Houston to Los Angeles and back almost every weekend so he could practice with that team.  Eventually he packed up and moved to Los Angeles.

Scott traveled all over the world to jump in international skydiving competitions.  He was a member of an eight-man formation skydiving team that won two world championships in the 1980s.

A formation of more than a hundred skydivers
The last I heard, Scott was still alive.

"Parachute Woman," which was released in 1968 on the Beggars Banquet album, has nothing at all to do with skydiving.  It's a stripped-down 12-bar blues with sexual innuendo that Mick Jagger lays on so thick it's not really accurate to call it innuendo.  In other words, it's just the kind of song that God created the Rolling Stones to play.

The Stones performed "Parachute Woman" live only twice – once in 1968 and once in 2002.

Here's "Parachute Woman":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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