Sunday, April 2, 2017

Canned Heat – "Going Up the Country" (1969)

I'm gonna leave this city
Got to get away

2 or 3 lines is, among other things, a sort of autobiography.  

I doubt that I’ll ever write a real autobiography.  Most of 2 or 3 lines is not autobiographical, and the autobiographical parts are interspersed with a lot of miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam.  But if my children and grandchildren want to know more about me after I’ve gone on ahead, 2 or 3 lines will likely be the best place for them to look.

Today’s wholly autobiographical 2 or 3 lines is about the vacations my family took before I left for college.  It will be a very short post.

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I spent the first 18 years of my life in Joplin, Missouri.  I can count the family vacations we took during those years on one hand.  (I’m not counting as vacations all the times we drove two hours south to visit my great-grandparents and my numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived in the Fayetteville, Arkansas, area.)

When I was very young – still in diapers, I think – my parents and maternal grandparents drove from Joplin to Los Angeles and took me along for the ride.  (They must have been out of their minds.)  

The Royal Gorge Bridge
I was far too young then to have any memories of this trip.  All I remember my parents saying about the trip is that they drove across the Royal Gorge Bridge, which crosses the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River in central Colorado.  

The Royal Gorge Bridge from the canyon floor
That bridge is 955 feet high, which is about the same height as a 65-story building.  It was the highest bridge in the world from the time it was built in 1929 until 2001.  (Since 2001, 19 higher bridges have been built – 17 of them in China.)

When I was 11 or 12, we drove to Dallas to spend a couple of days with friends of my parents who had moved there from Joplin.  The highlight of the trip was going to the Six Flags over Texas theme park, which had opened only a couple of years earlier.

Six Flags over Texas postcard
Today there are similar parks in every major metropolitan area.  But when Six Flags over Texas was built, it was a huge deal – the only theme park in the country that was better was Disneyland.

A year or two later, we went to Springfield, Missouri – an hour east of Joplin – and spent a couple of nights in a typical sixties motel.

It might have been the Rail Haven motel:

Rail Haven Motel
Or it might have been the Lamplighter:

Lamplighter Motor Hotel
Whichever it was, I went swimming in the motel pool, and ate fried shrimp and French fries in a nearby coffee shop.  But the highlight of the trip for me was watching an episode from the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which wasn’t being aired on the NBC affiliate in Joplin.  

Joplin had two TV stations at the time.  One was a CBS affiliate – CBS was the dominant network then.  The other station cherry-picked programs from both NBC and ABC.  That year, it was airing an old-school Western, Wagon Train (which had been picked up by ABC after NBC dropped it), instead of Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I just knew was the coolest TV show in history even though I had never seen it.

We also went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a brief motel-with-a-swimming-pool vacation.  I’m not sure when that trip was, but I’m guessing it was a couple of years after the Springfield extravaganza.

The Louisiane restaurant
The one thing I remember about that trip is dressing up and going to a swanky restaurant called the Louisiane, which was known for seafood.  I’m guessing I had a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, or perhaps just a hamburger steak, but all I know for sure about my meal is that I ordered a glass of tomato juice.  (Entrees were served with your choice of several appetizers, and the only one that appealed to me was the tomato juice.)

Shortly after I graduated from high school, we drove to St. Louis to see a baseball game.  We were planning to ride the tram to the top of the three-year-old Gateway Arch the next day, but my parents nixed that idea after hearing that one of the trams (there are two – one in each leg of the Arch) had malfunctioned.  

Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch (circa 1970)
After a few minutes of poking around on Google earlier today, I learned that one of the Gateway Arch trams had gone haywire late on July 8, 1970, trapping four people inside for about 45 minutes.

I remember people talking about the FUBAR tram at the game we saw.  But the July 8 contest was a day game, so we couldn’t have heard about the tram problem at the park on that day.  We must have gone to the July 9 game – a 6-0 loss to the Pirates.  By that time, the tram incident would have been common knowledge.

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Why didn’t we take more family vacations?  It wouldn’t have been that difficult for us to drive to Colorado or Arizona to visit a national park or two.  Or go to the Gulf of Mexico and spend a few days at a beach.  Or rent a cabin on one of the many manmade lakes in the Ozarks and do a little fishing.

It didn’t seem odd to me back then that we didn’t take more family trips.  (Maybe my friends took such vacations, but I don’t really remember them doing so.)  I was accustomed to my parents being very frugal.  We rarely ate at restaurants and didn’t go to the movies more than once or twice a year, so I certainly wouldn’t have expected us to visit national parks or go to the beach.

I didn’t feel at all deprived growing up.  We had plenty to eat, and decent cars, and an OK TV set and console stereo.  

But my parents watched every penny.  They had grown up in the Depression, and both of them had lived through hard times – especially my father, who was nine years old when his father died in 1934, leaving my grandmother to take of seven children.  (The unemployment rate in 1934 was an astronomical 21.7%.)  I’m guessing they viewed summer vacations as a luxury.  

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My kids would have found my childhood summers insufferably boring.  I spent most of my time reading books from the public library and playing along with the contestants on TV game shows like Jeopardy.  

I didn’t spend all of my time indoors – I’d ride my bike around the neighborhood, or organize a backyard baseball game with the kids who lived nearby.  And once or week or so, I would accompany my mother to the country club where she worked as the club’s bookkeeper/office manager for a group golf lesson and a swim in the club pool.

I picked up a little spending money mowing lawns and caddying at the country club, but there wasn’t much to spend it on: model car and airplane kits, baseball cards and comic books, an occasional hot fudge sundae at the nearby Dairy Queen.
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“Going Up the Country” made it all the way to #11 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in early 1969, which made it Canned Heat’s most successful single.  It was prominently featured in the Woodstock film.

Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson – who had perhaps the oddest singing voice of any sixties artist – modeled the song on “Bull Doze Blues,” which was recorded in 1928 by the obscure Texas blues musician, Henry Thomas.  

Here’s “Bull Doze Blues”:

That recording features Thomas playing the quills, a type of pan flute.

On “Going Up the Country,” studio musician and “Wrecking Crew” member Jim Horn replicated Thomas’s quills playing on the flute.  (Horn also played on Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations.”)

Here’s “Going up the Country”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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