Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Emerson & Waldron – "Fox on the Run" (1970)

The game is nearly up
And the hounds are at my door

The British, who began hunting foxes with scenthounds in the 16th century, essentially banned traditional foxhunting in 2004.  (There are a few exceptions to that ban.)

Foxhunting is still legal in the United States, but there's a big difference between English and American foxhunting: in the U.S., foxes are rarely killed during a hunt.  

The American practice is to call off the pursuit once a fox has "gone to ground" – that is, found an underground den or burrow to hide in – but the British use terriers to locate a fox that has gone to ground, and then kill it.

That's because foxes are considered a threat to chickens and other small farm animals in the UK, but foxes are not viewed as a serious agricultural pest in the U.S.)

A red fox enjoying a chicken dinner
"Fox on the Run" was first recorded by Manfred Mann.  Manfred Mann (who was born Manfred Lubowitz in Johannesburg, South Africa) probably never went on a fox hunt – the proper term is "rode to hounds."

The song was written by Tony Hazzard, whose songs were recorded by British invasion bands like Herman's Hermits, the Yardbirds, and the Hollies.  

Hazzard grew up in Liverpool and eventually moved to London to pursue his musical career.  I'm guessing he never rode to hounds either.

Tony Hazzard in 1967
The lyrics to "Fox on the Run" don't make a lot of sense.  For example, here's the last verse:

Well, take a glass of wine 
And fortify your soul
We'll talk about the world 
And friends we used to know
I'll illustrate a girl 
Who put me on the floor
The game is nearly up
And the hounds are at my door

"I'll illustrate a girl who put me on the floor" – say what?  

The last verse of the Emerson & Waldron cover of "Fox on the Run" that is featured in today's 2 or 3 lines is slightly different.  They change "illustrate" to "filistrate" – which seems to be a made-up word.

Bill Emerson in 2010
Later covers of the song by Tom T. Hall and others change the line to "I see a string of girls who put me on the floor."

I was enjoying some free barbecue, beer and country music at a local bank's "Customer Appreciation Celebration" last week when I heard "Fox on the Run" for the first time.  (Am I an actual customer of that bank?  If you want to get all technical about it, I suppose I'm not.)

There's another song called "Fox on the Run," of course.  In 1974, Sweet wrote and recorded a very different song by that title, which it released on the Desolation Boulevard album.

(In case you're wondering how Sweet could give their song the same title that Tony Hazzard had used for his song, song titles are generally not copyrightable.)

I was intrigued that two such dissimilar songs shared the identical title, and I decided to write about both of them.  But just before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you want to get all technical about it AGAIN), it was brought to my attention that I had already written about the Sweet song – which has nada to do with foxhunting, by the way – back in 2011.

The Country Gentlemen in 1972
Bill Emerson, a great banjo player who was born in Washington, DC, in 1938, was one of the founders of the Country Gentlemen, a legendary bluegrass band.

In 1967, Emerson hooked up with guitarist Cliff Waldron, and they recorded three albums as Emerson & Waldron – including Bluegrass Country, which included "Fox on the Run."

In 1973, Emerson joined the Navy Band – he was 35 years old at the time – and stayed there for twenty years.

The Navy Band, which consists of 172 enlisted men and four officers, actually encompasses a number of different musical ensembles.  There's the Concert Band, the Ceremonial Band (which performs mostly at Arlington National Cemetery funerals), the Sea Chanters (a choral group), the Commodores (a jazz ensemble), the Cruisers (which plays pop, R&B, and classic rock music), and Country Current (a seven-piece country-bluegrass band).

In addition, there are ten small chamber music ensembles – including a brass quartet and quintet, a saxophone quartet, and a . . . tuba/euphonium quartet?

I hate to be the you-know-what in the punch bowl, but why the hell does the U.S. Navy have a jazz ensemble, a pop-R&B-rock band, and a country-bluegrass group?

The U.S. Navy's "Country Current" ensemble
Bill Emerson was a very accomplished bluegrass musician, and it would have been a shame if he had given up the banjo because he couldn't make a living playing it.

But why is it the Navy's business to subsidize underappreciated musicians?  Does the Navy have a company of Shakesperean actors?  Do they have a ballet or modern dance ensembles?  Are there Navy poets or painters or sculptors?

It would be one thing if sailors were allowed to form musical groups as an extracurricular activity, practicing during there spare time.  But it strikes me as totally bizarre that the U.S. Navy has a country-bluegrass band whose members included someone like Bill Emerson – who presumably did nothing but play banjo during his twenty years as a member of the Navy Band.  (Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Emerson operated shipboard sonar or radar equipment, or was trained as a medic, or helped maintain carrier aircraft.)

Here's Emerson & Waldron's cover of "Fox on the Run," which was released on their 1970 Bluegrass Country album:

Click below to purchase the song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rolling Stones – "Parachute Woman" (1968)

Parachute woman
Land on me tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's "Parachute Woman":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lucy Angel – "Crazy Too" (2015)

Crazy makes you do the things
You swore you'd never do
Checkin' emails, checkin' details,
Calls and texts from unknown females

Lucy Angel's "Crazy Too" begins as a third-person narrative about a jealous woman who has let her boyfriend's infidelity – which may be imagined, not real – make her crazy.

The singer of the song is the guy's current girlfriend, whose jealousy of the "unknown females" who are calling, texting, and e-mailing her boyfriend is driving her crazy, too.

Those "unknown females" are probably just the boyfriend's sisters or cousins or that sweet old nun who was his favorite teacher back in parochial school.

The eHarmony online dating service's website offers advice on a variety of relationship issues, including what Shakespeare's Iago called "the green-eyed monster" – jealousy. 

Here's what eHarmony has to say on the subject of jealousy:

Has your jealousy gone too far?  It has if:
(1) You find yourself constantly checking up on your man’s Facebook or Twitter page.
(2) You can’t stop yourself from checking his call history and listening to his phone messages behind his back.
(3) You constantly call or text him during the day just to find out where he is.

The "Crazy Too" woman should have listened to eHarmony instead of letting jealousy push her off the deep end.  But she didn't.  

And what happens when a woman in a country song has a beef with her man?  Sure as shootin', she keys the poor guy's car.

"Crazy Too" is not the first country record about a pissed-off woman who keys a dude's car.

Click here to read about a Carrie Underwood song about a woman who takes her anger out on her boyfriend's pickup truck.  (In this nasty little ditty, the "heroine" also carves her name into the truck's leather seats, slashes all four of its tires, and uses a Louisville Slugger on its headlights.)

Of course, having your car keyed isn't the worst thing that a woman can do to a guy.  Click here to read about the Carrie Underwood song where a woman gets revenge on a man by using her black Cadillac to pin him against a brick wall and then giving the Caddy the gas.  

(Imagine the cries of outrage that would be cried if these songs featured an angry male character who was trashing his promiscuous girlfriend's car. . . or, worse yet, using that car to smash her against a brick wall.  But when the characters' genders are reversed, it's a whole different story.)

The protagonist of "Crazy Too" blames her boyfriend for her condition: "You've done made me crazy," she sings to him.

Sorry, lady.  It's time to stop blaming other people for your craziness.  You've made yourself crazy.

You need to listen to the folks at eHarmony and stop worrying about your man's Facebook page.  Quit sniffing around his e-mails and text messages.  

Everyone knows that almost all men are monogamous by nature – right?  The odds are like a zillion to one against your boyfriend being up to anything.  So why obsess over it?

Lucy Angel is not the name of the singer of "Crazy Too" as you might think.  It's the name of a country-music trio consisting of Kate Anderton and her daughters Lindsay and Emily.

The three Andertons have been performing together for a decade, but had not released an album until earlier this year.  "Crazy Too" is the first single from that eponymous debut album.

Here's "Crazy Too," by Lucy Angel:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lit – "Miserable" (1999)

You make me come
You make me complete
You make me completely miserable

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Lit, an Orange County band that released the first of its five studio albums in 1997.

I had certainly heard "My Own Worst Enemy," Lit's biggest hit single, which reached #1 on the Billboard "Modern Rock Tracks" chart in 1999 and which was featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines.  But I couldn't have named the band that recorded it if you had put a gun to my head.

Lit is a pretty generic band – I've heard better, and I've heard worse.  But I've rarely heard worse than today's featured song, the aptly-titled "Miserable," which I heard for the first (and hopefully last) time on a recent bike ride.

Lit: bad clothes, bad hair, bad tattoos, bad music
"Miserable" (which was Lit's second-biggest single) would be a completely forgettable (and forgotten) song but for the tasteless (and unfunny) play on words contained in the lyrics quoted above.  (Those lyrics are repeated several times just in case you are the world's dumbest human being and didn't get it the first time you heard it.)

One other note about Lit: its song "Addicted" is such a ripoff of the Offspring's brilliant 1994 hit, "Self Esteem," that Lit should still be blushing with shame.

Here's "Miserable."  Feel free to stop listening after the first 20 seconds.  In fact, I would encourage you to stop at that point.  (Life is short, and it would be a sin to waste four minutes of your life listening to the entirety of "Miserable.") [NOTE: I crossed out the previous text after watching the video, which features a magnificent 50-foot-tall Pam Anderson and should definitely be watched in its entirety – although you might want to mute the audio after the first 20 seconds.]

Click below to buy the song from "Amazon."  (Hey, it's your money.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lit – "My Own Worst Enemy" (1999)

It's no surprise to me
I am my own worst enemy

The last 2 or 3 lines paid tribute to the much-loved educational computer game, Oregon Trail, which I played with my kids in the 1990s.

Earlier this week, I took my daughters to see the premiere production of Bekah Brunstetter's new play, "The Oregon Trail," which is one of the 50 or so plays written by women that are being presented in Washington-area theaters this fall as part of the "Women's Voices Theater Festival."  

Ich Bin ein Feministin!  (And I don't mean "I'm a jelly-filled pastry!")

The main characters of "The Oregon Trail" are two teenaged girls named Jane.

 "Now Jane" is a whiny, depressed teenager living in 1997 who tries to forget her troubles (real and imagined) by playing Oregon Trail in the computer lab at her school.  

"Now Jane"
"Then Jane" is a 13-year-old making the very difficult 2000-mile journey from Missouri to Oregon with her family in 1848.

"Then Jane"
The play goes back and forth between the two Janes.  The contemporary Jane's wounds are almost wholly self-inflicted – like the singer of today's featured song, she is her own worst enemy.  

When you see her moping around and making excuses, you can't help but think of the immortal words of Hank Hill: "BABY WANT A BOTTLE?" 

By contrast, the 1848-era Jane's problems – hunger, illness, and the difficulty of getting an overloaded covered wagon across a rail-swollen river – are all too real.

You can't help but feel more sympathy for "Then Jane," especially [SPOILER ALERT!] when her father and older sister die on the trail.  

But both Janes are suffering, and their suffering causes both of them to wonder if life is really worth living.  (Then Jane's mother apparently committed suicide a year before her father decided to pack up and head west, and that fact weights very heavily on her.)

[ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT!]  But the play ends happily.  Both Janes decide that while there is life, there is hope – dum spiro, spero – and they decide not to pack it in after all.  (Yay!)

"The Oregon Trail" computer game
Watching "The Oregon Trail" was an intensely nostalgic experience for reviewer Jennifer Clements – a young playwright who is about the same age as my daughters:

[U]ltimately, "The Oregon Trail" . . . invites you to return, for a moment, to your own young days of blazing the trail.

For me?  It harkened back to 7th grade, Mrs. Cushman’s keyboarding class, in a hidden classroom tucked behind a dance studio and a writing center.  Our monitors faced away from the teacher’s desk, and when we’d completed our lessons on finger placement and speed-typing, we would open the beloved game.

Macintosh IIc computer
To this day, no one knows why the game was installed on those computers in the first place.  Perhaps, like learning to type, surviving the trek to Oregon was a rite of passage intended for every new middle school student.  And, like that middle school student, "The Oregon Trail" is sometimes awkward, still growing into itself, but mostly just cute.  (Plus, the program gives you suggestions for your own ‘90s playlist, which is, like, a super kewl bonus.)

That playlist includes angst-laden songs by Bush ("Glycerine"), Live ("Lightning Crashes"), and Alanis Morissette ("Hand in My Pocket").  

It also includes today's featured song, Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy," which spent eleven weeks at #1 on the "Modern Rock Tracks" chart in 1999.

Critic James Oldham nailed it when he described the song as "totally loathsome, poisonous stuff, but quite addictive."  

Here's the official music video for "My Own Worst Enemy."  You'll never see cooler bowling balls and shoes than the ones in the video:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 18, 2015

C. W. McCall – "Oregon Trail" (1975)

If the snow don't fly and the river don't dry
We can make that valley before we die

That's assuming your covered wagon doesn't tip over when you're fording a river.  And you don't get snakebit, or come down with measles, dysentery, cholera, or typhoid.

Oregon Trail was an educational computer game created in 1971 by Don Rawitsch, a senior at Carleton College who was fulfilling his student teaching requirement in an 8th-grade history class in a Minneapolis school.  A few years later, a state agency hired Rawitsch to rewrite the game code, which he then uploaded into that agency's time-sharing network so it could be accessed by Minnesota students.

Rawitsch published the source code in 1978, and another programmer quickly adapted the game for the Apple II.  I think I first purchased the game when we got our Macintosh Performa in 1995.

My three older kids – who were 12, 9, and 9 – loved the game.  I usually played Oregon Trail with one of them, but I'll admit I played the game by myself a few times.  

The game simulates a journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon's Willamette Valley via covered wagon in 1848.  Your score is based on how many members of your traveling party survive the journey, and how much of the money you have when you start your trip you still have when you reach your destination.

A map of the Oregon Trail
The key to Oregon Trail's appeal is that the game force players to make hard choices.  For example, you can use your allotted funds to purchase extra wagon axles and oxen before you hit the trail.  That will reduce your final score because you won't have as much money left when you get to Oregon.  But if an oxen dies or an axle breaks and you don't have a spare, you are up sh*t creek without a paddle.

You need to travel at a fairly brisk to reach Oregon before the winter storms hit, but if you push too hard, there's an increased likelihood of illness or an accident.

I remember playing one time when I got this message: "CAROLINE HAS DYSENTERY."

We didn't have very much food left at that point, and we were a long way from getting to a fort where we could stock up on vittles.  So I just kept going.

A minute or two later, this message appeared on the computer: "CAROLINE HAS DIED OF DYSENTERY."

The game then asks you to compose an epitaph for your departed loved one.  In my case, I should have typed "DIED BECAUSE HER FATHER WAS A CARELESS IDIOT."

After that experience, I used a super conservative strategy when I played Oregon Trail.  I spent a lot of money on spare oxen and axles, and I always stopped and went hunting well before our food supply got low.  (The hunting was the only part of Oregon Trail that was remotely like a typical video game.)

As a result, I never had much money when I got to Oregon – which hurt my final score.  But at least ALL MY FAMILY MEMBERS WERE ALIVE AT THE END OF THE JOURNEY!

"Everyone in your party has died . . ."
I was reminded of the Oregon Trail game a couple of weeks ago when I read a review of Bekah Brunstetter's new play, "The Oregon Trail," which is one of the 50 or so plays written by women that are being presented in dozens of Washington-area theaters as part of the "Women's Voices Theater Festival."

Earlier this week, I took my daughters to see the play, which compares the lives of two unhappy teenaged girls named Jane.  One Jane is an Oregon Trail-playing girl living in 1997, and the other Jane is a girl traveling the real Oregon Trail with her family in 1848.

More about that play in the next 2 or 3 lines.

Woody Guthrie wrote a song titled "Oregon Trail" in 1941, but I will go to almost any length to avoid featuring a song by that tedious lefty – including featuring a song by the C. W. McCall instead.

You know and love C. W. McCall for his 1976 chart-topping hit, "Convoy," which inspired the 1978 movie of the same name.

Ain't nothing going to stand in Kris and Ali's way!
That execrable piece of cinematic flotsam and jetsam starred Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, and Ernest Borgnine, and was directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah, who must have been exceedingly desperate for work.  (Convoy was Peckinpah's highest-grossing movie ever, proving once and for all that H. L. Mencken was right.)

C. W. McCall was the pseudonym of William Dale Fries, Jr., an award-winning advertising executive who was 46 when he recorded his first album.  "Oregon Trail" was released in 1975 on McCall's second studio album, Black Bear Road.

Here's "Oregon Trail":

Click below to buy "Convoy" from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – "Little Children" (1964)

Little children
Now why you don't you go bye-bye?

Most of the little children who ran into Gilles de Rais went bye-bye permanently.

Gilles de Rais was a 15th-century French knight who fought side-by-side with Joan of Arc.  He was named a Marshal of France by King Charles VII in recognition of his "high and commendable services,"  the "great perils and dangers" he had faced," and his "many other brave feats."

Gilles de Rais
He was also a narcissistic spendthrift who bankrupted himself by producing a theatrical spectacle with 140 speaking parts and 500 extras.  (Those who attended the production were given unlimited free food and drink, so I'm guessing the show sold out.)

But Gilles de Rais is best known as a major-league serial killer of children. 

On this date in 1440, Gilles de Rais and two of his servants were arrested and accused of torturing, raping, and killing hundreds of children – mostly boys.

Joan of Arc
If you have a strong stomach, you can click here to read the testimony of one of his servants, who lays out in excruciating detail what Gilles did to these poor innocents.

The number of murders committed by Gilles has been estimated at somewhere between 80 and 200, although some have put the number as high as 500 to 800.  (The nobleman's servants burned the victims' bodies in the fireplace in his room after he gave 'em the old coup de grace, so no one knows for sure what the final tally was.)

After an investigation carried out by both secular and ecclesiastical courts, Gilles de Rais and two of his henchmen confessed to the horrific crimes of which they were accused.  They were sentenced to be hanged and their bodies burned.  

Despite the confessions and eyewitness accounts relating to the crimes he was accused of, some historians question the validity of Gilles's conviction.  He had enemies in the Catholic Church and the French nobility who stood to benefit from his death.  And his and his servants were tortured, which probably facilitated their confessions.

The execution of Gilles de Rais
Nevertheless, one defender of Gilles who characterizes his trial as a "farce" admits that "it is certain that Gilles was one of Europe's worst child rapists and murderers."

Gilles's crimes may been indirectly motivated by his financial woes.  One of his servants duped Gilles into believing that the servant could put him in touch with a demon named Barron, who could be made to cough up gold.  Gilles may have hoped that the eyes, hearts, and other organs that he offered up to Barron would result in the demon giving him mucho do-re-mi.

In the end, however, Gilles refused to offer up his soul to the devil, but clung to his belief in God.  He may have confessed to his crimes out of fear of being condemned by the Church to eternal damnation.  The morning of his execution, he made a pious speech to the crowd, and seems to have gone to the scaffold believing that he would ascend to heaven after his death.
One of his biographers summed up Gilles de Rais in the following words:

In the end, Gilles de Rais’ obsession with prodigal destruction led him to his own doom, along with his spent wealth, his wasted heroism, and the many lives he threw away. Despite being a learned man, his childish nature seems quite apparent, and, to be sure, his vicious acts often resemble the same mindless attraction to evil that a young boy shows when stirring the guts of a murdered frog. These medieval crimes still resonate today as hideous, self-negating acts, as the strange gestures of a nobleman and hero transformed by his own ruinous desires into a wastrel and murderer.
By the way, there's a high-end realtor in south Florida named Gilles Rais.  (You can click here to read about him.)  I wonder if he's related?

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
Billy J. Kramer was born William Howard Ashton in 1943 in Bootie, a Merseyside town that's just north of Liverpool.  He was discovered by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, and his first three hits were Lennon-McCartney songs.

But his biggest single, "Little Children" – it was a #1 hit in the UK and made it to #7 in the U.S. – was written by J. Leslie McFarlane and Mort Shuman.  (Shuman is best-known as the songwriting partner of Doc Pomus.  That duo's hit songs include "A Teenager in Love," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "Viva Las Vegas.")

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas were a big enough deal that they were allowed to sing four songs in the 1964 concert movie, The T.A.M.I. Show.  (The Supremes, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Chuck Berry also were allotted four songs each in that movie.)

Here's Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas performing "Little Children" on the old ABC pop music show, Shindig!

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wreckless Eric – "Semaphore Signals" (1977)

Semaphore signals to the girl I love
Semaphore signals coming down from above

Train semaphores are used to signal railroad engineers when there is trouble on the track ahead. 

The simplest railway semaphores consisted of pivoting arms attached to poles.  If the arm pointed straight up, the track was clear.  If the arm was at 45 degrees, the engineer needed to slow down and proceed cautiously.  An arm in a horizontal position was a stop signal.

Here's a photo of a restored train station on the W&OD rail trail in northern Virginia.  I think its semaphore is signaling bikers to stop and visit the station, which has been converted into a small museum:

You might think that the most significant invention to come out of the French Revolution was the guillotine. 

But the French did not invent the guillotine.  Beheading machines had been in use in England and Scotland hundreds of years before the French Revolution. 

However, the French did invent the first successful optical telegraph, which was given the name "semaphore" (a coined word meaning "bear a sign" in Greek).  

French engineer Claude Chappe's semaphore system relied on a 4.6-meter-long crossbar mounted on a tall mast.  A 2-meter-long arm was attached to each end of the crossbar. 

By positioning the crossbar and the two arms at different angles, a semaphore operator in one station could transmit thousands of different coded words and phrases to the telescope-equipped operator in the next station, which was several miles away.  That operator would then transmit the signal to the next station, and so on.

Claude Chappe's semaphore
Chappe first constructed 15 stations between Paris and Lille, a distance of about 140 miles.  The typical message took about half an hour to go from one end of the Paris-Lille line to the other. 

The French eventually constructed 224 semaphore stations, which connected Paris to all corners of France.  That semaphore network enabled Napoleon's headquarters staff to receive military intelligence and to transmit orders to their armies in the field in the minimum amount of time.  

Flag semaphore, which is most often used on ships, is a very different type of optical telegraph.  The signalman holds a flag or paddle in each hand, then extends each of his arms in one of eight possible directions:

For example, if one flag is held straight up and the other straight down, that indicates the letter "D" (or the number "4").  Extending both arms at a 45-degree angle below the horizontal indicates the letter "N."  Extending both arms at a 45-degree angle above the horizontal indicates the letter "U."  

Semaphore flag alphabet
Signal flags offer another way for ships to communicate at sea.

The current International Code of Signals assigns a unique signal flag to each letter of the alphabet and each digit.  That makes it possible to spell out a message, one letter (or number) at a time.

When I visited the Old Village Store on Cape Cod last month, it had signal flags flying above its front door:

Here's a closeup of those signals flags, which spell out "WELCOME."

Using signal flags to spell out a message one letter at at a time is a clumsy way to communicate.  But individual signal flags can also be used as a form of shorthand to transmit entire messages as well as single letters or numbers.  

For example, the flag used for the letter "O" is also a signal for "man overboard," while the flag used for the letter "W" also means "I need medical assistance."

One of the great independent record labels of all time was London's Stiff Records, whose roster of artists included Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Ian Dury, and Wreckless Eric – who was born Eric Goulden in 1954.  

"Semaphore Signals" was the B-side of Wreckless Eric's best-known single, "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World," which was released in 1977. 

Here's "Semaphore Signals":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Beach Boys – "Fun, Fun, Fun" (1964)

Well, she got her daddy's car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library

In the last 2 or 3 lines, we learned about John Lothrop, a Cambridge graduate and Church of England clergyman who renounced holy orders in 1623 because he believed in the separation of church and state.

At that time, the only lawful church in England was the Church of England.  All other forms of worship were legally outlawed.

Rev. John Lothrop
In 1632, Lothrop and 42 others were discovered worshipping together in a private home.  They were accused by the Archbishop of Canterbury of being "desperately heretical" and were locked up in "The Clink," the notorious London prison.

Two years later, Lothrop was released on the condition that he leave England.  He and 30 loyal members of his congregation sailed for Massachusetts, and eventually settled in Barnstable, the second-oldest town on Cape Cod.

Click here to read a 1964 magazine article about Barnstable by Kurt Vonnegut.

Lothrop built a home in Barnstable in 1645, which was eventually willed to the town for use as a library by William Sturgis, a wealthy clipper ship owner who was one of Lothrop's descendants.  Many of the library's original 1300 volumes came from Sturgis's private library.

The Sturgis Library is the oldest library building in the United States.  Here's what it looks like today:

The Bible that Lothrop brought with him on the voyage from England to Massachusetts was almost destroyed, according to an account written by a family member:

During the voyage to this country Mr. Lothrop dropped on one of its pages a spark of fire while reading at his evening devotions.  Unaware of the accident he fell asleep with the book partially closed, his fingers between the leaves.  At length, awakened by the heat, he found a hole had burned through several pages of the sacred Book, the only copy on the ship.  Before the voyage was completed the space thus burned was carefully filled, and the missing words on most of the pages supplied from memory with pen and ink in the old English text in which they had been printed.

After his death in 1653, his Bible was passed down from generation to generation of the Lothrop family before being donated to the Sturgis Library in 1957, where it is on permanent display:

Lothrop and many of his congegrants are buried in the Lothrop Hill cemetery in Barnstable:

The Beach Boys' 1964 single, "Fun, Fun, Fun," was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love.  It peaked at #5 on the Billboard "Hot 100."

The song's lyrics don't specify the model year of the Thunderbird in which the heroine of "Fun, Fun, Fun" cruised the hamburger stand.  I'm guessing it was done of the second-generation Thunderbirds built between 1958 and 1960:

1960 Ford Thunderbird
Here's an early version of "Fun, Fun, Fun":

Here's "Fun, Fun, Fun":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: