Finding America

Inspiration No. 1

The king was working in the garden. He seemed very glad to see me. We walked through the garden. This is the queen, he said. She was clipping a rose bush. Oh how do you do, she said. We sat down at a table under a big tree and the king ordered whiskey and soda. We have good whiskey anyway, he said. The revolutionary committee, he told me, would not allow him to go outside the palace grounds…
It was very jolly. We talked for a long time. Like all Greeks he wanted to go to America.

Inspiration No. 2

Let us be lovers.  We’ll marry our fortunes together.
Giuseppe and Anna boarded the steamship that was departing Marsala for New York City.

I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.
Giuseppe thought it would bring them good fortune if he carried a small pouch of that rich Sicilian soil in his coat pocket. He would sprinkle it over their own garden one day.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies.
Anna packed two sandwiches, one for each of them, thick slices of peppered salami and hard cheese between two pieces of crusty bread.

And walked off to look for America.
The two of them set sail for a new life together in a new land.

Inspiration No. 3

I like to be in America.
Giuseppe and Anna stepped on to the platform, smiled broadly at each other and climbed into the waiting train coach.

Okay by me in America.
Anna hummed an old song as she kneaded bread dough in their simple kitchen, while Giuseppe sprinkled his pouch of Sicilian soil around the tomato plants in their garden.

Everything free in America.
They were grateful to have left their homeland just before the rise of fascism.

For a small fee in America.
But the guilt of leaving their families behind occasionally would hover over them like darkened clouds.

To be continued.  Again and again…

*Inspiration No. 1:  Excerpt From:  L’Envoi by Ernest Hemingway.  “The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.” Simon & Schuster, 2002.

*Inspiration No. 2:  America by Simon and Garfunkel.  1968.

*Inspiration No. 3:  America by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (from “West Side Story”).  1957.

The Sound of Music: Florence Henderson

It was right around the time I turned eleven years old.  My parents were Broadway musical fans.  By default, so was I and still am.  I’d sit in front of the RCA Victor hi-fi in the living room and listen to recordings of Oklahoma, My Fair Lady and, my favorite, Camelot, over and over until I could sing every word of every song by heart.

I’d already accompanied mom and dad to the Shubert Theatre in Chicago the year before to see Forrest Tucker in the role of The Music Man.  This year we were repeating that trip to see Florence Henderson in The Sound of Music.

I don’t remember enough about the performance to offer any critical review.  After all, I was only eleven.  But there are two things I’ve always thought of whenever I’ve heard Florence Henderson’s name mentioned or have seen her on television.  This is despite the fact I was never a Brady Bunch fan, though I have to admit to finding Maureen McCormick, who portrayed Marcia Brady, kind of cute.  But I’m digressing.

Invariably, when I hear about Florence Henderson, I think of seeing her in The Sound of Music in Chicago and am thankful to my parents for taking me along to see it.  Did I mention there were two things I think of when I hear about Florence Henderson?  The other thing is how cute Marcia Brady was.  I blame rock and roll for that.

Florence Henderson, 1934 – 2016

Leon Russell: First and Last

I didn’t know who he was at the time.  A couple of other musicians listed among the album credits were familiar though.  Nino Tempo and Sonny Bono were the two.  It wasn’t until many years later I finally noticed Leon Russell”s name.

xmas-gift-for-you-3The album was Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You which I bought new sometime in the mid-sixties.

xmas-gift-for-you-1A Christmas Gift for You was a collection of traditional and new Christmas songs performed by three of Phil Spector’s vocal groups.  It featured the Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and, of course, the fabulous Darlene Love whose song Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is still among my favorites.  That was my first encounter with Leon Russell, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I listened to Leon Russell more from the late sixties on.  From his work with Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Joe Cocker, throughout his solo career.  We were fortunate to hear him in concert in Schaumburg, Illinois on October 2, 2010 at the Prairie Center for the Arts.

101001-dailyheraldThat was a real encounter.  Unfortunately, my first and last, captured only in a photo from the show…

101002-leonrussellI love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you.
~Leon Russell – A Song For You


Suzanne, Chapter I

Suzanne took him down to her favorite place near the river.  It was half past six in the evening and they could hear the boats go by.  There was a constant hum in the air from the boat engines and the gentle swooshing of the waves left behind from the wakes of the boats.  He could have spent the night there on the blanket with her forever.   He realized she was half-crazy, but he wanted desperately to be there with her anyway.  They sipped tea while she peeled Mandarin oranges and fed them to him.  “The oranges came all the way from China,” she mused.  He had come to tell her something.  He meant to tell her that he didn’t love her.  That he had no love to give her.  None.  But when she spoke, he got caught up in her wavelength, the gentle sounds of the river compelling him to answer.  “I’ve always been your lover,” he whispered.  They talked of traveling together.  He would follow her anywhere.  He would travel with her blind if it ever came to that.  He knew she would trust him.  He wanted to hold her forever.  He’d already touched her perfect body with his mind.

(In appreciation of Leonard Cohen. Rest in peace.)

Click here for music video:  Suzanne by Leonard Cohen (with lyrics)


Jonathan Edwards

Note:  I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Edwards (the singer/songwriter, not the 18th century theologian) since first hearing his music in 1971.  It took all these years until last night before I heard him perform in concert.  It brought back memories of my first encounter with his music.

Having returned home from college for the weekend, I wasn’t around that October night Poco performed at Notre Dame.  I heard it was a great concert with Poco delivering on their promise at the outset about getting the crowd to “kick up their heels and never let up.”  They had the audience dancing in the aisles.  What I really missed that night, though, was the party after the show.

Frank, my apartment mate, and I hung out with some classmates who lived in a large house they rented outside of town in the middle of a corn field.  The seclusion of this place, notoriously referred to as “the Ranch,” made it an ideal location for parties.  Loud parties.  The living room furniture consisted of two old, comfortable sofas, an equally comfortable easy chair and a high-end stereo system whose gigantic twin speakers were once used in a P.A. system for a rock band one guy had been in.  As I said, the parties were loud.
Enjoying the after-show party I missed that night at the Ranch were not only the usual suspects, but members of Poco who were invited by “someone who knew someone.”  While my friends were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Richie Furay and Timothy B. Schmit (years before he joined the Eagles), I was rubbing noses with my hometown honey. I look back now and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

The following weekend featured another party at the Ranch, a welcome respite from hitting the books all week long.  Still flying high, so-to-speak, from the week before, a lively discussion ensued about Poco’s show and subsequent appearance at the party.  Ed, the party’s host, picked up a record album.  As he slid the vinyl out of its sleeve and placed it on the turntable, Ed recounted a discussion he’d had with some Poco guys.  He’d asked them what music they listened to when they weren’t playing their own.  They said at the moment they were listening to a new singer/songwriter by the name of Jonathan Edwards.

Ed cranked up the volume as the first track began to play.  Everybody knows her.  She’s the one to love… came blasting out of those speakers.  “This is the guy they were talking about,” Ed announced when the song finished.  We listened to the next five songs on the album’s first side in virtual silence.  Wow!  Great stuff!

Browsing the record bins in the campus bookstore a few days later, I ran across that eponoumously titled album by Jonathan Edwards.  I snatched it up and and trotted over to the cashier, plunking down my three bucks and forgetting entirely about whatever else led me to the bookstore initially.  I couldn’t wait to get a listen back at the apartment, pull out my guitar and start learning how to play those songs.  It was a lofty challenge, but I learned to play a couple and would sometimes include them when entertaining myself or my apartment mates late at night.  One song, Shanty, remains in my repertoire to this day.

Thanks for the years of great tunes, Jonathan Edwards.  Such beautiful imagery from a guy who shares his name with an 18th century preacher man.

Sounding great at the Altamont. November 4, 1016

Jonathan Edwards – Everybody Knows Her :

A Halloween tale: a lamp, a banshee and a nightmare

When I was a young boy, Walt Disney released a movie that made a lasting impression on me.  It turned out to be the source of a recurring nightmare for quite some time.  The film was Darby O’Gill and the Little People.  The innocuous title belied multiple appearances of a very scary creature in the film called a “banshee.”

I lived with my parents and younger sister in a small, two-bedroom home.  The living room, kitchen, bathroom and both bedrooms all opened into a small hallway.  Mounted on the wall of that hallway was a single light fixture. The lamp’s stem stuck out of its wall plate in a downward, then upward curve to an upright socket fitted with a round, squaty, frosted glass chimney shade.  When it was dark in the hallway, you’d flip the switch turning on the lamp which projected, upward and around, an eerie glow that in itself was scary enough. But it also cast a shadow on the wall behind and below which, in the active mind if an eight year old, resembled a dark, flowing cape or robe.  I used to run through the hall from one room to another, especially at night, averting my eyes from that lamp as much as possible.

Witnessing a banshee on the big screen in a darkened theater, then coming bansheehome to an already tenuous hallway situation with terrifying light and shadow, inevitably led to regular nightmares.  They were nightmares from which I’d awaken with a start, heart beating in my throat.  In each nightmare, the hallway lamp would come to life as the banshee, howling and reciting something that I’ve mostly forgotten, but which always ended with the phrase, “…all your ages and wages.”  I have no clue what it meant, but it scared the crap out me.

And that’s what I think about every Halloween.  What’s your nightmare?

Here’s a movie clip:  Darby O’Gill and the Banshee


City of New Orleans (or was it Chicago?)

The details are a little hazy after all these years.  I suppose that isn’t unusual considering the intertwined memories involved.  What would the Chicago Cubs and Arlo Guthrie have in common anyway?  If you’d ask Guthrie, probably not much.  But memories continue to  churn as they challenge me to line up the details just enough to connect at least some of the dots.

I last saw Arlo Guthrie on Valentine’s Day 2016, in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of his epic Alice’s Restaurant and it was a great show.  One tune he performed was City of New Orleans, a song penned by Chicago’s late Steve Goodman.  You should be well-acquainted with Steve Goodman by now, or at least one of his more widely heard songs, Go Cubs, Go.  Among all songwriters and most of the general public, Goodman was undoubtedly the world’s most devoted Chicago Cubs fan.

Introducing City of New Orleans, Guthrie told a story about the song and his first encounter with Steve Goodman in 1971 at a club in Chicago.  He didn’t mention the club’s name, but his description of the venue, his performance and the circumstances surrounding their meeting sent chills down my spine.  He talked about how tired he was at the end of his second show, when a young guy with a guitar approached and asked if Guthrie would listen to a song he’d written.  Arlo admitted he wasn’t very gracious to the stranger and tried to leave, claiming to be tired and not wanting to hear any more songs.  But the young songwriter, who introduced himself as Steve Goodman, continued to press him.  So Guthrie made him a deal.  If Goodman would buy him a beer, Guthrie would listen for as long as it took to finish the beer.

Goodman played his new composition, City of New Orleans, and asked if Guthrie wouldn’t mind passing it along to Johnny Cash.  Guthrie was so taken by the song and the young songwriter that he eventually asked permission to record it himself.  Arlo Guthrie recorded and released City of New Orleans in 1972.  It became a hit for Guthrie and paid for Goodman’s rent (and Cubs tickets) for years to come.

It was cold that January night in 1971.  A college buddy and I had driven to Chicago for a concert.  We drove to Chicago quite often for concerts and I thought this time it was to hear Small Faces featuring Rod Stewart.  Whoever it was cancelled due to illness, leaving the two of us in the Windy City with no particular place to go.  We headed to Old Town where we spotted a flyer stapled to a utility pole.  Arlo Guthrie was appearing at the Quiet Knight, a music club in Lincoln Park.  We climbed back into the car and drove over to the corner of Lincoln and Belmont avenues.

We enjoyed listening to Arlo Guthrie’s late show that night.  I recall someone in the audience shouting out a request for him to play Alice’s Restaurant.  His response was, “Go see the movie.”  I can only imagine the mood Guthrie might have been in after playing two shows, then being approached by a young stranger, guitar in hand, asking him to listen to an original song.  We can all be grateful he was thirsty enough to make that offer, though.  Sometimes a beer for a song isn’t such a bad deal after all.