Catching up on decades of reading

A few months ago, in an effort to help my genealogy project along, I decided to subscribe to the newspapers.com website. And I soon decided to let the subscription lapse after the first six months; although I did find a very few items of interest, overall, the bang-for-the-buck wasn’t there.

At least, that was the plan at the time. But, then, a couple of days ago, I was tipped off to a game-changer. As in, most of the Wausau Daily Herald, going all the way back 110 years to the founding of what was then the Record-Herald (the only apparent gap being, curiously, from 1940 to 1951, covering World War II and the immediate postwar years…an era when one would have expected overall interest to be at a very high level). As soon as I saw this, I knew that my upcoming decision would be far more difficult. The Herald was and is, of course, my hometown paper. Now, like so many other papers recently, I have to honestly say that the print edition has become a shell of its former self; such is the nature of the business in this day and age. But, once upon a time not all that many years ago – before the online age, before the advent of the 24-hour news channels – the paper was the go-to source for in-depth coverage of news from local to global. And, so often, it also provided tangible mementos of the important stories, whether the importance was of a universal nature, or something more personal – a birth or wedding announcement, perhaps a feature story regarding a friend or loved one…most of us, I am sure, have clippings or pages put away somewhere to be brought out from time to time.

And so, obviously, I began to look back in time. My focus – at least initially – would be from 1956 (the year of my birth) to 1968, when I began to pay serious attention to the news on a daily basis. True, I had already begun paying attention to the news several years before ’68 – but, for whatever reason, it was only then that things began to get real, as it were. It also helped that – at least when using my smartphone – it was easier to scroll through and find the bigger stories, thanks to the fonts used in the paper’s headlines prior to 1968. Back then, the Record-Herald generally used fairly thin lettering when composing headlines. The big stories – the ones that maybe once every month or two, if even that – used a slightly larger and thicker lettering. And for the Really Big Stories, the R-H utilized a completely different headline typeface – probably twice the height of anything else it used, very bold, with serifs, which created a very jarring visual effect. Interestingly, this oversized font was used almost exclusively for Mercury and Gemini space flights, beginning with John Glenn in 1962. The only other instances I came across where this font was used were for the Cuban Missile Crisis (three days), the assassination of John Kennedy (two days), and once each for the death of Pope John XXIII and the initial raid on North Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In fact, some of these headlines – “Glenn Makes It”, “War Threat High”, “President Shot and Killed” and “Indict JFK Killer” were permanently burned into my memory bank even then (although seven-year-old me had no idea what the word “indict” actually meant).

clipping_112363a.jpg

And, for what it is worth, some of you may note the stand-alone use of the word “killer” used to refer to Lee Harvey Oswald, without the use of any adjective such as “accused” or “alleged”. It was a different day back then, and this was certainly apparent in the headlines. For one thing, shorthand was certainly used much more – JFK, LBJ, and (for Hubert Humphrey) HHH. Nikita Krushchev was first “Mr. K”, then simply “K”; he was also frequently referred to in the headlines by his first name (as was then-UN general secretary Dag Hammerskjold). “Russ” – short for “Russia” – was used for the Soviet Union, and West Germany was sometimes referred to by the rather interesting term “Reich”. But, then, much of what was in the headlines would be considered somewhat less than PC today – the term “old folks’ home” used for a nursing home, the use of the word “boner” referring to a blunder, and a now-unthinkable sub-headline, referring to the murder of four people: “Indian Goes Berserk In Town of Weston”. In fact, this story gave me quite a jolt, and not just for the racial references contained therein (the killer and all four victims were Native American). Not only did this murder take place two days before my parents’ wedding; it happened a very few blocks – no more than half a mile, if that – from the house that, a year or so later, would become the home where we kids all grew up, and Carter’s Grocery (our neighborhood grocer, where years later I would walk, then bike, on errands for my parents) had a tangential part in the story as well. In fact, I knew nothing of this incident until today, and if my parents knew anything of the story – very likely the case, even though they lived in Wausau at the time of the murders – they never mentioned anything of it to us.

Headline

No doubt, as I dig deeper, there will be other heretofore unknown stories as well. And if I cannot hold an original copy of the paper anymore, at the least I will be able to bookmark the page or print the story out if so inclined. But dig I must. Looks like I will be renewing that subscription after all…

Three songs: Summertime

What with Memorial Day just a couple of weeks away (holy crap!), summer is lurking right around the corner. And so it is somehow appropriate that the third line of the “Song Ask” post asks for a song that reminds you of summertime. Now, I think it is safe to say that for many if not most of us, of the four seasons summer is the one to which more musical memories are tied than any other. And, of course, there is more than one way for a song to put one’s mind into summer mode. Your memory bank might tie a song to a particular time of year based upon when it peaked in popularity as seen through the public eye; other times, it is more about the overall vibe than it is about timing. Whatever works, as they say.   And so, presented to you for your listening enjoyment, three that do it for me:

Night: “Hot Summer Nights” – The summer of 1979 created a ton of memories that remain with me yet today, and this particular song was one of the most memorable entries to that summer’s soundtrack. Blasting from my car radio, thumping through the open door at Gundy’s bar following a softball game…it was the perfect summer song for that particular time in my life. But, at the same time, this song was much more to me than simple background music to those hot summer nights. Although on the surface the song is about friends forming a band, the underlying theme is just as much about the bonds of friendship as it is about making music. And for those who worked at or hung around Nino’s back then, 1979 was probably the year when those bonds really began to take hold – when the Nino’s crew really became something of one big family…which gives the words to the first half of the second verse a meaning beyond anything to do with music:

 

T. Rex: “Hot Love” – Okay, maybe the title – and the song itself – have nothing at all to do with summer per se. This song was on the air in the earliest summer days of 1971, though, and there was just an indescribable feeling that it conjured within me for no particular reason…a mental image of spending the day at some mythical faraway beach. And, somewhere between the imaginary swimmers, sunbathers, umbrellas, beach balls, and everything else, an unseen radio was playing that endless closing chorus of “la la la, la la la la, woahhhh….”:

 

Spyder’s Gang: “Waitin Line” – Again, here is one where the content of the song itself had nothing to do with the season. I am not sure why, but the summer of 1972 seemed – even more than usual – prone to many of my favorite songs coming and going far too quickly. This was one of those songs; it got a month of airplay (if that) and then faded into oblivion. But, for whatever reason, it seemed as though every time I went to the local swimming pool in the late summer of ’72, this song was playing on the radio. To this day, the song inexplicably conjures in my mind the scent of chlorine mixed with coconut oil (as well as the memories of where the coconut aromas were coming from, if you get my drift; somehow, trips to the pool took on a more visual aspect that summer). True summer song or not, though, this one deserved a far better fate than what it got…give it a listen:

Three songs: Numbers

The second installment of my music series. Line two on the original post asked for a song with a number in the title. Sometimes a number is a part of the story (see the first two entries below), sometimes it is just happenstance (the last of the three here), and sometimes it can be a direct reference to a number relevant to the song (an example would be the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women”, which unfortunately did not make the final cut for this post). So, without further ado, three about numbers (see what I did there?)

Queen: “’39” – There have not been a lot of bands out there over the years, and certainly not within the mainstream, that have shown as many different facets to their music as Queen. Obviously, they had pompous bombast down pat (“Bohemian Rhapsody”, “We Are The Champions”, “Somebody To Love”), but there was also the pop-oriented “Fat Bottomed Girls” (would a song with that title even make it to the radio today?), the sophisticated “Killer Queen”, the gym-stomper “We Will Rock You”, and the flat-out rocking “Keep Yourself Alive”. And through it all, Freddie Mercury was front and center – the focus of the band, regardless of who may have written the material. But one day, I chanced to flip my copy of the single “You’re My Best Friend” over to check the B side. And when it had finished playing, I had to check the label. Because this was *not* Queen. No way, nohow. Except that it was. Here, Brian May took over with his acoustic guitar-driven ballad about a group of time travelers. (Incidentally, if anybody was meant to write such a song, it would be May, who holds a PhD in astrophysics.) And to this day, when I play the song for the uninitiated, I usually get a “wow” reaction twice – once for the song, and once when I tell them who the band is:

 

Steve Young: “Seven Bridges Road” – Like pretty much everybody else out there, I first heard this song as performed by the Eagles on their live album. And it is still a favorite of mine, to be sure; the harmonies and that uptempo guitar line will never grow old for me. But it was – as acknowledged at the beginning of the track – a cover of a song by California songwriter Steve Young. Unfortunately, it took an online post from a friend following Young’s death a year ago to turn me on to his version…which was most certainly worth the wait. The feel is definitely different from the Eagles’ version – slower and darker, which very much meshes with especially the opening lines of the song. Which version is the keeper? Both of them, to be honest, each in their own way. You have heard the Eagles’ version, I am sure. Here, then, is Young’s version, from 1972:

 

Alison Krauss and Union Station: “The Lucky One” – My son Dan first turned me on to this one, probably when he was about fifteen years old. And I was quite impressed with his find here; this was one of many that he has passed along to me over the years that seem to cement the fact that, in terms of musical tastes, this particular apple did not fall far from the tree. On the first pass, my reaction was that this was a very pretty song, and definitely a keeper…and it remains so over a decade later. It took all of a second play, though, for me to conclude that behind the beauty of Krauss’ vocals lay some very bitter lyrics of a woman left behind. With that said, I have also seen comments implying that the singer is actually admiring the good fortune of the subject.  But, then again, a look at the video tells a different story…of a woman who knows exactly what she is looking at beforehand, and ultimately decides that she wants no part of it. As always, you be the judge:

 

(Postscript: I found another link to this song on YouTube with an intro ad.  Now, I fully understand and appreciate the need for brief ads to help keep YouTube viable.  In this case, though, the ad in question was of the political slander variety…a year and a half before the election.  Once again, democracy on sale…)

Three songs: Colors

So, as long as I have this blog going…

A few weeks back, a post made by a friend on Facebook caught my attention. The post, in the form of a list within a photo, asked for a song that I liked in each of thirty different categories. And I replied at the time with thirty favorites.

But then I got to thinking. (Insert smartass comment here, everybody.) Anyhow…as I thought about it, I realized that there were a lot of songs out there that missed the cut for one reason or another that deserved some love as well. And, to be honest, some of the final entries on the list were actually a tough call. And then it dawned on me…why not expand the list to three songs in each category, and put a few words down about each in the blog?

So here it is…the first of thirty entries based on that list. I am going to try, as much as possible, to use songs from my iPod; there is a pool of six hundred of my favorites right there, and it provides a pretty good cross-section of my musical tastes. Now, this will not always be possible, especially within the confines of a couple of the categories. And a caveat: I have already posted about a few of these songs already, either here or on my Facebook page. Finally, some of the songs that appeared on my original Facebook list of thirty may appear here under a different category. So be it; my game, my rules.  And don’t expect a sudden torrent of posts here – or even necessarily a weekly contribution; these will come up as they can.

With that said: The first entry on the list called for a song with a color in the title. Pretty straightforward stuff, so here goes with my three:

ZZ Top: “Hot, Blue and Righteous” – I first heard this one after work one night long ago at Nino’s. At the time, ZZ Top was still nearly a decade from the peak of their fame. To be sure, the album from which this cut was drawn (Tres Hombres) put them on the map; “La Grange” received a good deal of airplay on both the local AM and FM stations, and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” was a late-night staple on the FM side. It was a couple of years later, though, when one of my co-workers brought the album in and played it after our shift was finished…and this one just hit me out of nowhere. The vibe I got the first time I heard it was almost spiritual…a sense that was certainly confirmed a couple of plays later, when I figured out the words:

 

Waylon Jennings: “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – So often the first version of a song that a person hears is the one that sticks, regardless of whatever one might hear later. So it is here; this is a Chuck Berry song that was covered by many others (most notably Buddy Holly). And, in fact, ol’ Waylon took some serious liberties with the lyrics, rearranging the verses and dropping one altogether. Normally, that would leave me quite upset…but, as I said, this was the first version I ever heard. And, to be honest, Jennings’ voice seems a better fit for this song than any other I have heard thus far, carrying with it as always that insinuating quality that, in this case, seems to imply that the brown-eyed handsome man would be quite the catch, indeed, for the woman lucky enough to find him:

 

Rick Nelson: “Promenade In Green” – Teen idol Ricky Nelson was at his peak a few years before I began listening to the radio with any regularity, Still, I had a passing familiarity with his work by the late Sixties, thanks to a four-hour oldies program carried on the local AM station every Sunday night. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when I heard him on the radio one day referred to as “Rick” Nelson; the DJ made it a point that he was no longer “Ricky”. And then, the song. This was nothing at all like what I had ever heard from Ricky, whose music really never did that much for me. Here was a sweet little ballad about a children’s playground game (in which, I later learned, he managed to name-check his three children at the time). And if the song might not have been anything all that consequential in the Big Scheme of Things, it did manage somehow to endear itself to me. If I was not a fan of Ricky, I had just become a fan of Rick:

A lesson learned from a 1960s song…

No, not “Eve of Destruction”.
Or “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
Or “The Sounds of Silence”.
Or any of those Really Relevant Songs that are constantly overplayed on oldies/’60s stations.

As a matter of fact, 1) you have never heard of the song in question, 2) the lyrics are not the stuff of social consciousness, 3) neither is the lesson here, for that matter, and 4) this lesson is only peripherally related to the song.

I will start by asking you to listen to the song linked below, at least through the first chorus. The link here brings you to a YouTube page that contains both sides of the 45; inasmuch as this screed concerns the song “Loddy” – the A side of the record – you will want to start from the beginning (the music starts at :07):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCSkLZrJy20

(You listened all the way to the end of that first song, didn’t you? And you were singing along – at least to yourself – by the time that last chorus faded out, right? Don’t worry…I won’t tell. )

So why did I trick you into listening to a bit of ‘60s sunshine pop? Here is a hint: You likely remember little to nothing of the verse(s), I am guessing.

Ahh…but (and here is the setup) that chorus. I will bet that you are not going to get it out of your head anytime soon; there is something about an infectious sing-along riff that just burrows its way into your memory, and stays there longer than it should.

In my case, it stayed in my memory for forty-seven years…but only in my memory, and nothing more. I distinctly remember the song being on the radio for maybe a couple of weeks back in September of 1969. Over those couple of weeks, I probably heard it no more than a half-dozen times. And over the course of those half-dozen listens, I heard the DJ give the name of the song exactly once – but I could not make it out clearly over the background sounds of our little house (did he say Lottie? La-di-da? Or was my mind fooling me?), and I could not hear the name of the artist at all. And then, as often happened back then, the song vanished without a trace and never came back, leaving me with nothing but that chorus – “sing la-dee-da, la-dee-daaaa” – echoing in my mind and never really going away. Now, there were any number of other songs over the years that followed the same trajectory on the radio, coming and going before you got to know them…but, invariably, I was able to catch some fragment – maybe the title, maybe the artist, maybe a line or two of the lyrics – that, over time, gave me enough of a clue to be able to track the song down in a record store or, later, online.

But, maddeningly, there was that one song that never went away in my mind, but that did not leave me with any clue at all as to its identity, save for that one line, repeated over and over in the chorus and in my memory. With the advent of the internet, I was able to check off most every song on my list of most memorable lost tunes…except for that one. Lord knows, I tried. I searched for numerous possible variations on the title, based on that fleeting mention from that DJ all those years ago. I tried typing that maddening chorus into Google. In fact, I actually had hit the correct spelling of the title a couple of times…but the title invariably led me to a different song. And then, several years ago, I stumbled upon a database dedicated to old music surveys – the weekly printouts that were always left on the checkout counter at music stores and any number of other locations back in the day. The database was far from all-encompassing, although still enormous; a given station might have several surveys turn up over the course of any given year…but there were also countless stations that might have been represented by one lone list, if that. Still, it was a daunting task; I tried entering the various spellings, only to come up empty. I even tried pulling up various surveys from September 1969 and, if I saw a song I had never heard of, I pulled it up on YouTube, just in case I had completely messed up on that title. Nothing.

And then, a week ago, I revisited that database. There had been any number of surveys added since my last visit. This time around, I started by searching all songs from 1969 beginning with the letter “L”.

And. Among the over 400 songs that matched my request…”Loddy”, by a group called Tax. There were over 72,000 survey charts in the database…and exactly one with this song, added since my last visit. From mid-August 1969, which was certainly close enough to be within the realm of possibility. Holy crap…could it be? I jumped – almost literally – to YouTube…and there it was. And it was.

I played it again. And again, and again. And, in my mind, I was suddenly twelve years old again…with none of the cares and worries inherent to being an adult…and, for that matter, with none of the angst – or the troubles – that twelve-year-old me had to deal with so often. For the moment, the innocent twelve-year-old met the more uninhibited sixty-year old in one spirit, set free by the soaring chorus of a long-lost song now brought back to life. And it was wonderful.

The lesson here, of course, is to never give up. Not every such endeavor winds up with the happy ending…certainly given what was out there to work with in this case. But, at the same time…sometimes perseverance and luck combine to smile on you. And when the stars do align, the feeling of overcoming the odds is indescribable. Do not obsess…but, whether it is something great or small, whether life-changing or life-enriching, or just a little something to help you get through the madness…if in your heart it is worth it, do not quit.

And, for what it is worth…if there really is/was a Loddy – a real person who inspired this song – I have fallen in love with her, sight unseen. Just sayin’.

“I can no longer stay silent.”

This was the line that opened a Facebook post from a friend this morning. A friend who, like your humble correspondent, once frequented a game-show forum that eventually devolved into a wasteland due in no small part to the unrestrained political discussions that pretty much took the board over. A friend who established a virtual “Moratorium Lounge” within the board as a way of telling the chronic offenders “enough”.

To be sure, I have occasionally made posts both to my Facebook page and this blog that could fairly be called “political”. As a rule, though, I tried to avoid doing so. Reasonable people can have reasonable differences, and I have friends across the political spectrum. Because, you see, I tend to see people in the whole. There are any number of people on my friend list whose views on things political are diametrically opposed to mine. And on the more-common occasions when I do comment to something political that they may have posted to their own timelines, I try to do so in a respectful manner. Because, you know, they are my friends.

But, like my friend, I can no longer stay silent.

Not when the fears I felt over the course of the recent election are already beginning to take root within the new administration after only a week and change. There is the manipulation of the press and the distortion of facts being propagated by government spokespersons. There is the marginalization of minorities and the obscene waste of resources that will be earmarked for the construction of an easily-circumvented wall that is intended as much as a statement as a barrier. There is the turning away of refugees and the twisted explanation as to how it is not about religion, along with the transparent exemptions given to nations where the president has business interests. There is the call for a “great” military buildup (and, Lord help me, I have come to loathe that word). There is the shakeup at the National Security Council, in which he replaced the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence with his right-hand political adviser.

Except for the thing about the press, all done by executive order. And all of this within the first ten days.

I will make no apologies here for being frightened or angry. As my friends and/or blog followers, I hope you understand. Today, I changed my Facebook profile picture to the Statue of Liberty. Not only for those who she welcomes, but also for what she is welcoming them to. Because both, I fear, are being radically altered by those now in power.

And I, too, can no longer stay silent.

A name for a face

If you have lived in the Wausau area for any amount of time, chances are that you have seen him walking down the street somewhere…maybe along Grand Avenue, maybe downtown…but somewhere. And it was not hard to notice him, to be honest; the gait he used in his walk earned him a nickname by which he was universally known. And even if you never saw him, chances are that you likely had heard of him at some point…again, most likely by that nickname.

Like countess other locals, over the years I have both seen and heard of the man – either within the context of “sightings”, or by the description of his walk. But, always, by that nickname; I do not recall hearing him so much as once referred to by his actual name. And, like (I am sure) virtually everybody else around town, I personally knew nothing of the man himself; my guess is that most people would have used words such as “harmless” to describe him. Now, I have no doubt that most of us would like to think of ourselves by that particular adjective as well. Nevertheless, that word – “harmless” – carries with it a certain connotation when used to describe a specific person. If in fact it is used in conversation regarding another human being, the unspoken implication is that, for whatever reason, the listener needs somehow to be reassured that the subject of the conversation possesses that particular trait.

And if we would like to think of ourselves as harmless, I would also think that few of us would think of ourselves as “cruel”. Nevertheless, whether or not we might consider ourselves as inherently cruel (and I would truly hope that the vast majority of us would not), chances are that at various points in our lives we have committed acts or said things that would fairly qualify for that description. And I will plead guilty as charged, of course; this particular baggage comes with being a flawed human being. To the point here: I certainly stared in passing more than once back in the day when seeing him on the sidewalk, and I could not help but smirk knowingly on occasion when his nickname was brought up in conversation.

But that was back in the day. I would like to think that the years, in their counsel, have made me a better (if still flawed) person. And, more than once over the years since, I will admit to having paused for a moment to wonder about the guy. Was he still around? Was he still drawing stares as he walked down the street? And what of him as a person? His life certainly had dimension beyond the peculiarities in his gait. Who – if anybody – knew any of that? And did he have anybody at all who might have cared?

And, sadly, these thoughts all began with the nickname. I have not used that name here, nor will I begin to do so now; you have likely already guessed (even if you have no clue as to specifics) that this was not a nickname that was bestowed in kindness. But, for God’s sake…what other reference point does one have when speaking or thinking of a man whose actual name is as unknown as he himself is known?

His name, as I found out today, was Nile “Nick” Seis, and he passed away this past Friday. Rest in peace, Nick. Because if anybody out there deserves that particular benediction, it is you.