Monthly Archives: May 2009

Going in style

I dig fireworks, and this is what I think about as I watch:

That would be a great way to go out. Take my ashes, put them in a shell and fire them into the sky, where they explode in a riot of colors. My family thinks I’m kidding.

It came to mind last week, not only while watching fireworks, but as I learned about the serious illness of a woman married to a guy who used to work at our paper. Our time together at the paper was brief, and a long time ago. Our paths rarely crossed. I doubt he remembers me.

My old colleague has kept an online journal about his wife’s illness. A mutual friend pointed it out, and it’s remarkable.

My old colleague writes of his wife’s passion for Warren Zevon’s music, especially over the last year or so. Zevon, after all, kept writing and recording new songs even after learning he had a short time to live.

Her favorite song: “Keep Me In Your Heart,” the last cut on Zevon’s last album, “The Wind.” In it, the dying Zevon gently coaches his family and friends on how to remember him after he’s gone.

My old colleague, more of a Springsteen guy, has come around, saying “there’s something about Springsteen singing a Zevon song that comforts me these days.”

Especially Springsteen’s cover of “My Ride’s Here” on “Enjoy Every Sandwich,” a 2004 tribute album to Zevon. My old colleague described that song as done by someone “after a life on the road, stuck in yet another hotel and knowing his time had just about run out.”

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“My Ride’s Here,” Warren Zevon, from “My Ride’s Here,” 2002. It appears to be out of print but is available digitally.

At the end of that journal entry, titled “My Ride’s (Almost) Here,” my old colleague writes:

“Everybody knows that moment at a party where it’s time to leave, but you linger a bit, savoring the moment and the experience. That’s what (she’s) doing right now — she’s lingering and savoring.”

She died the next day.

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“Keep Me In Your Heart,” Warren Zevon, from “The Wind,” 2003.

I haven’t named my old colleague and his wife because I don’t know them well enough to feel comfortable doing so. I never met her.

Their online journal was hosted by CaringBridge.org, which provides a place for families and friends to connect during times of serious illness. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, CaringBridge web sites are highly recommended.

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The great adventure

It was just a short news story, but it instantly reminded me where I was 30 years ago this weekend. I was in Cleveland, on the first leg of the adventure of a lifetime.

That’s overstating it, of course, but when you’re 21 and traveling alone for the first time, it seems that way. That you’re seeing the grittier side of America from a bus certainly adds to the experience.

jeffjanesville05xx79backpack05xx79I’d always wanted to see the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

So as my college classes ended in May 1979, I talked my bosses at the newspaper into giving me a few days off.

I bought a sleeping bag, packed a backpack, borrowed a camera and took off.

I drove to southern Wisconsin, stayed overnight at my aunt’s house and caught a bus to Chicago. There, in a vaguely scary bus station, I caught another Greyhound and headed east.

When we reached Cleveland, a huge, double-deck headline in the Plain Dealer screamed about a plane crash in Chicago in which 273 people had been killed. It was — and still is — the worst crash involving a single plane in U.S. history. That’s why it was in the news today.

Going across New York state, I chatted with a young woman. All was well until she tried to convert me to her brand of religion. No thanks.

My plan, once I got off the bus in Cooperstown, was to camp out for a couple of nights. But it had been raining since Albany and never let up. I never saw the top of any mountain in the Catskills, thanks to the low-hanging rain clouds. So I found a room in a cheap motel and spent a couple of rain-soaked days in Cooperstown.

Of course, the sun was out as I sat outside Clancy’s Deli in Cooperstown, savoring my first New York deli sandwich and waiting for the Trailways bus on the first leg of the trip home.

Going across Ohio, I chatted with a younger guy, maybe 18 or so, who spun a breathless tale of working with or being mentored by the singer Johnny Mathis. I probably said something like “Johnny Mathis, eh?”

He misread my skepticism about his story and immediately sought to reassure me that although he had worked with the singer, he himself certainly was not gay, no sir, no way. He needn’t have worried. I was clueless. I never would have thought that had he not mentioned it.

A long, strange trip indeed.

Here’s a road song from one of the records I was listening to at the time.

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“Homestead In My Heart,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces, from “The Amazing Rhythm Aces,” 1979.

It’s written and sung by Duncan Cameron, a guitarist who joined the group a year earlier. That’s Joan Baez on the background vocals. Not quite Memphis soul, not quite country, it’s still a good cut from an underrated album.

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The ABCs of DE, Vol. 9

Here, finally, is another installment in our rather occasional series about Dave Edmunds, the Welsh guitarist, pub rocker and roots revivalist who long has been one of our faves.

Dave teamed up with Nick Lowe to write today’s tune. They started working together in 1975, when Lowe played bass on Dave’s second solo album, “Subtle As A Flying Mallet.”

They started writing together on Dave’s third solo album, which was released two years later. Two of the songs on”Get It” are by Edmunds and Lowe. Two others were written solely by Lowe.

Edmunds, Lowe and drummer Terry Williams played together for the first time on “Get It,” shaping that glorious Rockpile sound.

We could go on, but we won’t. Why?

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“Here Comes the Weekend,” Dave Edmunds, from “Get It,” 1977.

We’re going outside to play now.

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Prodded to post

Confined to quarters after a minor medical procedure (I’m fine, thanks), I decided to spend the afternoon ripping some old albums.

The top shelf was easiest to search for goodies, so — for no apparent reason — I started with my old Creedence Clearwater Revival records.

Creedence was one of my earliest faves, but I long ago grew tired of hearing all their hit singles over and over. These days, I listen to the Creedence tunes less often heard.

Even though I pulled out those old Creedence albums, I had no intention of writing about them today. Until later, that is, after I got caught up on my blog reading. There, on LiveDaily.com, was news that two repackaged Creedence releases go on sale next week. I had no idea.

What Fantasy Records has done on “Creedence Covers the Classics” is pretty much what I did this afternoon: Mined the first five Creedence albums for songs you might dig.

They’ve grabbed all 12 covers from those albums. Well, sort of. You get edited takes on two songs that were long jams on the albums: “Suzie Q” (4:35 vs. 8:00-plus) and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (3:54 vs. almost 11 minutes). Which is a little curious, considering the 12 covers on the new CD run only 40 minutes.

Some of those covers are pretty good. Turns out I ripped seven of them this afternoon. Knowing they’re being re-released in this manner has sapped my enthusiasm for writing anything further about them.

Instead, here are a couple of less-often-heard goodies from Creedence. Both are written by John Fogerty and show his sly sense of humor.

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“It Came Out Of The Sky,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Willy and the Poor Boys,” 1969. In which a UFO lands south of Moline and the Establishment freaks out. Fogerty gleefully sticks it to The Man.

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“Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Pendulum,” 1970. In which the mayor’s daughter is a wild child. That’s Fogerty on electric piano and sax. Don’t be fooled by the false ending, either.

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So what’s new?

Heard anything good lately?

It used to be that you never needed to ask that question, at least not back when radio was more diverse. But that was a long time ago.

Much of what’s written about here comes from that time — the ’60s to the ’80s — but I haven’t given up on finding and digging new sounds.

It’s harder to find that next great thing, but I keep looking and listening. I don’t want to be one of those crabby old farts who keeps saying everything was better back then. Because that just isn’t so.

I recently was sent an advance copy of the new album by Carbon Leaf, an alt-rock band from Richmond, Virginia. Even though they’ve been around for 17 years and eight albums, I wasn’t familiar with them or with most of the bands cited as their peers.

But I gave it a few spins. Though their publicists talked up several cuts, a different one hit home with me. And that’s all you can ask for, really.

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“X-Ray,” Carbon Leaf, from “Nothing Rhymes With Woman,” 2009.

Turns out even the five young guys who collaborate on everything in Carbon Leaf have wistful memories of summers gone by.

How can you not dig a song with a timeless chorus that reminds you …

“I used to live there. I used to live there …

Save for the melting of Boba Fett in one verse, this tune is about the summers of my youth. I used to live there, too.

It’s the first memorable song of my summer.

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In the beginning

It was the late ’60s, and Bob Cornell was in his late 40s when he started booking rock ‘n’ roll bands to play gigs in our corner of Wisconsin.

Cornell was moonlighting. He was a Catholic priest, and the rock shows were an extension of his youth ministry. They gave young people something positive to do, and the proceeds went for scholarships.

The Rev. Robert Cornell also taught history in high school and college, was a two-term Congressman and a passionate Democrat. All that came first in his obituaries when he died a week ago at 89, and rightly so.

Yet here’s how one local musician remembered Cornell:

“He had so much interest in young people that he became the first real concert promoter in our area. Long before any media took interest in rock ‘n’ roll, Father Cornell was booking ‘national recording acts.’ … He got national acts by booking them on Friday night in Green Bay and Saturday in Sturgeon Bay.”

Among the acts booked by the priest: REO Speedwagon, the Cryan’ Shames, the Buckinghams and the Outsiders — all Midwestern bands — along with the Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Carpenters, Santana, the Doobie Brothers and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

If you’re from Wisconsin, and of a certain age, you may remember some of the regional and local bands that also played at those gigs, among them Soup, Rocker and Axe. That same musician, whom I suspect played in at least one of those bands, added:

“All of us who rock owe Father Cornell our careers.”

He thought this group was among the best bands booked by Cornell.

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“Ben Franklin’s Almanac,” the Cryan’ Shames, from “Sugar & Spice,” 1967. It’s the flip side to “Sugar and Spice,” their cover of the Searchers’ tune, on Destination 624, a 7-inch single. I found this cut at Garage Hangover, Chris Bishop’s wonderful blog about ’60s garage bands.

From 1966 to 1969, the Cryan’ Shames were one of the hottest groups out of Chicago. More polished than a garage band, they played British-influenced yet mostly original pop. Their biggest hit was their first, “Sugar and Spice,” which cracked the Billboard Top 50 in 1966.

They were so popular in Chicago that their first five singles made the Top 10 on WLS, the Top 40 AM radio powerhouse of the day. There was no hotter song in Chicago in August 1967 than “(It Could Be) We’re In Love.” It was No. 1 for four weeks, keeping the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” out of the top spot.

That’s why, some 40 years ago, Father Cornell thought they were worth hearing and seeing.

Robert Cornell was an original. When he turned 75, his Norbertine order required him to write his own obituary. There, in Latin, was his motto. It translates as: “Never let the bastards get you down.”

Peace, Father.

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Fast Eddie

On Saturday morning, I found a record I’ve long been seeking. Alas, only a few of you are going to dig it as much as I do.

Long ago, on clear Wisconsin winter nights, I’d listen to NBA games and ABA games on powerful clear-channel radio stations.

Most often, I’d listen to Milwaukee Bucks games called by the best basketball announcer ever, a guy named Eddie Doucette. He was a young, fast-talking former DJ who called the Bucks from their inception in 1968 until 1984.

I learned basketball from Eddie Doucette. His language became mine. I wasn’t the only one, either. Doucette had so many nicknames for players, and so many ways to describe the action, that they published “Doucette’s Dictionary,” a pamphlet they mailed to anyone who asked for it. I still have mine. It was sent to me on Jan. 6, 1973.

What I did not have, and what I’ve long been seeking, was a record narrated by Eddie Doucette. This record.

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In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Fleetwood Recording Co. of Revere, Massachusetts, cut commemorative albums for the pro sports champions of the day. They sold them by mail, often advertising them in sports magazines.

After the Bucks won the NBA championship in April 1971, Fleetwood produced a record narrated by Doucette. It featured excerpts of his radio calls from that season.

My search for it ended Saturday at my friend’s garage sale.

This record brings back so many great memories. It’s bittersweet, too. When the ’80s ended, so did my passion for the NBA. The game changed, and not for the better. These days, it’s unwatchable.

But if you remember Eddie Doucette or the Bucks’ glory days, or if you just appreciate vintage sports broadcasts, you may dig these excerpts.

“Revenge Against the Bullets” and “The San Francisco Massacre,” narrated and called by Eddie Doucette, from “Milwaukee Bucks 1970-71 World Champion,” 1971.

These are snippets from two memorable games. The Bucks win big, of course. In the former, Baltimore’s Gus “Honeycomb” Johnson shatters a backboard. In the latter, Dick “Cement Mixer” Cunningham gets into a fight with Levi Fontaine of the San Francisco Warriors.

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