Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Vaudeville Band -- "Winchester Cathedral" (1966)

Now everyone knows 
Just how much I needed that gal
She wouldn't have gone far away
If only you'd started ringing your bell

I've never visited Winchester Cathedral, which is located in a small city to the southwest of London.  It's one of 42 cathedrals in England.

Winchester Cathedral
The most famous English cathedral is Canterbury Cathedral, which is one of the most historically significant Christian structures in the world -- and one of the most memorable places I've had the privilege of seeing in person.

The original cathedral at Canterbury was built in 597, and construction on the current cathedral began in 1070.

Canterbury Cathedral
The most famous event in the history of Canterbury Cathedral was the murder of its strong-willed Archbishop, Thomas Becket, by four knights loyal to King Henry II.

Becket had loyally served in Henry's government before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and the two men had a close personal relationship for years.  But the pair clashed when the king attempted to exercise more control over the church and Becket fought to maintain its independence.

Becket's tomb
As you may know from reading The Canterbury Tales in your high-school or college English class, Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a magnet for religious pilgrims.  (Becket was canonized shortly after his death.) 

I vividly remember the 1964 movie, Becket, which starred Peter O'Toole as the king and Richard Burton as Becket.  Here's the trailer to that movie:

When he retired after 30 years as the rector of St. John's (Lafayette Square) Episcopal Church, my late father-in-law founded the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States ("FOCCUS"), which raises funds for and otherwise supports and promotes Canterbury Cathedral -- the "Mother Church of the Anglican Communion" (which includes the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in this country, and related churches around the world) throughout the U.S.
My mother-in-law has remained active in the organization, and hosts a dinner for the FOCCUS board members who come to Washington to attend an annual meeting.  Most of the attendees are clergy, not surprisingly, but she's kind enough to always invite me as well.

The Very Rev. Dr. Robert Willis, who has been the Dean of the Cathedral since 2001, usually attends these dinners.  He is a learned, thoughtful and kind man whose friendship my family values highly, and we were all happy that he was present for this year's dinner.

Dean Willis
(I won't attempt to explain how a cathedral is governed, and the significance of the role of its Dean.  Click here if you'd like to read an explanation of all that.)   

Dean Willis told us about traveling to Los Angeles last month to deliver a lecture at the J. Paul Getty Museum, which is hosting an exhibition featuring six 12th-century stained-glass windows from the Cathedral.  (Those windows, which were part of a series of 86 life-size depictions of the male ancestors of Christ, were created just a few years after Becket's assassination.)

For you Old Testament scholars, the six windows that have traveled to the Getty depict Jared, Lamech, Noah, Thara, Abraham, and Phalec.

Here's the Noah window:

Click here to read more about the Getty exhibit.

Geoff Stephens, who wrote "Winchester Cathedral," could have just as easily called it "Chichester Cathedral" or "Manchester Cathedral" and used the same lyrics, but he chose Winchester Cathedral because it was featured on one of the pages of his calendar.

Stephens was a prolific pop song writer.  He wrote hits for Herman's Hermits ("There's a Kind of a Hush"), Wayne Newton ("Daddy, Don't You Walk So Fast"), Boy George ("The Crying Game"), the Hollies, Manfred Mann, Tom Jones, Crystal Gayle, and Hot Chocolate.  That, boys and girls, is versatility!

"Winchester Cathedral," which was inspired by the music-hall songs of the 1920s, was a very big hit.  It eventually sold three million copies worldwide.

"Winchester Cathedral" made it all the way to #1 in the United States, knocking the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" off the top spot in December 1966.  The next week, it was displaced by the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," but came back to reclaim the #1 position for two additional weeks.  It then ceded the top spot to "I'm A Believer," by the Monkees.

"You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Good Vibrations," and "I'm A Believer" -- we're talking some monster pop singles.

Here's a video with the second half of "Winchester Cathedral":

Click here to listen to the entire song.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Presidents of the United States of America -- "Peaches" (1995)

Peaches come from a can 
They were put there by a man
In a factory downtown

"Au contraire," I would say if I had the pleasure of meeting The Presidents of the United States of America (referring not to the 43 Chief Executives of our fine land, but rather to the Seattle-based indie band that released the song "Peaches" on their eponymous debut album in 1995).  "Peaches most assuredly do not come from a can.  They come from the farmer's market, of course!"

Here's a picture of the peach inventory (plus some pears) at the booth of one of the farmers who comes each Thursday between 3 PM and 7 PM to the farmer's market at 8th and E Streets, N.W., in the heart of your nation's capital.  

The market is situated only a block or two from the main Justice Department building, FBI headquarters, the IRS, and many other government buildings -- and it's less than a mile from where these peaches are sitting to the White House and the Capitol.

The building in the background is the National Archives, where the originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are located:

Several of the farmers who are regulars at this market are pretty plain-vanilla -- peaches, tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, apples . . . that sort of thing.

But there are several purveyors of more exotic foodstuffs.

Like this "artisan sheep cheese" vendor:

One farmer sells these crazy "Delicata" squash (also known as "peanut squash" or 'Bohemian squash"):

My farmer's market is a producer-only market, and is limited to farmers from the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

There's a 22-page book of regulations you must comply with to sell at my market.

Here's the regulation on yogurt and frozen dairy products:

Yogurt and frozen dairy products must be made with milk produced by the farmer or sourced from a regional farmer.  Locally available flavoring agents (e.g., fruit or honey) must be sourced locally.  Exotic, out-of-region flavorings (i.e., chocolate, avocado, and pomegranate) may be purchased and used minimally.

I have a couple of questions.  First, who the hell puts avocado in yogurt or ice cream?  Second, why do they say "e.g." the first time and "i.e." the second time?

I don't eat that much fresh fruit and vegetables, and I really don't care if my produce is organic.  But for some reason, I like to think of myself as the kind of person who goes regularly to a farmer's market -- despite the fact that most of the people at my market look very politically correct and a little twee for my taste.  (Go figure.)

Twee squash
The refrain of today's featured song is "Movin' to the country/Gonna eat a lot of peaches."  I must demur from this refrain on two grounds.

First, I'm not moving to the country just to get fresh fruit -- I expect the country to come to me.

Second, I am not a big peaches eater.  My first priority is tomatoes -- especially cherry tomatoes.

I get enough cherry tomatoes each Thursday to have some every day for lunch.  I took this picture just after cutting a few in half.  Note how juicy these bad boys were -- merely cutting them in half causes them to squirt juice everywhere:

On Saturdays and Sundays, I enjoy my tomatoes with cottage cheese -- preferably al fresco.  On weekdays, I cut them in half, salt them, and enjoy them with the ham or turkey sandwiches I eat at a small table in my office while I read for half an hour or so.  (I am a creature of habit, as you would know if you had watched me eat baked salmon and French-style green beans every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday that I've been home for the last 20 years.)

This year, I've added cantaloupe to my midsummer shopping list.  I had never bought a cantaloupe in my life until this summer, so each week I sought the expert assistance of whichever cheery farm woman had the best melons.  (Rim shot!)  It's interesting that almost all of the farmers who man the booths at my farmer's market are women -- many of them relatively young.  After a few weeks, I was confident enough in my melon-judging abilities to sniff out a ripe one on my own.

There's no better breakfast to enjoy on sunny weekend mornings on my patio than perfectly ripe cantaloupe sprinkled with a little salt and accompanied by a paper-thin slice or two of prosciutto.  

The cantaloupe season in my part of the world is all too brief.  But just as the cantaloupes start to disappear, my farmer's market is awash in local apples.  There are many different varieties routinely available -- Mutsu, Nittany, Gala, Jonagold, Fuji, Ida Red, and several others -- but my favorite is Honeycrisp.  I stash a few in the communal fridge at my office and grab one around 5 or 6 PM when I'm tempted to hit the candy and soda machine.

Okra, tomatoes, apples, peaches,
raspberries, figs, green beans
(It takes self-discipline to maintain a svelte figure like mine, not to mention a 132 total cholesterol reading -- although I suppose you have to give some of the credit for that 132 to my daily Lipitor and Zetia intake.)  

My farmer's market closes after Thanksgiving and reopens in the spring.  There is a year-round one in hippy-dippy, Birkenstock-shod Takoma Park (where I think there's a law requiring you to buy your produce there rather than any grocery store operated by a for-profit, publicly-traded corporation -- excepting Whole Foods, of course) and I get my apples there in the winter when my refereeing assignments take me to that part of the county.

The local cherry tomatoes won't last much longer here.  One of the nice lady farmers at my local market told me last week that she expected to have them up until the first frost, but that's not far away.  That, boys and girls, will be a very sad day here at 2 or 3 lines.  :-(

I can't resist quoting the following paragraph from the Wikipedia page about "Peaches":

The lyrics of "Peaches" discuss a man moving to the country to eat vast quantities of canned peaches at no cost to him.  Briefly mentioned is the hard-working American man who cans the peaches in a factory downtown.  The narrator also speculates that a finger-sized hole in a singular peach may hold an ideal hiding spot for an ant.  He then warns the listener; "Look out!" he calls.  There's a finite number of free peaches for him.  Luckily, that number is in the millions.

I tip my cap to the anonymous Wikipedia contributor who wrote this deathless prose.  I have nothing to add -- you've said it all, my friend.

Here's "Peaches":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hollies -- "Long Dark Road" (1972)

It's over, well over
In my mind and in my heart
It's over, well over
But then again, it didn't have a good start

Oscar Wilde once wrote that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life."  

He was probably right.  But in the case of the first verse of the Hollies' 1972 hit single, "Long Dark Road," which was the last track on their Distant Light album, life didn't imitate art.  Because it did have a good start -- a very good start.

Here's the second verse of "Long Dark Road":

You'd tell me, try to sell me
It could have been all I asked
It's over, well over
Yes, there it flows away -- a distant past

Once again, there seems to be a disconnect between life and art.  For one thing, the past is never truly "distant."  Something that happened years ago often feels much closer than something that happened only a few days ago.

Moving on to the third verse:

It's over, well over
And we can't revive what's passed
It's gone now, moved on now,
But then again, it didn't have a chance to last

I can't argue with the third verse.  We've definitely got a sighting of life imitating art in the third verse.

Oscar Wilde
How about the chorus? 

Now it's a long, dark road
Yes, it's a long, dark road
And you know I loved you
Yes, you know I loved you

Chalk another one up for Wilde.

Here's "Long Dark Road" by the Hollies (sans Graham Nash, who had left the group some time before):

Click here to buy the song from Amazon.  Or you're welcome to look for a song that your life more closely imitates.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pussycat Dolls -- "Elevator" (2008)

Like an elevator, we go up and we go down . . .
You're stuck on one while I'm pressing three 
Then we end up on the fourth floor
And then we disagree

Goodreads is a very popular "social cataloguing" website that is focused on books.  

If you search for quotations relating to "intelligent" on Goodreads, you get 32 hits.  If you search for quotations relating to "stupid," you get 125.  

In my experience, that's about right.

Stupid T-shirt
One of my favorite authors, Richard Ford, penned this line in his novel, The Sportswriter:

"People surprise you, Frank, with just how f*ckin' stupid they are."

But surely we shouldn't be surprised by how f*ckin' stupid people are.  After all, as the late George Carlin once said: 

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize that half of them are stupider than that.

"Stupid?  Me?   Yeah, I'm stupid.
Stupid like a FOX!"
That quote shows that George Carlin had considerable insight into stupidity (as well as a good understanding of statistics).  

Carlin also understood men and women:

Here's all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid.  And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.

I'm probably beating a dead horse here.  If I say that people are generally stupid, and that many (perhaps most) of the things people do are stupid, the only people who are going to argue with me are STUPID people -- right?

I could list many, many examples of the stupidity I encounter every day, but I will limit myself to just one.

I get to work by parking at the Glenmont Metro station and riding a Red Line train to downtown DC.  Metro recently opened a second parking garage at Glenmont, and there are always parking spaces available in that garage at the civilized hour when I arrive to begin my daily commute.

When the new Glenmont parking garage opened, there were so many politicians present at the opening-day ceremony that you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting one.

The day the new parking garage opened
The county executive was there, the neighborhood member of the County Council was there, the local state senator was there -- even our esteemed congressman was there.  (Actually, that guy's not my congressman any more.  I live in the most gerrymandered state in the country, and I've been in three different congressional districts since we moved into our current house.)

The new six-level, 1200-space garage didn't come cheap.  (Nothing that our county government does comes cheap.)  But it's state-of-the-art in every way:

The $24.7 million price tag was assembled from Montgomery County revenue and liquor bonds backed by Metro, a surcharge at all county Metro stations, and a $1.6 million state grant, according to a county press release. . . . The garage was built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, with energy efficient lighting and recycled building materials.
Believe it or not, spending $24.7 million doesn't necessarily protect you from stupid stuff.  To wit . . .

Here's a photo of the control panel for the parking garage elevator:

If you want to get to the Metro station, which floor do you want?

(Take your time.)

The obvious answer is the first floor, of course -- because there's a big shiny star right next to the number "1."

You're not stupid, so you probably suspect this is a trick question.  And you would be right.

If you ride all the way down to the first floor, you'll find yourself underground when you exit the elevator, with no easy way to get to the Metro station.

Metro has attempted to remedy the confusing elevator control panel with signs like these on each floor of the garage:

Wouldn't it have been simpler just to say something like "You are on level 4.  To get to station, exit on level 2"?  

Why this sign could be improved, let's not be too critical.  After all, assuming you can do simple math, you'll probably figure out which floor to exit on to get to a train.  

That leaves the real question: Why the hell didn't they just put the star on the control panel next to the "2"? -- and maybe add a little plate next to it that said "Station" or "Metro access" or something similar to make it clear that the second floor was where you had to exit if you wanted to get on a Metro train.  (There is absolutely no other reason to park at the garage other than to get on a train.)

Speaking of stupidity, I give you the Pussycat Dolls, and their song "Elevator."

The Pussycat Dolls
The Pussycat Dolls got their start as a modern-day burlesque troupe -- the Dolls performed live with Christina Applegate, Carmen Electra, and Christina Aguilera, and were featured in Maxim and Playboy and the 2003 movie, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.  

In 2003, the Dolls signed a recording contract.  (I would have never thought to turn a bunch of glorified strippers into pop stars.  I might have thought about crossing them over into porno movies, but not pop music.)  Their first album had six hit singles and sold 10 million copies.

The group fell apart after releasing their second album, Doll Domination, in 2008.  While all the Pussycat Dolls were equal at first, it seems that Nicole Scherzinger eventually became significantly more equal than anyone else, and the resulting envy and resentment over her lead-singer status resulted several defections from the group.

Nicole Scherzinger
In 2011, the Pussycat Dolls reformed with six new members.  It was widely reported that Kim Kardashian was going to be the executive producer of a new reality show featuring the new Dolls, but nothing has come of that idea as of this writing.  (Dum spiro, spero.)

I don't normally think of the Boston Globe as stupid.  (The Boston Red Sox, yes -- I mostly think of them hairy and ugly, but they are definitely stupid as well.)  But I was wrong, as this excerpt from that newspaper's review of Doll Domination proves:

[Doll Domination is] often filled with giddy, brilliantly produced goofy pleasures with nothing on its mind beyond love and pleasure.  Oh, sure, there are a couple of ballads about heartache and regret, but lead singer Nicole Scherzinger sounds more like she's pining for a good facial than a guy.  Especially as the disc wanders to its fatiguing 21st track. We know the Dolls want staying power, but c'mon . . .

Methinks the Globe should have stopped a couple of double entendres ago.

Here's a video of a live performance of "Elevator."  (It's a hot mess.)

Click below if you'd like to order the song from Amazon.  (In other words, click below if you're stupid.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Marmalade -- "I See the Rain" (1967)

I see the rain again
I must complain again

It doesn't have to be raining for me to complain, but it definitely helps.  

I will always complain when it is raining -- but I also complain when it's not raining.  To apply the formal terminology of logic, rain is a sufficient condition for me to complain, but is not a necessary condition.  

(Zing!  Zoom!  Those are the sounds of the previous sentence going right over the heads of its readers.  Sorry, boys and girls, but I can only dumb things down for so long before my brain refuses to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and kicks over the traces.)

I hate conversations that start out like this:  "So, how's the weather been?"  But today I'm starting off 2 or 3 lines by talking about the weather.

Nietzsche had one
helluva mustache
I am truly a man of many contradictions.  But remember what Nietzsche said: "Only idiots fail to contradict themselves three times a day."  Of course, he said it in German, not English.  

I can't remember an August and September -- and I've seen quite a few of 'em -- where the weather was better than it was this past August and September.  The late summer weather in Washington this year was fabulous -- not too hot and not too humid, and with less than half the normal amount of rainfall.

Weekends in particular have been perfect.  I became accustomed to taking my breakfasts (luscious, ripe local cantaloupe from my farmer's market and prosciutto) and lunches (cottage cheese accompanied with juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes from that aforementioned farmer's market) outdoors on my patio, basking in a sunlight that produced a pleasant warmth that suffused one's body but didn't produce a desperate longing for A/C, which is the usual effect of the summer sun in the Washington, DC area.

I simply couldn't believe how beautiful the pellucid blue skies were, day after day.  (People don't use "pellucid" as much these days as they once did, but I'm trying to reverse that trend.) 

I took dozens of pictures like this one:

But that's all just a distant memory today.  I'm writing this column on a Sunday.  It started raining Wednesday, and it hasn't stopped -- AND THERE'S NO END IN SIGHT.  I'm getting tired of gray skies and the smell of my wet dog after I take her on her morning constitutionals.

I don't need crappy weather because I've got a lot on my mind these days.  I was recently on the road for a week or so, and then I was occupied with my son's wedding festivities.  

Plus my increasingly obsessive efforts to get more and more free music through the Freegal service offered by a number of local public libraries has become quite time-consuming.  

In addition, I've been busier than usual at work -- I like to think of myself as semi-retired, and like my workload to reflect that, but the past week has been very busy.  

Finally, a young writer I've become acquainted with has asked me to read and comment on her new book before she submits it to her publisher.  My kind of editing involves going through the text line by line and word by word -- no detail is too small for me to worry over.  (God knows why this writer thinks my comments will be helpful, but she's a very interesting writer and I was very flattered to be asked for my help.) 

All of this has played havoc with my 2 or 3 lines production schedule.  Those posts you see each and every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday don't write themselves, you know.  (If I ever miss a deadline, please call 911 become I'm either dead or on my way there.)  

I try to build up a reserve supply of posts in advance when I'm going to be traveling or otherwise occupied, but the well is dangerously close to being dry, and I've been scrambling.

There's another problem.  It's apparently become impossible for me to just toss off a short, snappy 2 or 3 lines post.  

I actually planned this one as sort of a throwaway -- I'd quote the song's lyrics as usual, bitch about the weather and how busy I was, and unapologetically admit that I needed to phone one in for the reasons stated above.  Then I'd go to the music video, and -- badda-bing, badda-boom -- I'd be done.  (To quote Jay-Z, "On to the next one!")

But I can't even phone one in when I'm trying to phone one in.  The content of this post may be an inch deep but it's a couple of miles wide -- full of "luscious, ripe local cantaloupe" and "pellucid blue skies" and other pretentious filler.  Blah blah blah BLAH BLAH!

The Marmalade released "I See the Rain" in 1967.  It was their third single, and like their first two, it went nowhere on the UK pop charts (although it was a big hit in the Netherlands).

Jimi Hendrix supposedly said the record was the best British single released that year.  I'm not sure what to make of that, but I will say that the guitar fills do have a somewhat Hendrix-ish quality.  

"I See the Rain" was used (for no apparent reason) in a very odd 2002 Gap commercial that featured the late Dennis Hopper and Christina Ricci, and was directed by the Coen Brothers (speaking of phoning one in):

(By the way, there's another version of the commercial that uses the Beach Boys' "I Know There's an Answer.")

It's hard to believe that I've featured two Marmalade songs on 2 or 3 lines, and neither one of them is "Reflections of My Life."  Hopefully, there will be world enough and time to get to it some day.

But in the meantime, here's "I See the Rain":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mitch Miller & the Gang -- "Down by the Old Mill Stream" (1958)

Down by the old mill stream
Where I first met you

Redings Mill is a village just south of Joplin, Missouri (my hometown) that was named for the grist mill on Shoal Creek that John S. Reding built there in 1832.  Reding's mill (some spell the name Redding) was the first mill in Newton County.

Here's the first bridge that was built at Redings Mill.  (I'm not sure why Redings lost the apostrophe before the "s," but it did.)

In 1930, a new bridge was built at Redings Mill to carry Missouri Route 86 over Shoal Creek:

Note the rather sharp curve the highway takes just after the bridge -- not exactly the safest highway design.

The 1930 bridge -- which is a three-span, open-spandrel bridge -- was built by M. E. Gillioz of Monett, Missouri, which built dozens of bridges in Missouri and neighboring states in the twenties and thirties.

When I was growing up, there was a swimming pool near the bridge.  The Redings Mill pool was a large, privately-owned facility that put Joplin's municipal pools to shame. 

I drove over the 1930 bridge many, many times when I was a teenager living in Joplin.  My destination was often the Redings Mill Inn.

The Redings Mill Inn was built by John Reding, and is owned and operated today by his descendants.  Click here to read a blogpost about the Inn by Reding's great-great-great-granddaughter.

Here's a picture I took of the Inn last month:

Back in the seventies, the Redings Mill Inn was known as "Gene and Darlene's."

Here's an excerpt from a blogpost by a former Joplin resident whose father used to take him to Gene and Darlene's for hamburgers on Sundays:

On Sundays sometimes, when I was a kid, daddy would come up with the notion that burgers from Gene and Darlene's would really hit the spot.  Being always in favor of food in general, and carry-out food being really exotic to me, the idea was always a winner in my opinion. . . . 

Stucco on the outside, I guess, and inside just like thousands of other old bars of that time -- the Hamm's sign with the polar bear, Slim Jims and pickled eggs and cheap cigars for sale.  But Gene and Darlene's had more to it than most places like that.  That second floor -- what went on up there? And that cupola on top -- absolutely fascinating and unknown.  

Downstairs there was a wide, low-ceilinged room with a dance floor that must have hosted a hundred thousand fox-trotting, two-stepping, and just plain shuffling and swaying feet over a half century or so. . . . That room with its worn but always polished wooden floor was a few degrees cooler, even on the hot days.  I would wander in there on those quiet Sunday hamburger runs, and wonder what kind of things went on in such a place. 

Daddy had an ulterior motive, as I also figured out a lot later.  His regular haunts for draft beer were closed on Sundays, but because Gene and Darlene's served food he could get a cold one or two while the burgers were on the grill.  That's why Sundays were the only day of the week when Gene and Darlene's was a dining option.

I vividly remember one particular trip to Gene and Darlene's.  I ended up there late one summer night when I was 21.  (You could drink 3.2% beer in Kansas when you were 18 back in those days, but the drinking age in Missouri was 21 -- which explains why I didn't spend any nights at Gene and Darlene's prior to that summer.)

There was a pool table on the edge of the dance floor, and a couple of friends and I were playing eight-ball and drinking beer when one of us got a brilliant idea.

We took turns going to the men's room, but our purpose wasn't just to drain the lizard.  We were sneaking pool cues and billiard balls into the bathroom, where we opened the window and tossed our booty into the parking lot.  After finishing our beers, we left the bar, put the sticks and balls into our car, and got the hell out of Dodge.

None of us had a pool table at home.  So why did we steal a few random billiard balls and some warped old cue sticks?  

The answer should be obvious.  We were 21-year-old boys, and WE WERE DRUNK!

I did not have the last laugh that night.  That summer, I was working at a freight dock, unloading and loading truck trailers for Jones Truck Lines, a regional carrier that went bankrupt 20 years ago.

I often had to work the 3 AM to 11:30 AM shift, but the day before our visit to Gene and Darlene's, my boss had told me he wouldn't need me the next day.  Hence my being out so late drinking.

A Jones Truck Lines truck
But no sooner did I get home and go to sleep (i.e., pass out in a drunken stupor) than the phone began to ring.  My mother came into my bedroom, started shaking me, and told me I was needed to work the 3 AM shift after all.

Despite the excellent wages my job paid (the minimum wage in 1973 was $1.60, but I was taking home $7 an hour), I was not pleased when my mother gave me this news.  

At first, I simply refused to respond to her.  When she persisted, I think I threw some things at her.  I know I used all sorts of bad language, which I would never have done if I had been sober.

My parents grew up in the Depression, with very little money.  (We didn't have a lot of money when I was a kid, although we didn't miss any meals.)  So as far as they were concerned, you didn't say no to good-paying work.  They would never have turned down a shift.  Of course, they never went out and drank beer until the wee hours on a weeknight either.

Eventually, they dragged my sorry ass out of bed and persuaded me to get dressed.  I think my mother made some eggs and toast for me, although I'm not sure if I ate them.

Unloading freight that night was not much fun.  Oh, I almost forgot -- the freight dock was just downwind from the Joplin stockyards, and the powerful aroma of cowsh*t that wafted in my direction that humid August night added to my miserable condition.

My boss later told my father that I didn't really sober up until after my lunch break, which began at 7 AM.  That sounds about right.

The 1930 Redings Mill bridge was replaced by a newer and safer bridge years ago, but the old bridge still stands.  It connects the Wildcat Glade trails on the east and west sides of Shoal Creek, and I walked across it last month when I was in Joplin to visit my parents.

The bridge is not a particularly distinctive or dramatic structure, but I'm glad it has been preserved.

Here's a shot of the bridge from below:

The underbelly of the bridge has been covered with graffiti:

Here's the bridge from bridge level -- now there are benches on the old roadway that allow tired hikers to take a rest and enjoy the view:

There's some whitewater just upstream from the bridge:

Here's another view of those rapids:

One of the first records I remember my parents buying when they purchased a Magnovox console stereo for our living room was Mitch Miller & the Gang's Sing Along With Mitch, which was released in 1958.

Mitch Miller was a precocious musician who played the oboe with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra when he was 15 years old.  He was the English horn soloist on the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski's 1947 recording of Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Miller later became a rock-and-roll-hating record producer for Columbia, and recorded a number of hit singles and album with the male chorus he put together in the fifties.

In 1961, Miller became a household name thanks to the success of his NBC television show, Sing Along with Mitch, which featured his male chorus and the occasional guest singer.

The lyrics to each song crawled across the bottom of the TV screen as the singers sang them, so that viewers could sing along at home.

Ready to join Mitch, his Gang, and me for a little sing-along?

Sing Along with Mitch ran until 1964 -- the year the "British Invasion" hit the United States.

I probably sang along when I watched the TV show.  I know for certain that I sang along to the songs on that Mitch Miller record album.  I can still sing each and every one of the songs on that record from memory.

I absolutely loved "That's Where My Money Goes," despite not really having a clue about what the lyrics meant:

She's got a pair of hips
Just like two battleships
I buy her everything
To keep her in style
(Well, well, well)
She wears silk underwear
I wear my last year's pair
Say, boys, that's where my money goes!

Miller loved novelty songs and cutesy lyrics.  Here's a verse from "Sweet Violets":

There once was a farmer who took a young miss
In back of the barn where he gave her a
Lecture on horses and chickens and eggs
And told her that she had such beautiful
Manners that suited a girl of her charms
A girl that he wanted to take in his
Washing and ironing and then if she did
They could get married and raise lots of
Sweet violets!
Sweeter than the roses!

In their recording of "Down by the Old Mill Stream," Miller's singers sang the song straight the first time through the verse, but then had some fun with the lyrics: 

Down by the old (not the new, but the old)
Mill stream (not the river, but the stream)
Where I first (not last, but first)
Met you (not her, but you)

Mitch Miller died in 2010.  He was 99 years old.

Here's "Down by the Old Mill Stream":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Little Big Town -- "Boondocks" (2005)

You can take it or leave it
This is me
This is who I am!

Time is passing at an unacceptably rapid pace.  For example: Little Big Town's top ten country hit, "Boondocks," was released in 2005, which is simply not possible.

"Boondocks" is a very calculated song, but it works for me despite its questionable genuineness.  When I hear it, I always think of my hometown -- Joplin, Missouri -- where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life, and where my parents still live.

I visit Joplin two or three times a year, and those visits never fail to put me in very odd mood. 

Most of my closest childhood friends have moved away, but I still know a lot of people in Joplin.

But instead of getting together with them for a drink or dinner and waxing nostalgic about our high-school days, I tend to hang around my parents' house (fiddling around on the computer when I'm not obsessively looking through old photos and newspaper clippings from 40 or 50 years ago) -- and I take long, solitary  walks.

The last several 2 or 3 lines posts (or "columns," as one of my Joplin friends is kind enough to call them) were about Las Vegas, where I go on business every September.  The last few years, I've started dropping in on my parents for a few days on the way back from Vegas to my home in suburban Washington, DC.

This year, that trip carried more significance than usual because my parents have had a number of health problems this year and because they were going to fly back to Washington with me to see my oldest son -- and their oldest grandchild -- get married.

When I visit my parents, I always walk through the neighborhood just north of where they live, which was almost completely flattened by the tornado that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011.  

The destruction starts less than two blocks away from my parents' house.  There used to be 22 houses that stood on Alabama between 20th and 22nd streets.  After the tornado, only one house was left standing.  Today, eight new houses have been built or are in the process of being built.   The rest of the lots remain vacant.

Just across 20th street, there's a large tree I've been watching with interest.  It lost nearly all of its limbs and leaves in the tornado, and most experts predicted that it and many other such trees would not survive.

But almost two and a half years later, this tree is still hanging in there.  I would guess that it has grown enough leaves to provide sufficient energy to keep it going, but time will tell.

Since I've explored the hundreds of city blocks that were hammered by the tornado pretty thoroughly, I spent quite a bit of time this year walking the trails that radiate from the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, which is located on the southern edge of Joplin.  The weather was absolutely perfect during my visit, and it wonderful to be outdoors in the middle of the day instead of stuck inside my office in downtown Washington.

Wildcat Glades is at most a ten-minute drive from the house I grew up in, but it seems much farther away.  The most notable natural features found in the area are Shoal Creek, a beautiful Ozark stream with numerous rapids and falls, and the 25 acres of chert glades that border Shoal Creek -- which represent about half the remaining chert glades in the world.

Chert is a very hard rock -- also known as flint -- that was used to make arrowheads.  A glade is an opening in a forest, which usually features a lot of exposed rock.  The areas of a glade that aren't bare rock are usually covered with only a very thin layer of soil, which means that glades are very inhospitable to plant life during dry summers.  (The Wildcat chert glades are home to prickly pear cactus and lizards that are usually native to deserts.)

Shoal Creek is crossed by a primitive little one-lane, low-water bridge that some drivers can't bring themselves to cross.  There's not a lot of room for error.  (You wouldn't have to be Ted Kennedy to get into trouble on that bridge.)

If you turn right after crossing the bridge, you quickly come to Grand Falls -- the highest waterfall in Missouri that flows year round:

The chert formations at the falls are very weathered, full of little nooks and crannies.

If you go away from Grand Falls, the road goes uphill to a small parking lot that marks the beginning of  the "Bluff Trail," which takes you on top of some chert bluffs and is roughly 50 feet above Shoal Creek.  It's not that scary a trail unless heights make you nervous.  (Count me in.)

Some people say that this stretch of Shoal Creek, Grand Falls, and the chert glades and bluffs is the most beautiful natural area in Missouri.  I wouldn't disagree, although there's a lot of Missouri I haven't seen.  

Here's a view of Shoal Creek from the Bluff Trail:

Here's a big crevice in the rock that I hopped over while walking the Bluff Trail:

After half a mile or so, the Bluff Trail gradually descends to the level of Shoal Creek and follows the west bank of the creek all the way to the base of the old Redings Mill Bridge.

We'll take a closer look at that bridge and the trails on the east side of Shoal Creek in the next 2 or 3 lines. 

I liked "Boondocks" the first time I heard it in the spring of 2006, when we were visiting my daughter Sarah, who was a freshman at Ohio Wesleyan University.  (Sarah later figured out what the song was and sent me an e-mail identifying it, which was thoughtful.)

It was "Kids and Sibs" weekend at OWU, so we were accompanied by Sarah's ten-year-old brother.  (Peter was suffering deeply from the migration of his twin sisters to college the previous fall.)

Ohio Wesleyan University
I remember a couple of things from that weekend.  A very funny comedian/magician performed for the students and their families in one of the residence halls, and there was a special showing of the movie Benchwarmers at an old downtown theater.

Benchwarmers is one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  It was basically a Bad News Bears ripoff -- a bunch of misfits and lovable losers get together and beat their snobby, affluent opponents in a baseball game -- except that Benchwarmers was about adults, not 12-year-olds.  (Although those adults acted like 12-year-olds.) 

The movie starred Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder, and Jon Lovitz -- none of whom were the least bit funny.  (But none of them ever are, so why should we be surprised?)  It featured cameos by ex-Yankee great Reggie Jackson and ex-NFL'ers Sean Salisbury and Bill Romanowski.

I don't find Little Big Town's recording of "Boondocks" particularly convincing.  The two women and two men who make up the group are a little too nice and a little too clean-cut to really pull this song off.

Part of this song is sweetly nostalgic -- there's some stuff about tasting the honeysuckle that grew down by the creek, and hearing the midnight train pass through town, and learning about Jesus on Sunday mornings.  Little Big Town handles that part of the song very nicely.

But the rest of it is about having a big chip on your shoulder about where you grew up -- about getting pissed off when you hear some assh*le from Boston or San Francisco or some other big city make a condescending comment about small towns in general, or your small town in particular.  

The lines from the song that I've quoted above -- "You can take it or leave it/This is me/This is who I am!" -- need to be delivered by a good ol' redneck singer who's got an angry streak in him, or at least someone who can do a convincing imitation of a redneck with an angry streak.  (Toby Keith comes to mind -- I'd love to hear him sing this song.)

Here's "Boondocks":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon: