Memorial Day: I ain’t marching anymore

My father and his brother both served their country in the Army during World War II.  My uncle, who was based in Australia, saw combat action in the South Pacific.  Dad was training to be a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, but missed combat as the war ended prior to his deployment.

While in college during the Vietnam war, I took part in anti-war demonstrations, marches and rallies.  I still have a letter from U.S. Representative Les Aspin in response to concerns about the war I’d written in a missive to him.  He understood and promised to work toward ending the war.  The continuing anti-war movement resonates with me today.

In 1971, over a Memorial Day weekend when I was home for the summer from college, my uncle and his family came to visit.  Being an occasional coffeehouse folksinger, trying to learn a handful of new tunes whenever the opportunity arose, I’d brought home with me some sheet music.  I’d set the pages to one song, an anti-war anthem titled I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs, on my mother’s spinet piano.  My uncle spotted it there, picked it up and stared at it.  I braced myself for the blowback.

A few long seconds passed, when to my great surprise he turned to me and said, “This is really good.  How does it go?”  I sang I few bars a cappella for him.  He picked up the tune straight away and we both continued to sing the next couple of verses together.  Dad even joined in.  Soon we were discussing the Vietnam war and concluded that future wars should be avoided at all cost.

Let’s not forget why we enjoy this long holiday weekend.  Memorial Day is observed to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.  The holiday wasn’t established for businesses to promote “mattress sale extravaganzas” or for car dealerships to offer “holiday blowouts.”  Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated sometime after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, the same day my dad, my uncle and I sang I Ain’t Marching Anymore together.

The message of the song is clear.  Let’s cease adding to the roll call of those who fall in battle, to be honored for a few hours one day a year.  It’s time to give peace a chance… every day.

The Annotated Playlist in My Head

Perhaps it’s a lingering librarian obsession within me.  A way to catalog and shelve that playlist in my head.  Or maybe it’s because I can’t think of anything else to write about.  Either way, here’s an annotated edition of the playlist from my January 29, 2018 Life Out of Tunes radio show.

  1.  Ernest TubbWalking the Floor Over You.  This tune was floating around in my head for many years as I reminisced about running playbacks of The Ernest Tubb Show in a previous blog post.  One thing missing from the radio broadcast was a visual of Tubb flipping over his guitar at the end of the show and displaying the word THANKS in big block letters stuck to the back of it.  My No Left Turns bandmate and cousin Mike, whose dad was a country music fan, would do the same thing with his electric guitar at our gigs.
  2. Chris ReaThe Road To Hell (Pts. 1 & 2).  Not only have I been a Chris Rea fan since the 1980s, but I have two friends, also Chris Rea fans, who would agree that we, as a country, are traveling down that road.  This one was for you, Mike and Brad.
  3. The FlockI Am the Tall Tree.  I always liked the Flock from Chicago.  I missed their performance at the Pop House, a teen club in my hometown, around 1966-67.  I have it on good authority they closed their show with, “We’re gonna play one more song, then get the flock outta here.”
  4. Umphrey’s McGeeForks.  I confess to enjoying jam bands.  The Grateful Dead have always been among my favorites.  UM elevates it with scorching, jazz-infused solos and time signature changes accompanied by smart lyrics.
  5. First FridayMaryanne.  A blast from my past, circa 1969-70.  While students at ND, these guys were talented enough to record an album.  I bought the LP new at that time and played it so often, the grooves wore out.  A favorite at parties both on and off campus, First Friday disbanded upon graduation.  Members of Umphrey’s McGee are ND alums too, separated from First Friday by three decades.  This must be where I say, “Go Irish!”
  6. The Rums & CokeGlad All Over.  Growing up in Wisconsin during the 60s, I knew many “garage bands.” but had never heard of this one until researching a recent post to Wisconsin Garage Bands 1960s, a Facebook page I admin.  A five-piece, all-girl band from south of Milwaukee, the Rums & Coke were popular in southeastern Wisconsin.  They recorded this Dave Clark Five song across the border in Chicago and released it as a single in 1966.
  7. Roxanne & Dan KedingLittle Drummer.  Originally from Chicago, this talented folk duo moved to Wisconsin, near the town where I was working and where we became friends.  I was invited to join them and four other musicians for a one-off fundraising gig, performing together as a 50/60s rock ‘n’ roll revival band, Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders.  That aside, the Kedings recorded an album of traditional folk songs, From Far & Near, in 1980.  It was followed by an album of children’s songs, In Came That Rooster, in 1981.  I had both albums.  They split up and eventually I split, leaving both LPs behind.  I regretted it (leaving the records, that is) until I found From Far & Near at a used record store in Asheville, NC, 850 miles from where it originated!  From far and near indeed!  An old Irish folk song about love at first sight, I selected this track for Frank, my Irish friend.
  8. The ClienteleLunar Days.  If you caught a glimpse of either the super-moon or the lunar eclipse last night, you’ll understand why I spun this tune.
  9. Van MorrisonMoondance.  See #8.  “Can I just have one more moondance with you?”
  10. The BroadcastBattle Cry.  Threw in something from a great Asheville band featuring an equally great vocalist.
  11. Hot TunaWater Song.  Sylvia (the one with whom I moondance) and I heard Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy (a.k.a. Hot Tuna) shred this guitar instrumental in concert a couple years ago.

Hope you enjoyed reading the stories behind each song on this week’s playlist!  If you missed it, you can still listen to this Life Out of Tunes show through Monday, February 5, 2018 by following the link:  https://www.ashevillefm.org/show/life-out-of-tunes/ and clicking on the “Play Archive” button.  Peace!

From Sweetbottom to Genesis and beyond

While researching some background information for this week’s Life Out of Tunes radio program, I ran across a Wisconsin connection in one of the songs on the playlist.  In 1981, a group of musicians and other entertainers staged a show to raise funds and awareness for Amnesty International that became known as the Secret Policeman’s Ball.  One of the activist musicians participating was Phil Collins who had recently parted with the band Genesis to pursue a solo career.  Two songs performed by Collins for this show were among those preserved on an LP entitled The Secret Policemen’s Other Ball, which I purchased new in 1982.  As I recall, the album, which includes live solo performances by Sting, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Donovan and Pete Townsend among others, didn’t cost much and proceeds went to a good cause.

I’ll be spinning a Phil Collins track from that LP on Life Out of Tunes.  It’s just Collins on piano and vocals, accompanied by a banjo.  It turns out, that banjoist is Wisconsin native Daryl Stuermer, whose career began as guitarist for a Milwaukee jazz-fusion band, Sweetbottom.  Sweetbottom recorded a couple of albums and performed regularly at Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest music festival in the mid-1970s.  One of their shows caught the attention of keyboardist George Duke who was then touring in Frank Zappa’s band. Duke introduced Stuermer to jazz-fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty who was impressed enough to ask Stuermer to play acoustic and electric guitars on Ponty’s best-selling Imaginary Voyage album released in 1976.

Daryl Stuermer’s career led him to the progressive rock band Genesis in 1977 as a replacement for departing guitarist Steve Hackett.  He toured with Genesis for twenty years, but never appeared on any of their studio recordings.  He did play guitar (and sometimes banjo) for Phil Collins on virtually all of Collins’ records and tours.

We’ll hear Wisconsin native Daryl Stuermer pick a banjo and play soaring electric guitar on this week’s Life Out of Tunes.  I’ll also be uncovering some other Wisconsin connections, along with tunes from Chris Rea, Brandi Carlile and other gems.  Tune in and turn it up, Monday, December 11 at two o’clock eastern time on AshevilleFM.org.

“Smug hippie anthems” (Pièces de résistance, partie deux)

Until recently, I was receiving weekly emails from a fellow blogger who also writes about music. He’s more prolific than I, writing weekly posts, waxing nostalgic or offering insight into music from his past, not unlike other writers I follow.  And like the others, I know how to access his blog so I didn’t need weekly reminders.  Determined to cut back on the number of emails infiltrating my inbox, I requested my name be removed from his list. I kept the message brief, figuring a long explanation wasn’t necessary.

Judging from his reply, he was deeply offended by my innocent appeal and wasted no time informing me, stating “(I’ll) Spare you the trouble of having to not read something.”  At first I thought he was joking, but he continued with a rather harsh criticism of my blog.  He wrote, “I haven’t read your blog since that head-up-the-butt ‘Songs of the Resistance’ post back in January. That would have been hard to top — or slide under the lowered bar, as it were — but I wasn’t interested in finding out whether you could, or did.”

I realize it’s not great literature, but “head-up-the-butt?”  Ouch!  Guess I touched a nerve.  Or struck a chord, so to speak.  His reply also included three unattributed quotations, all sharing the same general theme about “savage mobs” and “reverence for the law.”  At the end he finally alluded to the source of his quotations by posing a question, “How could Abe Lincoln have foreseen the #Resistance, Antifa, Black Lives Matters (sic), the anti-free speech mobs on campus, etc.”

Clearly, he appreciates neither the resistance nor my song list.  It brought to mind one of his previous blog entries in which he described a classic Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album as containing “smug hippie anthems.”

Rather than take umbrage at them, his remarks piqued my interest.  The words of respected historical figures are posted ad nauseam among social media groups and become rallying cries for various causes.  Some research revealed those three quotations my fellow blogger shared with me were excerpted from one speech Abraham Lincoln delivered on January 27, 1838 entitled The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.  It’s been studied and debated by Lincoln scholars for years.  So was it an indictment of future Resistance, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, or anti-free speech movements on campus?  I don’t believe it was, and here’s why.

William Herndon, who became Lincoln’s law partner in 1844, had this to say about the Lyceum speech:  “The speech was brought out by the burning in St. Louis a few weeks before, by a mob, of a negro. Lincoln took this incident as a sort of text for his remarks…”

Reading the entire speech, it becomes apparent that Lincoln, upset by the lynching of a black man in St. Louis and similar lynchings of black men and their white sympathizers in other states, was condemning those mob actions specifically.  If I were to respond to my detractor, I’d point out that black lives seem to have most certainly mattered to Abe.  I’d also reframe his question and pose it back to him:  How could Abe Lincoln have foreseen the Ku Klux Klan, Nazism, the white supremacy movement, a president who is complicit, etc.?

Instead, I’ll resist the temptation to respond directly and simply dedicate the rest of this post, entitled “Smug hippie anthems” (Pièces de résistance, partie deux), to my fellow blogger and critic.  Having already written too many words, I’ll keep it brief.

Some time back, I was handed a page torn from an issue of Vanity Fair magazine.  It was a list of “favorite protest songs” by celebrities Lin-Manuel Miranda, Q-Tip, Mavis Staples, Tegan & Sara, John Mellencamp and Brittany Howard.  Even if you aren’t familiar with some of these artists, you might appreciate the song titles they shared.  I invite you to enjoy the following link to a list of their selections on the Vanity Fair website, each of which you can find on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or other purveyor of “smug hippie anthems.”  To see the list, click on this title: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite protest songs.

Violets of Dawn

Around the time it was released in 1967, I brought home an album by The Robbs, a regionally popular band from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  At least two songs from that record were being played on top forty radio often enough to make me fork over some cash for the LP.  My band even learned to play one of the tunes.

The Robbs (1967) liner notes

The Robbs had a regional hit single that year, Race with the Wind.  It’s a great song, but it wasn’t my favorite.  The album’s opening track, Violets of Dawn, turned out to be the one that grabbed my attention.  Scanning the liner notes, I discovered Eric Andersen was the songwriter.  The name meant nothing to me.  I’d never heard him on the radio, but I sure liked his song. The tune was catchy and the lyrics painted images in my head.  One phrase in particular, …petal sprays of violets of dawn, stuck with me like fireworks illuminating an early morning sky.

A year passed.  I’d wasted an evening pretending to study in my dorm room when a student from down the hall stopped by with a record album. It was an Eric Andersen recording.  He placed the LP on my phonograph and I heard the original Violets of Dawn for the first time.  It moved me.  Just Andersen singing with his guitar, accompanied by some light percussion from a snare drum and a piano.  There were three more verses than what the Robbs had recorded.  It was like hearing Bob Dylan sing Mr. Tambourine Man for the first time, after having known only the Byrds’ abbreviated cover.

Over the years, I’d kept up with Dylan’s music while at the same time losing track of Andersen’s, much to my regret.  On a recent fall evening, that oversight was rectified.

Eric Andersen performed in concert at a small music hall, accompanied by a violinist who doubled on mandolin, and a percussionist whose bare hands provided a subtle rhythm.  While time may have stolen the youthful innocence of his voice, along with my stamina for drinking more than one beer, his performance was a sonic fireworks display of poetry, at times dark and sparse, but consistent in its imagery.  The fourth song into his set was Violets of Dawn.  Again I was moved, transported back in time, a wave of chills rushing down my spine.

Eric Andersen (center) in concert – Isis Music Hall

Andersen performed two sets, each a wonderful blend of old and new material.  He delivered songs from his past catalog, of course, and debuted a select set of newer material.  He unveiled three new songs invoking the spirit of German writer and Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll, works commissioned by Böll’s descendants and shrouded in sharp satire of the nationalism he despised, especially in a song titled, “Thank You, Dearest Leader.”  “The Rebel (Song of Revolt),” inspired by French philosopher Albert Camus, was a call to resist even in the face of hopelessness.  Before finishing the evening with his classic “Thirsty Boots,” Andersen turned to the romanticism of Lord Byron, taking Byron’s poem, “To a Lady,” and setting it to music.

It was at once an entertaining and intellectually stimulating evening, one which might have happened fifty years ago in a dingy coffeehouse, illuminated only by …petal sprays of violets of dawn.

Broadside #59 The national topical song magazine

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