Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues" (1970)

I've got this good lookin' woman back home,
     let me tell you, uh-huh
She cooks good and she looks good 
     and she just can't do no wrong
She cooks me cornbread in the morning, 

     she's my dinner and my midnight snack
She sits up and she begs

     and she even rolls over on her back. . . .

She don't treat me mean

     and she loves my machine
I digs her cause she's funky 

     and she sure keeps it clean
I'm a loafer, she's my chauffeur, 

     and she sure likes to drive me
I lay my life on the line, 

     and she steps right up besides me.

What do you say, ladies?  Which of those lines is the most objectionable?

1.  "She cooks good and she looks good"?

2. "She sits up and she begs, and she even rolls over on her back"?

3.  "I digs her cause she's funky and she sure keeps it clean"?

4.  All of the above?

Part Six -- Day of Infamy: The First Half and the Halftime Show

Trust me, boys and girls, this post absolutely proves that truth is stranger -- and much more entertaining -- than fiction.  Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.  I promise you won't be sorry you did.   It's effing epic.

(Click here if you haven't read Part Five of this series of posts.)

The on-the-field matchup on November 17, 1973 -- Rice vs. Texas A&M -- didn't draw much attention prior to the game.  Rice hadn't had a winning season in a number of years, and while A&M usually fielded a strong team, its '73 squad ended the season below .500. So the game figured to be something of a yawner.

Guess again, folks -- the game turned out to be a nailbiter.  But what made the afternoon truly memorable had nothing to do with the two teams and everything to do with . . . the Rice marching band and the Texas A&M ROTC cadet corps?

Let's set the stage for the non-Texans in the crowd.  Back in the 1970's, there existed something called the Southwest Conference, or SWC -- which was an athletic conference that was every bit the football equal of the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12 (which was the Big Eight before four SWC schools joined it).

The SWC consisted of the University of Arkansas, three Texas public mega-universities (the University of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M), and four private Texas schools (Baylor, TCU, SMU, and -- last and sometimes least, at least when it came to football wins -- Rice).  As you might expect, the big state schools tended to pound the smaller private schools on the gridiron.

Rice was not only the smallest school in the SWC, it was by far the most liberal.  A&M was the most conservative, although most of the other SWC schools were somewhat conservative.

In 1973, the U.S. was trying to extricate itself from the decade-long Vietnam War, while Richard Nixon was deeply embroiled in the Watergate controversy.  (As noted previously, the very day of the Rice-Texas A&M game was the day that President Nixon -- defending the his "Saturday Night Massacre" dismissal of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox -- famously told an audience of newspaper editors "I am not a crook.")  A&M had so many ROTC students in those days that it was essentially a Texas West Point, while Rice students were mostly antiwar. 

There were many other fundamental cultural differences between the two schools.  (There was no doubt much more illegal drug use at Rice, and I have a feeling that Grateful Dead records were relatively rare at A&M.)  The differences between the Rice and A&M student bodies were reasonably representative of the differences between the counterculture and the silent majority.

Rice experienced a great deal of football success in the 1950's.  The '53 Rice squad beat Alabama in the 1954 Cotton Bowl, and the Owls also played in bowl games after the '57, '60, and '61 seasons. 

The 1954 Cotton Bowl victory over Alabama (which was quarterbacked by Bart Starr) featured perhaps the oddest play in college football history.  As Rice's Dicky Maegle broke away from the Alabama defense and crossed midfield en route to what was sure to be a 95-yard touchdown run, an Alabama player came off the bench to tackle him.  The referees awarded Rice a touchdown.

But by the time I matriculated, Rice's football fortunes were at a low ebb.  My freshman year, the team went 5-5.  It was over 20 years before they improved on that record.

Dumb-ass Razorback fan
The '73 season kicked off with a one-sided loss to the University of Houston.  After a win over Montana -- not exactly a football power -- the Owls took it on the chin from LSU, Notre Dame, SMU, Texas and Texas Tech.

Sitting at 1-6, the Owls rebounded to beat Arkansas (much to my delight -- all my mother's family lived in or around Fayetteville, and I grown up loathing those stupid plastic "hog hats" and everything else about Razorback Nation).

(By the way, for those of you who went to college north of the Mason-Dixon line, all I can say is YOU BLEW IT! Suffice it to say that Houston ain't Chicago or Boston or Minneapolis. There was no need for down parkas or ski masks or long underwear at Rice Owl football games -- shorts and T-shirts were the uniform of the day when we went to watch a game.  In fact, Rice played its games at night until November because it was simply too hot in September and October for daytime football.)

Next on the schedule was A&M.  That game was played at Rice, but you can't really say it was a home game.  Rice Stadium was massive, seating some 70,000 fans.  In fact, SuperBowl VIII was played at Rice Stadium less than two months after the A&M game.  (My girlfriend and I saw Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton eating dinner with his family at a local steak restaurant the Friday night before the game.  I don't think that would happen now.)  

Rice Stadium hosted Super Bowl VIII on January 13, 1974
President John F. Kennedy famously promised that the United States would put a man on the moon in a 1962 speech at Rice Stadium.

Rice only had about 2500 undergraduates -- you could seat every single living Rice alumnus in Rice Stadium, and still have seats left over.  So when we hosted the big state schools -- especially Texas and Texas A&M, which not only had many more students than Rice but also many loyal Houston-area alumni who knew that they could usually count on their teams pounding the lowly Owls -- we were greatly outnumbered.

Rice QB Tommy Kramer
In the '73 A&M game, everything went Rice's way in the first half.  As I recall -- and you should take all my recollections of this game (not to mention almost everything else I say) with a large grain of salt -- Rice's entertaining but erratic passing offense clicked on three long completions, each of which resulted in a score, and the Owls led 17-0 at halftime.  (Until I started doing the research for this post, I had forgotten that Rice's quarterback in this game was "Touchdown Tommy" Kramer, who was the first-round draft choice of the Vikings a few years later, and who had a long and very productive career in the NFL.)

The Aggie crowd had reason to be in a foul mood at the intermission -- their team had dominated the line of scrimmage in the first two quarters, but the combination of A&M miscues and Rice's big plays had put the Aggies in a deep hole.

As mentioned previously, the majority of Aggie students in those days were members of the Corps of Cadets.  They sat in a large block, responding as one when their male yell leaders gave them the signal.  

Here's a short video about the Aggie yell leaders:

The Aggie cadets stand up for the entire game, symbolically demonstrating their willingness to come out of the stands and suit up for the team if a "twelfth man" is needed.  This video explains how that custom started:

Another Corps of Cadets custom is that you got to kiss your date whenever the Aggies scored a touchdown.  So there was an additional reason that being shut out in the first half by Rice had put the adets in a grumpy mood. 

The much smaller group of Rice students attending the game sat in an adjacent section.  (The alums and other fans were mostly on the other side of the stadium.)  I was fascinated by the contrast between the cadets and my fellow Rice students -- I spent a lot of the game observing them.

At halftime, the Aggie Band took the field first and did what the Aggie Band always did -- it marched up and down and back and forth to ponderous military march tunes, executing its complicated manuevers flawlessly.  We were not exactly favorably inclined to members of the military in those days, and the spectacle of this 400-man military band -- the seniors (including a few very short and skinny piccolo players) equipped with sabers and wearing their knee-high senior boots -- inspired derisive shouts and gestures.

Fightin' Texas Aggie Band's "ATM" formation
Then it was the Rice band's turn.  From the Rice student newspaper, the Thresher:

The favored Aggies were down 17-0 as their band left the field and the MOB marched on. For three years, the Marching Owl Band has performed humorous halftime shows; this week's offering was a "salute to Texas A&M," parodying the Aggie military band.

Goose-stepping onto the field to the tune of an old German march, distinctively unmilitary in a variety of silly hats and helmets, the MOB was greeted by booing which continued as . . . the rubber-booted drum major, led them down the field. The first formation was a chicken thigh, as guest of honor Marvin Zindler, an ex-baton champion carried out a virtuoso twirling routine. Zindler, the man famous for closing down the Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, was also booed by the A&M sections.

Marvin Zindler
Marvin Zindler requires some explanation.  Zindler had worked for the sheriff's department and local district attorney before becoming an investigative reporter for a Houston TV station in 1973.  He was sort of a combination of Geraldo Rivera and John Stossel -- but with a bad hairpiece.

In July of that year, Zindler and another reporter exposed the "Chicken Ranch," an illegal brothel that had operated openly just outside the small central Texas town of La Grange for decades.

The brothel, which operated quite openly and was tolerated by the local sheriff, got the name "Chicken Ranch" during the depression, when its owner allowed customers to pay for a zesty session with a chicken if they didn't have cash.

From Wikipedia:

The Chicken Ranch was highly successful. In the 1950s the Ranch employed sixteen prostitutes. On weekends there was often a line of men, mostly students or soldiers from nearby military bases, at the door. One base supplied a helicopter for soldiers to use for transportation to the ranch. Students at Texas A&M University also made an unofficial tradition of sending freshmen to the Chicken Ranch for inititation.  The Chicken Ranch was preferred because many of the girls were allegedly University of Texas students.

(Now we know why the Aggies booed Zindler.)

After Zindler blew the whistle on the Chicken Ranch, it quietly went out of business.  The affair was the inspiration for the successful Broadway musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which was later made into a movie starring Dolly Parton (as the madame) and Burt Reynolds (as the local sheriff).

Here's the "Aggie Song" scene from the movie -- as you'll see, it depicts the A&M football team preparing to celebrate a victory with a visit to the Chicken Ranch.

The Chicken Ranch also inspired ZZ Top's first big hit, "La Grange": 

Back to the halftime show. After Zindler did his baton-twirling act -- yes, he really was a former baton champion -- the MOB's chicken leg morphed into an Aggie senior boot.  The MOB's public-address announcer explained thusly:

The MOB has formed a famous Senior Boot, the greatest thing to happen to Aggieland since the manure spreader.  Aggie freshmen will agree that at the base of every Senior Boot is a big heel.

Back to the Thresher article:

[When the band formed the boot,] parts of the audience laughed.  The Aggies didn't.  Ice and paper began to fly onto the field, intensifying as the band formed a fireplug for Reveille, the female collie mascot of A&M, and a twirler paraded with an empty leash, to the tune of "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"

Back to the MOB script:

The MOB now salutes Reveille, the mascot of the Aggies. This is a little dog with a big responsibility. But even Reveille likes to make that pause that refreshes. [pause] So the MOB has formed a fire hydrant and plays "Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"

Reveille III
A note about Reveille, the name given to all the dog who have served at mascots for the Aggie football team.  Years after the 1973 game, there was a rumor going around that the MOB had made fun of the passing of Reveille III, the purebred female collie had become the mascot in 1966.  In fact, Reveille III died in 1975, so the '73 halftime show could not have made light of her demise.

The last MOB formation was a weak imitation of the famous Aggie block-T, but instead of marching the "Aggie War Hymn,"the MOB played "March of the Wooden Soldiers" -- a song from the 1930's movie, Babes in Toyland

Here's a brief video of the Radio City Music Hall "Rockettes" doing a "March of the Wooden Soldiers" routine:

The MOB's trumpeters then sounded "Retreat" as the band left the field, booed lustily and pelted with paper cups by the Aggie cadets.  The band was leaving the field just as the Aggie players were returning to their bench, which slowed the MOB's exit from the field, and a minor melee broke out. 

I had always heard that the reaction to the fire hydrant formation and the playing of "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone" had so disturbed the Rice band director that the MOB left the field without performing its final number.  I see nothing about that in any of the printed accounts of the incident, so I'm probably wrong.  (If any readers can shed some light on that question, please do so.)

Here's Grand Funk Railroad's "I Don't Have To Sing The Blues":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

I Don't Have to Sing the Blues - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link to use if your prefer Amazon:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Simon and Garfunkel -- "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970)

I'll take your part when darkness comes, 
And pain is all around, 
Like a bridge over troubled water 

"2 or 3 lines" has three kinds of posts.  First, there are the wiseguy show-off posts.  Second, there are the pedantic show-off posts.  Finally, there are the sentimental -- sometimes maudlin -- posts.  

This post fits in the third category.  You may want to get the Kleenex out.

I wrote about our dog, Hannah, shortly after we found out a few months ago that she had an aggressive form of bone cancer.  Many of you already know that we had her euthanized a couple of weeks ago.  I wasn't planning on writing about her any more, but here I am, doing exactly that.

My family had a fair amount of time to prepare for the inevitable, and Hannah did very well for a long time after the diagnosis -- she couldn't put any weight at all on her bad leg for the last couple of months of her life, but managed to get around reasonably well on three legs, and she otherwise seemed perfectly normal up until her last week or two of life.

We had a 5:30 pm appointment on a Friday to take her to our local vet for euthanasia.  I made plans to come home early from work to take her in -- my wife was deeply affected by her illness, and I knew how distraught she would have been if she had to take Hannah to the vet.

We all know what happens to the best laid schemes of mice and men, don't we?  

About 3 pm that Friday, the vet's office called my wife.  They had lost power, and the office was going to close early.  We could bring Hannah in first thing Saturday morning if we wanted to -- but my wife and I and both of our children who still live at home had to leave at 6 am the next morning to drive to North Carolina to visit our oldest son.  

The vet said she and the office staff could wait a few minutes for my wife to bring Hannah in if she wanted to do that.  She called me and after a brief conversation, that's what we decided to do.  

The vet and her staff spread a blanket in front of the reception desk (the examination/operating rooms had no windows, and were completely dark), and my wife sat on the floor as the vet gave Hannah one injection, waited several minutes, and then administered a second injection -- the one that would end her life.

This was a terrible experience for my wife.  She hung in there (with the help of a very sympathetic vet and her office staff) but she would have rather been anywhere else in the world.

As a result of the change in plans, I didn't have a chance to say good-bye to Hannah. 

It would have taken me a solid hour to get from my office to the vet's, and it obviously wouldn't have been reasonable to ask everyone at the vet's office to sit around in the dark for an hour until I arrived.  

I recently read an account of the last days of the 18th-century philosopher, David Hume.  When Hume's doctor visited him during his last illness, he told Hume that he would tell one of close friends that Hume was doing better and would likely recover.  But Hume -- who knew he was dying -- would have none of that.

"Doctor," Hume said, "as I believe you would not choose to tell anything but the truth, you had better tell him that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire."  Hume was able to have a final dinner with his friends shortly before his death, and seemed perfectly serene as he said goodbye to them.

Hannah's last moments, by contrast, were rushed and improvised.  I regret that -- partly for her sake but (let's be honest) mostly for mine.  I had a picture in my mind of what her end would be like, and it turned out being nothing like that.       

It would have been cathartic for me to be there at the end.  Several years ago, I held our old cat in my lap as he was euthanized, and I wanted to do that for Hannah as well.  It was the least I could do for her.

Would it have really mattered to Hannah?  I don't think so -- she was in good hands at the end.  Would it have made it easier for me to accept her loss?  Maybe -- I don't know.

Hannah was a part of our family for a long time, and until these last few months, she had the kind of long and healthy and active life that anyone who has a dog would hope for that dog.  We are thankful for her 13 years with us, and I'd like to think that all of us are better and wiser people for having known her.

I suppose one lesson that I learned that day is that you can't expect the bell to toll for you exactly on the hour -- it probably won't.  So be ready for that bell at all times, boys and girls.  Don't complain that it tolled ahead of schedule, or that you weren't ready when it did.  

What does all this have to do with "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"?

I was riding my bike last weekend, thinking about what the 100th song to be discussed on "2 or 3 lines" should be.  (If you've read my last post, you know what song I chose to be #100 and why.) 

So while I was thinking these deep thoughts, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" popped up on my iPod, and I started thinking even deeper thoughts.  

After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the summer of 1968, his body lay in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, and then was transported by train to Washington, where it was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  I have a vivid memory of seeing film of the funeral train passing some of the thousands and thousands of mourners who had lined the tracks to pay tribute to Kennedy.

In my memory, the soundtrack to that film was "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."  But Simon and Garfunkel's recording of that song was not released until January 1970 -- 18 months after Kennedy was murdered.

I suppose it's possible that I saw the footage of the funeral train several years after Kennedy's death, and that whoever edited the film used "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" as its soundtrack.  It's also possible, of course, that the whole thing is a figment of my imagination.

As a pianist, it's my opinion that you can't improve on the combination of a human voice and a piano.  In support of that opinion, I offer "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."  (The pianist who performed on that record was Larry Knechtel, a veteran studio musician who also played harmonica and bass guitar.)

I don't know that this song has anything to do with Hannah and her death, other than that I associate it with Kennedy's death and so with death generally.  But listening to it that day brought her to mind.

I had hoped to take Hannah over the bridge that day.  Ultimately it didn't really matter, but I'm still sorry that things didn't go as planned.  I think I would feel better about Hannah's passing if I had had the chance to be with her at the end -- to say good-bye.  It didn't work out that way.  That's life.  

Here's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters":


Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Bridge Over Troubled Water (Remastered)

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beach Boys -- "Caroline, No" (1966)

I remember how you used to say
You'd never change
But that's not true

"Caroline, No" is the 100th song to be featured on "2 or 3 lines."  As my regular readers know, I take anniversaries and other milestones VERY seriously.  

I recently read a review of a new edition of Mark Twain's autobiography, and learned that Twain said this about the "system" of autobiography that he developed:

"[T]he law of the system is that I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted.  It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course.  It is a system which is a complete and purported jumble -- a course which begins nowhere, follows no specific route, and can never reach an end while I am alive."  

Mark Twain
I think Twain has written an excellent description of 2 or 3 lines

This what the reviewer had to say about Twain's system:

"[T]his discursive ramble through his life proves nothing so much as that what interested him at any given moment is not necessarily of interest to anyone else.  Reading [Twain's autobiography] is like being trapped in a locked room with a garrulous old coot . . . who loves the sound of his own voice and hasn't the slightest inclination to turn it off.  The best passages are funny or thoughtful or touching or outspoken, sometimes all at once, but others are merely buzzes, hums and drones."

This is also an excellent description of "2 or 3 lines," n'est-ce pas?

Why did I choose "Caroline, No" as the 100th song to be featured on "2 or 3 lines"?  There are several reasons.  For one thing, when I was given my first CD player on Christmas 1991, I was also given my first two CDs -- Pet Sounds and one other.  

The last wish of Andy Lippincott, a gay character in Doonesbury who was dying of AIDS, was to live long enough to hear Pet Sounds on CD -- a wish that came true just in time for him:

I bought the Pet Sounds LP in 1967 or '68, I think -- so I was already very familiar with it when I was given the CD.

Pet Sounds is the album that I most associate with my teenage angst.  I had a pretty bad case of it, and when the symptoms were at their most severe, I would often put Pet Sounds on my parents' Magnavox console stereo and lie on the floor with my head directly under it.

My putative reason for doing this was to maximize the stereo effect -- I'd hear the two channels very sharply separated that way.  But it was more my way of hiding from the world -- literally (by physically putting my head into a confined space and hiding my face from view) and figuratively (by drowning out all my mental anxiety and apprehension with the sounds of the Beach Boys).

I don't have my Pet Sounds LP any more.  I gave it to my high-school girlfriend when I left for college.  This is still one of my most characteristic moves -- I often attempt to communicate my feelings by quoting from songs or books.  (Other people's words articulate what I'm thinking so much better than I can.)

I can't really explain why Pet Sounds is so good.  If you have the album and feel like I do about it, I don't need to explain it -- you get it.

If you have it and don't think it's anything special, I have nothing to say to you.

If you're not familiar with it, PLEASE buy it or download it or get it from your local library or listen to all the songs on YouTube or whatever.  

There's no other album that affects me like Pet Sounds does.  It immediately transforms me into the 16-year-old version of myself.  That's both good and bad.  And even if it's more bad than good, I can't resist listening to it every so often.

"Caroline, No" is the final song on the album, which has been praised by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and many others.  Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the #2 album of all time (behind only Sgt. Pepper, which Beatles' producer George Martin said was the Beatles' attempt to equal Pet Sounds).

Several other music magazines have ranked it as the #1 album of all time, and  a panel of top musicians, songwriter, and producers assembled by the British music magazine Mojo in 1995 -- 30 years after it was recorded -- voted it the greatest album ever made. 

Brian Wilson, who wrote "Caroline, No" with the help of Tony Asher, said it was his favorite song on the album and "the prettiest ballad I've ever sung."  The song was released as a Brian Wilson single -- not a Beach Boys single.  Although Pet Sounds is a Beach Boys album, the other members of the group had a very limited role in creating it.  Wilson and Asher wrote virtually all of the words and music to the album's songs, and the backing tracks were recorded by a group of very skilled and prolific studio musicians (known collectively as "The Wrecking Crew").

Brian Wilson in 1966
Asher's former girlfriend was named Carol, and Wilson had an unrequited romantic interest in a Carol he had gone to high school with, and the song was originally written by Asher as "Carol, I Know."  Wilson misheard him and thought the title was "Caroline, No," and he and Asher decided they liked that better.  

I loved "Caroline, No" long before I had a daughter named Caroline.  (As far as I recall, the song had nothing to do with our naming her that.  I think my wife liked the name and, therefore, so did I.)  Before my other three children get all bent out of shape, let me assure them that this song is equally about all of them in my mind.

The song is clearly about a girl who no longer is in love with the singer -- her feelings have changed, leaving the singer (who is still in love with her) to pine for the good old days.

For me, it's about Caroline -- and all my children -- growing up all too quickly.  And once your children have grown up, you're not young any more -- maybe that's the real issue here, at least for me.

My youngest is only 16, and a sophomore in high school -- so at least I have him for a couple of more years.  After he leaves, I have to wait for grandchildren, and who knows how long that will take.

Here's "Caroline, No."  You'll have to excuse me if I don't stay around and keep you company while you listen to it.  (I'd probably embarrass us both.)

Here's a link to use to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "Get It Together" (1970)

Got to get it together 
Got to get it together
Got to get it together

It was pretty easy for me to choose the 2 or 3 lines to quote from this song.  (Kind of like shopping in a Moscow grocery store back in the old days.)

Part Five:  The Rice Marching Owl Band (a/k/a "The MOB")

The roots of the Rice University "Marching Owl Band" -- better known on campus as "The MOB" -- go back to 1916.  The band was a typical marching band until 1970 -- also the year that I arrived at Rice, although that is probably just a coincidence -- when it began to break with tradition and build its halftime shows around political parodies, off-color humor, etc.

The MOB is what is known as a "scatter" (or "scramble") band.  Such groups move from one formation into the next by running around chaotically until everyone is approximately where they should be.  Members of scatter bands like them because they eschew all that complicated marching stuff -- it's so much easier when all you have to do is learn the music.

The Rice Marching Owl Band (or"MOB")

Scatter bands are endemic to fancy-pants private universities -- it's mostly Ivy League and Ivy League-wannabe schools that have such bands.  Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, and Yale all have scatter bands.  Their halftime shows usually consist of equal parts of "intellectual" humor and appalling bad taste -- sort of a cross between  "Saturday Night Live" and Howard Stern's show.  To truly appreciate the performances, it helps to have a smug and condescending attitude to anyone who's not a student at (or an alumnus of) a top-20 college.  

The Princeton University band

(Just to be clear, I'm not singling out the band members as being smug and condescending.  Most of the students at schools like that are smug and condescending.  I certainly was.)

Scatter bands seem funniest when they are juxtaposed against traditional marching bands.  Given that 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools have scatter bands (Cornell being the sole holdout), what's the point?  Wouldn't it be much more daring and cutting-edge for an Ivy League school to have an old-fashioned marching band?

One school that you might not expect to have a scatter band is Humboldt State University, a school that is definitely not an Ivy League-wannabe.  It's located in Arcata, CA, some 279 miles north of San Francisco.  The "Marching Lumberjacks" appear wearing yellow logger's hardhats, suspenders, yellow T-shirts, green work pants, and boots. 

Here's a video of a 2009 Marching Lumberjacks halftime show:

Not quite up to the standards of the Harvard, Yale, and Stanford bands, but not bad.

I could do another eight-post series just on the wacky and/or offensive bits included in scatter-band performances over the years, but I'm not sure I could stand eight more Grand Funk Railroad songs.  So I'll just list a few "highlights" from past scatter-band halftime shows:

-- In 1967, the Harvard-Princeton game was broadcast by the ABC television network.  The Princeton band opened its halftime show by forming the letters "NBC."  

-- In 1977, at the conclusion of their show at the Yale-Brown game, the Yale band's announcer stated that they had been chosen as the "Most Pampered Band in the Country."  Band members then dropped their pants, revealing that they were all wearing diapers.  The band then marched off the field with their pants around their ankles.    

-- In 1991, Notre Dame banned the Stanford band from performing at Notre Dame after the band's male drum major dressed as a nun and conducted the band using a wooden cross as a baton.  

-- In 1992, the Columbia University band pantomimed the consummation of a same-sex marriage at the halftime of the Yale game.

-- In 1994, Stanford band members drove a white Ford Bronco with bloody handprints around the Stanford stadium track during the halftime of the USC game.  (USC is O. J. Simpson's alma mater, of course.)

Of course, EVERYONE knows about the time when the Stanford band came on to the field to celebrate an apparent victory over rival Cal a bit prematurely:

Th Colorado State band is not a scatter band, but this bit -- titled "Suicidal Trombones" -- is too good not to include.

Back to the MOB.  There are a number of MOB videos available on YouTube.  Most of the jokes are very inside, and would take too long to explain, so I'll settle for embedding a brief video of the MOB playing the unofficial Rice fight song -- "Louie, Louie" -- during last year's homecoming game.  (Note the young lady in the evening dress playing the violin -- the MOB's membership includes several string players and various other instruments not usually seen in a marching band.)

Before bringing this post to a close, I have to tell you about my favorite MOB bit.  During one halftime performance when I was a student, the band formed a rectangle as the announcer explained that the MOB was paying tribute to the state of Colorado.

Then, the band members that made up the left and right sides of the rectangle slowly marched toward the center of the formation, passed through one another and stopped when the rectangle was re-formed -- the only change being that the kids that had been on the left were now on the right (and vice versa).  The announcer then explained that the band was now paying tribute to the state of Wyoming.

If you don't get it, maybe this map (which depicts not only Colorado and Wyoming but also throws in Nebraska at no additional charge) will help:

Here's a link to buy this song from iTunes:

Get It Together - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link on Amazon you can use to buy a CD that contains the MOB playing "Louie, Louie":

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "Nothing Is The Same" (1970)

Opportunity only knocks once
If you shut it out it's a sin
And when something keeps right on poundin',
Then, my friend, you'd better let it in

So does opportunity only knock once? Or does it "keep on poundin'"? More importantly, why am I trying to analyze Grand Funk Railroad lyrics like I'm writing a college English paper? To quote King Lear,

O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;
No more of that.

I second that emotion.

Part Three -- Aggie Jokes
If you're going to properly understand the context of the Rice-Texas A&M football game I'm going to be writing about in my next several posts, you need to know about the differences in the cultures of those two universities. You also need to know about Aggie jokes.

As you probably know, "Aggies" is a nickname that is sometimes applied to the athletic teams (or the student body generally) at land-grant colleges west of the Mississippi -- the public universities that were founded primarily to teach agricultural science and other practical subjects. The names of some of those colleges included "A&M," which stood for "agricultural and mechanical." (Many of those schools have replaced "A&M" with "State" as the proportion of their agriculture majors has waned -- for example, the land-grant college founded as Oklahoma A&M is now known as Oklahoma State.)

Stamp commemorating first land-grant colleges

Utah State, New Mexico State, and the University of California at Davis are among the colleges whose athletic teams are still nicknamed the "Aggies." But when most people think of Aggies -- especially people in Texas -- they think of Texas A&M.

Texas A&M -- the first public institution of higher education in the state of Texas -- was established in 1871 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. It is located in a small city in central Texas.

In 1963, the Texas Legislature renamed the school Texas A&M University -- but like Harry S. Truman's middle initial, the A&M didn't stand for anything.

A&M is no longer primarily an agricultural college, although its 48,000-plus students (it is the 7th-largest university in the United States) include quite a few agriculture students and its veterinary school educates many large-animal practitioners. Today A&M has many more students studying engineering than the agricultural sciences, and also has thousands of education and business majors.

But back in 1973, things were a bit different. Most Aggies cames from farms or small Texas towns. They were viewed as unsophisticated and a bit gullible.

Also, A&M was founded not only as an agricultural school, but also as a military school. Originally all A&M students were male, and were required to join the Corps of Cadets and take military training. Given A&M's military traditions, it's not surprising that there was little antiwar sentiment among A&M students, who tended to be politically conservative and religious. 

In contrast to Texas A&M, Rice is a small private university -- fewer than 2500 undergraduates in 1973 – and is located in the biggest city in Texas.

It was (and remains) the most selective university in the state. About half the students came from out of state, and most were from urban or suburban areas. (Most of the Texas natives I knew at Rice were from big suburban high schools in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin -- very few farm kids ended up at Rice.)

Rice kids were smart, and they knew it.  Even our mascot -- the owl -- is smart.  (Note the three owls on the picture of the Rice academic seal to the left.  Owls are closely associated with the Greek goddess of wisdom and learning, Athena.)  

Even our football cheers were highly intellectual, like this one, which my college girlfriend (who was a math and computer science major) had to explain to me: "Secant, tangent, cosine, sine, three point one four one five nine -- Goooooooo Rice!"  For English majors like me, there was "Repel them, repel them, make them relinquish the ball!"

However, the funniest football cheer I ever heard was not one of ours, but one directed at us by University of Texas students: "What comes out of a Chinaman's ass? Rice, Rice, RICE!"

In the early 1970's, Rice had its fair share of long-haired, dope-smoking, left-wingers. We couldn't have held a candle to Cal-Berkeley or Columbia when it came to student radicalism, but we did pretty well considering we were located in Texas.

A&M band members
If I had to pick something that illustrated the differences between Rice and A&M, I would pick their marching bands. The bands that performed at the 1973 Rice-A&M football game -- the Rice Marching Owl Band (or the "MOB") and the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band – could hardly have been more different. (I'll have much more to say about the bands in the next two posts in this series.)

When I was a kid growing up in Missouri, "Polack" jokes -- ethnic jokes that made fun of Poles, who were always portrayed as unbelievably stupid in these jokes -- were very popular.

First Polish guy: Have you heard the latest knock knock joke?

Second Polish guy: No.

First Polish guy: Say "knock knock."

Second Polish guy: Knock knock.

First Polish guy: Who's there?

Aggie joke book
Substitute "Aggie" for "Polish guy" and you've got an Aggie joke. In Texas, people didn't tell Polack jokes -- they told Aggie jokes.

Most Aggie jokes play off of their supposed naivete and crudeness. For example:

First man: I bet you're an Aggie, aren't you?

Second man: Yes, I am an Aggie. How did you know?

First man: I saw your class ring when you were picking your nose.

I could tell some more Aggie jokes, but nearly all of them involve one or more Aggies having sex with one or more farm animals, so I think it's best to stop right here.

OK, OK, I guess it wouldn't do any harm to tell one Aggie-with-a-sheep joke . . . 

An Aggie walks into his and his wife's bedroom leading a sheep on a leash.

Aggie husband: Honey, this is the fat cow I make love to when you have a headache.

Aggie's wife: If you weren't such a moron, you'd know that's a sheep, not a cow.

Aggie husband:  I was talking to the sheep. 

I haven't lived in Texas for a very long time, and I don't know if people still tell Aggie jokes. Aggie jokes don't make a lot of sense these days -- Texas A&M is not populated by clumsy rubes any more, and Aggie jokes don't really work for female Aggies (of whom there are now many), or Aggies who are majoring in engineering or business.

Here's Grand Funk's "Nothing is The Same."  After you listen to it, click here to go to the next post in this series.

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Nothing Is the Same - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grand Funk Railroad -- "Aimless Lady" (1970)

Take your time, you're doing fine, now lady
You got yours and I got mine, now baby

Part Two -- A Perfect Crime

I originally planned to tease this part of the story over and over before revealing it in the eighth and final part of this eight-part post.

(If you haven't read Part One of this series of posts, click here.)

But I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.  Or struck by lightning.  Or -- to be serious for a moment -- my wife might murder me in my sleep.  (Or more likely, when I am awake and have just said something really annoying to her.)  So let me confess my sins right now, before it's too late.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

My freshman year at Rice, I lived with two other freshman.  We shared a bathroom with two juniors.  One of our suitemates was a very nice guy named David, whom I've written about previously.

David was a big music fan and we spent a fair amount of time that year listening to records while we talked or played spades.  David played in the Rice marching band -- trombone, I think -- and was a big fan of jazz-rock groups that featured horns (like Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears) as well as certain progressive rock groups (like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer).

Emerson Lake & Palmer's "Tarkus" album

Grand Funk Railroad wasn't really David's usual cup of tea, but he did own the Closer to Home album, which was the group's third.  Grand Funk wasn't really my cup of tea either.

I can't really defend their music as having any real artistic merit (although a line like "You got yours and I got mine" is hard to beat).  The critics almost universally loathed them, although they were phenomenally popular during their heyday.  (Kind of reminds you of "Two and a Half Men," doesn't it?)

I don't remember hearing any of their other albums, but for some reason I got seriously hooked on this record.  Drugs had nothing to do with it, believe me, although it would be nice to have something on which to blame my appalling lack of taste.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I stole it from David.  I took the record out of its sleeve and slipped it into one of my albums.

I always thought I had concealed it in my copy of Jethro Tull's Aqualung.  But when I pulled that record out the other day, I discovered I had been wrong all these years.  (Not the first time, or even the hundred-and-first time.  Maybe the thousand-and-first.)

It turns out that I had concealed the Closer to Home LP in my copy of Savoy Brown's Jack the Toad.  Perhaps there was some method to my madness.  After all, what were the odds that someone would borrow that lame record and discover the purloined Grand Funk LP?

Jack the Toad?  I can't blame that one on drugs either, although I wish I could -- it would be less embarrassing than admitting that I thought Jack the Toad was a good record.

The title song of that album (and the only song on the album that I remember) was a very long and very odd song about a gunslinger named Coulee Reese, "who they nicknamed Jack the Toad."  Jack the Toad met his match one day when he had been drinking and smoking and was just a little bit high -- not a good idea when you're a gunfighter.

The song contains some very catchy lyrics, including "I knew Coulee/Coulee never lost his cool" and

I'll be blowed!
I'll be blowed!
I'll be blowed!
It's Jack the Toad!

Needless to say, I am very sorry that I stole David's record.  It was the only record I ever stole, and I'm mystified by my action.  (I don't really remember stealing it, but there it is -- res ipsa loquitur, as they taught us in law school.)  I didn't have a lot of spending money when I was in college, but I certainly had the means to buy my own copy of Closer to Home.  (If necessary, I could have sold Jack the Toad to raise some cash.)

If I knew how to get in touch with David, I would -- I'd 'fess up and send him the 2002 Closer to Home CD (which has four bonus tracks, and so is really better than the LP).  

One odd fact about Grand Funk Railroad.  The band's original lineup consisted of three guys from Flint, Michigan, including bass player Mel Schacher.  Schacher had become the bass player for another Michigan band, ? and the Mysterians, after "96 Tears" had made them one of the greatest one-hit wonders in history.  Schacher was barely 19 when Closer to Home was released.  Can you imagine being part of a hugely popular rock band when you were 19 years old?  (I can, and I often do.)

The Mysterians' front man was known only as "?" -- he never revealed his real name.  He claims, however, to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a previous life and also says he's travelled into the future and visited other planets.

Here's "Aimless Lady, " the second track on the Closer to Home album.  After you listen to it, click here to go to the next post in series, where you'll learn about Aggie jokes.

Here's a link you can use to buy the song on iTunes:

Aimless Lady - Grand Funk Remasters: Closer to Home

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon: