One way to keep in shape during the long Wisconsin winters is to run inside. The track at our Y provides a bird’s-eye view of the basketball courts. So, as I plod around the track, I keep an eye on those playing ball below.
One day, there were two boys, maybe middle school age, joyfully working on their half-court shots.
Another day, they’d set up a small stage for a fitness event. It sat near the half-court line. There were three or four girls shooting around. One of them — a high school freshman, so maybe still just 14 or 15 — hopped up on the stage and joyfully started shooting rangefinders from there.
Last week, it was me, joyfully shooting the short-range jumpers no one shoots anymore. I step onto that court and the years just seem to fall away. I am 17 again, or 27, or even 37. The rhythms are the same now as in the ’70s. The feel of the ball spinning in your hand is the same now as in the ’80s.
Basketball is great that way, because all you need is a ball and a hoop. If there’s no one around, you can still go.
Saying this more wistfully than anything, there really is no one around anymore. My knees, ankles and Achilles long ago demanded that I retire from any kind of competitive basketball. Almost everyone I played with has retired, too. Yet, from time to time, I just shoot.
After the passing of NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino last week, I ripped some covers of NRBQ songs, then decided against using them in that post. It was getting plenty long as it was.
Let’s give them a listen, shall we?
NRBQ’s popularity among critics, fans and their peers peaked as the ’70s started to turn toward the ’80s. During that time, NRBQ released three albums widely regarded as among their best: “At Yankee Stadium” in 1978, “Kick Me Hard” in 1979 and “Tiddly Winks” in 1980.
Bonnie Raitt noticed. Disappointed at how her 1979 LP, “The Glow” was received, she decided have a little fun with her next record. She rocked out on “Green Light,” released in 1982. Who better to have fun with than NRBQ? So she covered two of their songs.
“Me And The Boys” and “Green Lights,” Bonnie Raitt, from “Green Light,” 1982. It’s out of print but is available digitally.
Dave Edmunds noticed, too. He picked a bunch of covers for “D.E. 7th,” his first record after the breakup of Rockpile. One was an unreleased Bruce Springsteen song. There also were covers of Chuck Berry, Brian Hyland and Doug Kershaw. And an NRBQ cover, one also chosen by Bonnie Raitt.
“Me And The Boys,” Dave Edmunds, from “D.E. 7th,” 1982. The buy link is to a double-length CD that also includes the “Information” LP from 1983.
Edmunds kept some of that spirit on his next record, “Information,” in 1983. Though most remembered for Jeff Lynne’s production and songs, Edmunds still worked in covers of songs by the J. Geils Band, Moon Martin and Otis Blackwell. And one by NRBQ.
“I Want You Bad,” Dave Edmunds, from “Information,” 1983. The buy link is to the same double-length CD mentioned earlier.
At this point, I must state for the record — so to speak — that both the Bonnie Raitt record and the NRBQ records were brought to the party by the lovely Janet, who at the time was my girlfriend and who somehow decided to stick around and become my wife.
Now if I could only find our copy of “Tiddly Winks.” We used to have it, and I can’t imagine we let it go in either the Great Record Purge of 1989 or our Great Garage Sale of 2006. If so, that’s another story for another day.
They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Here again is proof.
Gone in 2011 …
Anything for a laugh: Alan Sues (“Laugh-In”), Charlie Callas (rubber-faced comic), Kenneth Mars (“The Producers”).
Badasses: Christopher Hitchens (writer), Eleanor Mondale (the vice president’s wild-child daughter), Gil Scott-Heron (poet and singer).
Big men: James Arness (“Gunsmoke”), Clarence Clemons (E Street Band), Bubba Smith (the NFL, then “Police Academy”).
Bluesmen: David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin.
Career changers: Greg Goossen (major-league catcher turned Gene Hackman’s film double), Sylvia Robinson (R&B singer turned hip-hop producer), Andrea True (porn actress turned disco singer).
Character actors: Wyatt Knight (“Porky’s”), Sid Melton (“Green Acres”), Leonard Stone (“Willy Wonka”). They seemingly did go as a trio, passing within eight days of each other in October and November.
Comics legends: Bil Keane (The Family Circus), Jerry Robinson (the Joker), Joe Simon (Captain America).
Counterculture: Suze Rotolo (Bob Dylan’s muse in the early ’60s), Owsley Stanley (LSD chemist and ’60s scenester), Poly Styrene (punk musician).
Directors: Ken Russell (“Tommy”), Sidney Lumet (“Network”), Peter Yates (“Bullitt”).
Dramatic interludes: Fred Steiner (“Perry Mason” and “Star Trek”), John Barry (12 James Bond films), Pete Rugolo (“The Fugitive”).
Eccentrics: Barry Bremen (legendary ’70s and ’80s sports imposter), Terry Gale (Las Vegas entertainer who insisted on no cover charge at his last appearance — his funeral in his hometown of Milwaukee), Norma “Duffy” Lyon (Iowa butter sculptor).
Hasta la bye bye! Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong Il.
Inventive: Jeno Paulucci (Jeno’s pizza rolls), Milton Levine (Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm), Arch West (Doritos, with which he was buried).
Larger than life: Steve Jobs, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Elizabeth Taylor.
Monkee business: Bert Schneider (he co-produced the TV show), Don Kirshner (he produced the early music), Rob Grill (lead singer of the Grass Roots, who toured with the Monkees).
Speaking of Monkee business, we saw Davy, Micky and Peter in Milwaukee in July. It was a good show that turned out to be the last one on their 45th anniversary tour. It was to have ended in Milwaukee anyway — even the official tour T-shirts said so — but the tour managers reportedly added more dates without checking first with the fellas. Those extra dates? Canceled. Listen to the band! Not your steppin’ stone.
Nasty character actors: Bruce Gordon (“The Untouchables”), Bill McKinney (“Deliverance” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”), Charles Napier (“The Blues Brothers” and “Rambo: First Blood Part II”).
“North Dallas Forty” on and off screen: Peter Gent (he wrote the book), G.D. Spradlin (he played the coach), Al Davis (just win, baby).
Not a good year for character actors: William Campbell (“Star Trek”), Edson Stroll (“McHale’s Navy”), Barbara Stuart (“Bachelor Party” and “Gomer Pyle USMC”).
Notorious women, if only for these roles: Anne Francis (“Honey West”), Jane Russell (“The Outlaw”), Maria Schneider (“Last Tango In Paris”).
Remarkable women: Judy Lewis (an actress, writer and therapist whose parents’ identities — the unmarried Clark Gable and Loretta Young — were long a Hollywood secret), Barbara Orbison (a teenaged German fan who became Roy Orbison’s wife, then his manager, then the tireless guardian of his legacy), Betty Skelton (a record-setting race pilot and race driver).
Seen, heard and read in Milwaukee: John McCullough (TV news anchor), Larry “The Legend” Johnson (DJ and talk-show host), Tim Cuprisin (reporter, media columnist and my friend).
Sitcom savants: Sam Denoff (“The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “That Girl”), Madelyn Pugh Davis (“I Love Lucy”), Sherwood Schwartz (“Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch”).
Still champions: Lorenzo Charles (North Carolina State and that dunk), Joe Frazier (heavyweight boxer), Jack LaLanne (fitness guru).
They had soul: Nick Ashford, Howard Tate, Amy Winehouse.
They shaped the songs: Jerry Leiber, Wardell Quezergue, Jerry Ragovoy.
They were country: Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash’s bass player, then his road manager), Ralph Mooney (steel guitarist helped create the Bakersfield sound in the late ’50s), Ferlin Husky (Bakersfield singer who helped create the Nashville sound at the same time).
Finally, we come to Gerry Rafferty, who defies being categorized in death as he did in life.
Yeah, but now it’s a dream, it’s a memory But I’ll never forget what you gave to me
“The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’),” Gerry Rafferty, from “Snakes and Ladders,” 1980. It’s out of print.
If you could have set Evan’s pulse and synapses to music during this session — somehow capturing the thrill, the adventure and the accomplishment of the moment — it might have gone something like this …
“Battle Theme,” Queen, from the “Flash Gordon” original soundtrack, 1980.
There, the other day, in the July 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, was “The Ultimate Play List,” what its writers considered the best sports songs of all time.
SI’s Top 40 includes the Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA” at No. 2, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” at No. 7, Warren Zevon’s “Boom Boom Mancini” at No. 12, Steve Goodman’s “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” at No. 28 and Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” at No. 31. That’s about it for songs I recognize.
(I only grudgingly include the Fogerty tune. Even though I enthusiastically bought the “Centerfield” LP in 1985, the title song quickly wore out its welcome and has been unlistenable for years.)
Whether SI’s Top 40 is good or bad, as always, you be the judge. I can’t say it blew me away. As I read the piece, I kept wondering whether certain tunes would show up in the Top 40. They didn’t. So here they are.
“Bill Lee,” Warren Zevon, from “Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School,” 1980. It’s out of print but is available digitally.
Lee — nicknamed “Spaceman” — was an irreverent left-hander, a California hippie who was good enough to pitch in the major leagues for 14 years, from 1969 to 1982. Lee liked Zevon, and Zevon liked Lee. Boston Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, who was from baseball’s old school, did not like Lee. Zevon wrote this song after the Red Sox got rid of Lee in 1978. That’ll happen when you spar with your manager all year long and call him “a gerbil.”
“You’re supposed to sit on your ass/And nod at stupid things
Man, that’s hard to do
And if you don’t, they’ll screw you/And if you do they’ll screw you, too.”
“Vida Blue,” Albert Jones, from the Tri-City 45 (TC327A), 1971. It’s out of print.
Almost everything I know about this “stomping funk tribute to the early ’70s Oakland A’s hurler of the same name” is from Larry Grogan’s most excellent Funky 16 Corners post from last year. As Larry also said then: “Where else are you going to hear a funk 45 that namechecks Harmon Killebrew and Carl Yastrzemski?” (The flip side is a country version of the song, according to Scott Soriano’s long-ago Crud Crud post.)
“Basketball Jones Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces,” Cheech and Chong, from “Los Cochinos,” 1973.
This is a song remembered mostly because I so often heard it sung in the shower by the players on my high school basketball team. Sorry, you had to be there.
To get a sense for that vibe all these years later, watch the animated short they made for the song. It was released to theaters in 1974. They showed it before “The Last Detail,” which of course starred basketball fan Jack Nicholson.
There’s an all-star group behind Cheech Marin’s falsetto vocals. That’s George Harrison on lead guitar, backed by many of his Beatles session friends, including Billy Preston on the organ. Carole King plays electric piano. Darlene Love and Michelle Phillips are among those voicing the cheerleaders.
The significance of his passing already has been nicely documented by Dw. Dunphy at Popdose, by Larry at Iron Leg and by George and Denny at 30 Days Out. Check them out, please.
Arriving late at the wake, I also remember hearing Gerry Rafferty on the radio.
Digging through the R’s and the S’s on the shelves behind me, I find four Rafferty or Stealers Wheel records before unearthing “City To City,” his breakthrough solo LP from 1978. You know the one. Everyone had it once. It’s been reissued on 180-gram vinyl — if you want to pay $25 — but is a fairly common sight in the used vinyl bins for $1 or $2.
But some of my best memories of Gerry Rafferty are of some of the deep cuts from the albums from a time when the spotlight had passed him by. Then I start playing those records, something I’ve not done in probably 25 years. The memories come back in a rush. The songs, the harmonies, are timeless.
Here are some of those songs, from a couple of albums that followed “City To City.” They’ve endured, at least for me. A musician can’t ask for much more.
“Welcome to Hollywood” and “Syncopatin’ Sandy,” Gerry Rafferty, from “Snakes and Ladders,” 1980. It’s out of print.
“Welcome to Hollywood” shows Rafferty’s disdain for fame. He’s confident enough to draw on his time as a star, writing “stuck in the middle with the blues again.” The intro and outro are dead-on parodies of hangers-on. In “Syncopatin’ Sandy,” ostensibly about a whiskey-fueled music hall piano player, the often alcohol-fueled Rafferty wonders “how long, how long” he can keep going.
“Sleepwalking” and “The Right Moment,” Gerry Rafferty, from “Sleepwalking,” 1982. It’s out of print.
I’ve had the infectious drumbeats of “Sleepwalking” rattling around in my head since hearing it again for the first time in many years. “The Right Moment” is a gentle counter to it, all piano and synths, something that fits nicely next to …
“The Way It Always Starts,” Gerry Rafferty, from the “Local Hero” soundtrack, 1983. Accompanied by Mark Knopfler, Alan Clark, Neil Jason and Steve Jordan. “Local Hero” remains one of my favorite films.
This song, written by Knopfler, was one of the last things Rafferty did until resurfacing five years later with the “North and South” album.
And a charming tribute.
“Baker Street,” a laid-back acoustic cover by my friend Alan Wilkis, a solo musician from Brooklyn. Alan can’t remember exactly when he did this, but he thinks it was four or five years ago.
Andy is my friend. We are kindred spirits, throwbacks to old-school newsrooms that were full of characters.
Andy’s busy tonight. He’s getting ready to help some people who desperately need help.
Andy is, among a vast circle of friends, a legend. A burly, flat-topped, gregarious, swaggering legend.
Sometime in the next 24 hours, Andy will pass into legend.
Andy was sitting in the newsroom on Monday night, watching the 10 p.m. news. He had what his family calls “a significant brain incident.” Maybe a stroke, maybe an aneurysm. We don’t know.
Andy is 38.
Tomorrow morning, Andy will head to the operating room. He’ll be working with the organ procurement team from Madison, giving some other folks what they so urgently need.
Later on, we’ll say goodbye to Andy. Wherever they have it, there won’t be room enough for all of Andy’s friends.
A former football lineman who stood 6-foot-5, Andy spent his vacations working security at Summerfest in Milwaukee and at Brat Days in Sheboygan, where we both grew up. He covered cops, courts and fires and loved hanging with those folks. He worked at a bar on the side. He organized summer cookouts in the parking lot, Mardi Gras potlucks in the newsroom and countless other adventures. He quietly did countless small, random acts of kindness that no one ever found out about.
About now, Andy probably would demand that I shut the fuck up.
Postscript: Andy Nelesen passed into legend shortly after noon on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. According to Andy’s family, his death was caused by a burst blood vessel in the pons area of the brain stem.
A second postscript: Since Andy passed on Thursday, we have been treated to some gorgeously sunny days and some beautifully moonlit nights. Those nights have been so bright, the moon casts shadows on the snow. OK, pal, now you’re just showing off.