Friday, January 6, 2017

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – "What I Am" (1988)


What I am is what I am 
Are you what you are or . . . what?

I’ve been kind of a big deal my whole life.

My first birthday party was covered by the local newspaper, the Paragould (Arkansas) Daily Press.  (That's me in the crib – I've drawn a red circle around my head.)

Happy birthday to me!
In case the print in that photo is too small for you to read, here’s what it says:

Gary Hailey celebrated his first birthday Saturday afternoon with a party at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Hailey, 617 North 6th Street.  Gary is the grandson of Mrs. Cecil Hailey of Neosho, MO, and Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Cooper of Joplin, MO.

[NOTE: Yes, my paternal grandmother apparently spelled her first name “Cecil,” not “Cecile.”]

Pictured above at the gala event are Barbara Bishop, Steve Branch, Mickey Branch, Steve Bishop, Rita Spillman, and Sherry Tucker.  In the playpen are Eva Schreit and the little honoree.

Refreshments of birthday cake and cold drinks were served, and Gary received many nice gifts.

(Damn, that dude could write!  The article is not bylined, but I’m betting that its author ended up as a star reporter in Memphis or St. Louis – the two big cities nearest to Paragould – or maybe even Chicago.) 

*     *     *     *     *

I usually tell people that I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Joplin, Missouri.  

You should take that statement seriously, but not literally.  I was born in Joplin, but my parents and I moved to Paragould when I was a baby because the company my father worked for transferred him there.  (I moved back to Joplin about a year later, and stayed there until after I graduated from high school.)

I’m glad the newspaper article I quoted above included our Paragould street address, which enabled me to go to Google Earth and see what our old house looks like today — over 60 years later:

What our Paragould home looks like today
Paragould, which is the 19th-largest city in Arkansas, grew up around the intersection of two competing railroads – the Texas and St. Louis Railway, and the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway.  

The city’s name is a portmanteau word that combines the names of the presidents of those two railroads: James W. Paramore and Jay Gould.

Gould – the famous (or infamous) “robber baron” who controlled 15% of the trackage in the whole country at the time – objected to his name being second rather than first.  For a time he refused to use the name Paragould on his railroad’s timetables.

Jay Gould
When I recently asked my mother about why we didn’t stay in Paragould longer, she said that my father’s employer would have likely asked my father to move to California next, but they decided to return to Joplin instead, where he went back to a non-management job.  

My mother, who was an only child, was very close to her parents and her large extended family – my grandmother was one of seven kids, so my mother had plenty of aunts and uncles and cousins close by.  I’m sure she would have wanted no part of packing up the “little honoree” and moving to California, where she wouldn’t have known a soul.

When you hear a story like that, it makes you realize how your life could have been totally different.  I don’t know where in California my father might have been asked to transfer to, but being a teenager in the sixties in either the San Francisco or Los Angeles areas would have been very different than growing up in Joplin.  

Of course, it’s not certain that I would have been a world-famous rock musician or movie star if I had grown up in California instead of Missouri.  Likely, yes – but not certain.

Anyway, no use crying over spilled milk . . . and no use blaming my mother, who probably did me a favor by keeping me in Joplin.  After all, California in the sixties was full of dangerous temptations that might have proved irresistible to me – like LSD and braless hippie chicks, to name just a couple.

So thanks, Mom . . . thanks a lot!

*     *     *     *     *

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured a bluegrass song from a 2013 Edie Brickell-Steve Martin.

Today’s featured song, “What I Am,” was the lead single on the first Edie Brickell & New Bohemians album, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, which was released in 1988. 


“What I Am,” one of the most iconic songs of its era, made it all the way to #4 on the Billboard “Modern Rock Tracks” chart, and the album reached the same spot on the Billboard album chart.

The problem with having a big hit single and a big hit album right out of the box is that there’s nowhere to go but down . . . which is exactly where Edie and her band went.

Don’t cry for Edie Brickell, 2 or 3 lines readers.  In 1992, Edie (who was 26 at the time) married the 50-year-old Paul Simon.  She was his third wife.  (The late Carrie Fisher was wife number two.)

In 2014, Edie and Paul were arrested for disorderly conduct at their home in fancy-schmancy New Canaan, Connecticut, when an argument between the couple got out of hand.  The two were all smiles when they appeared in court a couple of days later, and held hands during their hearing.

Here’s “What I Am," which thinks it's a cool song pretending to be an uncool song . . . but which is really an uncool song pretending to be a cool song:



Click below to buy the song from Amazon:


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