That playlist in my head or, ten songs at the speed of thought

It’s been awhile since I’ve written something.  Anything.  Anything other than a simple Facebook post.  “What does it take,” I ask myself, “to see the light?”  Silence. Crickets, as a cynic might remark.  Even from these lead sentences I’m reminded of a few song titles and the name of a 50s rock ‘n’ roll band.  That’s my brain at work.  A few words overheard in conversation, not necessarily even involving me, are enough to cause a song thought.  A tune bubble.  Perhaps not always, but more often than not.

So, how do I respond to this musical word association game habitually playing out in my head?  I try to write about it. There’s one problem, though. (Only one?)  The song thoughts swirling around inside my skull are fleeting. The speed with which they stream through my consciousness make it nearly impossible to capture them on a page, stiffened fingers tapping on a keyboard, hesitating as auto-correct either fulfills creation of an anticipated word, or makes mincemeat of a particular thought attempting to be conveyed.  It’s happening now.  Welcome to my nightmare.

I’ve tried voice recorders.  But then I’m forced to listen to myself ramble on about whatever nonsense I’m talking about.  Then comes the inevitable pause.  A long pause.  An eighteen-minute gap of a pause.  I’ve lost my train of thought.  It’s almost laughable.  As Dylan said, “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.”  See?   There, I’ve said it again.  Help!  Stop the world and let me off.

On second thought, don’t ever let it stop.

That playlist in my head:

  1. It’s been awhile
    Staind, from Break the Cycle (Elektra) 2001
  2. I saw the light
    Todd Rundgren, from Something/Anything? (Bearsville) 1972
  3. What does it take (to win your love)?
    Junior Walker and the All-Stars, single (Tamla Motown) 1969
  4. Silence is golden
    The Tremoloes, single (Epic) 1967
  5. Welcome to my nightmare
    Alice Cooper, from Welcome To My Nightmare (Atlantic) 1975
  6. Ramble on
    Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic) 1969
  7. It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry
    Bob Dylan, from Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia) 1965
  8. There I’ve said it again
    Bobby Vinton, single (Epic) 1963
  9. Help!
    The Beatles, live, 1965
  10. Stop the world and let me off
    Patsy Cline, from Patsy Cline’s Golden Hits (Everest) 1962

What’s that jangling in my head?

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head.
— The Windmills of Your Mind

When Caryl, my friend and fellow blogger (Home Sweet Abbey), asked if I’d be interested in collaborating on something, I jumped at the opportunity.  I’d disabled any notification about the WordPress “Daily Prompt” a while back, mainly because it made me feel anxious about not churning out a daily masterpiece.  So when Caryl mentioned a recent prompt featured the word “jangle,” my rock and roll brain began singing to itself, “In that jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.”  But before my mouth could even form the words, Caryl continued with “Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head,” a line she explained was from a Michel Legrand song, The Windmills of Your Mind.  I tried to suppress any facial expression that would have revealed while I recognized the song title and the composer’s name (Legrand wrote the score for Summer of ’42), I couldn’t recall any more lyrics from it.  Okay, I thought.  I’ll stall for a while and eventually Caryl will mention something that’ll jangle loud enough for those sleeping brain cells in my head to awaken.   She said the song was from a late 1960s film, The Thomas Crown Affair.  Okay, I know that film.  Couldn’t tell you a thing about it, but I recognize the title.  That’s a start.  When she said Sting performed The Windmills of Your Mind for a later remake of the film, a couple of those brain cells yawned and opened their bleary eyes.  I kinda remembered hearing him sing it.  Or perhaps it was just my imagination, as I know I’d never seen the remake either.  But I know this song.  We agreed to pursue the proposal and Caryl said she would email me some notes about the song and the film.

Upon returning home, I checked my email and saw Caryl’s message with the notes she promised.  It was still bugging me that I couldn’t remember The Windmills of Your Mind.  In the old days I would have had to flip through dozens of record albums, scanning track listings on each one to pursue a hunch that maybe, just maybe, I have someone singing that song on an album in my collection.  It’s much simpler now with a computer.  I typed in the first few characters of “windmills” and with the speed of electrons, a complete title and artist displayed on my screen.  I love technology.

I’ve had Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis CD in my collection for some time now.  It, along with virtually all my other CDs and LPs have been transferred to a digital format and stored on my computer.  They’re intermingled with more recent purchases, digitally downloaded from online music stores.  So I listened to the sultry voice of Dusty Springfield singing The Windmills of Your Mind through earbuds.

Thanks to YouTube, I listened to a dozen other renditions including the original soundtrack version by Noel Harrison, the remade soundtrack mix by Sting and the haunting 1969 Academy Awards performance by Jose Feliciano.  I couldn’t stop myself.  The jangling was getting louder.  I listened to covers by Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and Johnny Mathis.  Not content with only the English versions, I sought out the original French recording, Les Moulins de mon Coeur (The Windmills of my Heart) performed by Marcel Amont.  Jangling out of control, I digressed for a moment and listened to Legrand’s beautiful score for Summer of ’42.  And though completely unrelated, I listened to Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra perform the theme from A Man and a Woman (Un Homme Et Une Femme) before getting back to business.  Lastly, I heard the psychedelic, yet soulful rendering of The Windmills of Your Mind by Vanilla Fudge from their 1969 album, Rock & Roll.  I highly recommend it.  It will jangle in your head for quite some time.  For eight minutes and fifty-five seconds, to be exact.

Click to listen:  Vanilla Fudge – The Windmills of Your Mind

Oh, Shih Tzu

Sylvia got the call from a neighbor.  “Come over here and see this new puppy,” the neighbor said.  Obligingly, she grabbed a sweater, shoved her phone into a pocket and headed for the front door.  On her way out she called to me asking, “Do you wanna walk over to Ollie’s and see the new puppy?”  I thought for a second.  “Probably not,” I replied, “but call me once you’re there and let me know what you think.”

We occasionally discussed getting a dog.  The sticking point always wound up to be my allergies.  What would happen if we took one home and then had to return it.  “It wouldn’t be fair to the dog, ” I’d say.  Typically, that was the extent of our discussion.  We kept open minds, though.  There were plenty of hypoallergenic dogs out there.

No more than five minutes passed.  My phone rang.  It was Sylvia.  “You HAVE to come over and see this puppy,” she cooed.  “Alright, I’ll be right there,” I sighed.

Before I even made it to the doorstep, a pint-sized, black and white, hairy little creature came running across the front yard to greet me, tail wagging, tongue protruding through smiling, black lips.  When it reached my feet, it sniffed and immediately rolled over, belly up, whereupon it began urinating on my pant leg.  It was love at first sight.

We adopted him on the spot.  A six month old Shih Tzu named Bandit who, even at such a young age, had been shuffled through two different households before winding up in ours.

Bandit’s been with us a few years now.  Somewhere during that time Sylvia and I went to hear an all-female, alternative folk band named Roxie Watson. During their set of original songs, they performed one called I Got a Dog.  Now, every morning when Bandit greets me, I sing the first couple of lines almost like a daily prayer.  We have a symbiotic relationship.  Bandit no longer pees on my leg.  In return, I don’t sneeze on him.

Click to listen:  Roxie Watson – “I Got a Dog”

 

Too Genius

Two days apart. That’s all the difference it made to shake up pop music.  One might argue, and rightly so, that music has always been moving forward, progressing along a continuum.  A musical evolution of sorts.  But this particular evolutionary development was far more profound.  It could be described as a pivotal event. The musical soundscape would be altered forever.

Had it been a horse race, Paul McCartney would have won by a nose.  In the photo finish you would have clearly spotted Brian Wilson, just a hair’s breadth away from snatching the trophy.  But it really was a race.  A race to see which musical threshold would be crossed first.  What new, innovative songwriting and production would thrust pop music out of a genre stagnating from simple chord progressions and uncomplicated lyrics?

In such a musical race, McCartney would argue that Wilson won the first heat, with his innovative Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds.  Wilson, on the other hand, would respond that his inspiration for Pet Sounds resulted from listening to songs composed by Lennon & McCartney (and George Harrison) on their Beatles album, Rubber Soul.  In fact, Wilson himself has gone on record to state precisely that.

McCartney, though, has countered that Wilson’s “God Only Knows from Pet Sounds, inspired him to write “Here, There and Everywhere” from the Beatles album, Revolver.  Moreover, McCartney revealed that after Rubber Soul, the Beatles, upon listening to Pet Sounds, wanted to produce an album that would match its level of innovative production.  The result was Revolver.  Both Pet Sounds and Revolver were released in 1966, the former in May, the latter in August.

The relationship between Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson is immutable.  It was written in the stars.  An event of cosmic proportions.   They were born just two days apart, 75 years ago.  Paul on June 18 and Brian on June 20, in 1942.  Astrologically, they are Geminis, a sign represented by twins.  They are indeed musical twins represented by genius.  Innovators inspiring each other to create the most original and most imaginative music of an era.  Two days.  Too genius!

The No Left Turns and Our Summer of Love

The moon was in its seventh house, Jupiter aligned with Mars, and the Age of Aquarius was dawning.  The No Left Turns recently had won a “battle of the bands” and bookings were on the rise.  Our agent put us on the road to gigs throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  And we were fast becoming a favorite at the South Beloit American Legion dances.

Our repertoire was changing too as we began to include songs not typically heard on the radio.  Always on the lookout for musical genres outside of top forty, I’d picked up a record album by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers titled A Hard Road.  We learned a moderately bluesy song from that album, You Don’t Love Me.  It featured a catchy guitar riff and a simple three-chord progression.  Simple was right up our alley.

One song that made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that spring was Light My Fire by the Doors.  “What a great song,” I announced at a rehearsal. “It would be really cool to play it!”  There was only one hitch. The familiar opening riff featured an organ, an instrument missing from our lineup.  That settled it.  We went in search of a keyboard player.  Following up on a classmate’s tip, our quest began and ended in one day when Tony and I drove to a large old farmhouse just outside of town to meet Jim.

Jim was finishing up his freshman year in high school.  He led us into his living room where against the far wall stood a Lowrey organ.  “Well, play us something,” said Tony.  Jim sat on the bench, made a few adjustments and suddenly we were listening to the organ solo from In the Midnight Hour. Impressed, I asked Jim if he could play Light My Fire.  Without a word, he looked at the keyboard and worked it out in front of us.  Then he asked if we’d like to hear the organ part from Good Lovin’.  Mouths agape, we could only nod like bobble heads.  There was one last question.  “How the hell do you move that thing?” I asked.  That’s when Jim told us about his portable Farfisa organ and said while he’s in the band, he’d leave it my basement where we rehearsed.  Traveling to gigs, we’d stow it in the trailer with the rest of our gear.

Hundreds of kids attended a dance we played at the Janesville YMCA, our first with Jim, on a stage that was large enough to seat a philharmonic orchestra.  We opened that show with our cover of (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet and followed it up with In the Midnight Hour.  What a kick it was to look out from that stage and see nearly everyone dancing and a few kids standing in front of it gazing up at us.

The No Left Turns

Our set list evolved and was enhanced with Jim on the Farfisa.  Not everything was rosy though.  We debuted a new song, Whiter Shade of Pale, at the Star Zenith Boat Club after rehearsing it only twice the previous week.  Located on a lovely stretch of the Rock River, the Boat Club was a beautiful venue.  Beautiful was not an attribute of the song we tried to render, though.  My voice cracked repeatedly, reaching for impossible notes.  Sufficiently distracted, I forgot what my fingers were supposed to do on the frets of that bass.  Tony and Mike sounded like they each were playing different songs.  Exasperated, Bruce stopped playing drums entirely.  The only one who “skipped the light fandango” tolerably was Jim.  But the song remained beyond salvaging.  We never played Whiter Shade of Pale or the Boat Club again.

The No Left Turns played for a high school graduation “after-party” one sultry night in early June.  It was a learning experience.   Like most clandestine beer parties, it was held in an old, red barn near a corn field, somewhere off a pot-holed county road, a safe distance from the school and unwary adults.  We arrived to learn we’d be setting up in the hayloft, a short climb up a steep ladder.  We quickly learned the mechanics of operating a block and tackle to lift our equipment up and onto the platform like stevedores.  After a while we learned the limitations of drinking beer while performing on a platform ten feet in the air.  I calculate those limitations were realized when Mike grabbed the block and tackle rope, jumped off the platform, guitar slung over his shoulder, coil cord still plugged into his towering amp, and began swinging Tarzan style out over the dancers below.

I’m not certain which occurred first, his amp toppling over with a thud on the platform, or the block and tackle brake releasing.  Mike dropped head first into the crowd on the barn floor.  You might say he was ahead of his time, body surfing the audience.  Or you might say he was three sheets to the wind.  Fortunately, he broke neither his guitar nor any of his body parts. The same couldn’t be said for his amp, which suffered minor contusions and a broken knob.  After the party, we loaded up the trailer and I drove us home while Tony tended to the other groggy members of our band.  We learned to stay away from gigs involving stevedore apparatus and unrestricted alcohol consumption.

We were honored with an invitation to play for the Miss Rockford Teenager fashion show and pageant.  As honorable a gig as it might have been, I remember very little about it.  I do recall we stood around for quite some time before actually performing.  Though our very short set closed with We Gotta Get Out of this Place, it was nonetheless an honor and a privilege for us to have been a part of the festivities.

Rockford newspaper ad excerpt

Another memorable summer gig involved a two-hour road trip to Savanna, Illinois with the five of us crammed into a Studebaker Lark and no air conditioning.  Loaded up trailer in tow, we headed southwest to the furthest destination we’d ever traveled to perform.  Walking out the back door of my parents’ house, I snatched a Polaroid Swinger camera off the kitchen counter along with a nearby unopened film roll.  I hoped my sister wouldn’t mind my borrowing it.  We snapped some goofy pictures along the way and watched them develop before our eyes.  We were destined to become proficient in selfies, snapping even goofier pictures with our smartphones fifty years hence.

The Savanna gig was in a second floor dance hall above a tavern on the main street of town.  Lugging half a ton of amplifiers, speakers and instruments up a narrow flight of enclosed stairs did little to exhilarate the band.  We were even less exhilarated upon learning a major rock ‘n roll concert was occurring that very night some forty miles up the road and across the river in Dubuque, Iowa.  For the dozen or so teens who stayed in Savanna for lack of a ticket or a ride to Dubuque, we played our hearts out.  Given the choice, we would have played all night rather than having to lug half a ton of gear back down that claustrophobic stairway, loading the trailer and then driving two hours back to Beloit.  With deep disappointment, I must report that no Polaroid snapshots survived the evening.

The Armory in Janesville presented yet another stairway to a dance hall. Not quite as narrow as the one in Savanna, but just as many steps.  To my knowledge, the kids who came to dance while we entertained there had no better concert to attend that night.

Janesville Gazette ad

Our best performance was for “Record Bandstand” at the Rock County Fairgrounds in Janesville.  The No Left Turns felt on top of our game that night, performing on a stage that had seen many regional and nationally recognized bands appear in previous weeks.  By then, the set list included Light My Fire and Incense and Peppermints.  Both featured longer organ solos.  Over the summer we’d built our own light boxes for stage lighting.  Wired with foot-switches for changing colors of the lights, sometimes I’d step on those switches repeatedly during a song.  That was the extent of our “psychedelic light show.”

At times we were as foolish as we were clever.  Once we spent hours cobbling together a Rube Goldberg mechanical strobe light out of old wooden box and electric fan parts.  Not surprisingly, it never quite accomplished what we had envisioned.  The No Left Turns were envious of our rivals, the Jaywalkers .  They’d found a real strobe light bulb with a control box.  The Jaywalkers also had a very large wooden and metal-framed wheel, painted with a black and white spiral design.  A motor would spin the wheel and the spiral would take on a hypnotic appearance, sort of like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  When the strobe light was switched on, band members and the wheel transformed into oddly psychedelic objects.

The Jaywalkers “Hypno-Wheel”

A dance in one high school gym we played had a psychedelic theme.  Even as the incoming Student Council president at that school, I still didn’t have enough influence with anyone in authority to loan us an overhead projector.  My plan was to get a clear plate to place on the overhead’s glass lens and have someone add drops of colored oils while projecting it on a large white sheet behind the band.  I’d read about it in a music fanzine, probably Song Hits Magazine.

Undaunted for want of an overhead projector, the No Left Turns borrowed an 8mm film projector and projected home movies from atop a scaffold on the gym floor onto a large white sheet which hung behind the band.  Our projectionist kept twisting the lens to keep the picture’s focus soft and mostly unrecognizable as family vacation movies.  Occasionally though, a waterfall or canyon gorge would clearly come into view as strains of Wild Thing filled the air.

Fall brought the return of school dances and more gigs at the American Legion Hall, all of which the No Left Turns relished with considerable enthusiasm.  That was our Summer of Love.  It had its ups and downs.  Some were in narrow staircases, some were in barns, but only one featured home movies.

Blonde on Blonde

It was hailed as a landmark album.  Rock music critics variously ranked it among the greatest albums of all time, with some placing it at the top of that all-too-fickle list.  Released fifty-one years ago this month, though the exact date is debatable, it’s still considered one of the finest recordings in the history of rock music.  To many, including me, it remains at the top of that list.

Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde capped a trilogy of albums that began with Bringing It All Back Home, followed by Highway 61 Revisited, both released the previous year.  In the history of rock music, Blonde on Blonde was among the first double albums with a gatefold cover and one song, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” that spanned the entire fourth side of that two-LP set.  Initially I thought Highway 61 Revisited, containing the timeless anthem, “Like a Rolling Stone,” could never be surpassed.  Man, was I was wrong!  At first listen, Blonde on Blonde blew me away.

For a budding teenage guitar player just beginning to get the hang of playing and singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from the Bob Dylan Song Book I’d purchased months before, the songs from Blonde on Blonde offered a new challenge.  I desperately wanted a leg up on learning them.  Desperation turned into exultation when I spied the Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde “Deluxe Edition” song book in a local music store where I’d get guitar strings and picks.

Regretfully, I never convinced my garage bandmates at that time to include a Dylan song or two in our repertoire.   Instead, I learned a few of them for practice and to entertain myself.  Eventually, I learned enough of them to entertain my college housemates and an occasional campus coffeehouse audience.  Over time, I’ve entertained some of those same housemates, their spouses and friends whenever we’ve gotten a chance to reunite for special occasions.  Long ago, I’d allegedly perform for about anyone at the drop of a hat.  Those days are becoming fewer and further apart.  When it does happen, you can be sure I include a hefty portion of Dylan songs, some by request.  If you find yourself in the audience on one of those rare occasions, please don’t request “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” unless I have my Blonde on Blonde “Deluxe Edition” song book handy and you’re ready to settle in for the night.

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to impress you?
Bob Dylan – “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

Lay Down Your Weary Tune… Please

I took saxophone lessons in grade school.  At the slightest provocation, I’d perform for family and friends.  It was a character-building experience.  Perhaps not so much for me, but certainly for the adults feigning interest in Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances.  It’s a pleasant instrumental piece I learned to play well enough for people to recognize by its more popular adaptation, Stranger in Paradise from the musical Kismet.

I taught myself to play guitar.   Like many boys my age, I wanted to be a rock ‘n roll star.  My first acoustic guitar had twelve strings which, if nothing else, made it twice as difficult to keep tuned.  Fortunately, it made a very sweet sound on those occasions when it was in tune.  I practiced on it more often than on the sax.  Recognizing their son was not destined to become the next Boots Randolph, my folks traded in the sax for a piano.  I got to keep the guitar.

My parents wanted to visit Boston one summer. They’d received an invitation from some old friends with whom they once socialized in our hometown.  The friends had moved to the northeast in search of greener pastures.  My parents took them up on the invitation and didn’t think twice about piling themselves and four kids into a big old Pontiac sedan to drive there.    Surprisingly, they allowed me to bring along my guitar.  Cars were larger then.

The friends had two kids of their own, a girl two years my junior and a boy the same age as my younger sister.  I confess to having had a crush on the girl that began before she moved away.  Bringing along my guitar was partly a ploy to woo her despite already having a girlfriend back home.

We arrived on a warm summer day and made ourselves at home thanks to the gracious hospitality of our hosts.   We might have resembled the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  One rainy evening, while sitting around with little to do, I was included in a conversation with the adults that somehow wound up on the subject of folk music.  Someone asked me to play a song.  Perhaps they expected 500 Miles or Lemon Tree.  I probably should have selected something other than the one I played.  Instead, I performed Lay Down Your Weary Tune by Bob Dylan.  I played and sang all the verses, very dirge-like, each preceded by the chorus, “Lay down your weary tune, lay down.  Lay down the song you strum.  And rest yourself ‘neath the strength of strings, no voice can hope to hum.”   I was not asked to play another song for the adults.  I did, however, manage to play a Beatles song privately for their daughter after she proudly showed me her new Rubber Soul album. That was the last time I ever saw her.

A couple years later in college, I brought the old twelve-string to a girlfriend’s home for a weekend.  One morning her father invited me to the local country club to complete a foursome for a round of golf.  I tried to beg off, claiming I didn’t golf and had no clubs with me.  I jokingly offered to bring a guitar instead.  He thought that was brilliant and the next thing I knew, my guitar and I were tooling around on a golf cart.  It was about the same time I was entering my “protest years.”  Naturally, I played a couple of Dylan songs for them.  One in particular was The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.  It’s s serious song with many verses of depressing lyrics. Not your typical upbeat entertainment for a golf outing..  Later that evening, while gathered in the family room watching  TV, her dad tried to poison me by repeatedly pouring Scotch whiskey into my often half-full glass.

Today, if I were forced to choose between drinking Scotch or singing Lemon Tree, I’d happily choose the latter.  I learned a lesson about trying to entertain adults back then.  If truth be told, I’m still learning.


Lay Down Your Weary Tune by Bob Dylan, covered by the Byrds.  (It’s still among my favorites.)